Act Against Homophobia and Transphobia!

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May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and the theme for 2016 is “Mental Health & Wellbeing.” As I hear this theme, I am reminded of a couple of incidents that stick in my mind:

In 2000, a young man approached an NGO for help. He was in his early twenties and had been administered electric shocks by a doctor as a part of a “conversion therapy” so that he could be ‘cured’ of his homosexuality.

In 2016, a gay man posted on an online platform saying, “My boyfriend came out to his parents, who then took him to the Department of Clinical Psychology at one of the prestigious hospitals. The psychologist told his family that homosexuality is curable, and their son can lead a ‘normal life’ after marriage.”

This sort of forceful conversion of LGBT people is not mental health therapy; it’s physical and emotional torture! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential.” It saddens me that our society, which thinks homophobia is normal and homosexuality is abnormal, has never promoted the mental health of LGBT people. Even today, more than twenty-five years since WHO eliminated homosexuality from its list of psychiatric diseases, people consider homosexuality as a disease that can be cured. Many practicing psychologists and psychiatrists in India and elsewhere continue to offer hormone treatments and shock therapies, including forceful watching of heterosexual pornography and even rapes.

In India, the situation has become worse following the 2013 Supreme Court of India ruling reinstating Section 377 of Indian Penal Code. Government programs for sexual and gender minorities in India mainly focus on HIV prevention, with no space to advocate for LGBT rights. In fact recently, while I was directing a documentary movie, ‘Under the Surface’, which highlights the subject of gender-based bullying, I was shocked to see how society encourages homophobia and transphobia from a very early age in schools.

Today, it is crucial that each individual commit to put a stop to homophobia and transphobia and pledge to uphold the rights of sexual and gender minorities. Every parent must underscore to their children the importance of accepting one another, irrespective of their gender identity, sexual orientation and other differences. Let there be light after so much darkness!

This blog has been written by Yashwinder Singh, an LGBT rights activist, who is the founder member of Pahal Foundation. He was earlier associated with the Pehchan programme of India HIV/AIDS Alliance. Presently, Mr. Singh is an alternate member for the Global Fund India Country Coordinating Mechanism

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