LGBTQIA+ persons and communities in Kerala have condemned the queerphobic and bigoted statements made by a neurophysiotherapist during an online seminar conducted by the Kannur women’s wing of Jamat-e-Islami. The seminar held on June 15 was initially titled ‘LGBTQ+: A gateway to unnatural sex’, and was later changed to ‘LGBTQ — an analysis’ after protests from several quarters. The main speaker at the seminar was Dr Muhammed Najeeb, who was introduced as a neuro physiotherapy lecturer in a university in Saudi Arabia. In the seminar, Dr Najeeb compared homosexuality to pedophilia, and claimed that transgender persons are mentally ill.
Further, while the seminar was advertised as an open invite for anyone to attend, several LGBTQIA+ persons who wanted to attend the seminar told TNM that they were removed from the live discussion right at the beginning.
The seminar started with Dr Najeeb explaining the different terms in the ‘LGBTQ’ acronym, and for the most part, he stuck to facts. However, when he came to explaining what the term ‘transgender’ meant, and who transgender persons are, he veered off into rhetorical talking points of the ‘gender critical’ movement, which opposes transgender persons demanding their rights. He further had a problem with the ‘+’ in the acronym, which denotes that there are several other queer identities not listed in the acronym, which Dr Najeeb interpreted as ‘it does not end’.
“Why doesn’t it end? According to gender theory, gender is different from biological sex. Gender is what we feel. When a person assigned as a male feels as a man, then there is no problem. But when he feels as a woman, there is an incongruence. There won’t be a limit for gender or identities, because we can feel many things. I can feel that I am a dead body. It is called Cotard's syndrome. Another example is Boanthropy, where a person feels like they are a cow or bull. It is not to be laughed at but the conditions they suffer from. There are many identity disorders. Similarly, we can feel as ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’ or vice versa. This is called transgender,” he said, conflating disorders and identities.
He further conflated homosexuality with pedophilia and beastiality. “The terminology we use has been changing. First, it was seen as sodomy — an act. Then, it was seen as homosexuality — a condition. And now it has changed as gay — an identity,” he said, adding, “Take bestiality (sexual intercourse between a human and an animal); if a person says it is their orientation, can we accept it? Or pedophilia. There are many pedophilic organisations and associations seeking to reduce the age for sexual consent. They want to call themselves ‘Minor Attracted Persons’, not paedophiles. Take Incest, Necrophilia, etc. Can we include these as orientations, too?”
Gay rights activist Unais pointed out the biggest flaw in the doctor’s statement. “We are talking about consenting adult people in heterosexual or homosexual relationships; they are conflating that with beastiality and paedophilia, where the other party cannot give consent,” he explained.
Sheetal Shyam, a transgender activist who has been speaking out against the seminar since the first poster was out on social media, said, “They talk about necrophilia, paedophila and other instances where there cannot be a question of consent. This country has given rights to two consenting adults to have a relationship of their choice,” she said. Sheetal also questioned Najeeb’s qualification to talk about LGBTQIA+ persons and about psychology.
Najeeb also claimed that homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistcal Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) because of protests from LGBTQIA+ persons. “When we see, homosexuality was a mental disorder in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which was later removed in 1973 on the basis of votes. It was removed due to opposition and protests from the gay movement. The decision was not taken in light of scientific fact, but taken in a political situation,” he said.
Dr Shruti Chakravarty, the chief advisor and a faculty of the Queer Affirmative Counselling Practice Course at Mariwala Health Initiative (MHI), said that it was true that homosexuality was removed from DSM on the basis of a vote. “But what that shows is that when we are talking about people’s core identities and lives, people in power within the psychiatric and psychologist association can actually vote to decide whether something is an illness/disorder or not. That history of pathologizing LGBTQIA+ lives is in itself dangerous. This person is twisting the issue by saying that it was decided unscientifically, while we are against the very concept of ‘voting’ on such matters, saying it is a violation of human rights,” she said.
Najeeb also claimed that homosexuality is prohibited in Islam. Unais, who is a Muslim too, said that there are feminist and anti-phobic readings of Islam available. He also pointed to the reality and the political climate faced by Muslims in India and said, “At a time when the Muslim community is facing attacks from the Sangh Parivar, they should ideally exchange solidarity with other minorities, but they are talking against the already discriminated people,” he said.