Indian court calls for sweeping reforms to respect LGBTQ rights

A court in India on Monday ordered state and federal officials to work out plans for sweeping reforms to respect LGBTQ rights in a ruling that went well beyond the narrow terms of a case of a lesbian couple alleging harassment by police to be.

Madras Supreme Court Justice Anand Venkatesh ruled in favor of the couple who complained that police interrogated them in a harassing manner after their parents filed a missing person report.

However, the judge also took the opportunity to deliver a broad judgment calling for the elimination of what he described as illegal discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. He ordered state and federal government agencies to come forward with the actions they intend to take.

Among his recommendations: Police and government officials should be made aware to ensure they respect LGBTQ rights. Doctors who claim to be able to “cure” homosexuality should have their licenses withdrawn.

Schools and colleges should provide gender-neutral toilets, and gender-nonconforming or transgender prisoners should be housed separately if necessary to protect them from sexual assault.

“Ignorance is no justification for normalizing any form of discrimination,” Venkatesh wrote in his order. Educators should reach out to parents to “raise awareness among parents of LGBTQIA + community issues and gender nonconforming students to ensure supportive families,” the order said.

Activists hailed the Order as an important step towards equality for marginalized groups. While the court could not enforce such a sweeping change in a single judgment, government departments could not ignore the order to report on the actions they planned, and the judge’s arguments could serve as a precedent for future cases.

“This is the first major assignment that addresses most of the challenges and provides specific directions for the entire LGBTQIA + community,” said L Ramakrishnan, vice president of SAATHII, a Chennai-based public health advocacy group.

“I am hoping for a change as the judge has indicated that he will follow instructions regularly,” he said.

Upon reaching the verdict, the judge said he had obtained information about same-sex relationships from a psychologist. The judge described himself as not “fully awake” and said he was among the majority in India who “do not yet fully understand homosexuality”.

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