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Medical stigmatisation of homosexuality continues

Many medical textbooks in India still cite homosexuality as being a disease. This is despite the country’s decriminalisation of homosexuality last year.

Image ID: 98441935 (L)Dr Sameera Mahamud Jahagirdar discovered the claim when reviewing multiple textbooks across the country. “This system is creating a stigma towards LGBTI community. Doctors themselves are teaching wrong concepts which is so negative as the medical study portrays homosexuality as derogatory,” she told The Times of India.

Dr Jahagirdar is a trans woman herself and was a panellist at India’s first LGBTI symposium. Currently Dr Jahagirdar works as an anesthesiologist at JIPMER (Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research) in Puducherry. She sought after sex reassignment surgery at 37.

She was the victim of, and witnessed the prevalence of discrimination and stigma throughout her postgraduate studies. Following her revelation of the derogatory descriptions of homosexuality in medical textbooks has made it her work to have the system reviewed. Jahagirdar is now analysing a number of other medical textbooks with the intention of submitting the results of the study to the Medical Council of India (MCI) to have the terms removed.

Dr Jahagirdar notes that the presence of such derogatory language within medical textbooks could foster the next generation of Indian doctors to believe that homosexuality is an illness. This could lead to beliefs in outdated and offensive ideologies such as conversion therapy being seen as accepted within the medical community.

Such stigma could result in those from the LGBT community seeing their rights infringed when seeking medical treatment. This manner of discrimination — often felt by other groups such as those seeking help for mental health concerns such as depression — often dissuades individuals from seeking help.

Despite decriminalisation under the law, homosexuals still face derogatory treatment. Shivam Sharma, a homosexual man from Mumbai, gives the example of the first time he sought a HIV test while in college. He went to a health clinic, and, upon consulting the nurse they yelled across the room, warning a colleague — and, in the process, anyone else within earshot — to “be careful” of him. The implication was that Sharma was dangerous and dirty because he had identified himself as “queer.”

Dr Jahagirdar says that in many ways those from the LGBTI community are still not deemed entirely equal “This community has no legal and inheritance of property rights. Nothing is mentioned about pension or nomination for LIC for or the same sex partners. These reforms need to be brought in by the government.”

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