The order came on a petition by two women who sought protection from their families opposing the relationship.
The order came on a petition by two women who sought protection from their families opposing the relationship.

Madras HC bans attempts to ‘cure’ gender identity

  • Currently, Delhi and Kerala high courts are hearing pleas to legalise same-sex unions.
By Divya Chandrababu, Hindustan Times, Chennai, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUN 07, 2021 11:57 PM IST

The Madras high court on Monday banned attempts to “cure” the gender identity or sexual orientation of people as part of sweeping orders to sensitise state agencies and protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ communities.

The order came on a petition by two women who sought protection from their families opposing the relationship. The court took the opportunity to issue orders to police, prison, health, judicial and education authorities with justice N. Anand Venkatesh choosing counselling to better acquaint himself with LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) issues. “I strongly feel that the change must take place at a societal level and when it is complemented by a law there will be a remarkable change in the outlook of the society by recognising same-sex relationships,” said the 107-page order.

The order came roughly three years after the Supreme Court decriminalised adult consensual same-sex relationships and seven years after it affirmed the rights of transgender people.

Currently, Delhi and Kerala high courts are hearing pleas to legalise same-sex unions.

The petitioners, aged 20 and 22, fled their parents’ homes in Madurai after falling in love. In March, the court ordered police protection and asked the women and their parents to undergo counselling. The judge mentioned he voluntarily sought an “out of the box exercise” involving psycho-educative sessions with psychotherapist Vidya Dinakaran and other members of the LGBTQIA+ community to break “preconceived notions”.

“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,” the judge said.

“The judgment is a turning point in our lives… we finally feel safe,” said the 22-year-old petitioner, who declined to be named.

“The highlight of the judgement is the openness and transparency. It reinforces the fact that discriminatory practices of any nature can no longer hide under the cover of misunderstanding or ignorance,” Dinakaran said.

The court’s interim directions included asking police to close complaints without harassing trans persons, judicial authorities to provide free legal aid, health professionals to help the community and educational institutions to appoint queer counsellors and make easy procedures to change names and genders. It asked agencies, including the school education and law departments as well as central agencies such as the department of higher education, University Grants Commission and Union ministries of health and family welfare and women and child development to report to it by August 31 on the steps taken.

Banning conversion therapy – a discredited practice claiming to “cure” homosexual and transgender people -- the court ordered that anyone attempting such dubious practices could get their medical licence suspended. “I think we have turned a corner in the fight for equal rights. This order will be cited in the future to affirm rights of the community,” said Manuraj S, lawyer for the two petitioners.

“As LGBTQIA+ persons, we are used to receiving absolute ignorance and a refusal to learn, especially by the pillars of democracy. It is hard to come across individuals as humble as justice Venkatesh, a gentleman willing to let go of every preconceived notion and wipe his slate clean. The verdict paves the way to secure the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons,” said doctor Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, who interacted with the judge.

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