Living Their Truth
According to the U.S. State Department, intercourse between two people of the same sex in Uganda is punishable by life in prison. In Algeria, homosexuality is illegal, viewed as a moral abomination, and "honor killings" by family members are reportedly common. In Nigeria, men convicted of having sexual relations with other men can be stoned to death. In Saudi Arabia, gay men have been beheaded in public squares. In 2001, 52 Egyptian men who were suspected of being gay were imprisoned and tortured.
An Egyptian man shares the story of "The Cairo 52."
Iran is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth to be gay. According to a report by the U.S. State Department, sex between two men in Iran is illegal and punishable by death. International human rights groups say some men received 100 lashes simply because of their sexual orientation. Two teenagers were hanged publicly in 2005, with many saying it was because they were gay.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stunned Americans in September 2007 when he said, "We don't have homosexuals like in your country. We do not have this phenomenon." Weeks later, President Ahmadinejad said he was misquoted and that Iran does not have as many gay people when compared to the United States.
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla was born with a golden spoon in his mouth. "At one time we had almost 22 servants [working] for us. As kids we would call it the 22 man army," he says.
He lived a life of royalty, but the prince says he always felt something was wrong inside. Still, he did all that is expected of a future king and entered into an arranged marriage. "It was a total disaster. A total failure," he says. "The marriage never got consummated. I realized I had done something very wrong."
After his marriage ended, the prince says his world began to unravel. "I was suddenly feeling as if I'm falling apart," he says.
It was the beginning of a nervous breakdown. In 2002, Prince Manvendra was hospitalized. It was then that he says he finally came to terms with his secret. "As I was growing up I was attracted to the male," he says. "Then I was getting treatment in the hospital by this psychiatrist and while he was treating me, I came out to him through one of the counseling sessions and he was very, very understanding and he said, 'There's nothing wrong with you. You should be proud of your sexuality.' And it was he who actually volunteered to tell my parents about myself. It was through him I came out."
Still, the prince was determined to reveal his truth. "Telling the truth, I will never regret," he says.
In a 2006 newspaper interview, Prince Manvendra came out to the world. The people in his village were outraged. "It was like an earthquake," he says. "People are so agitated and furious that their prince brought shame to us, to the family, shame to our heritage. Shame to the lineage."
Prince Manvendra says his father, the king, refuses to accept that his only son and heir to the throne is gay. "It is not natural. Anything which is not natural is not something which you can't procreate. We always hope for the better. So, you know, like he has some sort of a change in his mind or his attitude," King Ragubir said in an interview.
The queen was livid. "She said, 'You had done something most wrong so you don't deserve to be blessed at all,'" Prince Manvendra says. "She thinks I am a criminal and I should be punished for that."
The queen took out an ad in a newspaper to announce she was disowning her son and threatened to hold anyone who referred to the prince as her son in contempt. "I wasn't shocked. Actually I don't blame her. I blame her ignorance," Prince Manvendra says. "As most of the Indians do about homosexuality. They are very, very, insensitive and unavailable on the whole issue."
Although they live in the same palace, Prince Manvendra says he and his mother live in separate wings. "We do accidentally bump into each other, but she tries to avoid me," he says. "She just will try to turn her face away from me or try to avoid coming down that moment of the time when I am maybe crossing her way."
The prince says he and his mother were never close before he came out, but her behavior still has an effect on him. "Why should there be any discrimination on the basis of one's sexuality? I mean, what have I done wrong that I should be treated in this manner?"
The prince says he didn't come to terms with his sexuality until after his marriage ended, which he says was arranged but not forced. "I was confused about myself. I wasn't knowing what [I was]," he says. "Am I heterosexual? What is homosexuality? I thought it was a passing phase. I might get over it once I married. And that's the reason I decided to get married."
Prince Manvendra says he was never physically attracted to his wife and never wanted to consummate the marriage. On their wedding night, the prince says he told her he was too tired after the long celebrations.
