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Pride Month: A Guide To Being LGBTQ At The Workplace In India

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Every year, around the world, the month of June is celebrated as ‘Pride Month’, a positive movement which brings the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) community to fight against discrimination and for equal rights. 

At Northbound, we believe that everyone should be able to bring their best to work. But what do you do when who you are is not something your coworkers accept?

Ujwal Sangwar calls himself a ‘late bloomer’ because he realised only when he was about 19 that he was homosexual. “It was a bad phase. I couldn’t get along with people because I was having this internal struggle,” he said.

Slowly, Ujwal came to terms with his orientation with help from Sociology and Psychology, the subjects he was studying in college in Nagpur. But he did not come out to his family or friends for a long time after.

When Ujwal finally joined a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centre in Pune as a psychiatric social worker, he was tired of pretending. “I wanted people to know and I wanted to be proud of myself the way I am,” Ujwal told us in a conversation.

Source: 8fact.com

He confided in colleagues he was close to but didn’t get the support he had hoped for.

“Some were okay but not comfortable with me talking about it. I even got bullied for a while after that. People would tease me and make derogatory comments. I didn’t expect that especially since we were all working in a psychiatric setup,” Ujwal said.

Eventually, Ujwal had to take it up with a senior who intervened and helped him out. He continued to work there for almost six years before moving on to now being a counsellor in an educational institute. Here, too, he faced some discrimination from colleagues at first but with help from his boss, things were smoothed out and Ujwal is now comfortable.

Ujwal’s is not a lone case.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by Mumbai-based think-tank Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment (MINGLE), 40% of the respondents reported facing harassment at their workplace for being LGBT.

The report titled ‘In & Out: The Indian LGBT Workplace Climate Survey Report’ looks at the workplace environment for LGBT employees in the Information Technology, Banking & Finance, and FMCG & Manufacturing sectors.

Of the hundred respondents in the study, only 48% were covered by anti-discrimination policies in their company. Further, 87% of them did not have formal LGBT Employee Resource Groups in their organisation.

The report also found that employees who were out at work had more trust in their employers, were more satisfied with promotions, and more comfortable interacting with co-workers than those who were closeted.

But coming out at your workplace is not an easy decision to make.

We had an email exchange with Udayan Dhar, lead author of the ‘In & Out’ study. Udayan is pursuing his doctorate in organisational behaviour at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland.

How can you gauge if it’s okay to come out to your colleagues and seniors?

“Speaking to other LGBTQ people in your workplace can give you a good sense of what the culture is like. If your organisation has HR policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, it is a good indicator,” Udayan said.

If the organisation has resource groups for LGBTQ employees, it means there is already a culture of openness on these issues.

Udayan suggests casual conversations over lunch or coffee to get to know specific colleagues or seniors better and to gauge how open-minded they are.

“Remember that coming out can happen in multiple ways. Sometimes it could be as explicit as telling someone you are gay, at other times it could be more subtle as keeping a picture of your partner on your desk and letting others do the guesswork,” he said.

How can you deal with homophobic comments and jokes at the workplace?

Udayan says that since Indian law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation, one can depend on the organization’s HR policies for redress.

“In most cases, however, the first step is always to speak to your colleagues about how their comments/jokes make you feel uncomfortable. You may or may not mention the fact that you are LGBTQ. However, being authentic to your true self can make it easier to stand up in the face of such behaviour,” Udayan said.

If the comments/jokes continue, speak to a senior leader or mentor in the workplace who you know may be sympathetic enough. With their support, you can report the issue to HR or senior management.

Even if policies do not mention sexual orientation specifically, most organizations have guidelines against bullying or harassment in general.

A scene from a Pride March.

“At each step remember to assess what the stakes are, and what risks you are willing to take. If your managers are not supportive, or the policies of the organization are not conducive to bias reporting, it may be prudent to look out for organisations that are more LGBTQ-friendly,” Udayan said.

There are many benefits to being open and comfortable in your organisation.

Udayan says that studies have shown how diverse workplaces foster innovation and growth.  For employees, studies have shown that bringing your whole selves to work enables you to have better workplace relationships and perform better.

“So, my advice to LGBTQ employees who are unsure about coming out at work is to realize that your differences are a source of strength, not weakness. Being who you are is important not just in your personal, but in your professional lives as well. Understand that most Indian organizations are new on their journey of LGBTQ inclusion, and would be happy to accept any form of assistance. That assistance is best when it comes from their own people,” he said.

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Do you think discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation should be included in the anti-harassment policies of companies?

You can check out MINGLE’s In & Out report here. They also have a resource guide for LGBTQ Indians at the workplace which you can find here

This article originally appeared on the blog, NorthboundAt Northbound, we want to help people make more informed choices about their careers and professional lives. Be it your first career decision, switching to a new field or exploring an entrepreneurial journey, we want to help you make better decisions and inspire you to find your path! Follow us for new stories!

Photo for representation. Source: Kalpak Pathak/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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