An Indian court on Monday ordered state and federal officials to draw up plans for sweeping reforms to respect LGBTQ rights, in a decision that went well beyond the narrow terms of a case brought by an lesbian couple who said they had been harassed by the police.
Madras High Court Judge Anand Venkatesh ruled in favor of the couple, who complained that police subjected them to harassing interrogations after their parents filed a missing person report.
But the judge also took the opportunity to deliver a broad ruling calling for the elimination of what he described as unlawful discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. He has ordered state and federal government departments to report on the steps they intend to take to comply.
Among its recommendations: Police and government officials should be educated to ensure they respect LGBTQ rights. Doctors who claim they can “cure” homosexuality should have their licenses revoked.
Schools and colleges should provide gender neutral toilets, and transgender or transsexual prisoners should be housed separately if necessary to protect them from sexual assault.
“Ignorance does not justify the normalization of all forms of discrimination,” Venkatesh wrote in his ordinance. Educators should reach out to parents, to help “educate parents about issues in the LGBTQIA + community and gender non-conforming students, to ensure support for families,” his order said.
Activists hailed the order as a major step towards equality for marginalized groups. While the tribunal alone could not impose such a sweeping change with a single ruling, departments could not ignore the order to report on the steps they plan to take to comply, and the arguments raised by the judge could serve as a precedent for future cases.
“This is the first major order that addresses most of the challenges affecting the entire LGBTQIA + community and provides specific guidance,” said L Ramakrishnan, vice president of SAATHII, a public health advocacy group. based in Chennai.
“I am hopeful of a change as the judge has indicated that he will follow instructions regularly,” he said.
In rendering his ruling, the judge said he had requested information about same-sex relationships from a psychologist. The judge described himself as not “fully awake” and said he belonged to the majority in India, who “have yet to fully understand homosexuality”.
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