LGBT rights in Tamil Nadu

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Tamil Nadu in India (claimed and disputed hatched).svg
StatusLegal since 2018
Gender identityThird gender recognised; transgender people may change legal gender
Discrimination protectionsDiscrimination protections in line with Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India and National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsTransgender women can marry under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955[1]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Tamil Nadu are among the most progressive in India.[2][3] Tamil Nadu was the first state of India to introduce a transgender welfare policy, wherein transgender individuals can access free sex reassignment surgery in government hospitals and various other benefits and rights. The state was also the first to ban forced sex-selective surgeries on intersex infants.[4][5]

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 2018, following the Supreme Court ruling in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India. Tamil Nadu is noted as one of the most open states with regards to the LGBT community, particularly transgender people. Nevertheless, reports of discrimination, arranged opposite-sex marriages, bullying, suicides,[6] and family rejections are common. According to an estimate from 2015, about 16,380 people in Tamil Nadu identified themselves as LGBT.[7]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India 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 Tamil Nadu.[8][9]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Same-sex marriages are not recognised or performed in Tamil Nadu.[10]

On 22 April 2019, the Madras High Court, the high court of Tamil Nadu, ruled that the term "bride" under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 includes transwomen. Specifically, it directed the authorities to register a marriage between a man and a transgender woman.[11][12]

Discrimination protections[edit]

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.[13]

Adopted in 2019, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 bans unfair discrimination against transgender people in educational establishment and services, employment, healthcare services, access to the "use of any goods, accommodation, service, facility, benefit, privilege or opportunity dedicated to the use of the general public or customarily available to the public", the right to movement, the right to "reside, purchase, rent or otherwise occupy any property", the opportunity to stand for or hold public or private office, and in government or private establishments.[14]

Transgender rights[edit]

Transgender people in Tamil Nadu are called thirunar (Tamil: திருனர்), specifically thirunangai (திருநங்கை; for transgender women) and thirunambi (திருநம்பி; for transgender men). The term aravaani (அரவாணி) in Tamil was widely popularised before the 1990s. Aravaani is a substitute term for hijra. Transgender Tamils are often discriminated against in jobs and daily life, forcing them to resort to begging and prostitution.

In 1994, T.N. Seshan, the Chief Election Commissioner, granted voting rights to transgender people in India. In March 2004, advocate G.R Swaminathan appeared before the Madras High Court demanding voter identity cards for transgender people in Tamil Nadu. Responding to the case, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) Government informed the court that only 11 transgender people in the state had come forward to register their names in the electoral roll. After recording the submission, the court directed the State Government to publicise, through the media, the right of transgender people to get enrolled as voters.[15]

In December 2006, a government order was passed with the recommendations to improve living conditions for transgender people. The order favoured counseling as a means to deter families from disowning transgender people and making sure that such children get admitted in schools and colleges. Thereafter, in September 2008, the state constituted a welfare board for transgender people.[15]

In a pioneering effort to solve the problems faced by transgender people, the Government of Tamil Nadu established a transgender welfare board in 2008. The Social Welfare Minister serves as the president of the board. This effort is touted to be the first in India. The State Government has also started issuing separate food ration cards for transgender people,[16] as well as special identity cards.[17]

The state of Tamil Nadu was the first state to introduce a transgender welfare policy. According to the policy, transgender people can access free sex reassignment surgery in government hospitals, free housing, various citizenship documents, admission in government colleges with a full scholarship for higher studies and initiating income-generation programmes (IGP).[18][19] In an additional effort to improve the education of transgender people, Tamil Nadu authorities issued an order in May 2008 to create a "third gender" option for admissions to government colleges.[20] In 2017, the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University began offering free tuition to transgender students.[21]

In 2013, transgender and gender activists S. Swapna and Gopi Shankar Madurai from Srishti Madurai staged a protest in the Madurai collectorate on 7 October 2013 demanding reservation and to permit alternate genders to appear for examinations conducted by the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission, the Union Public Service Commission, the Secondary School Certificate and Bank exams.[22][23] Swapna, incidentally, had successfully moved the Madras High Court in 2013 seeking permission to write the TNPSC Group II exam as a female candidate. Swapna is the first transgender person to clear TNPSC Group IV exams.[24]

Along with 21 other trans women, K. Prithika Yashini received appointment orders from Chennai City Police Commissioner Smith Saran in April 2017.[25] Pursuant to a judgement of the Madras High Court on 6 November 2015, directions were given to the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB) to appoint Yashini as a sub-inspector of police as she is "entitled to get the job". The judgement further directed the TNUSRB to include transgender people as a "third category", apart from the usual category of "male" and "female".

