The Madras High Court on Tuesday called for changes to parts of the curriculum of medical courses in India that discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community, Bar and Bench reported. The court said that medical courses in the country reaffirm phobia and discrimination against the community.

The court was hearing a writ petition moved by a lesbian couple seeking protection against harassment from police and their families. In their plea filed in June, the couple had accused the police of “harassing questioning” while investigating a missing person’s report filed by the women’s parents.

In an earlier order passed in the case on June 7, the High Court had suggested a slew of measures including legislations and changes in the curricula of educational institutions to remove prejudices against the LGBTQIA+ community.

On Tuesday, the court referred to a report by Karnataka’s first transwoman doctor, Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, which pointed at the curriculum’s flaws. The report stated that the curriculum for students studying forensic medicine as part of the MBBS course describes sodomy, lesbianism and oral sex as sexual offences, and transvestism (cross-dressing) as a “sexual perversion”.

The court noted that it was important for medical and mental health professionals to be “non-judgemental and free of moral or personal prejudices” about an individual’s gender identity or their sexuality, Bar and Bench reported.

In its judgement, the court also referred to a prescription given by a psychiatrist to a gay man. The doctor had prescribed him two medicines that were anti-depressants and erectile dysfunction drugs.

“This lack of knowledge on the part of the concerned psychiatrist is directly attributable to the course that was undergone by him and which is yet to be revamped and brought up to date,” the court said. “Queerphobia is being reaffirmed as legitimate throughout the education of a doctor who might go on to become a psychiatrist or any physician who might be approached by a person from the community.”

The court observed that the aim of treatment of patients cannot be to “cure” their gender identity or sexuality. In its June order too, the High Court had directed strict action against physical and mental health professionals found indulging in attempts to “cure or change” the sexual orientation of their patients.

The single judge bench of Judge Venkatesh directed the additional solicitor general to alert the National Medical Commission and the Indian Psychiatric Society on these matters and asked them to file a report on how they plan to change medical curriculum in the country.

Court advice on media reporting and police action

The court also took exception to media reporting about same-sex couples, according to Live Law. It referred to a report by a news portal that contained sentences such as “a woman disguised as a male and pretended to be in a marriage with her female friend...”

“The reportage of the most intimate and personal aspects of an individual’s identity by the contemporary vernacular media is deeply problematic and it not just reflects the pre-existing harmful stigmatisation of the community, but also perpetuates it,” the court observed.

However, the court did not give any concrete directions on the matter as the rules could “unwittingly trench upon the freedom of press.”

The court also observed that people from LGBTQIA+ community and non-government organisations who offer them shelter were being refused protection by the police. The judge said that police authorities often give an “excuse” that there is “lack of an internal circular” on dealing with matters involving the community.

On this matter, the court noted that in its earlier order it had stated that lack of awareness cannot be an excuse for any form of discrimination.

The matter will be heard again on October 4.