"It was terrible for her because she got married to me, like any other woman, she expected the kind of satisfaction from her husband," he says. "I wasn't showing any interest so she would get up and start sobbing. I probably thought she was feeling homesick and that's the reason she's sobbing away. … I didn't realize that her anguish is because I am not paying any attention to her."
When they separated, Prince Manvendra says she left him with a powerful message. "Just before she left me, she just said that, 'Well, you tried to spoil the life of somebody like me. I just request you not to do that again,'" he says. "Well, it was totally true. I mean, it was a fact. And I decided there and then that, come what may, I'm not going for a second marriage again."
The prince says the people of his town still respect him. "Even before I declared myself, I had done a lot of work, social work, for the town of Rajpipla in the field of education, health, giving job opportunities, so I am actually respected because of that," he says. "And it didn't pose much of a problem to me except a few incidents which happened and now they're all fine with me."
Prince Manvendra says he isn't worried about whether he loses the crown. "I will not regret that because I am true to myself and I'm true to the community, the gay community for whom I am working, so I don't really mind," he says. "If I have to lose the crown, I'm not attached to the materialistic world as well, so I will continue to do my work, what I'm doing at the moment, so I have no regrets for that."
Above all, Prince Manvendra says he is happy with his new mission in life. "I'm working for the gay community in India, especially on HIV prevention amongst gay men. And if I could save even one life, I would be the happiest man today."
Staceyann Chin is a critically acclaimed poet, playwright, performer and lesbian activist who was born and raised in Jamaica. She says she fled her native home because of the vicious crimes being committed against people like her. She now lives in a small Caribbean neighborhood in New York City. "I like being with people who look like me and sound like me," she says.
Staceyann says she didn't know she was a lesbian until after her late teens. "I grew up in the church in Jamaica, so I grew up knowing that being gay was a bad thing," she says.
Many parts of the Jamaican culture are homophobic, she says. "I grew up listening to these songs like 'Boom Bye-Bye,'" she says. "It really says that, you know, the sound of a gunshot is like boom bye bye, you know, you're shooting a gay man in the head. They have to die. You always have to be looking over your shoulder for your own safety."
"One afternoon I'm coming home, and I walk in and there's a bunch of boys kind of around me, and I don't know what happened. I think one of them grabbed my bag," she says. "Before I knew it, my back was against the bathroom door. I had been shoved in, and I was inside and those boys were inside with me. In my memory, I think it was about a dozen."
Staceyann says they began circling her. "Then I kind of knew what was happening and I was kind of freaking out in my head. Then they started throwing taunts at me and then they started grabbing at me," she says.
"[They said], 'We're going to show you what a real man feels like,'" she says. "I think the moment I knew something terrible was for sure going to happen was when … my bra strap broke and he stuck his hand into my shirt."
Staceyann says she was too afraid to fight back. "All the time I was thinking they're not going to rape me. And then when it was apparent that they were going to, it was as if I wasn't kind of in my body. I was kind of watching them do this to somebody else," she says. "I'd always been such a big mouth, and I always knew that if something happened, I would fight back. … And when it happened I was silent. I'm still angry at myself that I didn't do anything, that I didn't punch one of them."
Before things went any further, someone intervened and saved Staceyann from being raped. "The day it happened I knew I couldn't live my life as an out lesbian. I couldn't raise children in a partnership, and I knew if I couldn't do that I wouldn't be able to kind of be myself, and so I knew that I had to leave that space so I could do that."
Staceyann sold her computer and used the money to buy a plane ticket to her aunt's home in New York.
Why is homosexuality so taboo in Jamaica? "There's a culture of braggadocio. We don't like people telling us what to do," she says. "Couple that with religion and poverty and the intense lack of knowledge. I mean, half the people I know in Jamaica confuse pedophilia with homosexuality. They don't know the difference."
