Two years ago, Shivam Sharma rushed to a Mumbai hospital at 2:30 a.m. He'd had sex earlier that night with a man who was HIV positive. They'd used protection, but Sharma just wanted to be sure he was safe. So he went straight to the emergency room and asked a junior doctor for a preventative dose of antiretroviral medicines, or PEP — post-exposure prophylaxis. Hospital staff "were absolutely clueless," Sharma, 28, recalls. No one had ever asked for a PEP before, staff told him. For more than 150 years, homosexuality was a crime in India. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a British colonial-era law, banned sexual acts that were "against the order of nature." There have been prosecutions under the law. But more frequently, it gave police license to harass and blackmail gay men. Section 377 drove generations of LGBTQ Indians into the shadows. It prevented many from fully embracing their sexual and gender identities. It complicated both patients' and doctors' access to information on LGBTQ-specific health issues. And it got in the way of access to vital medical care.
September 17 / NPR