The striking down of the draconian Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code – that penalised a section of society for their sexual preferences – meant that the marginalised could move closer to becoming a part of the mainstream. A year since the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment, the discrimination persists, the community continues to be viewed as an incongruity, and there still exists an existential barrier that inhibits natural intermingling.
Amid all this, Delhi recently took a small step towards the inclusion of the LGBTQ community at the workplace that has mostly remained out of bounds for them.
On a crisp winter morning (November 23), some 300 job applicants belonging to the LGBTQ community, along with some powerful allies, walked inside a luxury hotel in the capital, in a bid to empower themselves in the first edition of ‘Q-rious’ — a corporate career fair and confluence for the community.
Corporate biggies including the likes of StayUncle, The Lalit, and Flipkart, to name a few, participated in the career fair, having been previously sensitised on apposite corporate behaviour vis-à-vis the queer community.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Ankita Mehra, head of Q-rious and former MTV Roadies contestant said, “The real challenge, I believe, begins after a person is hired. We are educated and talented enough to go out and get ourselves jobs; but are we educated enough to find ourselves an inclusive space where people accept us the way we are? A certain member of the community may find it difficult to interact with their colleagues because they are scared of their orientation. Building a safe space is what we need to focus on; it is why we are here”.
While many applicants turned up to strengthen their networks, a great many people came looking for healthier alternatives – to move away from their present toxic workspaces.
“My experience working with a government agency was harrowing. I think many people in government organisations are still living in the past. I remember when the Supreme Court had reinstated Section 377 in 2013; my peers had looked at me in a way that implied I am a criminal. In fact, a senior had even audaciously retorted: ‘it’s a bad day for you’. In my current organisation, people snidely use words like ‘meetha’, ‘cheeni’ and ‘gur’ to address me. Why are people so interested in my sexual life? I just want to work in an environment wherein I can breathe and be myself, and not justify my wardrobe or why I am wearing pink,” an applicant, on the condition of anonymity, shared.
One of the most basic transgressions of the non-LGBTQ community members – that keeps them from interacting with and understanding a queer colleague – is their inability to properly and respectfully address them.
“That is okay. If someone comes and tells me they do not know how to address me, I will happily help them by giving out the suitable pronouns. But if someone shows condescension and says, ‘hey, you should not be using these pronouns’, I will have a problem with that. I don’t want to be told: par yeh toh normal nahi hai (but this is normal). In any workplace, my sexuality should not become chai pe charcha. My work should do the talking,” Pearl Daruwalla, a gender non-confirming Lesbian Advocacy Officer at The Humsafar Trust told indianexpress.com.
Even among the community, it is the transgender people who are persecuted the most. “We understand that it took the country great many years to undo what the British did, and now Section 377 has finally been scrapped. But people’s mindset towards the trans community has not changed. This patriarchal society does not even encourage dialogues around women’s equality – how do we begin to push for the parity of the extremely-marginalised transgender people?” Transgender Rights Activist and Goodwill Ambassador for the Election Commission Shreegauri Sawant, said.
For the trans community to also come into the mainstream, sensitisation should begin in schools and colleges, she added. “When you will have a transgender friend sitting next to you in class, you will automatically know how to behave with them in an office environment, where you spend most of your time anyway,” Sawant told the indianexpress.com.
Sawant’s thoughts were echoed by Naaz Joshi, India’s first international transgender beauty queen, and activist, who said, “For trans people, we carry our identity with us. So it becomes very difficult when we go out looking for jobs. Getting hired is not enough; the atmosphere you are working in plays a great role, too. Your workplace should ensure there’s no bullying, there are fair chances – that is the real meaning of inclusivity. And, when we organise these fairs, it is important to sensitise the companies coming on board”.
While a step in the right direction, what took the corporate sector so long to begin this journey towards corporate inclusivity?
“Personally speaking, it was a recent decision on our part to cater to the requirements of the LGBTQ community. We began by hearing their stories; we began interviewing and inviting them to our offices. We wanted to understand the gravity of the problem, and the more we talked about it, the more we realised how grave it is. We are in the process of sensitising our own selves, so we do not misbehave — consciously or unconsciously — with them,” weighed in Sanchit Sethi, CEO and Founder of StayUncle, a hotel booking website that allows unmarried couples to book rooms without any hassle and judgment.
Post lunch, the doors were thrown open for the applicants to trickle in and make a mark in the corporate world. As they marched in one by one, a resume in hand – their demeanour hopeful and confident – they seemed to bequeath a simple message, “Wait up, now. This is our moment to shine.”