On 22 April 2019, the Madras High Court issued a landmark judgment upholding the marriage rights of transgender women under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955,[11]

In August 2020 the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment appointed Gopi Shankar Madurai as the South Regional representative in the National Council for Transgender Persons.[26]

Intersex rights[edit]

On 22 April 2019, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court passed a verdict to ban sex-selective surgeries on intersex infants.[27] Based on the works of Gopi Shankar Madurai,[12] the Court took note of the rampant practice of compulsory medical interventions performed on intersex infants and children. The Court also expressed its gratitude to Shankar, noting that Shankar's work has had been a "humbling and enlightening experience for the Court".[28]

In July 2019, Health Minister C. Vijayabaskar announced that guidelines complying with the court ruling and banning medical interventions on intersex infants would be drafted.[29] On 13 August 2019, the Government of Tamil Nadu issued a government order to ban forced medical interventions on intersex infants.[30]

Living conditions[edit]

Asia's first Genderqueer Pride parade in Madurai with Anjali Gopalan and Gopi Shankar Madurai (2012)[31]

Groups and organisations[edit]

Various LGBT organisations have been established over the years in Tamil Nadu. These include Orinam (Tamil: ஓரினம்),[32] Srishti Madurai (சிருஷ்டி மதுரை), the Sahodari Foundation (சகோதரி) and Chennai Dost (சென்னை தோஸ்த்).[33] These associations raise awareness of LGBT people, offer helplines to both LGBT people and family and friends, and campaign for sensitisation concerning education and workplace policies, among others.

Chennai Rainbow Pride (சென்னை வானவில் விழா) has been held annually in the city of Chennai since 2009.[34]

Helpline and other services[edit]

On February 2009, the first lesbian phone helpline was launched by the Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO) following the high-profile suicide of a lesbian couple in Chennai.[35] Similarly, in March 2009, a telephone helpline called "Manasu" was set up by the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative-Voluntary Health Services.[36]

Srishti Madurai launched a helpline for LGBT people on 2 October 2011 in the city of Madurai. In June 2013, the helpline turned to offer service for 24 hours with a tagline "Just having someone understanding to talk to can save a life".[37]

Culture, media and television[edit]

A painted wooden head of Iravan (Aravan), Asian Civilization Museum in Singapore

Ardhanarishvara, an androgynous composite form of male deity Shiva and female deity Parvati, originated in Kushan culture as far back as the first century CE.[38] A statue depicting Ardhanarishvara is included in India's Meenkashi Temple; this statue clearly shows both male and female bodily elements.[39]

Thirunar (Indigenous Gendervariants) meet in Koovagam, a village in Villupuram district, in the Tamil month of Chitrai (April/May) for an annual festival which takes place for fifteen days. During this festival, the participants worship Aravan and are married to him by temple priests, thus reenacting an ancient myth of Lord Vishnu who married him after taking the form of a woman named Mohini. The following days, dressed in white sarees, they mourn his death though ritual dances.[40][41]

In a monumental push in breaking taboos, the Tamil cable channel STAR Vijay started a talk show in 2008 hosted by a trans woman named Rose. The programme is called Ippadikku Rose, translated into "Yours Truly, Rose".[42]

Karpaga, a transgender person born in Erode, performed a lead role in the Tamil movie Paal; the first transgender person in India to achieve such a milestone.[43] Kalki Subramaniam, a transgender person from Pollachi, performed a lead role in the Tamil movie Narthagi. Transgender activist A. Revathi played a role in the 2008 Tamil film Thenavattu.[44]

LGBT literature and studies[edit]

Vaadamalli by novelist Su. Samuthiram is the first Tamil novel about the local aravani community in Tamil Nadu, published in 1994. Transgender activist A. Revathi became the first hijra to write about transgender issues and gender politics in Tamil. Her works have been translated into more than eight languages and act as a primary resource on gender studies in Asia. Her book is part of a research project for more than 100 universities. She is the author of Unarvum Uruvamum ("Feelings of the Entire Body"), the first of its kind in English from a member of the hijra community.[45][46][47] She also acted and directed several stage plays on gender and sexuality issues in Tamil and Kannada. The Truth about Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi is part of the syllabus for final year students of The American College in Madurai. The American College is the first college in India to introduce third gender literature and studies with research-oriented seminars.[48] Naan Saravanan's Alla (2007) and Vidya's I Am Vidya (2008) were among early transwoman autobiographies.[49][50] Kalki Subramaniam's Kuri Aruthean ("Phallus, I cut") is a collection of Tamil poems about transgender lives.

The American College in Madurai also introduced Maraikappatta Pakkangal ("Hidden Pages") as a course book for "Genderqueer and Intersex Human Rights studies" as part of the curriculum for Tamil and English department students in 2018.[51][52] It is the first book on the LGBT community in the Tamil language, launched by Gopi Shankar Madurai and state BJP leader Vanathi Srinivasan in 2014.[53][54][55]

In January 2018, Vidupattavai (விடுபட்டவை) was released at the 41st Chennai Book Fair. The book chronicles the life of a gay man in Chennai in the form of short stories, essays, poems and critiques. The book was co-published by Queer Chennai Chronicles and Karuppu Pradhigal. It was released by Tamil writer and actor Shobasakthi.[56][57]

Notable Tamil LGBT people[edit]

See also[edit]


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