Programme on healthcare needs of LGBTIQ+ persons in Kerala

The programme, attended mostly by doctors and healthcare professionals, was organised by Indian Psychiatric Society in association with its Kochi Chapter, Queerala and SAATHII.
Programme on healthcare needs of LGBTIQ+ persons in Kerala
Programme on healthcare needs of LGBTIQ+ persons in Kerala
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A programme for mental health professionals on the healthcare needs of LGBTIQ+ individuals in Kerala was organised in Kochi on Sunday, February 23. It was a Continuing Medical Education programme organised by the Kerala State Branch of Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS), in association with its Ernakulam District Chapter, Queerala, a community-based organisation for Malayali LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) people, and SAATHII (Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India), a public health NGO.

About 106 people attended the event, out of which more than 50 were doctors -- psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals, and healthcare providers from other disciplines. Additionally, around 40 LGBTIQ+ community members from Kerala and other states also participated.

“It is great that the programme was initiated by the Indian Psychiatric Society. For long there has been the misconception that homosexuality is a psychological disorder. Though it’s changed a lot now, there are still a few psychiatrists who insist it is a disorder. This intervention by the IPS, Queerala and SAATHII, is to sensitise and spread awareness,” says Dr AK Jayashree, who was one of the panelists at the programme.

Former president of Indian Psychiatric Society, Ajit Bhide

LGBTIQ persons make up approximately 8% of India’s population, as per scientific estimates cited by the Supreme Court of India in its landmark Navtej Singh Johar verdict (2018) decriminalising same-sex relationships. However, many LGBTIQ+ individuals in India face barriers to basic preventive, promotive and curative services for health issues that may or may not be related to their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

"With this CME program, IPS Kerala wishes to draw the attention of psychiatrists, other mental health professionals and the administration to the issues faced by the marginalised LGBTIQ+ community, even in a state with high literacy like Kerala. We hope to achieve a positive change in the outlook of all concerned parties in this area," says Dr Harish MT, president of the Kerala state branch of Indian Psychiatric Society, the chief organiser of the event.

Besides the Johar verdict, the Supreme Court’s progressive NALSA judgement (2014) on transgender rights, and the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 address discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity. Medical bodies such as the World Health Organisation, World Psychiatric Association and Indian Psychiatric Society have all determined that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality. Kerala was the first state in India to have developed a transgender policy in compliance with the NALSA verdict. Amongst others, the policy prescribes a range of measures for barrier-free access to healthcare.

Dr Pratheesh PJ, Secretary of Ernakulam Psychiatric Society, says, “People in and around are still not aware of sexuality. Proper education on what is homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual needs to be stressed on. It should be made aware that sexuality is inherent, not made, and every individual has the right to practice it. It is by no means a disease to treat.”

Vihaan Peethambar, Board Member of Queerala says, “Kerala's achievements in the healthcare sector have often been cited as a benchmark for other states. At the same time, the major challenge of being an LGBT+ person in Kerala is not being able to access non-discriminatory healthcare. Queerala has received many calls and enquiries from Malayali LGBT+ persons who were directed/forced to get treated to cure them of their sexual orientation or gender identity which included being locked up in de-addiction centres, and undergoing shock therapy. It is of utmost importance that our advocacy efforts are directed towards engaging with mental health professionals in the state, now that there have been favourable law reforms in India on LGBT+ rights.”

Biswa Bhusan Pattanayak from SAATHII says, “We are hopeful that the platform would provide an avenue to work together with the Kerala State Branch of IPS towards non-discriminatory healthcare delivery and inclusive healthcare advocacy in the state.”

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