Message: Being gay is not an illness

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New Delhi, June 7: The Indian Psychiatric Society has launched its first-ever campaign to assert that homosexuality is not an illness amid concerns that sections of the public and physicians continue to mistakenly believe it can be treated.
Senior members of the IPS plan to address conferences open to the public and use social media platforms to argue that homosexuality and lesbianism are just variations in sexual orientation and provide science-driven guidance to the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality.
The IPS campaign is driven by concerns that many parents continue to approach doctors, including psychologists and psychiatrists, with requests to “convert” the sexual orientation of their children. One psychiatrist recalled a father urging her to provide his son hormone therapy or electroconvulsive therapy.
“The IPS needs to take a radical stance – which is to stop considering homosexuality as an illness,” Ajit Bhide, a senior psychiatrist in Bangalore and the president of the IPS, said in a video message circulated on social media.
Most psychiatric societies have removed homosexuality from definitions of mental illness, a move that IPS executive body members say is backed by an abundance of scientific evidence. The American Psychological Association had cautioned against “conversion therapy” in 2009.
The IPS campaign is spearheaded by a task force of professional psychiatrists examining concerns about the distress that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals might experience as they come to terms with their own sexual orientation.
“Our campaign condemns efforts at conversion or treatment, but psychiatrists and counsellors should be available to provide support to members of the LGBT community who may be in distress,” said Kersi Chavda, a senior consultant psychiatrist in Mumbai and chair of the task force.
“They may need treatment for anxiety or depression,” Chavda said.
The IPS task force on LGBT issues plans to hold a day-long conference in New Delhi on July 1 where its members will speak to fellow psychiatrists, other physicians and members of the public. “Families or parents of gay or lesbian individuals may also need counselling,” he said.
A parents’ group has welcomed the IPS campaign. “I think this message has to go far and wide in all languages across the country,” said Padma Iyer, a founding-member of Sweekar: The Rainbow Parents, a Mumbai-based group established by parents of gay and lesbian individuals.
“Many parents are unwilling to accept variations in sexual orientation – they approach doctors who sometimes recommend futile treatment,” Iyer said.
Homosexuality had been considered a treatable condition in psychiatric circles about 4 or 5 decades ago.
Psychiatrists at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai had described in a paper in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in the January-March 1982 issue that they had attempted treating 13 homosexuals through “behaviour modification techniques”.
But many psychiatrists have over the past decade also cautioned parents against efforts at conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy may enhance stigma in people with homosexual orientation and compound their perception of discrimination, Suravi Patra, Assistant Professor of psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhubaneswar, had warned in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics 2 years ago.
The task force campaign, Chavda said, could also provide science-driven guidance to Indian lawmakers into amending Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality. The Supreme Court, which had heard petitions challenging Section 377, had sought legislation to amend the law.
In his video-message, Bhide has tried to compress the science of homosexuality into a single sentence.
“This is probably oversimplified – but a priming process in the brain determines sexual orientation,” he said. “Certain individuals are just not cut out to be heterosexual. We don’t need to castigate them, we don’t need to punish them. We don’t need to ostracise them.” (Courtesy: TT)