Moving in the right direction: India court legalizes gay sex in landmark ruling

There currently are no official demographics for the LGBT population in India. However according to unofficial estimates submitted by the government of India to the Supreme Court, there were about 2.5 million gay people in 2012. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people in India face many difficulties, both social and legal. Reports of killings, attacks, torture, and beatings are not uncommon. LGBT people in India also face discrimination in the community and rejection from their families.

Over the past decade, tolerance towards the LGBT community in India has increased, especially in big cities. Recently, a historic decision overturned the 2012 ruling that upheld a 157 year old colonial-era law, known as section 377 of the India Penal Code (IPC), under which gay sex is categorized as an “unnatural offence” that is punishable by a 10 year jail term. The court ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights.

Legal and social recognition of same-sex relationships should have a positive effect on the health and well being of this community. So what is next for India? Better access to healthcare is known to translate to lower health risks. Identifying LGBT-friendly providers who can provide the care and support they deserve will be critical in achieving this. A great example is grassroots provider, Arif Jafar, a health counselor who spent time in jail under Section 377 and more recently challenged the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling, started a support group in India that provides counseling, support, and sexual health services to gay and transgender persons. Other methods of increasing healthcare access for the LGBT community are equally important. For example, the dating application Grindr will start to direct users in India to proper health services in their area. Additionally, I believe there should be a large emphasis on HIV testing, prevention, and treatment options for LGBT people. HIV prevalence among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) is 2.7% and among transgender people is 3.1%. The goal moving forward is for LGBT patients to feel comfortable seeking HIV testing, prevention or treatment.

Over time, this ruling should lead to less stigma and discrimination and will lead to more acceptance and acknowledgement of India’s LGBT community. While this is a pivotal moment for India’s LGBT, there are still 71 countries and territories worldwide where same-sex relationships are criminalized. Most of them are in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Despite India’s milestone, the work towards global equality for LGBT people remains far from complete and there is more work to be done.

 

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