The outgoing president of the Indian Psychiatric Society described homosexuality as "unnatural" in an article published Tuesday on the front page of the Times of India, the world's largest English-language daily newspaper paper.
"The manner in which homosexuals have brought the talk of sex to the roads makes people uncomfortable. It's unnatural," said Indira Sharma, a professor at Banaras Hindu University who stepped down as the organization's president on Sunday. "Our society doesn't talk about sex. Heterosexuals don't talk about sex. It's a private matter."
The Times of India published the interview as the Indian Supreme Court is being asked to reconsider a ruling handed down last month upholding the country's sodomy law, known as Section 377, which sparked protests worldwide. During an address at the Psychiatric Society's annual meeting, last weekend, Sharma made remarks encouraging gays and lesbians uncomfortable about their sexual orientation to seek help to become straight, the Times reported.
She explained to the Times of India, "There are some who are comfortable [with their orientation], but there are many who are not. The latter should realize they can get help (from psychiatrists). Some of them may even be able to change their orientation."
The paper also summarized Sharma as adding that "those comfortable with their orientation should be made aware that their behaviour was causing a lot of uneasiness in society."
A psychiatrist who attended the panel in which Sharma made her initial remarks told the Times of India that Sharma wanted "homo clubs" to be shut down, a report Sharma denied to the newspaper.
"I am unaware of 'homo club' being a term at all. It may exist in America. I would never use such words," Sharma said.
Only in the final paragraphs of the story did the paper quote experts who suggested that homosexuality is not a condition requiring change, the position endorsed by the American Psychological Association and other leading medical organizations. But the psychiatrists did not contest the scientific merits of Sharma's statement.
"Same-sex orientation needs to be accepted as normal," the paper quotes Dr. Harish Shetty to counter Sharma's remarks. "Sexual orientation has different dimensions and should be tackled compassionately. This will help many come out of the closet. Mental health professionals need to accept the differences and bring down distress."
Correction: This story has been updated to include the headline used in the print edition of the Times Of India. A previous version of the story referred to the online headline, not the print headline.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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