Madras High Court initiates measures to educate society about LGBTQ rights

Madras High Court initiates measures to educate society about LGBTQ rights

The Court also bans medical procedure to correct the sexual orientation of the community

A landmark order of the Madras High Court (HC) issued recently is bound to bring cheers to the lives of the LGBTQIA+ community facing social taboos. The Court has suggested a string of measures to educate and sensitise various government departs, judiciary and the society at large with an aim to eliminate gender bias and prejudice against the society.

The judgement of Justice N Anand Venkatesh on a plea by a lesbian couple seeking protection from their relatives has underlined the need for all-around measures to ensure that there is no discrimination of any kind against members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Justice Venkatesh in a way showed the way for others as he had a session with a psychologist to understand the same-sex relationship better before he delivered his verdict in the case (S Sushma v. Commissioner of Police). Advocate S Manuraj represented the petitioners before the HC in this case.

Among the suggestions of the HC include making changes in the curricula of schools and universities to educate students on understanding the LGBTQIA + community and ordering strict action against anyone attempting to cure/change the sexual orientation of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Justice Venkatesh in his order has suggested the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) meetings should be used to sensitize parents on issues of the LGBTQIA+ community and gender nonconforming students to ensure supportive families.

He also suggested necessary amendment in policies and resources to include students belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community in all spheres of life in school and college life. To this end, the Court suggested ensuring availability of gender-neutral restrooms for the gender-nonconforming student; change of gender on academic records for transgender persons with the inclusion of transgender in addition to M and F gender columns in application forms for admission, competitive entrance exams, etc. and appointments of LGBTQIA+ inclusive counsellors to counsel staffs and students to address the grievances and provide effective solutions for the same.

The Court further ruled that in addition to the above, the appropriate government shall take effective steps to implement measures concerning transgender persons as stipulated by Chapter VI of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 and Rule 10 of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020.

To make the judiciary more sensitive, Justice Venkatesh suggested conducting 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 LGBTQIA+ community.

The HC order also suggested organising regular programs in police and prison departments regarding steps they must take for protection from and prevention of offences against the LGBTQIA+ community, besides sensitizing them about legal rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and create awareness about the Offences and Penalties as stipulated under Chapter VIII of The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 and compliance of Rule 11 of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020.

The HC also suggested conducting outreach programs by the NGOs with community support to put forth first-hand problems faced in the hands of law enforcement agencies, and to train them in providing effective assistance besides ensuring that transgender and gender-nonconforming prisoners are housed separately to eliminate chances of sexual assault.

The Court suggested stern actions against medical professionals, including suspension of their license to practice if they indulge in any attempt to medically cure or change the sexual orientation of LGBTIQA+ people to heterosexual or the gender identity of transgender people to cisgender.

Besides giving recommendations, the HC in its order also issued interim directions:

*The police, on receipt of any complaint regarding girl/woman/man missing cases which upon enquiry/investigation is found to involve consenting adults belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community, shall upon receipt of their statements, close the complaint without subjecting them to any harassment.

* The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (MSJE), should enlist NGOs including community-based groups which have sufficient expertise in handling the issues faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. The list of such NGOs along with the address, contact details, and services provided should be published and revised periodically on the official website. Such details should be published within eight weeks from the date of receipt of the copy of this order.

* Any person who faces an issue for the reason of their belongingness to the LGBTQIA+ community may approach any of the enlisted NGOs for safeguarding and protecting their rights.

* The concerned NGO in consultation with the MSJE, shall maintain confidential records of such persons who approach the enlisted NGOs and the aggregate data shall be provided to the concerned Ministry bi-annually.

* Such problems should be addressed with the best-suited method depending on the facts and circumstances of each case be it counselling, monetary support, legal assistance with the support of District Legal Services Authority, or to coordination with law enforcement agencies about offenses committed against any persons belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community.

* With specificity of issue of accommodation, suitable changes are to be made in existing short stay homes, Anganwadi shelters, and “garima greh” (a shelter home for transgender persons, the purpose of which is to provide shelter to transgender persons, with basic amenities like shelter, food, medical care and recreational facilities. Besides, it will provide support for capacity building/skill development of persons in the community, enabling them to lead a life of dignity and respect) to accommodate any and every member of the LGBTQIA+ community, who require shelters and/or homes. The MSJE should make adequate infrastructural arrangements in this regard, within a period of 12 weeks from the date of receipt of copy of this order.

* Such other measures that are needed for eliminating prejudices against the LGBTQIA+ community, and channelizing them back into the mainstream should also be taken up. The Union and State Governments respectively, in consultation with such other Ministries and/or Departments shall endeavour to device such measures and policies.

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