'Ignorance Can't Justify Normalising Discrimination': Madras HC Judge on LGBTQIA+ Issues

Justice Venkatesh, hearing a writ petition filed by two women in a relationship seeking protection from the police, says he signed up for sessions with experts to gain insight into issues faced by LGBTQIA+ people.

New Delhi: A Madras high court judge, while issuing guidelines to help ensure LGBTQIA+ people in relationships do not have to face harassment from law enforcement, said that he underwent sessions with experts to educate himself on the problems and lives of LGBTQIA+ people.

Justice Anand Venkatesh said that ignorance cannot be a justification for normalising discrimination, LiveLaw has reported.

Justice Venkatesh was hearing a writ petition filed by two women seeking protection from the police, who had been informed of their relationship by their parents, who were against it.

The judge called for sweeping reforms, among which were sending police and government officials to awareness training to ensure they respect LGBTQ rights. Medical practitioners who claim to be able to “cure” homosexuality should have their licenses revoked, he said.

Schools and colleges should make gender neutral restrooms available, and gender-nonconforming or trans prisoners should be housed separately if needed to protect them from sexual assault.

Justice Venkates recorded in his judgment, “I have no hesitation in accepting that I too belong to the majority of commoners who are yet to comprehend homosexuality completely…The society and my upbringing have always treated the terms ‘homosexual’, ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ as anathema. A majority of the society would stand in the same position of ignorance and preconceived notions.”

Among those whose counsel Justice Venkatesh sought to inform himself better was clinical psychologist Dr Vidya Dinkaran, Dr L. Ramakrishnan, vice-president of the public health non-profit Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII), Shanmathi of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, digital-content creator, actor and MBBS intern at Kasturba Medical College, and her mother Haima Haldar.

The judge spoke in detail on his own earlier prejudices and how they, like the society at large, stood to prevent LGBTQIA+ from enjoying the legal sanctions given to them.

Activists hailed the order as a major step towards equality for marginalised groups. Although the court could not by itself impose such widespread change with a single ruling, government departments could not ignore the order to report back on the steps they plan to take to comply, and the arguments raised by the judge could serve as precedent for future cases.

“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 Chennai-based 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 said.

Hearing a similar petition in March, the same judge had noted that he is attempting to learn more and challenge preconceived notions on the minority.

“To be open, I am also trying to break my own preconceived notions about this issue and I am in the process of evolving, and sincerely attempting to understand the feelings of the Petitioners and their parents thereafter, proceed to write a detailed Order on this issue. That is the reason why I am trying to develop this case brick by brick and ultimately, construct something purposeful on this issue.”

(With Reuters inputs)