India’s ‘pioneering’ LGBTQ+ state bans abuse, boosts trans rights

Police threats, slurs and even violence are all part of LGBTQ+ life in India, but a new rule could ease the onslaught in a southern state by becoming a ‘trailblazer’ for sexual minorities.

The Tamil Nadu government recently changed the state’s rules of conduct, asking its police officers to stop harassing LGBTQ+ Indians, on the order of a High Court judge.

The change, at least on paper, is sweeping – though it has yet to trickle down to the street level and mark a real turning point for marginalized minorities in socially conservative India, LGBTQ+ rights activists say.

“Tamil Nadu is a pioneer in LGBTQ+ rights, especially when it comes to acknowledging trans lives,” said Kalki Subramaniam, trans activist and founder of the Sahodari Foundation, which helps trans women in Tamil Nadu.

“With this amendment, many innocent trans lives can be saved,” she said.

Tamil Nadu began taking inclusive measures as early as 1994, when it granted voting rights to trans Indians.

Then, in 2008, it started offering free sex reassignment surgeries – long before 2014, when India’s highest court ruled that trans Indians had equal rights.

India passed a transgender rights bill in 2019 and formed a national transgender council a year later.

After the Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex in 2018, the coastal state has seen a series of firsts for LGBTQ+ rights — from banning so-called conversion therapy to banning subpoena surgery. sex on babies whose sex is unclear at birth.

Yet despite the gains on paper, gay and trans people still face discrimination and regularly face police harassment, extortion and abuse, according to LGBTQ+ activists.

They say trans women are the most vulnerable, often attracting unwanted attention because of their appearance and the nature of their work, which is usually begging or sex work, exposing them to further violence from men. law enforcement.

In 2016, a trans sex worker died after being found with severe burns outside a police station in the state capital, Chennai.

A decade earlier, a trans woman set herself on fire after police in Chennai physically and sexually assaulted her. The following year, the state high court punished the police for prison violence.

Fear of police abuse, which is much worse in rural areas, leads to fewer crimes reported by LGBTQ+ victims, said Grace Banu, a Chennai-based activist who is heralded as Tamil Nadu’s first trans engineer.

She said that while the changes in police conduct rules were encouraging, she did not expect any change in the absence of enforcement action or clarity on the penalties errant officers now face.

“Without any deterrence, the police won’t follow any rules,” she said, recounting the time she was stripped, verbally abused and humiliated at a police station in 2017.

“Who will you go to when an officer harasses you? The police? They are already threatening us and saying they are going to make false accusations against us LGBTQ people.

Tamil Nadu’s home ministry, which amended police conduct rules, did not respond to requests for comment.

We need to do more

Other states such as Odisha to the east and neighboring Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, which last year became the first in India to offer a 1% quota for trans people in jobs government, have also taken pro-trans action.

And High Court Judge N. Anand Venkatesh this week published an LGBTQ+ glossary to help the media portray the community “in a more dignified and inclusive way”.

He also called for changes to the university curriculum and supported LGBTQ+ awareness programs for criminal justice workers.

Still, LGBTQ+ Indians say much more needs to be done.

Trans people are often rejected by their families, they say, and are denied jobs, education and health care.

Same-sex relationships are taboo, forcing many gay people to conceal their identities for fear of discrimination in a country where premarital sex is still widely frowned upon.

Ending discrimination also makes financial sense, they say.

“Sensitive and supportive police, conscious doctors and parents, sensitive reporting in (the) press… will lead to more space in the economy,” said Ramkrishna Sinha, gay co-founder of the LGBTQ+ consultancy Pride Circle.

There is no official data on India’s LGBTQ+ population, but activists put it at around 105 million.

the The World Bank estimates that homophobia costs India $31 billion a year due to low academic achievement, lost productivity, and the added costs of providing health care to poor, stressed, suicidal, or HIV-positive LGBTQ+ people.

More and more companies – from Accenture and consumer staples giant Procter & Gamble to India’s Tata Steel – have introduced LGBTQ-friendly policies, including medical benefits for gay employees and their partners, since 2018.

But state-owned companies have yet to follow suit.

Deepthi, a lesbian who works in an LGBTQ+ matchmaking app and runs a small soap business with her partner, said it was important to audit organisations, businesses and public offices, to assess the implementation. implementing policies.

“(This) will ensure that…LGBTQ people make safer choices when it comes to their careers and career progression,” said named Deepthi.

She is also a volunteer with the Chennai-based LGBTQ+ rights network, Orinam, which worked with Justice Venkatesh to come up with the gay and trans-friendly recommendations.

Several other LGBTQ+ Orinam volunteers have lobbied for job quotas, outreach programs for the masses, and to legalize sex work-related activities such as soliciting.

“Bring the necessary laws to protect gay people who engage in sex work,” said Sanjevi Jayaraman, a gay activist, adding that India’s law on sexual harassment in the workplace should cover LGBTQ+ people.

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