Madras HC reaffirms ‘queerphobia’, calls for revamp of medical education
The Madras high court (HC) on Tuesday came down heavily on conversion therapies employed by medical professionals to purportedly cure non-normative gender and sexual identities of persons belonging to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) community and issued notice to the National Medical Commission and the Indian Psychiatric Society to submit reports before the next date of hearing on how the two medical bodies would help prevent this from happening.
The court further directed the police to amend its conduct rules to ensure that activists and other members of Non-Governmental Organisations working with LGBTQ persons are also protected from police harassment.
Justice N Anand Venkatesh passed the order, made available on September 1, while hearing the matter on a writ petition filed by a same-sex couple seeking protection from harassment by the police and its families in March. In an unprecedented move, the judge had sought counselling on LGBT issues before passing a slew of orders on June 7, which also directed the police to ensure that other adults in consenting same-sex relationships are not subjected to similar harassment by the police.
Justice Venkatesh on Tuesday referred to a report filed by Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, a transwoman, and said that “queerphobia” – prejudicial and abusive attitudes and behaviours directed at the LGBT community – was rampant in medical education.
Gummaraju’s report stated that the curriculum of undergraduate forensic medicine described “sodomy”, “lesbianism” and “oral sex” as sexual offences, and “transvestism” (cross-dressing) as a “sexual perversion”. The court observed that such material reflected queerphobia and added that it was important for the medical and mental health fraternity to be “non-judgmental and free of moral or personal prejudices about their patient’s identity on the gender spectrum or their sexuality”.
“Knowledge about a patient’s gender identity and sexuality may be of interest to a doctor, physician and a mental health professional if it is pertinent in cracking the course of the treatment, but the course of the treatment cannot be one which aims to cure their gender identity or sexuality itself,” the court said.
“Prescribing anti-depressants, erectile dysfunction drugs and sending a person to cognitive behaviour therapy as “remedy” to their gender identity and sexuality is nothing conversion therapy camouflaged as medical and mental health support.”
The court further directed the Additional Solicitor General R Sankaranarayanan to bring this to the notice of the key medical institutions to revamp the curriculum in the MBBS course.
“A specific clause is to be added in the Police Conduct Rules specifically providing that any harassment by the police, to the persons belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community and/or to the activists and NGO workers, will be treated as misconduct and will entail a punishment for such misconduct,” the court said, adding that the police department must conduct sensitization programmes involving members of the LGBT community, as well as social workers and activists working in this field. It further directed that the police not harass NGO workers who provide support to members of the queer community.
“One of the excuses given by the police authorities while shunning these persons is the lack of an internal circular issued by the higher authorities of the Department,” the court said. “Evidently, the larger excuse seems to be the sheer lack of awareness and the apathy towards arming themselves enough to fight for a community of public belonging to the citizenry of this nation, to whom they swore to be servants.”
The Court recalled its June order which had observed that lack of awareness cannot be an excuse to any form of discrimination. And the absence of internal communication and hierarchical orders “is no excuse to deny protection to the community that is vulnerable, susceptible to threat and harassment.”
In June, the judge had issued directions to a slew of state and Central agencies such as the NCERT, state education department, National Medical Commission, union ministries of social justice and women and child development, and even the state home department though the agencies were not respondents in the case. The court directed them to frame guidelines that recognise the rights of LGBTQ+ persons (such as his petitioners) and to ensure their safety and security.
On Tuesday, the court heard the compliance reports submitted by various state and central departments. “It is necessary to carry on with this momentum and create a congenial atmosphere for the persons belonging to the LGBTQIA+ Community by accepting them as they are,” the court said. “This Court expects the State and the Central Government to give more priority to this issue and come up with some positive actions on their part.”
The court also pulled up news media for insensitive commentary, ridicule and sensationalising of lives of LGBTQ persons. “It is high time journalists stick to sensitive and inclusive terms on the gender spectrum,” the court said.
The next hearing has been posted to October 4.