As Pride Month continues in India, we can look internationally to see the strides being made to advance the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and others (LGBTQ+) community. Recently, in India, a High Court called for reforms that create safer spaces and more respectful rules for the LGBTQ+ community in response to a case brought forth by a lesbian couple who had been harassed by the police. The ruling itself is sweeping, so the court has given recommendations for the reforms that should come from this decision. According to Reuters, these recommendations include but are not limited to making gender-neutral restrooms in schools, housing transgender or gender non-conforming prisoners separately from others where it is necessary to prevent sexual harassment and revoking the licenses of medical practitioners who claim that they are able to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
On June 7th, 2021, Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court said, “ignorance is no justification for normalizing any form of discrimination,” when announcing this decision. Thus, in his recommendations, he noted that it will be important, perhaps most important of all, for people to learn about LGBTQ+ experiences in order to become more sympathetic and in favor of progress.
This call for widespread reform is important because it is a step in the right direction. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is incremental change that is necessary alongside broader structural changes. LGBTQ+ people have more rights on paper, but the stigmas and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community do not change automatically with legislation. There is room both to applaud and critique the implications of these reforms. The High Court called for sweeping reforms, but there needs to be continued attention to continuing these reforms. That said, it is unexpected that a complete shift in collective consciousness and perception would occur after one court ruling. This forces a bigger question: going forward, how could the broader cultural consciousness inhibit the smooth implementation of these reforms? One way of ensuring continued progress in LGBTQ+ rights is by involving large international organizations. The United Nations (UN), for example, does not have any direct control over domestic affairs in India because it is an international and external organization, but it could put pressure on the government to take concrete steps to further implement reforms.
In order to understand how important this step forward is, we can contextualize it by looking at the past. Homosexuality was only legalized in India in 2018, when Section 377, India’s main anti-LGBTQ+ law, was repealed. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was instituted in 1861 while India was under British rule, as stated by Forbes. Essentially, Section 377 declared that any sexual activity deemed as “against the order of nature” was illegal. While this was repealed in relation to LGBTQ+ rights (it remains in effect for non-consensual sex, bestiality, and other circumstances), other issues surrounding LGBTQ+ rights beyond basic legalization are also very recent. According to Business Standard, the LGBTQ+ movement, like other progressive movements such as feminism and environmentalism, is widely perceived in India as anti-colonial. However, with the progression of LGBTQ+ rights, activists have said that it is important to move beyond this rhetoric of anti-colonialism so that holding states in India and the country itself accountable for their own actions is more possible.
The progress that has been made legally is necessary, but the same progress must be made socially, societally, and structurally. Looking to the future, it seems as though India is on track to continue with positive reforms, which is, of course, fitting to recognize as we celebrate Pride Month.
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