Checking the Pulse: LGBTQ Workplace Inclusion in Post-377 India

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Last year, Out & Equal host the first-ever Out & Equal LGBTQ India Forum Powered By IBM in Bangalore, India.  This took place only one month prior to the landmark Supreme Court decision to strike down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which had been used to criminalize homosexuality.  Now, nearly six months later, we’re checking in with our friends in India to take a pulse on the post-377 situation to see how things have changed thus far, and how they might be expected to change in the future.  Below are some of those insights. 

Question: How have your conversations with companies changed with regard to LGBTQ inclusion? Have you noticed increased interest or motivation to learn more and create more inclusive environments? 

Answer: There has certainly been a noticeable change in the way companies are engaging with this issue in India now. Despite advocacy, before Section 377 was read down, most companies had shied away from engaging fearing possible compliance issues (real or perceived) connected to them. Now that Section 377 is out of the way, there is a lot more interest in understanding and acknowledging the community as a living reality of their workforce. Many employees are owning up their identity and coming out and nudging their organisations to be more inclusive. Companies are engaging not only with the LGBTQ members in the organisation, but also encouraging allies to push the agenda forward.  

Some companies have implemented, and many others are seriously considering expanding, their policies to cover the unique needs of the LGBT community – same sex partner benefits, medical insurance, leave for hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries etc are finding their way into organisational policy. That all of this is happening in a country where sex and sexuality is a taboo subject, is testimony to the fact that we are making progress! – Nirmala Menon, Founder and CEO of Interweave Consulting 

Question: Cultural changes often take longer to develop than legal changes.  What sorts of cultural changes (if any) have taken place in the corporate workplace since the striking down of 377, and what sorts of cultural changes might we expect to see in the next three-five years? 

Answer: Culture is the slow meandering river which has inertia and requires massive push for course-correction. The striking down of Section 377 has brought legal respite to not just the LGBTI community, but also workplaces who were cautious to engage. We are seeing more & more organizations picking up LGBTI inclusion in their charters; this has also been fueled by grass-root employees asking for an inclusive & respectful workplace. Corporate participation in post-377 Pride Marches is growing, LGBTI engagements in terms of events have increased, and more organizations are publicly communicating about LGBTI inclusive benefits like same-sex partner insurance & Gender Affirmation coverage. – Ramkrishna Sinha, Co-Founder of Pride Circle 

Question: Do you think the post-Section 377 workplace will be a safer environment for folks to feel more encouraged to be out at work?  What must a well-intentioned company still do in order to ensure that?   

Answer: While the judgement was absolutely essential to protect the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ citizens of India, real change will only happen when the society, our families and our colleagues start accepting us wholeheartedly. Coming out at an Indian workplace is often dependent on an individuals’ socio-economic privileges and circumstances. However, when companies and teams start being intentionally visible about their LGBT+ inclusiveness, beyond implementing LGBT+ affirmative policies and benefits, it empowers employees to be comfortable being their authentic selves (even if they don’t come out). Though I work for an LGBT+ inclusive organization, it took some time for me to come out due to my circumstances, but it was surely easier because I had guidance from mentors who were already out to their teams – Ritesh Rajani, LGBT+ Out Role Model at an MNC 

Keep your eyes out for more information regarding our 2019 LGBTQ India Forum in Bangalore, India, where we will expand upon last year’s Forum and dive deeper into issues related to LGBTQ workplace inclusion in India!