It has almost been a year since the Supreme Court of India mandated the medical arena, as part of the 377 judgment, to initiate formal measures to address the mental health concerns of the LGBTIQ community. Justice Chandrachud, last year, encouraged mental health professionals to take advantage of the 377 verdict to reexamine their biased beliefs on Sexual Orientation and Gender. Though there are a handful of LGBTIQ supportive psychiatrists and counselors in states like Kerala, lack of protocol on the ethics of mental health services for LGBTIQ people stands as a less consigned challenge and a recent counseling session, experienced by a Malayali gay person adds to confront.
Sreenath*, a 34 years old Malayali person who is back in Kerala, from the middle east, went to meet this doctor, who claims to correct the deviance. Sreenath has pressure to get married from his mother and elder brother as Sreenath was back at home owing to depression in personal life after his boyfriend got married to a woman, sometime back. He came out to his Dad, who could understand the state of being homosexual where as his elder brother, thinks Sreenath’s state can be treated by proper counseling. Sreenath was repeatedly pressurized by his brother to visit Joseph Anto, and get out from the grasp of homosexuality. Sreenath, as known from his gay friends, wanted to know the unethical and illogical statements Joseph narrate to gay persons who seek his counseling services, under Department of Clinical Psychology, Elite Mission Hospital, Koorkenchery.
Sreenath’ elder brother visited Joseph Anto earlier and he was told that homosexuality can be controlled from a behavioral perspective(As told to Queerala by Sreenath). Based on this Sreenath’ brother asked Sreenath to visit Joseph Anto , the clinical Psychologist at Elite Mission Hospital, and get counseled. When Sreenath pointed out the fact that some nations, including India, have acknowledged gay persons and their right to live, Joseph said it’s always not about what law and law makers say but how the deviation affects our society. The doctor also usd the example of how relationships are like positive and negative of a battery but not alike positive and positive being together.
To know how ignorant the doctor’s view is Sreenath specifically asked if he wishes to change is it possible: the doctor said ‘Yes, you can if you try. He also stated a relationship is complete if it is only between a woman and a man’. He added, he needs to valuate, if Sreenath feels extra sexual thoughts, issue in body chemistry, lack of sexual interest in women etc. As most ignorant persons say this doctor also said: for some persons this deviation is due to wrong experiences during teenage. Joseph Anto said homosexuality is not a disorder but deviation; hence can be corrected. When Sreenath said, he was never attracted to Women, Dr Joseph responded, it might be because from your childhood you would have met and interacted only with men , got addicted to them and continued the same. ‘If you think you are deviant, I can help you, to avoid being thrown out from home and discriminated by the society’. Sreenath asked what the doctors personal view on homosexuality. The doctor said ‘ as a professional I can’t say my view, but if you think you want to change, I can help you, but if you wish to continue to move on accepting the deviation and continue homosexuality as a habit, then go ahead, but be ready to face the issues which follow. The doctor repeats homosexuality is not a disorder to be treated but says a gay man that relationships are like positive and negative of a battery or like pollination in plants. Sreenath, who does not want to get married, the heterosexual way, said the doctor he wants to let his family understand that he is gay and don’t want to get married; to which the doctor responded like; he can’t help nor it is the responsibility of doctors to counsel the parents. He clearly told, Professionals won’t do such counseling services though some may say, in public programs, they can help.
On a side this doctor leaves ambiguous responses saying homosexual orientation is a deviance and one can continue with it; his thrust on changing it adds to stigma in our society which remain slightly changed across healthcare service sector in Kerala. Its saddening that the professional medical collectives in our state have not, addressed unethical practices pertaining counseling services on account of Sexual Orientation. Apparently Sreenath’ experience leaves clear traces on how healthcare professionals mislead LGBTIQ persons who seek counseling services. Joseph P Anto, turns out to be yet another shame for medical fraternity, as he falls under the coterie of those doctors who claim to help homosexual persons, in a very tricky way of tagging the sexual orientation as a deviation, get rid of/control their deviation. Even after the honorable Supreme Court judgment recognizing homosexuality, psychologists like Joseph keep claiming homosexuality is a wrong walk of life; while pointing out strictly that it’s not the law or court , and science which determines what is right when it comes to sexuality.
There have been many similar cases from some hospitals including S.H Hospital Painkulam (Idukki Dist). This was brought to attention, by LGBTIQ support collectives like Queerala, to Professional medical bodies in Kerala, including the State Mental Health Authority (MHA). However we got the lame response, from the state body, that they were unsure on what action need to be taken against doctors who make false claims as such doctors are not part of professional medical bodies, in the state. Indian Psychiatric Society, in July 2018, has come up with a Position Statement, stating no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be altered by any treatment and that any such attempts may in fact lead to low self-esteem and stigmatization of the person. We hope experts from psychology and mental health, in Kerala address this concern faced by LGBTIQ persons, in accordance with the Supreme Court verdict.
* Anonymous name used
This write-up is based on the conversation Sreenath had with Queerala after his
meeting with Joseph Anto.