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A Quick “Dos and Don’ts” Guide To Help Your Company Do More For The LGBTQIA+ Community

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Written by: Elisha Vermani

It’s that time of the year again when advertising folks are under immense pressure to come up with an original campaign for Pride Month that preferably goes beyond rainbows and sparkles. But why the month of June specifically?

Pride Month honours years of struggle for equal rights and the unending quest for legal justice, liberty and dignity for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. But the event that became a turning point in this relentless struggle was the Stonewall Inn riots in New York that occurred in the month of June in 1969.

lgbtq flag
Representative Image.

The first Pride march then took place in 1970, a year later, to commemorate those who fought for their rights during the riots. However, what began as a political movement for acceptance and normalisation of the LGBTQ+ community has over time been dissociated from its roots in activism to be commodified by corporates, often under the guise of gesturing support for them.

At first, it seems great that companies are directing their advertising and marketing efforts to raise awareness for a social cause: McDonald’s launched rainbow french fry containers in its stores in the United States last year, Adidas launches a “Pride Pack” collection every June and Nike has a special pride-themed collection called “BeTrue” to name a few. But something is amiss.

The Problem

When portions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code were struck down in 2018, the queer community across the country celebrated the verdict and brands like Zomato, Ola and Uber were quick to hop onto the bandwagon by including rainbow colours in their logo, social media posts and even their products.

While it may have been done to celebrate along with the queer community, the timing to position themselves as allies raises a few questions.

“I’m glad that these companies are standing in solidarity but why suddenly now? A majority of the brands turned their logos into rainbows, and it doesn’t harm the community but if we look at the bigger picture, these companies have never stood up for LGBTQ rights until today and the majority of these companies do not hire transgender people, nor do they have a policy for it,” said professional drag queen and activist, Jabez Kelly, in an interview with the New Indian Express.

While it’s true that pride campaigns sometimes manage to nudge the door in spaces that aren’t welcoming or simply ignorant of the LGBTQ community, it’s also undeniable that a lot of these promotional efforts provide mere lip service to the community without fostering a tangible change that they would actually benefit from and there’s a term for it — rainbow capitalism.

Simply put, it refers to a brand or an organisation attempting to profit off of the queer community by appropriating the cause for private gain. The same companies that put out these elaborate campaigns to extend support to the LGBTQ+ also end up contradicting themselves either by having exclusionary hiring policies, unsupportive work cultures or by investing in organisations that are anti-LGBTQ.

For instance: Adidas, despite the “Pride Pack” collection to celebrate Pride Month, was one of the biggest sponsors of FIFA 2018 World Cup that was held in Russia — a country with a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ laws, while Nike despite all its inclusive campaigns benefits from investing in private prisons in the U.S., ignoring the skewed incarceration rate of people belonging to the queer community.

Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

While this may be the case for most corporations trying to profit from Pride, there are a few who are going beyond promotional activities to truly support the community. Parmesh Shahani, director of the Godrej India Culture Lab — an experimental space that produces research and events spanning academia, activism and business — said that the company provides equal opportunity policies to all its employees and does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Our anti-harassment policies are gender-neutral. We also have equal benefits to same-sex partners of employees, fully paid three-month adoption leave (also gender-neutral) and a medical benefit scheme which includes the spouse/domestic partner, parents and/or children of an employee,” he told the Economic Times.

In conversation with Ungender after the launch of his book Queeristan, Shahani talks about what companies can do in the workplace to create conducive environments in which one can model a good, safe and nurturing space. Fortunately, Godrej isn’t alone in taking inclusive measures at the workplace.

Keshav Suri, the executive director of Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, is one of the pioneers of implementing inclusive policies at the workplace and a vocal advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Their diversity and inclusion policy includes providing cover for gender reassignment surgeries for trans employees, thus, underlining the need to go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach towards making workplaces more inclusive.

Here are a few Dos and Don’ts for companies trying to figure out what to do for Pride Month

Do: Plan social media campaigns for pride month to be in sync with the marketing calendar.

Don’t: Promote content aimed towards the queer community only during the pride month, the community is very much present during the other 11 months too.

Do: Give creators from the community an opportunity to platform their work via yours.

Don’t: Pay them with “exposure” or expect free content from them.

Do: Find ways to make your product or service more inclusive.

Don’t: Slap a rainbow sticker on it and call it a day.

In case you need help figuring out how to be more inclusive, here’s a good first step to take.

Do: Create special merchandise for Pride Month.

Don’t: Skimp on donating money that comes from the special merch to NGOs or other organisations that work on alleviating problems faced by the community.

Do: Read and educate yourself to create a more supportive work culture for employees from the community.

Don’t: Skip reading this very helpful guide on hiring LGBTQIA+ workers. For a more in-depth understanding of diversity and inclusion, here’s another guide for you.

Companies that pledge their support to the community all year round and beyond promotional activities stand to benefit from the inclusive environment they create. While this change will not happen overnight, taking steps towards building a workplace that takes diversity and inclusion seriously ultimately helps set an industry standard that could pave the way for societal change.

About the author: Elisha is a student of Multi-Media and Mass Communication at Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University. When not writing, you’ll find her complaining about the news or deconstructing badly made spy films just for laughs.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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