Battling hypocrisy

MAKING A MARK Manvendra Singh Gohil

MAKING A MARK Manvendra Singh Gohil   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: AFP

Gay rights activist Manvendra Singh Gohil talks about building an old age home for the members of the LGBT community and the experience of working in a conservative society

“If a celebrity comes out openly as gay, it will definitely catch the media attention as it happened in my case and that will surely give strength to the LGBT rights movement in India,” says Manvendra Singh Gohil. Hailing from the royal family of the former princely State of Rajpipla in Gujarat, Manvendra was ridiculed and ostracised by his parents, family and friends but he never bothered and dedicated himself completely to the cause of the LGBT community. He established the Lakshya Trust which focuses on cultural, social, spiritual, physical and mental health of all sexual minority groups. In a candid interview, the brand ambassador of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AIDSHF), talks about how the LGBT community is faring, issues pertaining to their employment and old age, the Lakshya Trust and how he looks back at his decision to ‘come out’ openly as gay in 2006.

Edited excerpts:

How do you view the situation of LGBT community in the country today?

Awareness about LGBT issues has increased over the years specially after the media publicity generated due to the hearing of the judgement on repeal of Section 377 of IPC by Delhi High Court and Supreme Court. However, they are still subject to lot of stigma and discrimination in the society and their basic human rights are violated. The best way to improve their status would be to impart education to students and include issues of homosexuality in the syllabus at the appropriate grade.

What is your view on the Section 377?

Section 377 has been widely misunderstood by the society. It doesn't talk exclusively about homosexual acts. In fact, to be gay in India was never a crime. According to this law, even a married man and woman with consent of each other, if they indulge in a sexual act which doesn’t result in procreation, then both are criminals. Moreover, this law is an impediment towards HIV control in India. This legal dispute can be briefly put as a conflict of hypocrisy versus humanity.

How do you see homosexuality in a socio-political context?

In every society there is hypocrisy including India. We tend to cover the truth instead of accepting it because truth is always bitter. We have evidence of homosexuality in Kamasutra, statues at Khajuraho, Modhera, etc and still the society thinks that homosexuality is a Western influence. Our rights cannot be just won in the court rooms but in the hearts and minds of the society we live in.

Tell us about the Lakshya Trust

It is the first community based organisation of Gujarat founded in 2000 exclusively for addressing issues of gays and transgender by giving them a platform to discuss their problems like coming out, marriage pressures, police harassment, employment, etc.

For LGBTs getting jobs is tough. How does the Trust help in this?

Lakshya Trust has a staff of almost 250 persons, full time and part time, 80 percent of whom are gays or transgenders. Income generation and livelihood programmes have been started by Lakshya like factory for making sanitary napkins and hand sanitiser by TGs. It has facilitated several self help groups for the community for teaching mehendi, embroidery, cooking, yoga, fashion, etc and providing these services.

How do LGBTs fare in old age?

One of the biggest challenges for the LGBT community is to address old age issues, specially for those who have come out of their closet and have decided to live alone without family support and heterosexual marriage. Absence of same sex partner in their lives makes it even more difficult. This is precisely why the idea of building a retirement home for the LGBT came to us in Lakshya Trust.

We are also in the process of training our own community in nursing skills to take care of their older counterparts who will get personalised services. The construction of the centre is in progress along with a community centre with a library, music therapy, learning centre, community kitchen, recreation facilities and a medical centre. We are even getting offers from younger gay men to adopt older men. It is important to keep the older inmates occupied and active for which creative activities are being facilitated such as gardening, looking after animals, etc. This centre is being developed on the banks of Narmada near Baroda on 15 acres.

What has been your experience of working out of Gujarat which is viewed as a conservative society?

I believe that even if the society is most conservative, with the right education and awareness of any issue including homosexuality, one can change the mind set of the society with better understanding and acceptance of the issue. Here I would like to share my experience with the police department. Initially,, we faced a lot of police harassment in areas where we were distributing condoms. Police would blackmail, extort, beat up my staff and misuse Section 377 claiming that they are spreading homosexuality whereas they were actually creating awareness on safe sex practices to control HIV. We met the Police Commissioner and requested him to allow us to hold workshops for the department on HIV and LGBT issues. Now the same police have started cooperating with us and even participated in our events. Even media particularly vernacular media has changed their reporting on LGBT issues in a positive manner.

How do you look back at your ‘coming out’?

Coming out of the “royal closet” since last 10 years has definitely been a boon to me and inspired several others to take this decision in the world over. It has opened the Pandora's box to the discussion on a subject which was existing in India but was hidden and considered as a taboo as time went by. If a celebrity comes out openly as gay, it will definitely catch the media attention as it happened in my case and that will surely give strength to the LGBT rights movement in India.

As a counsellor, I always advice my gay friends that if they want to come out they should start reducing their attachment towards parents and family and become financially independent, then it becomes more easier, irrespective of whichever class of society one belongs to.

What is the way forward?

Acceptance for the LGBT community can be improved by mainstreaming the issues in the society. This is possible by getting support by the influential members of the society who are non LGBT, like from Bollywood, religious leaders, politicians, cricketers, etc. Parents play an important role in accepting their gay children. Fortunately in India, parents of gay children are coming together to form organisations like PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Parents, friends and relatives who have accepted, counsel their counterparts and that helps in better understanding of the issues.

On “Fun” magazine

“Fun magazine was a classic case of main streaming of homosexuality in society. As an editor of this magazine, I can say that it helped in reducing a lot of myths and misconceptions about homosexuality because of the fact that it was read by society at large and not just the LGBT community.”

Association with AHF

“The objective of AHF is to treat 20 million HIV infected persons globally by the year 2020. To achieve this, its activities are focussed on conducting HIV tests done through rapid test kits giving results in 15 minutes. Those found positive are immediately registered for treatment with ART drugs. AHF has its own clinic in Delhi and Mumbai for treatment.”

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 10:07:16 PM |

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