The hate, dislike and intolerance of society towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in India have probably never been as stark and painful as now. What was hidden and an under-current of disbelief and hate in the past, has now found words and voices amongst a mixed set of people. From four-letter words to terms like "retards", "abnormal" to "unnatural", a section of Indians have said it all. Some have sought death penalties and others suggest that the gay community gets its mind cleared up.

I faced such abuse on my wall on Facebook last week from a former journalist and event manager based in Delhi after I posted a report on the then impending United States Supreme Court order on same-sex marriage. Earlier, in response to an article published on this website, I was told to leave my country and live in Ireland or just die. 

I am just one amongst many who have faced abuse of this sort. When one opens webpages debating LGBT rights, what jumps out are not only words such as "unnatural" but also such claims as homosexuality being an import from the West.  Or that we need help from doctors. 

If anything caps the ridiculous claims, it is the statement from the Bharatiya Janata Party national executive member, Subramanian Swamy, one of whose tweets said: “We respect handicapped persons. Homos are genetically handicapped.” Crass is merely a polite word to describe Swamy’s comment.

Research and science

While one does not need to defend one's natural behaviour, some facts need to be stated.  We need not even go into Indian history that has sufficient data and evidence on the reality of homosexuality and its acceptance in society and scriptures – be it the depiction of Ardhnarishwar or the sculptures at Khajuraho.  For now, let's just stick to research and science.

It was in the 20th century that research into homosexuality became more focussed. Sigmund Freud suggested that bisexuality was the norm while libido responded differently in each person.

In the mid-20th century, the biologist Alfred Kinsey, through his work, established that homosexuality was more prevalent than people had generally assumed and went on to claim that “these behaviours are normal and part of a continuum of sexual behaviours” though he could not put a percentage or number on how many homosexuals existed in any part of the world. 

Finding this out is always difficult, pointed out TS Sathyanarayana and KS Jacob in a paper published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2012. “The associated stigma and social repression, the unrepresentative samples surveyed and the failure to distinguish desire, behaviour and identity” makes it difficult to have an estimate. In the same paper they went on to underline a critical fact that there is a “high prevalence of same-sex feelings and behaviour in men and women” and their prevalence was “across cultures”, and therefore, was never an export from one country to another. 

Havelock Ellis, an English physician, contended that homosexuality was not “acquired or a vice”. It was natural and should be accepted as a deviation that was “harmless, and maybe even valuable.” 

By 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. In 1992, the World Health Organisation officially accepted its “normal variant” status. And over the years, several countries decriminalised homosexuality and moved to same-sex marriage.

Hate, fear and phobia

With such evidence and years of research across the globe, it is more than evident that homosexuality is as normal as heterosexuality. And yet there is hate and fear amongst a large section of society, forcing me to ask: Where is the problem? Where is the disorder?  The answer seems to e simple: It is in the minds of people who abuse and shout out unpleasant names. Such people are homophobic and should only be recognised by the correct term for them: homophobes. They suffer from a phobia. “In clinical psychology, a phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognised as irrational,” says one amongst many similar definitions available on the net and medical journals.

It is true though, that often such fears or phobias appear amongst people who don’t have sufficient information or have rarely engaged at length with the object that scares them. Such people are at times narrow-minded and stay with their assumptions without applying any reason or making an effort to find out. They take comfort in their fears and turn the fears into a phobia that results in a dislike of the object.

Ellis once suggested that it is important for governments and medical bodies to invest in awareness programmes. This would, he felt, bring a greater understanding within society of how harmless and normal homosexuals are. In fact, Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation recently asked the Medical Council of India to ensure that such programmes are included in medical courses. 

While one hopes for rationality from the Supreme Court on Section 377, particularly after the ruling by the the US Supreme Court, one also wishes that people such as Mr Swamy and other gay haters understand that they are the ones suffering from a mental disorder – homophobia.