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Conversion Therapy: A CURE TO BEING QUEER?

2018 brought with it the movement for the liberalization of one of the most conservative nations with regards to LGBTQIA+ laws and rights, India, when parts of Section 377 were abolished: legalizing consensual sexual activities between adults of the same sex. However, most queer Indians still remain hidden away in the closet fearing discrimination and opposition based on their sexual orientation and wanting to escape the judgment of a nation - where, despite the legislature deeming it legal, it still does not fit the compass of “morality” of most adults, who often condemn having any sexual orientation but heterosexuality: campaigning for it to be illegal, and even terming it a “psychiatric disorder” - everyone from the casual observer to mental health professionals who advocate it as a “treatable” condition. Though they are not a minority, they are often repressed by our own actions, stigmas, and expectations as a society. When queer Indians do make the bold decision to step out of the closet, they are often greeted by a lack of support from their families and suffer mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical trauma as a result: just as Anjana Hareesh, a 21-year-old student affiliated with Kannur University, Kerala, did.

On 12th May, she was found dead by hanging in her room, which was immediately treated as a case of suicide - later confirmed by police post mortem reports. While Hareesh had travelled to Goa with a few friends on vacation, she and her friends found themselves trapped there when the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect. Suspiciously, halfway into the trip, she was reported missing, and then her body was found. It was known that, prior to this event, she had come out as bisexual to her parents, which, according to a Facebook video posted by her in March, wasn’t welcomed by her parents in the least: leading to violent reactions, even when she attempted to explain that there was nothing wrong with her. She was then sent to multiple “de-addiction centres” over three months with brute force. Her friend informed the publication that she was under treatment for depression before she was forced to attend the “conversion centres”.

These centres impose Conversion Therapy on those admitted, which supposedly “cures” one of their sexual orientation or gender identity through lobotomies, heavy medication using drugs, chemical castration with hormonal treatment, and the application of electric shock to one’s body parts, especially the genitals. Conversion Therapy is a pseudoscience: meaning that it is incompatible with the scientific method and lacks scientific basis of its ‘successes’, succeeding only in furthering the social stigma queer individuals are subjected to. This practice has been condemned by all mainstream medical and mental health institutions because of the very same scientific evidence that these centres refuse to acknowledge: that one’s sexual orientation isn’t a mental illness. It’s a preference - sometimes a choice that one cannot make crediting to epigenetic markers, genetic predispositions, environmental circumstances, and formative experiences.

The World Health Organization and the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a book that recognizes all mental illnesses and disorders, does not recognize homosexuality as either. Neither does The Indian Psychiatric Association, which explicitly stated that homosexuality is not recognised as a psychiatric disorder. Raj Mariwala, director of the Mariwala Health Initiative, quotes that “Psy-disciplines and practices classify things as normal and abnormal. If you start with pathologising something like homosexuality as abnormal, it leads us to the place where treatment is required.”

Should one be punished or “cured” of a preference that goes against no law and does no harm?

Although there is no law that directly renders Conversion Therapy illegal, the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 states that adults may not be forced into psychiatric care facilities without consent unless it is definitive that they lack the ability to do so or pose a threat to themselves and/ or others; on this condition, the person requiring treatment may designate a representative to do. This would indicate that forcing Hareesh into any sort of healthcare institution would be illegal.

Methods such as Conversion Therapy uphold discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Discriminating against a person for their sexual orientation is a clear violation of one’s basic human rights. Homophobia, which is unfortunately prevalent in India, embodies a lack of open-mindedness which would allow society to avert such instances.

One such instance, wherein the tables turn remarkably, is illustrated beautifully in Garrard Conley’s 2018 film “Boy Erased”, which documents his personal journey of having overcome the homophobia of his baptist, pastoral family, and of being rescued from Conversion Therapy that was imposed on him in a mental program called Love in Action: a type of place where the camp directors have no formal education, sometimes without even completing high school; yet still holding such authoritarian positions. The vibrant irony of the movie is that the program director of Love in Action has an epiphany and realizes he was hiding in the closet and from himself the entire time; he proceeds to come out, quit his job, and then live with his husband without the burden of self-doubt.

The condition of the homophobia faced by the LGBTQ+ has surely improved since the Supreme Court legalized homosexuality in 2018: but is it enough? A judge had then said that the decision would "pave the way for a better future." This better future has yet to be met: how could things be better when people like Anjana Hareesh suffer for merely being truthful about their identities?

The last time we took a stand for LGBTQ+ rights, we legalized homosexuality. It’s time we take another.

By: Tvisha Arora

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