LGBTQ: Perceptions on discrimination
Decriminalisation of the LGBTQ community would be just half the battle won. The real struggle is to stop discrimination against them and start mainstreaming them into the workforce
While the Supreme Court reviews Section 377, two developments over the last few days seemed to drown the activism of semantics around it and address the core issue of the LGBTQ community. One was the prince of Gujarat, Manavendra Singh Gohil, who opened the doors of his palace hotel to those who choose not to be named but are looking to hone their marketable skills for the job market and the other is the Lalit Group becoming the only hotel chain among the elite list of 32 to endorse the UN’s LGBTQ standards at work; a big leap for the country and the hospitality industry.
The assertion of identity becomes stronger with each push towards marginalisation, often leading to the optics of crusades, campaigns, parades and sometimes exhibitionism. But it is with mainstreaming of the minority and acknowledging that each minority group, as a capable human resource with ability, make up the majority workforce, that we can get rid of the need to tick off the boxes and create an equal society. Our history is replete with examples of how whom we call LGBTQ today were key components of courtly life and assigned socially productive duties. The larger question, therefore, is whether societally and mentally we have become accepting of the LGBTQ as a valued, gender-neutral talent pool and whether we can integrate them economically. And assimilation does not mean pointing out to the privileged, educated and already empowered among them as examples of our shining tolerance but empowering the commonest of the community with a sense of self-worth, equity and security. This nebulous attitude is defined not just by the criminalisation of Section 377 but our own sense of discomfort about and imagined threat from “otherness.” Sexuality is still a notch higher than humanity. Rather humanity is circumscribed by sexuality.
If the results of a survey by MINGLE (Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment) are anything to go by, then more than half of LGBTQ Indians surveyed could be legally fired from their jobs for their mental orientation of sexuality. Only a small minority of four per cent is covered by same-sex partnership benefits and about 40 per cent reported having faced some form of harassment and abuse for being LGBT. But what the survey significantly revealed beyond the denial of equity was that when allowed to step out of the closet, LGBTQ employees were better contributors and felt safer at the workplace. This group also showed greater trust in their employers, greater satisfaction, felt more loyal to their organisation and were more likely to continue with the same company for a longer period of time. We need no management guru to emphasise that these are prime markers for team efficiency and optimised workforce. And even from the cold statistical and emotional assessment of growth charts, the input of strategic inclusion comes at zero cost. Institutional homophobia and criminalisation can only halt the accretion of some valuable percentage points to our GDP.
The West has already acknowledged the virtues of “pink capitalism” or a “pink currency” where empowerment of skilled LGBTQs has resulted in their investing handsomely in the economy and allied services. Indian corporates are slowly waking up to possibilities of an untapped skilled workforce and companies like IBM are holding gender sensitisation and training camps now even in their India offices with special focus on LGBTQ people. The LaliT, for example, noticed the inner turmoil one of its operations staff, Humza, was going through and supported and funded his transition to Mahi. It is for the same reason that some corporates have attempted to close the diversity debate with ad campaigns on same sex relationships, a watch company with its tagline “move on” and a clothing line featuring a gay couple waiting to meet their parents as part of a normative social behaviour. Maybe both are seen from a “protective” heterosexual tolerance but still they are the beginning of acceptance.
Economic empowerment must also be followed by social empathy. The casual argument dismisses same sex partnerships as being inimical to the fabric of a healthy family life. But how healthy is it for a closeted person to sign up for prescribed manners of man-woman alliances, trap themselves in conventional marriages and succumb to the pressure of procreation? The ripple effect of their hurt spirit on their heterosexual partners and children is equally if not more destabilising. Regular men and women are the worst victims of these coercive and hypocritical social correctives. The need to deal with persistent societal stress and prejudice pushes many into deep depression and scar them for life. Yet some same sex partners have been known to raise perfectly balanced children from surrogacy or adoption, who respect gender differences rather than harbouring a bias against them. A human rights study in Australia showed that children with same sex parents had better scores when it came to family cohesion.
The greatest societal fear has to do with intermingling of people which puritans believe encourages deviant behaviour and its experimental emulation. Yet, it is the LGBTQs who are at the receiving end of the worst kinds of discrimination. They still do not have the most basic facility of a toilet in public spaces and institutions and are mostly forced to make do under cover. They usually aggregate at defined spaces but now mainstream hotels and restaurants are opening up to them with themed nights and nurturing their talent by bringing in transgender achievers to tell their stories in open fora where their orientation is incidental to what they have to share, their knowledge and how they used it to set a benchmark for themselves. The bigger problem is that the societal construct of their identity is largely based on clichés that are solidified by the most consumed media —commercial films — barring a few breakaways. The fact that except their sexual orientation LGBTQs are normal is not highlighted enough. Besides, most of such characters seldom make up the leitmotif but are posited as comical interludes or oddities meant to be laughed at in popular pastime. And though satellites may have brought in shows like Orange is the New Black and Transparent as transitioning experiences to the new normal, home-grown TV has not touched the issue with a barge pole. Till we remain culturally dislocated, it is difficult to build a connect.
Sexual exploitation is as much rampant among homosexuals as it is among heterosexuals. Exhibitionism is common to both, it is just our rigid, pre-supposed mindsets that proscribes public displays of the transgender. And more LGBTQs keep it as consensual engagements behind closed doors than heterosexual men and women. It is wrong to assume that just because some LGBTQs are successful and top of their game in the professional space, their sexuality and behaviour are seen as necessary acquisitions in the run to the top. Sexuality cannot be acquired.
The assimilation of LGBTQs in India has a long battle ahead. And though we may want to see their rehabilitation from the prism of metropolises, the real issue is in the hinterland and the countryside beyond it where they continue to be castaways or seen as nature’s aberration. What is needed is education and that begins with the primary school network, counsellors and trained teachers. Creating safe spaces for the LGBTQs to talk about their issues, providing them support and encouraging them to look at themselves beyond their sexuality as capable individuals is the next step. There should be a layered legal redress system in place where the carriers of justice are sensitised and where LGBTQs can claim protection from bullying, violence and ostracisation. There should be a dedicated mental health service for the most deadening psychological battles that LGBTQs go through. Finally, we must make them equal stakeholders in matters of economic and social justice. Human rights can only work if we are conscious about human duties of engagement and support. Just decriminalising them is a fraction of the battle won. For, we must first stop dehumanising them.
(The writer is Associate Editor, The Pioneer)
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