May 17 is International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. On this day we celebrate diversity and raise awareness about issues that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, pansexual, and non-binary individuals face. We remember those who have lost their lives in the fight for equal rights and justice, and we stand with those who still face oppression, discrimination, and injustice. This year’s theme is “Breaking the Silence.” It reflects the crucial need for us to speak up against homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.
69 countries still criminalise same-sex relations and 6 countries still award the death penalty for the same. Transgender people are still punished in over 26 countries and have been experiencing increasing violence. Millions of queer individuals across the world fear for their safety and freedom because of who they are and whom they love. Across the world, they face social stigma and a lack of acceptance, causing them to experience depression, self-harm, and poor living conditions at disproportionately higher rates.
Up to 7% of India’s population is estimated to belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. Same-sex marriage is not recognised in India. Same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt children or handle joint bank accounts. Raping a trans woman lands one only a maximum jail sentence of 2 years as opposed to a minimum of 7 years of the rape of a cis woman. Trans individuals cannot change their legal gender without surgery. A majority of trans people are disowned by their families and are forced to rely on begging or sex work for a living.
The coronavirus pandemic has particularly hit LGBTQIA+ individuals hard as many work in the informal sectors and have been rendered cashless and out of food. The pandemic has also made access to life saving medication for HIV+ individuals difficult and has put a halt on ongoing medical treatment for trans people.
Countries around the world, including India, need comprehensive laws safeguarding LGBTQIA+ individuals, such as:
- Protecting them against discrimination – in employment; provision of goods and services; access to healthcare, education, housing and more
- Banning conversion therapy
- Ensuring equal opportunity, civil rights, and a dignified life
- Allowing them to marry and allowing them to adopt children
- Guaranteeing their privacy and access to medical and mental support
- Allowing them to serve in the armed forces openly
However, it is important to acknowledge how the overturning of a couple of laws is but a small hurdle in the face of prejudices in our society which must ultimately be eradicated. We need companies that give our partners insurance, landlords who’ll let us rent houses, tailors who’ll stitch us the clothes we want, streets in which we can hold our partner’s hands and a society that treats us as ordinary people.