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India's LGBTQ+ 'pioneer' state bans abuse, boosts trans rights

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NEW DELHI – Police threats, slurs and even violence are all part of LGBTQ+ life in India, but a new rule could ease the onslaught in one southern state as it becomes a “pioneer” for sexual minorities.The government of Tamil Nadu recently changed state conduct rules, telling its police officers to stop harassing LGBTQ+ Indians, on the orders of a high court judge.

The change, on paper at least, is radical — even if it is yet to trickle down to street level and mark a true turning point for sidelined minorities in socially conservative India, say LGBTQ+ rights campaigners.“Tamil Nadu is a pioneer in LGBTQ+ rights, especially when it comes to recognizing trans lives,” said Kalki Subramaniam, a trans activist and founder of Sahodari Foundation, which helps trans women in Tamil Nadu.“With this amendment, a lot of innocent trans lives can be saved,” she said.Tamil Nadu started taking trans-inclusive steps as far back as 1994, when it gave voting rights to trans Indians.Then in 2008, it began offering free gender reassignment surgeries — all long before 2014 when India’s top court ruled that trans Indians had equal rights.India passed a transgender rights bill in 2019 and formed a national transgender council a year later.After the Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex in 2018, the coastal state saw a series of firsts for LGBTQ+ rights — from banning so-called conversion therapy to barring sex assignment surgery on babies whose sex is not clear at birth.Yet despite the gains on paper, gay and trans people still endure discrimination and routinely face police harassment, extortion and abuse, according to LGBTQ+ campaigners.They say that trans women are most vulnerable, often attracting unwanted attention due to their appearance.

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