The Chennai High Court ordered sweeping reforms to respect LGBTQ rights, going much farther than the narrow terms of a case brought by a lesbian couple who was harassed by police. The two women had filed a complaint arguing police had subjected them to harassing questioning after their parents filed a missing person report.
In an unprecedented decision, Judge Anand Venkatesh of the Chennai High Court called for a change in legislation that would allow police officers and officials to receive sensitivity training so that they are more respectful of LGBTQ people.
Justice Anand Venkatesh
He also wants a “conversion therapy” ban and calls for practitioners who claim to be able to “cure” homosexuality to have their licenses revoked.
Finally, he calls for schools and colleges to provide gender-neutral restrooms and that gender non-conforming or transgender prisoners be housed separately if necessary to protect them from possible sexual assault.
“Ignorance is no justification for normalizing any form of discrimination,” Judge Venkatesh wrote in his order.
He also encouraged schools to work with families to “sensitize parents on issues of LGBTQIA+ community and gender non-conforming students, [and] to ensure supportive families [to LGBTQ+ students].”
Judge Venkatesh made it clear that despite not being able to impose such changes himself, he was hopeful they would be followed as well by all other departments in the country.
“This is the first major order that addresses most challenges concerning the whole LGBTQIA+ community and issues specific directions,” said L Ramakrishnan, vice-president at SAATHII, a public health advocacy group.
“I am hopeful of change given the judge has indicated he would follow up on the directions on a regular basis,” he added.
The Chennai High Court has ruled that LGBTQ people must be protected against discrimination and get equal protection and treatment. This is a huge step for human rights in India, but it will not be easy to achieve. Courts cannot impose change but government departments cannot ignore the order as they must now report to the court, detailing their plan to comply with the order.
Photo: from the Linfield University