Given that their journey to adulthood is fraught with challenges, it is understandable that the talent pool might be limited. But even with the available talent pool, it is only a handful of companies and institutions that are open and ready to welcome the community and employ them.

By Sonica Aron

The narrative of diversity and inclusion has indeed evolved over the last few decades. From the time when Vishakha guidelines came into existence but very less people knew about them, to when diversity was majorly a numbers game, hiring more women in the organisation, to the implementation of POSH, and now discussion on how to make POSH more relevant for the virtual and remote world, the discourse around diversity and inclusion has come a long way. There is also a growing recognition of the intersectionality of diversity — generational, cultural, experiential, thought processes, people with disabilities.

However, one section of people continues to struggle — the LGBTQ community. Each letter in this term stands for a different set of people — Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer but they are all clubbed together under this one umbrella term. Together they comprise about 8% of India’s population.

Interestingly, Homosexuality was never illegal or a criminal offence in ancient India and Transgenders and Queers were often important members of royal courts. They were, however, criminalised by the British during their rule in India, and continued to be so post-independence.

There was a lot of work and effort by a lot of people after which on 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Section 377, which criminalised homosexuality is unconstitutional as it infringed on the fundamental rights of autonomy, intimacy, and identity, thus legalising homosexuality in India. Which meant that consensual lesbian and gay sexual intercourse was no longer illegal.

The Supreme Court also directed the Government to take all measures to properly broadcast the fact that homosexuality is not a criminal offence, to create public awareness and eliminate the stigma members of the LGBT community face, and to give the police force periodic training to sensitise them about the issue.

They are still unable to get married or adopt children though.

Rights for transgenders is another story. Apparently, under a legislation passed in 2019, Transgender people have been allowed to change their legal gender. But this law, proposed to protect the rights of transgender people, falls short of the human rights obligations as set down in our country. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, which was introduced in the Parliament on July 19, 2019, draws an unclear picture about a transgender person’s right to self-identify, a development the Supreme Court acknowledged in a landmark judgment passed in 2014. The language used in the Bill could be misinterpreted to mean transgender people will have to undergo certain surgeries necessarily before they can legally change their gender.

Despite recent political movements in the favour of LGBT rights, there remains a significant amount of homophobia present among the Indian population, with around half of Indians objecting to same-sex relationships, according to a 2019 opinion poll. There is very little affirmative on-ground action to help them integrate in mainstream society.

Everything stems from the smallest unit of the society – family. Most families are not receptive towards children who might come out as being a part of non-binary gender or ‘non-conforming’ sexual orientation. Starting from surgeries at birth if they can afford it, to abandonment of the child, to trying to treat the child through conversion therapy or for mental disorder, even though it has been declared that sexual orientation is not a mental disorder, families resort to a range of remedies. This might be arising out of fear of societal mockery or shame. End of the day, it leads to the individual being either abandoned or having a childhood that nobody deserves.

The education system is also not prepared to handle the bullying and harassment that children from the community face. The bullying is not just from the students or peers, but often from teachers and authorities as well for sexual orientation and gender identity. Teachers are not trained to address such cases, and look the other way. And the affected students often withdraw, fall into depression, reduce their social interaction, isolate themselves, or drop out of education, leading to limited employment opportunities.

Employment Scenario

Given that their journey to adulthood is fraught with challenges, it is understandable that the talent pool might be limited. But even with the available talent pool, it is only a handful of companies and institutions that are open and ready to welcome the community and employ them.

If we look at the corporate sector, one can actually count the number of companies that are actually doing meaningful work in this area and making an inclusive workplace where the community can work and thrive. Most companies are yet to even begin the journey. And their apprehensions are not unfounded. They, after all, operate in an ecosystem where most of their employees come from the society where 50% are homophobic. Where and how should they start?

Following are the various routes that organisations can tread on to take the next step:

1. Policies and Infrastructure — There are some companies that have been progressive in this area through gender inclusive medical policies, for instance medical insurances that cover same sex couples, making the sexual harassment policies pertaining to their case quite inclusive, having gender-neutral washrooms, adopting diversity strategies and so on.

2. Addressing the Attitude — Proactively address issues like insensitive casual banter, homophobic jokes, insults regarding sexuality, degrading references to a person’s sexual orientation, or isolation at the workplace. Drive inclusive mindset across the organisation through session on sensitization — Why do we need to be inclusive, why does it make business sense, what does inclusive language and behaviour look like, how does it impact people professionally and personally and so on.

3. Make a Beginning — Many organisations feel that they are not ready yet. However, one can never gauge how ready they are until and unless they take a step in this direction. Baby steps will work the best. Organisations can start with one department at a time — start with the head office, start with one location, but start. Organisations need to celebrate success and grow from there.

Summing Up

Inclusion is a journey that we all need to take, not just for ourselves, but for a world that we want to leave for generations to come. Each one of us needs to do our bit to make this world more tolerant, more welcoming, more conducive for the community which is suffering and marginalised for no fault of theirs.

The author, Sonica Aron, is Founder & Managing Partner at Marching Sheep.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHRWorld does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHRWorld will not be responsible for any damage caused to any person or organisation directly or indirectly.