Staceyann says she feels safe living as a lesbian in New York City, but she desperately misses living in Jamaica. She still visits and hopes her story can help transform the way people perceive homosexuality back home.
"It's not that Jamaica is bad. I think that we just need a whole bunch of education in Jamaica," she says. "We need to have support from the legal system."
Though he's one of millions, John Amaechi's coming out story sparked a nationwide debate. Why did his homosexuality make headlines? John is the first player in NBA history to come out of the closet.
For years, John bounced around from one basketball team to another, but no matter what city he played for, he says he never felt it was okay to be openly gay in the NBA.
John believes his teammates knew he was gay, but he says no one talked about his sexuality overtly. "Basketball teams, sports in general, have adopted the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," he says.
Finally, after years of living a lie, John decided to come out while attending a gay pride celebration in his hometown, Manchester, England. When John saw Sir Ian McKellen, an openly gay actor, riding in the parade, he says was inspired to speak his truth.
"I saw Sir Ian McKellen in an absurdly tight pair of leather pants on the back of a pink Cadillac, and despite how odd it looks as an image, I saw the way people reacted as he waved his flag," John says. "He lifted their spirits. … [I thought] if I could have even a small part of an effect like that, that would be magnificent."
John's announcement began to receive worldwide attention after Tim Hardaway, a former NBA all-star, spoke out. Tim said, "I hate gay people so, you know, I let it be known. I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. Yeah, I'm homophobic."
Initially, John says he couldn't believe Tim's comments. "I didn't think anybody would be so stupid as to say something like that in public," he says. "But I was relieved that finally people could stop telling me that nobody holds these sentiments."
Tim eventually apologized and his publicist reports that he has been involved with the YES Institute, a group that educates gay teens and promotes awareness.
After Tim's statement, John says he received e-mails from children living as far away as Australia who told him they felt less safe, and that somehow, bullies were emboldened by Tim's words. "I think people with these big booming voices, that when they speak, it rattles around the world," John says. "If you have a voice that has that impact, that power … then you've got to be really careful."
Though John and Tim have not spoken since the incident, he says Tim deserves a chance to make amends. "I just want him to own the magnitude of the damage he did before I pat him on the back and say, 'Thank you for saying sorry,'" John says.
"There's something incredibly powerful about people who are genuine or authentic—not just in terms of their sexuality, but in every regard. There's something almost transcendent about it," he says. "I spent 15 years of my life putting a ball in a hole, and what I do now as a psychologist, what I do now in terms of my activism for human rights in general, that's something that's legacy worthy."
John says his family has always been accepting of his sexuality, but he was surprised by the positive reactions he received in the United States. "I definitely underestimated the response in America," he says. "I thought there would be a wave of evangelical fury, if you like. But instead, for the most part, I think I've been incredibly well received. People have really wanted to educate themselves."
Rachel Dowd, the deputy editor of the gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate , says Sweden is the most progressive nation for gay men and women. "They decriminalized homosexuality in 1944. We didn't actually do that until 2003 in this country," she says. "Like a lot of Scandinavian countries, in Sweden it just doesn't matter if you're gay."
See what Oprah really thinks about tolerance.
Scandinavia isn't the only region making strides. During the summer of 2006, 3 million people—straight and gay—hit the pavement in San Paulo, Brazil, in what's been called the largest gay pride parade on the planet.
European voters also said it's okay to be gay when they elected openly gay mayors in both Paris and Berlin. In Oslo, Norway, 20-year-old Marius Svela wore his army fatigues during the "Mr. Gay Norway" competition. With his military comrades cheering him on, he walked away with the title.
Even in places like communist China, where it is estimated 30 million gays and lesbians live, people are becoming more accepting. Recently, a Chinese television show hired an openly gay host.
In the United States, gay and lesbian parents are raising 4 percent of all adopted children. It's also estimated that there are currently 65,000 gay people serving our country in the military. However, civil rights organizations report that in 30 states, employees can still be terminated from their jobs if they're gay.