One Step at a Time!

One Step at a Time! The Stonewall incident of June 1969 in the USA was a watershed moment that marked the beginning of a revolutionary period for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. Since the 1990s, the month of June has been observed as the PRIDE month to celebrate their diversity. Three US Presidents, including Joe Biden, have endorsed it to recognize the rights of this community and protect their dignity. This year was no different, but the month was tainted with worrying news of the LGBTQIA+ community being targeted. Incidents like the harsh crackdown of the Turkish police on the peaceful Pride parade in Istanbul, Hungary passing a law banning the LGBTQIA+ content and a gay man being killed outside a gay bar in Spain spread worry and concern amongst people. But amongst these worrying headlines, an unexpected judgment made in the case S.Sushma v. Commissioner of Police1 stood as a beacon of hope. This case has become one of the leading examples of judicial activism set by the Indian judiciary not just for India but for the whole world. The matter before the Hon’ble Madras High Court was simple - a major (18+) lesbian couple had moved out of their family homes to live together. Their respective families wished that they be returned to them and the Court was petitioned to stop the same. The single Judge bench could have simply granted protection to the couple and concluded the matter. But the Court, in its wisdom decided to look at the larger issue.

The Hon’ble Judge admitted that he was not sensitized enough about the problems of the LGBTQIA+ community and underwent counseling to understand the concept of ‘homosexuality.’ This helped the Hon’ble Court realize the need for the Indian society to evolve and understand the issues faced by the LGBTQIA+ community thereby ensuring a day where they no longer have to conceal their true identity to meet society’s unreasonable expectations as well as their individual rights are protected. In light of this, the Madras High Court passed a ‘continuing mandamus’ under which it passed a slew of guidelines to change the society’s mentality towards LGBTQIA+ people.

The guidelines included banning of all kinds of conversion therapies and making it a punishable offence. The Hon’ble Court also ordered the Central and State Governments to organize awareness programs for police and other state officials to habituate them with the concept of homosexuality so they can correctly handle matters concerning people of the LGBTQIA+ community. The Hon’ble Court also ordered that all educational institutions (private as well as public) should include subjects that will educate the younger generations about the LGBTQIA+ community and help reduce prejudice and stigma against them. The learned Judge directed these guidelines to be in force until suitable laws are passed by the Parliament of India and that the Madras High Court would from time to time seek reports on the enforcement of these guidelines.

While there is no doubt that it is a huge win for the LGBTQIA+ community of India and is a precedent for courts and societies in other conservative countries, there is also no denying that we may have won a battle, but the war is still on. These changes to society cannot happen overnight even with judicial intervention. They can happen faster and more effectively if every citizen helps in its implementation and contributes towards making a change in society one step at a time.

It is our moral duty as responsible citizens to educate the uninformed. Educational institutions must regularly organize mental awareness sessions by trained psychologists on the concept of ‘homosexuality.’ They must also consider onboarding a psychologist full time for students with any queries, confusion or problems regarding their sexuality. They must declare passing comments on someone’s sexuality a cause for disciplinary action. Teachers should also be given ample training on how to behave and act respectfully with LGBTQIA+ students. These guidelines should also be strictly adhered to by other sectors like the government and the corporate sector. The government in the United Kingdom has passed similar guidelines that have greatly helped in reducing stigma against the LGBTQIA+ community and has encouraged people of this community to embrace their true identity.

It is time that we put aside these differences that divide our society and become a shining example for other countries and societies around the world. S.Sushma v. Commissioner of Police is the preliminary step. It is now up to all of us as individuals of this country to design a future which is equal for all the citizens, one step at a time.