A week ago, the state became the first to ban conversion therapy, a procedure carried out by hospitals and religious institutions to change the sexual orientation of people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA community. The decision was one of many significant guidelines issued by the Madras High Court, aimed at offering members of the community a life of dignity and privacy, devoid of intimidation.
Apart from banning conversion, the court has also directed schools and colleges to bring about changes in their curricula to reflect these societal shifts and suggested law enforcement officers take up sensitivity programmes to help them deal with cases about LGBTQIA people in an empathetic and fair manner. What has also inspired conversations is how Justice N Anand Venkatesh, a High Court Judge, who issued these orders, addressed his own misgivings about the community and even went on to take psychological counselling from stakeholders in the LGBTQIA space, before delivering his verdict.
Justice Venkatesh’s ruling could be used as a reference point in future cases of sexual minorities across India. This is also one of the rare instances when a sitting judge has displayed the moral conviction that he or she may require a certain degree of counselling before attempting to pass a judgment on a sensitive matter. In this instance, he was referring to the case of a plea filed by a lesbian couple whose parents had opposed their relationship.
This development during June, designated globally as Pride Month, might serve as more than an addendum to the landmark 2018 Supreme Court ruling, which decriminalised homosexuality, and ruled that Section 377 was unconstitutional as it infringed upon an individual’s fundamental rights of autonomy, intimacy, and identity. In fact, Justice Venkatesh would not have had to look too far to find glowing examples of LGBTQIA representation within the legal fraternity itself. In 2018, lawyers Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, who also happen to be partners, played a significant role in repealing Section 377.
As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the state has been working towards the mainstreaming of sexual minorities for several years now. In 2008, Tamil Nadu became the first state in India to open up its government and aided colleges to members of the transgender community. The State Directorate of Collegiate Education had updated its application form for degree courses in colleges to include Male, Female and Transgender options under the gender column.
A year later, the ripples of such changes were being felt in the political space of the state as well. The BJP had appointed a state wing leader, R Jeeva for the welfare of transgender people. Similarly, the VCK also had recruited Cuddalore Ramya as the state secretary for the party’s transgender welfare association. The most recent is Padmashri Narthaki Natarajan who was appointed to the State Development Policy Council, by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin.
Of course, these developments might appear to be just a dip in the ocean as there is more to be achieved – especially in spaces where the impact is compounded. Just ask any gay or lesbian couple how troublesome the process of even booking a hotel room is in India. On the work front, in the educational sphere, and even in the space of public utilities such as airports, railway stations, government offices and administrative buildings, significant efforts will need to be made to offer amenities like gender-neutral restrooms.
More importantly, a dialogue must be initiated on the most fundamental level, on the home front for the rights of the LGBTQIA community. If the taboos about sexuality are quelled at home, the community stands a better chance to go out in the world and live their lives in the absence of fear of discrimination.