The Tamil Nadu government has said it is considering statewide public consultations for its LGBTQIA+ policy, after various LGBTQIA+ persons demanded that zonal discussions be held across state including in rural areas, before the policy is finalised. The demand was made at a consultation meeting in Chennai on Saturday, January 20, held to discuss the draft policy being prepared by the state government. Around 70 LGBTQIA+ persons and allies took part in the meeting. Nandhita, Joint Director (Women's Welfare) of the Tamil Nadu Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department, said at the meeting that they will soon decide on publicising the draft after discussions with higher authorities.
The policy is being drafted by an 11-member committee, which was constituted by the state government in July last year. Headed by the Director of Social Welfare, the committee’s members include transgender activist Kalaimamani Sudha from the NGO Sahodaran; trans man Arun Karthick; psychologist Dr Vidhya Dinakaran from the Tamil Nadu Transgender Welfare Board; vice president of NGO SAATHII L Ramakrishnan; co-founder of Queer Chennai Chronicles Chandramoulee; intersex and Dalit activist Vinodhan; LGBTQIA+ activist Busaina Ahamed Shah; Madras High Court advocate Ajeetha BS; and IIT Madras Associate Professor Tiju Thomas, alongside the joint director of Directorate of Social Welfare as the coordinator.
The committee’s primary responsibility is to go through and bring in necessary changes to the draft policy prepared by the State Planning Commission (SPC). It will also consider inputs from the public consultation before submitting the final draft to the government.
A section of trans women activists, meanwhile, demanded that two separate policies be implemented — one for transgender and intersex persons alone, and another policy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, and other queer persons.
Key welfare measures
At the Chennai meeting, draft committee members Chandramoulee and Ramakrishnan said they conducted around 10 online video consultation meetings with different target groups and incorporated their suggestions. Though the drafting work is still underway, several key points that concerned welfare and safety measures were made public during the meeting.
The committee members said a total of 41 policy measures have been included in the draft. This includes horizontal reservation in education and employment for all transgender and intersex persons in the state. Insurance cover, inclusive healthcare, and ban on corrective surgeries done on intersex infants and children are some of the other provisions. The draft policy also puts forth the right to inheritance and the right to hold public office for all LGBTQIA+ persons. A few key measures are as follows:
Other policy clauses
> Protection from birth family violence and harassment, including corrective rape
> Non-discrimination in access to housing, banking services, etc
> Short-stay shelters for individuals and couples facing violence from natal families
> Access to inclusive sanitation in public facilities
> Sensitive gynaecological and sexual/reproductive health care
> Promotion of LGBTQIA+ inclusive arts and literature in the existing art and literary organisations
> Complaints and redressal mechanism to report unnecessary physical examination or other unethical practices in medical institutions
> Free lawyer support, access to non-litigative dispute resolution (Lok Adalat, etc)
> Protection from bullying, ragging, and physical/sexual violence in schools and higher education
> Access to gender-neutral restrooms and gender-neutral hostels in educational institutions
> Ability to wear uniforms/clothes consistent with one’s self-determined gender identity and/or preferred gender expression
> Recognition of same-gender families by means of Deed of Family Association or other form of existing/legacy relationship establishment methods
> Anti-harassment and inclusive policies across public and private sectors
> Protection of labourers from discrimination in the unorganised work sector — the Labour Department shall ensure anti-discrimination policies covering LGBTQIA+ persons are instituted and meaningfully implemented in the processes of hiring, retention, promotion, and employee benefit schemes by all the establishments
> Enforcement of TN subordinate police misconduct rules against harassment of LGBTQIA+ persons and activists/NGOs helping the community
Other clauses for trans and intersex persons
> Immediate cessation of unethical practices in gender-affirming care
> Recognition of typical families (those in heterosexual relationships) and allowing them adoption
> Compliance with the Home Ministries’ directives on incarceration of transgender prisons, including preventing body checks and providing separate cells and shower facilities
> Request to the existing Transgender Welfare Board to explicitly include intersex persons in its scope and name, as intersex persons are also included within the definition of ‘transgender’ in the Transgender Rights Act (2019) and Rules (2020)
> Request to change the Tamil name of the Transgender Welfare Board to ‘Thirunar Nala Vaariyam’ to be inclusive (thirunangai only refers to trans women), and ensure adequate representation of transmasculine (thirunambis) and intersex people on the Board
Clauses on SOGIESC orientation
> Awareness among teachers on sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) in teacher training courses and in-service training, to ensure sensitivity in dealing with students of diverse SOGIESC and prevent bullying
> Inclusion of age-appropriate SOGIESC issues in biology and social sciences textbooks and lesson plans
> Utilisation of parent-teacher associations in schools to sensitise parents on SOGIESC diversity
> Periodic sensitisation for judiciary, lawyers, legal service authorities, police, and prisons, with LGBTQIA+ persons being involved in the process
> Orientation and periodic sensitisation to public and private sector employees, including all cadres of staff, HR, and management, with LGBTQIA+ persons being involved in the process
As per orders, this orientation should include provisions of the Trans Act and Rules regarding non-discrimination in workplaces.
Committee’s suggestions to government
> Proposal to establish a Sexual and Gender Minority (or LGBTQIA+) Commission as a quasi-judicial apex body, which shall have diverse representatives from the LGBTQIA+ communities to oversee intersecting aspects
> Proposal for state rules in the Legal Services Act to include free legal services to LGBTQIA+ persons
> Proposal for state rules in the Domestic Violence Act to include diverse SOGIESC
> Proposal for state rules in the Juvenile Justice Act to consider needs and safety of gender non-conforming children
> Proposal for a state legislation to recognise Deed of Familial Association or other means of recognizing same-gender families
One policy or two policies?
One of the major contentions at the Chennai meeting was a demand to split the LGBTQIA+ policy into two — one for trans and intersex persons; and another for LGBQA+ persons. Several transgender women including trans rights activists Kalki Subramanian and Grace Banu raised placards at the meeting demanding separate policies. They also sought to make public the complete policy draft.
Members of the drafting team, however, pointed out that the draft policy already prescribes reservations and other welfare schemes for trans and intersex persons only. But measures such as protection from discrimination and stakeholder sensitisation apply to all LGBTQIA+ persons, they said.
A government policy is a set of principles, guidelines, or rules established by a government to guide decision-making and action on a specific issue or situation. Bills are drafted by the government based on the policy, which would in turn be debated and would be eventually passed into laws.