Last year NHS England adopted a protocol for recording sexual orientation information. India should follow suit

Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling making it legal in India to be gay or lesbian has opened floodgates of celebration and emotion. The realists though have said it is the beginning not the end of the battle. Now for right to adopt as a couple and to marry.

True, that.

But much before all of that comes the need to identify the health needs/risks of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community and to equip the health system to deal with them. History stands witness to the fact that there are unique health needs or the community – AIDS first manifested itself as an ill- understood fatal disease among the homosexual community.

The first step in that direction would be a protocol to record sexual orientation of patients. Record, but not force them into mandatory disclosure. And a law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to prevent that disclosure from affecting the quality of services available to these individuals.

The AIDS control programme can perhaps use a more dignified tag than men who have sex with men (MSM).

There are international models to learn from. National Health Service England has a Sexual Orientation Monitoring Information Standard. It provides a consistent mechanism for recording the sexual orientation of all patients/service users aged 16 years across all health services in England. However collection of that information is not mandatory.

According to NHS, “This is a significant milestone in promoting Lesbian Gay Bisexual equality in England.  Recording sexual orientation will allow policy makers, commissioners and providers to better identify health risks and will help support targeted preventative and early intervention work to address the health inequalities for people who are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual.”

For a country like India with a plethora of inherent social biases that can at times take a lethal turn, a protocol is even more important. Equally so is the need for the health system to identify the issues and address them.

Some of the existing terminologies too need revision in the wake of the apex court judgement. The AIDS control programme can perhaps use a more dignified tag than men who have sex with men (MSM).

After all, we do not talk of straight people as men who have sex with women or vice versa.

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