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

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.


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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