India’s LGBTQIA+ community wins legal victory but still faces social barriers to acceptance, equal rights

UNAIDSmajor advocate for coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) India offices are important partners in this effort.

On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), celebrated annually on May 17, we reflect on the journeys of some members of this community in India and shed light on the challenges they still face.

‘All hell broke loose’

Noyonika* and Ishita*, residents of a small town in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, are a lesbian couple who work with an organization that advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights.

But despite her advocacy role in the community, Noyonika still couldn’t muster the courage to tell her family that she was gay. “Very few people know this,” she said. “My family is very conservative and it would be unthinkable if [them] to understand that I am gay.

Noyonika’s partner, Ishita, is Agender (no gender specified or lack thereof). She said that from a young age, she realized that she was different from other girls and was more attracted to girls than boys. But her family is also very conservative, she has never told her father about her truth.

Minal*, 23, and Sangeeta*, 27, have a similar story. The couple are residents of a small village in the northwestern state of Punjab. They now live in a big city and work for a highly rated company.

Sangeeta said that although her parents finally agreed to the relationship, Minal’s family was strongly against harassing the couple. “All hell broke loose,” Min said.

“In 2019, we were allowed to live together by court order,” Sangeeta explains, “but then Minal’s family started threatening her over the phone.

“They said they would kill me and put my family in jail. Even my family members are scared of these threats. Afterward [Minal’s family] continuously followed and harassed us for two to three years,” she said.

Today, Sangeeta and Min are still fighting to have their relationship recognized by law.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

As a trans* activist from Odisha, Sadhana's commitment extends beyond the bureaucracy to actively engage with the transgender community.

Fight for acceptance

Heartbreaking stories like this can be found across India, where social prejudice and harassment continue to afflict the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. , homosexual and intersex.

Sadhna Mishra, a transgender activist from Odisha, runs a community organization called Sakha. As a child, she faced oppression because she was considered not to conform to society’s gender norms. In 2015, she underwent gender confirmation surgery and her journey towards her true self began.

Recalling her painful childhood days, she said: “Because of my femininity, I became a victim of rape over and over again. Every time I cried, my mother asked why, and I couldn’t say anything. I once asked why people called me Chhakka And Kinnar [transgender or intersex]. My mother would smile and say it’s because you’re different and unique.”

It is because of her mother’s belief in her that Sadhna is now actively fighting for the rights of other transgender people.

However, she still clearly remembers the obstacles she faced, such as the early days of trying to start her company and the difficulties she encountered finding a space for Sakha’s office. People do not want to rent space to transgender people, so Sadhna is forced to work in public places and parks.

Social prejudice

Ignorance and intolerance towards the LGBTQIA+ community are similar, whether in big cities or in rural areas.

Noyonika said that her organization witnesses many cases where a man marries a woman because of social pressure without clearly understanding his gender identity. “In villages and towns, you will see many couples with children and forced to live a fake life.”

For the rural areas in Assam where her organization operates, Ishita gives the example of a cultural festival Bhavna held in Naamgharsor places of worship where plays based on mythological stories are shown.

The female characters in these films are mostly played by men with feminine personalities. During festivals, they are widely praised and their feminine traits are applauded, but if not noticed, they can become victims of harassment.

“They were threatened, sexually exploited, harassed,” Ishita explains.

The path of progress is slow

In recent years, there have been positive legal and policy decisions recognizing the LGBTQIA+ community in India. This includes the 2014 NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) decision, in which the court upheld the right of people to identify their own gender and that of hijras and kinnar (transgender people). recognized by law as ‘third gender’.

In 2018, the application of sections of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to criminalize private consensual sex between men was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India. Furthermore, in 2021, a landmark judgment of the Madras High Court directed the state to provide comprehensive welfare services to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Over the past 40 years, the Rainbow Pride flag has become synonymous with the LGBTQ+ community and the fight for equal rights and acceptance across the globe.

United Nations advocacy

Communication is an important way to promote dialogue and help create a more tolerant and inclusive society, and over time, can even change mindsets.

To achieve this purpose, United Nations Womenin collaboration with India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, recently contributed to the development of a comprehensive gender communication guide.

Meanwhile, the UNAIDS and UNDP offices in India are working to support the LGBTQIA+ community by conducting awareness and empowerment campaigns, as well as providing those communities with protection services better health and society.

“UNAIDS supports LGBTQ+ leadership in the HIV response and human rights advocacy, and is working to address discrimination and discrimination,” said David Bridger, UNAIDS Country Director in India. help build inclusive societies where everyone is protected and respected.”

“The HIV response has clearly taught all of us that to protect people’s health, we must protect people’s rights,” he added.

Compliant with the United Nations Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and the Organization’s broad commitment to ‘leaving no one behind’, UNDP is working with governments and partners to strengthen laws, policies and programs to address inequality and seek to ensure respect for the human rights of LGBTQIA+ people.

Through the program “Being LGBTI in Asia and the Pacific”, UNDP has also launched relevant regional initiatives.

Opportunities and challenges

UNDP India Country Program Director (Health Systems Strengthening Unit), Dr. Chiranjeev Bhattacharjya said: “At UNDP India, we have worked very closely with the LGBTQI community to promote rights their”.

Indeed, he continued, there are now many opportunities to support the community due to progressive legal milestones such as the NALSA judgment, decriminalization of same-sex relationships (377 IPC) and the Transgender Persons Act. (Protection of Rights) 2019 has raised awareness about their development.

“However, there are implementation challenges that require the cooperation of many stakeholders and we will continue to work with the community to address them so that no one is left behind,” he said. .

Even as India’s legal landscape has moved towards greater inclusion with the repeal of Section 377, the country’s LGBTQIA+ community is still waiting for recognition – and justice – as it deals with many areas in their daily lives and interactions, for example: who can be designated ‘ next of kin if a person is hospitalized; Can a partner be added to a life insurance policy; or whether gay marriage is recognized by law.


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