The Madras high court on Monday suggested a ban on health professionals from attempting to medically ‘cure or change’ the sexual orientation of LGBTIQA+ people to heterosexual or the gender identity of transgender people to cisgender.
The court also directed National Medical Commission, Indian Psychiatric Society and Rehabilitation Council of India to take action, including withdrawal of licence to practice, against professionals involved in any form or method of conversion “therapy” to LGBTIQA+ community members.
This apart, Justice N Anand Venkatesh laid down a slew of guidelines covering issues ranging from gender-neutral restrooms for the gender-nonconforming student and help to change name/gender on academic records for transgender persons, besides suggesting separate jails for transsexuals.
These are among the directives of far-reaching consequences issued by Justice Anand Venkatesh, who chose to undergo ‘psycho-education’ under qualified counsellors to understand same-sex relationship issues, before writing the 125-page verdict.
The case relates to a Madurai-based lesbian couple, aged 23 and 20 years, who chose to live as a married couple. Facing resistance from their families, they fled to Chennai and took refuge with an NGO. As police continued to visit them following complaints lodged by their parents, the two had moved the high court to restrain cops from harassing them.
Those in same sex or LGBTQ relationships often are socially discriminated against. Sensitising the judiciary goes a long way in more empathetic and understanding treatment of them in courts. The initiative taken by the judge must be lauded.
Tracing the constitutional rights and guarantees available to all those belonging to the LGBTIQA+ community, Justice Anand Venkatesh said: “The voice of this community is now getting louder and stronger and society can no more turn a deaf ear and the time has come to make that change.”
Noting that he himself was “pulled out of darkness (ignorance)” by two counsellors he had interacted with, the judge said: “The society and my upbringing have always treated the terms ‘homosexual’, ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ as anathema. A majority of the society would stand in the same position of ignorance and preconceived notions.”
He said: “I have no hesitation in accepting that I too belong to the majority of commoners who are yet to comprehend homosexuality completely. Ignorance is no justification for normalizing any form of discrimination. Therefore, I took upon myself, the vested responsibility and the duty to deliver justice in all its forms and spirit, of cutting across personal prejudices and notions and setting forth to, at the least, educate myself lest my ignorance interfere with in guiding homosexuality and the LGBTQIA+ community towards social justice.”
He said police probing man/girl missing complaints should close them without harassing the members, if they find out that the person concerned is a consenting individual in the company of LGBTIQA+. He also suggested the Union and the state governments effect change in curricula of schools and universities to educate students on understanding the LGBTIQA+ community.
The court has also directed the Union government to devise policies to eliminate prejudices against LGBTIQA+ people and organize sensitization programme for judiciary, police, public servants, health professionals and parents of LGBTIQA+ persons.
Justice Anand Venkatesh said the Union government should enlist NGOs, including community-based groups, which have sufficient expertise in handling the issues faced by the LGBTIQA+ community. “Any person who faces an issue for the reason of their belongingness to the LGBTIQA+ community may approach any of the enlisted NGOs for safeguarding and protecting their rights,” the judge said.
Highlighting the need to create awareness in the judiciary as well, the court has suggested the legal services authority concerned and the law ministry conduct awareness programmes for judicial officers at all levels in coordination with the enlisted NGOs and community support and to provide suggestions/ recommendations to ensure non-discrimination of persons belonging to the LGBTIQA+ community.
“Through Parents-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings, sensitize parents on issues of LGBTIQA+ community and gender nonconforming students, to ensure supportive families,” the court said.
Asserting that the issue involved requires regular monitoring and follow up, the court decided to keep the petition pending and adjourned the matter to August 31 for passing further orders.