LGBT rights in Kerala
|Status||Legal since 2018|
|Gender identity||Third gender recognised; transgender people may change legal gender|
|Discrimination protections||Discrimination protections in line with Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India and National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India|
|Recognition of relationships||No recognition of same-sex relationships|
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Kerala face legal and social difficulties not experienced by non-LGBT persons. However, Kerala has been at the forefront of LGBT issues in India. It became one of the first states in India to establish a welfare policy for the transgender community and in 2016, introduced free sex reassignment surgery through government hospitals.
Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 2018, following the Supreme Court ruling in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India. In addition, numerous LGBT-related events have been held across Kerala, including in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.
Law regarding same-sex sexual activity
Homosexual intercourse was made a criminal offence under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 1860. This made it an offence for a person to voluntarily have "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." In 2009, the Delhi High Court decision in Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi found Section 377 and other legal prohibitions against private, adult, consensual, and non-commercial same-sex conduct to be in direct violation of fundamental rights provided by the Indian Constitution.
On 11 December 2013, the Supreme Court of India overturned the 2009 Delhi High Court order decriminalising consensual homosexual activity. The bench of justices G. S. Singhvi and S. J. Mukhopadhaya, however, noted that the Indian Parliament should debate and decide on the matter.
Protests against the Supreme Court verdict ensued. On 28 January 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed a review petition filed by the Central Government, the NGO Naz Foundation and several others against the ruling.
On 2 February 2016, the Supreme Court decided to review the criminalisation of homosexual activity. On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Section 377 as unconstitutional, ruling that it infringed on the fundamental rights of autonomy, intimacy, and identity, thus legalising homosexuality in India, including in Kerala.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
In line with Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India and National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited via Article 15 of the Constitution of India. However, this article only extends to discrimination by state or government bodies. Discrimination in private areas is not outlawed.
In 2014, the Indian Supreme Court ruled to recognize a "third gender" in the case of National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, affirming the transgender community's freedom from discrimination and right to equality. The state of Kerala was the first to follow up on the ruling, introducing a government transgender policy in 2015. The policy addresses the right for people belonging to transgender communities to identify as "male", "female" or "TG" (Third Gender). It has provisions to protect the community by providing equal access to social and economic resources, protecting the right to equal treatment under the law, the right to life, liberty and justice, and the right to non-discrimination based on sex.
Kerala has been at the forefront of transgender rights in India. In 2016, the State Government introduced free sex reassignment surgeries in government hospitals. Kannur district in 2016 allocated a part of its budget towards employment and skill training programs for transgender people.
In 2016, the first transgender school opened in the city of Kochi. The school prepared students for the 10th and 12th standard board exams and provided vocational skills training. The school welcomed 10 transgender students ranging from ages 25-50. Transgender activist Vijayraja Mallika, who was the head of the school, stated, "the school aims at making transgender people eligible for taking decent jobs and living a dignified life." She further stated, "we have admitted six candidates so far, all male-to-female persons, from 14 applicants. Of the 10 seats, we have reserved one for female-to-male and one for the disabled." The teachers of the school were also transgender. The school sought to open more opportunities for the community to gain an occupation and an education. Three months after its opening, however, the center stopped functioning as a school with no academic staff, students, or accreditation. The building was turned into a hostel for the transgender staff of Kochi Metro and related institutions.
In 2017, the clothing brand Red Lotus hired two transgender people to model their sarees, Maya Menon and Gowri Savithri. This gained a lot of attention by going viral on social media. The line is part of Sharmila Nair's collection "Mazhavil" (മഴവില്ല്) or "rainbow", representing the rainbow colours associated with LGBT rights, and is dedicated to transgender people.
In 2017, a workshop was held in Kozhikode to address the implementation of the state's transgender policy within social institutions. It was organized by the Social Justice Department, and around 30 representatives of the transgender community attended. During the workshop, they discussed proposals such as having identity cards for transgender people, developing a pension plan for those within the community who are over 60, the implementation of skill development training programs, having scholarships and educational loans for transgender students, and providing driving lessons in order for transgender people to be employed as Uber drivers.
The Government Medical College Hospital in Kottayam opened a clinic that exclusively attends to the transgender community in 2017. The clinic has a panel of doctors who are specialized in the area. This was the first government clinic of its kind, and focuses on serving the transgender community, as well as opening its doors to sex workers. The proposal for the clinic was put forward by the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) after a campaign had voiced health concerns for the transgender community.
Until very recently, LGBT people were "invisible" in Keralan society. Despite Kerala being the most literate Indian state, ignorance concerning homosexuality was very high; with few LGBT people opting to come out, in fear that family members would "take them to a psychiatrist or file a police complaint against friends." Local activists associate these attitudes as "the result of the Victorian sense of morality that treats sex as sin". This climate has eased in recent years.
Queerala (Malayalam: ക്വിയറള), is one of Kerala's main LGBT advocacy groups, campaigning for increased awareness of LGBT people and sensitisation concerning healthcare services, educational curriculum and workplace policies. Queerythm (Malayalam: ക്വിയറിഥം), another LGBT organisation, also plays a key role in organising the annual pride marches in Kerala and runs a 24X7 helpline for community members in distress.
Kerala Queer Pride (കേരള ക്വിയർ പ്രൈഡ്) has been held annually across various cities in Kerala, beginning in July 2010 in the city of Thrissur. The tenth edition was held in Kochi in November 2019. It was launched in the aftermath of the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement decriminalising all consensual sex between adults. The event focuses on advocacy regarding LGBT issues, as well as sensitisation of the police and media to prevent violence and discrimination against members of the LGBT community. The Trivandrum Pride Walk is organised by Queerythm annually since 2017 onwards.
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