“It is hard for the society to think of us as equals, when our relationships are criminalised by law,” said Judge Victoria Kolakowski, the first openly transgender trial judge in the US and the President of the International Association of LGBT Judges. “People have to get to know us to realise that we are part of them,” she added.
Judge Kolakowski was heading a panel discussion on ‘Strategies for Administrative, Legislative and Judicial Paths to Securing LGBTQI Rights’ in a video conference organised by the US Consulate General, Chennai, on June 19, 2017. The event was part of LGBTQI Pride Month programmes. Centre for Public Policy Research and NGO Sahodaran were the event partners in Kochi and Chennai, respectively.
“When I first applied to take the bar exam, I was denied on the ground that I was not of sound mind, because I was transgender. I went to the Louisiana Supreme Court to challenge this. I represented myself. My first victory as an attorney came before I passed the bar,” noted Judge Kolakowski.
Legal strategy is only a part of the solution to ending discrimination against the LBGTQI community. When people start thinking about the differences among us, it becomes difficult for them to care about others. Instead of seeking special rights and privileges, the community should strive to change the hearts and minds of the people.
Judge Kolakowski emphasised on the need for sexual minorities to focus on getting legal, governmental and societal recognition, so that they could be treated with dignity and respect. “I don’t want us to focus on all the things that make people uncomfortable about us. I don’t care whether people know about me in terms of what I do or do not do in my bedroom. I want people to go through my life, fully realise my potential, and honour and respect my relationships, the way other people’s are,” she added.
Rose Venkatesan, the first transgender talk show host of Indian television, said that it was necessary for leaders from the political and social spectrum to be part of the discussions on LGBTQI community. Though the Supreme Court of India had directed the government to take steps to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, most of the State Governments are yet to take note of the issue. Kerala is the only state to have responded positively to the SC directive on the community, she added.
Sunil Menon, founder member of Sahodaran, a Chennai-based NGO working for LGBTQI rights, argued that the Government of India acknowledged sexual minorities and their rights when reports of large number of HIV patients in Mumbai and Chennai surfaced in 1992. He noted that the more visible the community became, the more friction it created in the mainstream society.
The discussion that centred on the best practices in advocacy brought together a panel of LGBTQI rights activists in South India, including L Ramakrishnan of NGO Saathi and advocate Sudha Ramalingam.