Fighting Transphobia and Homophobia: Pehchan team and supporters respond to cases of violence against the MSM, transgender and hijra community

International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia is celebrated on May 17th every year to commemorate the removal of homosexuality from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases, which took place on this day in 1990. However, the rampant discrimination against the LGBT community that existed before this decision is still prevalent throughout the world.

In India, MSM, transgender and hijra (MTH) community members suffer from homophobia and transphobia frequently, yet many of them suffer silently. In order to address this issue of stigma that often takes the form of violence, Pehchan’s team members have implemented a crisis response system that takes relevant action within 24 hours of new cases being reported. Team members also provide trauma and violence-specific counseling, organize peer support meetings and provide community members who have experienced violence with referral linkages to the legal support system.

Events that took place late last year in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) illustrate the prevalence of institutionalized transphobia and the speed required to combat these occurrences by Alliance team members. Geetu (name changed), a transgender from Ongole, AP, and her partner were arrested without a warrant. They were booked under Indian Penal Code, Section 377, legislation that criminalized consensual same sex relationships, but which was read down by the Delhi High Court in 2009.

In custody of the arresting police officers, Geetu was imprisoned and physically assaulted. Panic, incited by rumors that police officials were looking to arrest other community members, spread quickly amongst the MSM, transgender and hijra community in Ongole and, soon, across the nation.

Ram Babu, Pehchan’s Advocacy Officer based at our regional office, responded rapidly to Geetu’s case. He met with Pratap Kumar, a lawyer with whom Pehchan’s community based organization staff had already established a relationship in preparation for moments like these. Pratap defended Geetu on a pro-bono basis and won her case, which led to her acquittal.

To reduce the chances of similar instances occurring in the future, a sensitization meeting was later held for police officers regarding the Delhi High Court’s verdict regarding IPC 377 and the implications it had for the health and human rights of the MSM, transgender and hijra community.

This case highlights the importance that organisations like Alliance India must place on building the capacity of their staff, partners and networks to take prompt action against the ongoing cases of transphobia and homophobia that plague sexual minority groups.

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With support from the Global Fund, Pehchan builds the capacity of 200 community-based organisations (CBOs) for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government’s HIV prevention programme. By supporting the development of strong CBOs, Pehchan will address some of the capacity gaps that have often prevented CBOs from receiving government funding for much-needed HIV programming. Named Pehchan which in Hindi means ‘identity’, ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement,’ this programme is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in consortium with Humsafar Trust, SAATHII, Sangama, and SIAAP and will reach 453,750 MSM, transgenders and hijras by 2015. It is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.

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