Openly gay Indian price combats AIDS, anti-gay stigma

Manvendra Singh Gohil, an openly gay member of an Indian royal family, is working hard to end anti-gay stigma and turn back the AIDS epidemic, Agence France-Presse reports via the Indian publication FirstPost.

These are excerpts from that article:

Gay prince Manvendra Singh Gohil is on the front line of India’s war against AIDS

Manvendra Singh Gohil (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Manvendra Singh Gohil (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

NEW DELHI — From setting up his own charity to hanging condoms on trees, Manvendra Singh Gohil has dedicated himself to fighting the scourge of AIDS since coming out 10 years ago as India’s first openly gay royal.

A member of a royal warrior clan and heir apparent to the throne of Rajpipla in deeply conservative Gujarat state, Gohil uses his fame and status to educate the gay community about safe sex and their rights in a country where gay sex is a criminal offence.

“People say homosexuality is a part of western culture. It is absolutely wrong,” Gohil told AFP in an interview, citing the Kama Sutra and the homoerotic sculptures in ancient temples across the country.

“It is the hypocrisy in our society which is refusing to accept this truth. And this motivated me to come out openly and tell the world ‘I am gay, so what? And I am proud of it’.”

Gohil has been part of a campaign against the colonial-era law that bans homosexual acts in India, which he says has contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

His charity … works with homosexual men and the transgender community to promote safer sexual practices, though they face constant obstruction from police.

“People are having sex under fear and unsafe sex practices are going on,” he said.

“When we started work among the MSM (men having sex with men), we were harassed and threatened by police.

“We would keep condom packets in public toilets, and even hang them on trees in public parks because we did not want to stop them from having sex in toilets or behind the bushes. We just wanted them to have safe sex.”

Gay sex was effectively decriminalised in 2009 when the Delhi High Court ruled that prohibiting it was a violation of a person’s fundamental rights.

But in 2013 the Supreme Court [reversed that decision and] ruled that the responsibility for changing the 1861 law rested with lawmakers and not judges.

Prosecutions are rare, but gay people say they face significant discrimination as well as harassment from the police. …

“Some of our workers were arrested and taken to the police station where the cops themselves had forced sex with them without condoms.”

India has the third highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the world according to the United Nations, with about 2.1 million people in 2015, although the rate of infection is falling.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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