Kerala man told he can be ‘treated’ for homosexuality: A dangerous practice that must stop

Nearly a year after Section 377 has been decriminalised, there are still doctors in Kerala who claim to treat homosexuality through medication or counselling.
Kerala man told he can be ‘treated’ for homosexuality: A dangerous practice that must stop
Kerala man told he can be ‘treated’ for homosexuality: A dangerous practice that must stop
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Sreenath*, just home from another country, did not realise his brother was taking him to see a clinical psychologist in Thrissur. Generation gap appears to have worked in an unexpected way at Sreenath’s home. His parents have accepted him for being gay, but his siblings have not. His brother made an appointment with Thrissur-based Dr Joseph Anto, who looked at Sreenath and allegedly said, homosexuality is a ‘deviation’ that he can treat, if Sreenath was willing. 

Sreenath, who has heard of the doctor before, asked him questions – about the statement made by the Indian Psychiatric Society in 2014 that homosexuality is not a mental illness or a disease; about the decriminalisation of consensual sex under Section 377 by the Supreme Court last year. 

“He (the doctor) would say that in some countries it is still considered wrong. He is a priest, too, so he quoted Biblical references to make his point. He said I’d be isolated everywhere, at home and in the society,” says Sreenath.

Dr Joseph Anto is not the only psychologist promising such ‘treatments’ however. Neither are Sreenath’s siblings the only relatives forcing such consultations. Queer people coming out to their families are often taken to psychiatrists, psychologists, or sexologists, in an attempt to ‘cure’ them via often violent and unscientific means. 

Unnecessary, harmful medication

Rajashree Raju, a board member of Queerala, a welfare organisation for LGBTQI+ people in Kochi, says, “Most queer women (lesbian, bisexual and even heterosexual women who are partners of transmen) who contact Queerala have been taken to sexologists, psychologists and psychiatrists in Kerala. Almost every one of them have told me that they were prescribed medication which makes them drowsy. They don’t have sexual urges anymore because of the medication.”

Some doctors would tell lesbian women that they are queer because they lack female hormones and inject them with estrogen. “Most of these women say that they have various and severe health issues – irregular periods, cramps and even bleeding as a result of this,” Rajashree adds.

There are doctors who advise “marriage as a remedy” to queer people. But the most shocking revelation from Rajashree is about one person in Kerala telling her that they were sexually harassed by the psychologist they consulted, “as treatment.” The person was blackmailed and asked not to say anything to their parents, Rajashree reveals.

Need for awareness

Dr Ashwin, a psychiatrist, says that there needs to be more public awareness. 

“People must know that it is not a disorder that has to be treated, that it is not a deviation. That this is another way of life. They should be made to understand that queer people are not be sidelined or tortured or subjected to unethical treatment,” he says. 

He has been doing that and has succeeded in convincing a few worried parents that being gay is not abnormal, but a sexual orientation. And that it cannot be and should not be “treated” with medicine or counselling.

He is aware that there are certain psychologists – or counsellors posing as psychologists after doing some course – and making these claims about “treating” homosexuality. “First you need to make sure it is a clinical psychologist you see. It should be a psychologist approved by the Rehabilitation Council of India.”

But he admits that even clinical psychologists may have a prejudice against queer people. Joseph Anto is one such psychologist.

Another young student from Thrissur, who consulted Joseph Anto four years ago, says that he too was told he could be “treated”. “He can treat me through counselling, he said, if I was willing. He was also very interested to know about my relationship, if something intimate happened.”

Queerala founder, Jijo Kuriakose, wrote on the Queerala website about Sreenath’s story. He said, “There have been many similar cases from some hospitals including SH Hospital Painkulam (Idukki Dist). This was brought to the attention of professional medical bodies in Kerala, including the State Mental Health Authority (MHA), by LGBTIQ support collectives like Queerala. However, we got a lame response from the state body that they were unsure of what action needs to be taken against doctors who make false claims since such doctors are not part of professional medical bodies in the state.”

Statement by Indian Psychiatric Society

Dr Ajit Bhide, president of Indian Psychiatric Society, spoke on a video that it is time to take a radical stand, to stop considering queerness as an illness. “The debate has gone on worldwide and most respectable psychiatric societies have removed homosexuality from the nomenclature of mental illnesses. I think it is a statement in the right direction, backed by plenty of scientific proof.”

Indian Psychiatric Society, in July 2018, came up with a position statement, reiterating that homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder. The statement says, “The IPS recognises same sex sexuality as a normal variant of human sexuality much like heterosexuality and bisexuality. There is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be altered by any treatment and that any such attempts may in fact lead to low self-esteem and stigmatisation of the person.” 

(*Name changed)


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