Sexuality, Stigma and the Plight of Mental Health in the LGBTQ+ Community
Homosexuality is no new ‘concept’ to India, however, it still remains a taboo, trapped behind the bars of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The draconian law, implemented by the colonial British government and embraced by the post-colonial India, still enjoys its perks of terrorizing, bullying, mistreating and discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. Apparently, no research or surveys are needed to figure out the prevalence of homophobia in present day Indian society, when every second person around you will make it obvious through their behaviour, comments and often through their insults aimed at disgracing any individual who does not go by their black & white patriarchal standards of masculinity.
[Editors’ Comments: This article was written prior to the judgement in the Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India case where Section 377 of IPC in so far as it prohibited acts between consenting adults was declared unconstitutional. However the issue addressed in this article is still as relevant as it was at the time this article was written.]
Individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination and mistreatment in schools, institutions, workplaces, other public spaces and even at their own homes. Coming out of the closet remains a major factor behind prevalent mental health issues among LGBTQ+ teens. There is always an unaddressed mental pressure, which often results in severe damage to the individual’s mental health if the people, whom he/she came out to, aren’t supportive, which is actually a major case in Indian households “trying to live a life with dignity in the society”. As a result of which, a large proportion of LGBTQ+ people in India choose not to come out to anyone at all. However, if someone is lucky enough to have an understanding family and supportive friends, then the law shows up without an invitation and bars one from living a respectful life along with enjoying fair and equal rights and opportunities.
In a country where mental health and stigma go hand in hand, LGBTQ+ individuals are the ones who’re hit the hardest. First, they are stigmatised by the prevalent homophobia, which often results in them dropping off from schools and colleges, not getting jobs and other opportunities, not getting equal representation and access to things, not getting emotional and mental support, etc. Homophobia, it seems, enjoys more acceptance in the present day Indian society as compared to homosexuality. Second, a homosexual (or other sexual minority) person seeking mental health care or treatment will have to go through another round of stigma that makes mental disorders a taboo subject. It, again, is a product of our “progressive” social evolution as an accepting, tolerant and logical society.
LGBTQ+ people are subjected to trolls, jokes and insults in open and closed spaces, every day. They usually suffer from depression, low self-esteem, low confidence, self-negligence, social anxiety and other psychological issues. However, these issues are never addressed in a country that hardly spends on mental health awareness from their already “insufficient” health budget. As a result, there is also a high rate of suicide tendency among LGBTQ+ individuals. But, the law oversees any of these robust points.
In a society that idealizes heterosexism, homosexuality is denigrated, stigmatized, and taken as a “choice” made by the individuals, instead of a naturally occurring orientation and a normal variant of human sexuality having biological and psychological basis. People have debated ‘nature vs nurture’ in context of sexuality for decades. Medicine and Psychiatry have tried to make it clear that it is no mental illness. Homosexuality was dropped off from the list of mental disorders long back in 1973 and 1992 by World Health Organization (WHO) in their classification of diseases. Many nations in the west have come far after that, from legalizing homosexual relationships to giving a nod for same-sex marriages, with Australia being the most recent. This year, in the backdrop of WHO removing gender incongruence/transgender from the list of mental illnesses in ICD-11, Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) released an official statement stating their stand on the same and to aware people to understand that homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder. The Medical fraternity has also expressed the same stand during the current hearings in the Supreme Court of India in the case of a plea challenging Section 377 of the IPC.
Mission for Indian Gay & Lesbian Empowerment (MINGLE) conducted the Indian LGBT Workplace Climate Survey 2016, which establishes some very important observations and conclusions. Even though a large number of LGBTQ+ employees are subjected to reduced opportunities, fear of losing the job, no HR support policies against discrimination, but interestingly, LGBTQ+ individuals who have come out enjoy more support and greater acceptance in the workplace compared to their homes, and eventually, are more productive and growth oriented, along with a better mental health. On the other hand, the survey also sheds light on the fact how majority of the corporate sector has ignored the historical NALSAR judgement. Another survey conducted by M. V. Lee Badgett, entitled “The Economic Cost of Stigma and the Exclusion of LGBT People: A Case Study of India”, explores how the effects of stigma and exclusion are potentially costly to economics, leading to lower productivity, lower output, and lack of social and health services.
The male-dominant patriarchal societies, religions and cultures across the world marginalize, socially exclude and torture those not lying on the axis of their black & white spectrums. The ‘rainbow’ is always ignored, stigmatized and often offered ‘treatment therapies to cure homosexuality’ openly in newspaper classifieds that have no literature or research to back them. We can hope for a better treatment and representation of the LGBTQ+ community if the Supreme Court decriminalizes homosexuality this time. However, the stigma, that has deep roots in the culture and the associated pseudo-pride, will not disappear overnight. Will the government be willing to take any steps? Based on their current stand (read: no stand), I am not really hopeful to see them finally acknowledge and respect the existence of a largely existing community.
This article was authored by Sanchit Toor who is a 3rd year student pursuing B. Sc.(Hons.) Neuroscience at Amity Institute of Neuropsychology & Neurosciences, Amity University, Uttar Pradesh.
 https://mingle.org.in/pdf/Indian_LGBT_Workplace_Climate_Survey_2016.pdf (visited on 10th August, 2018)
http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/527261468035379692/pdf/940400WP0Box380usion0of0LGBT0People.pdf (visited on 10th August, 2018)