Stop treating homosexuality as an illness, says Indian Psychiatric Society
In 2016, IPS had set up a group to deal with issues faced by members from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community.
For the first time, Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS), country’s largest body of mental health professionals, announced its official stance on homosexuality. The society has asked its members to ‘stop considering homosexuality as an illness’.
In 2016, IPS set up a group to deal with issues faced by members from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community. But it is now that the organisation made an official statement on homosexuality. The announcement is important because some psychiatrists have been allegedly practising ‘conversion therapies’ to ‘cure’ their patients of homosexuality. The IPS has around 5,000 members.
Dr Ajit Bhide, IPS president, in a video uploaded on social media, said most respectable psychiatric societies have removed homosexuality from nomenclature of mental illness.
He added, “It is a step in the right direction and is backed by plenty of scientific proof. Some individuals are just not cut out to be heterosexuals and we don’t need to castigate them, we don’t need to punish them, we don’t need to ostracise them. Mental health professionals are largely oriented to accepting this as a variation rather than an aberration of nature. Whatever your sexual orientation, whatever your sexual preference, as long as no other party is being hurt, an individual should be allowed to practice whatever he wants.”
Dr Kersi Chavda, chairperson of IPS task force, which deals with emotional issues faced by members of LGBTQ community, said, “This statement is our official stand on homosexuality, that its not a disease and should not treated like one. This is the first time we have released an official stand.”
Doctors and LGBTQ activists have welcomed the statement and are hopeful that it will prevent doctors from practising ‘conversion therapies’ to seek to change a person’s sexuality.
“This is for the first time that IPS has publically clarified its stand on homosexuality. Now, they must inform all IPS members to stop practising conversion therapies that range from brainwashing, hormonal treatments, electroconvulsive therapy and lot of religious and philosophical indoctrination,” said Dr Bhooshan Shukla, a Pune-based psychiatrist, who along with eleven other colleagues aided with the petitioners to decriminalise homosexuality in 2013.
Legal battle against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalises any form of sexual intercourse that is not penovaginal, irrespective whether it is consensual or not, is almost two decades old.
A petition filed in Delhi high court in 2001 by Naz Foundation, eventually led to the reading down of the section in 2009, such that it did not apply to consenting adults. The verdict was challenged by organisations representing Hindus, Christians and Muslims and in 2013, the Supreme Court reversed Delhi high court judgment. This was challenged and multiple curative petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court.
Vikram Doctor, activist associated with Gay Bombay, a city-based LGBTQ support group started in 1991, said it was high time the society made its stand clear.
“It should have been done 20 years ago, but I am glad they have come up with it now. Psychiatry bodies in United States categorically stated that homosexuality is not a disease, nearly three decades ago. It [the IPS statement] will be an effective argument in the court to challenge bodies that support criminalisation of homosexuality based on religious point of views,” he added.
IPS organised its first seminar at civic-run BYL Nair Hospital, Mumbai Central, in January, to train mental health professionals about how to communicate and talk to patients from LGBTQ community. More sessions have been planned in the coming month.
“This week, for the first time, we are going to conduct a session for the staff of a Delhi-based school on how to talk to students who come out of the closet. We will also hold a session for the doctors,” Chavda said.