In a landmark move, in June 2021 the Odisha Government allowed persons of the transgender community to apply for the posts of constables and sub-inspectors. The move was applauded and welcomed by not just the LGBTQ community, but all those who have been voicing their appeal for job opportunities in India to be more inclusive. The question is why wasn’t this done sooner? This being the representative term to include a society that welcomes people from all genders and spectrums to apply for jobs.
Do queer persons have enough career options in India?
While most companies are taking steps towards gender diversity, there is scope for much more. Research indicates that even those from the community who have found employment often find themselves looking for acceptance professionally. 79% of Indian LGBTQI+ employees were of the opinion that their career growth has shown a decline and attributed this to their gender expression and identity.
Social media has augmented the voices of the community and caused the din to be heard across the nation. But far away from the hue and cry on social media and urban metropolises, there is still a section of the LGBTQ community that feels career opportunities in India are not acceptable to the queer.
We decided to get the voices right from them. Listen in to these persons who identify as ‘queer’, as they narrate their ordeals, triumphs, thoughts, wishes, and hopes for how India can open its arms wide to them in the career space.
Is there discrimination when it comes to career options for queer persons in India?
Mx. Ria Sharma is Human rights youth activist and Educator. They are of the opinion that being queer does not necessarily limit the career options they have, but discrimination definitely persists. “Quite often the labels become the hallmark of our identities in general. For example, I am queer but I am also an educator. The word ‘queer’ is then seen as all I am. I have a problem with that.”
They go on to say that their identity has nothing with their ability to do certain work, and why therefore should gender be judged when it comes to career.
“Queer individuals often get recruited as a token in corporates,” they point out. “Even if queer individuals get into an option, they are discriminated against and looked down upon. The environment is such, we quite often have to work in the queer space itself, which is good but also limiting.”
Ria says that while active recruitment is essential, it is vital to create a safe space for employees and this should be the primary aim. They point out that if after recruitment, queer individuals do not feel safe in the company, the initiative is incomplete.
“I think all professions can be filled by queer individuals. I wouldn’t want tokenism, rather just not discriminating if a queer individual applies and having a little flexibility keeping their background in mind would be a much progressive stance from my point of view.”
Are companies these days LGBTQ friendly?
Many companies are doing all they can to make the workspace a comfortable environment. While attitudes are definitely undergoing a fix, employee benefits are where most people from the community have a bone to pick with. But this too is undergoing a shift.
Tata Consultancy Services extended health insurance to LGBT employees recently and others have joined the bandwagon. Wipro and Godrej have secured their place on the list of companies that have gone to lengths to make the workspace an inclusive playing field and make persons of the LGBTQ community felt heard.
With Wipro introducing gender-neutral restroom signage among other policies, and Godrej funding and housing the India Culture Lab - a public platform that fosters conversations revolving around contemporary India including around LGBT+ people, these are definitely steps in the right direction.
Among these efforts by the larger firms though, are smaller companies also aiming to be inclusive? Som Banerjee says as a queer, they feel career options in India are extremely restricted primarily because opportunities are scarce. “Most queer people need to fit into the heteronormative box and are forced to remain inside their closets lest they want to avoid unnecessary attention, bullying, fetishism, harmful curiosity. This severely affects their mental health and their ability to realize their true potential!”
Trans folks who simply don't have the option of remaining in their closet are the most vulnerable lot, says Som. “We see corporates waving the rainbow flag during the Pride month, but there is barely any representation when it comes to hiring and the workplace environment is largely dominated by cis het folks. It is very queerphobic and there are very few organizations where queer folks feel welcome and safe.”
To supplement their thoughts on the matter, they point out:
- Industrial sectors like fashion, media and the whole make-up industry have found some queer representation, but these are mostly the UC privileged queer persons
- Academics also sees some queer representation but they are mostly forced to remain inside their closet if they wish to prosper in their career
- Male-dominated spaces like the armed forces, or sports, bureaucratic positions, or even the IT sector are the most unwelcoming to queer people
“Recently I read an article where a certain High Court judge wasn't given a seat in the SC because of their ‘openly gay identity. When the judicial system continues to be so non-pervasive to queer folk, it only reflects how difficult the battle is for us in everyday situations!”
“If you think giving equal opportunities would help level the playing field it won't! The playing field has been tilted against us, and the situation is just slightly better now. We require positive affirmations such as RESERVATION, more scholarships, financial support, psychological help to process the hardships that we have to face on a daily basis,” highlights Som.
“Laws in educational institutions and workplaces against discrimination need to be more sound and their implementation has to be rigid for them to make any difference to queer lives!”
Is India providing a safe space for queer individuals?
Saransh Khaling Rai narrates an incident from his teenage years that made him ponder about queer inclusivity. “Growing up I wanted to join the fashion industry. The first words that my parents said about this in my high school were Now you also are part of those kinds of people (the derogatory term was used). It made me think why they would associate my choosing to go in that field being related to my sexual/gender identity.”
“Somewhere I feel fashion, entertainment and art industries have been seen as major options for queer individuals as they do provide better spaces than the binary, toxic, discriminatory work culture most places thrive on.”
He feels more professions should be open for queer individuals especially by providing safe spaces for them to work in their true identity. “I understand people often try to defend the toxic binary work culture by masking it with ‘professionalism’ but things like uniform can be altered (non-binary options).”
Having personally experienced these things, Saransh says it can take a big toll on a queer person’s mental health.
Do queer persons feel safer in the creative fields than in the corporate world?
Himani Bajaj says that while there is still some sort of freedom of expression in artistic or creative fields, it is hard when it comes to the corporate world. “Even if there are job opportunities for queers, there are very few chances of getting leadership roles or management jobs.”
They are of the thinking that companies only show support during Pride Month just to come off clean but don't actually apply that in real life when they have to give out jobs. “It is harder for trans or gender non-conforming people because there is always a judgment of how they choose to dress or behave. Which ends up affecting their professional life. Companies are supposed to act on it rather than just talking or doing yearly once workshops. It's how safe they can make their workspace for every individual.”
Himani says this is what would make for positive change:
- There should be inclusivity
- Gender-neutral language
- Having a gender-neutral bathroom
- Any sort of medical/leave policy for trans people
- Normalizing asking pronouns rather than assuming
What are the added challenges in a career for a queer woman?
A job with maximum satisfaction, well paid and a place where learning and growing happens is what Ashna Jha would like. As a woman, she says, it already is quite difficult to leave her mark and she has to put in extra effort and time compared to her male counterparts. “Being a queer woman adds to this list of discriminatory criteria.”
“This is an issue of perception, education and acceptance.”
In her line of work, as a lawyer even though it is assumed lawyers understand human rights better, she says the attitude towards queer lawyers is not appealing at all. Ashna points out that there needs to be sensitisation and education about queer rights amongst students for them to be able to understand the people around them and for queer teenagers and kids to able to feel free to live their true lives unapologetically.
“Be it any line of work or profession we need an LGBTQ+ friendly atmosphere at work and constant support all throughout and not just during Pride month. The most important change that I would like to see in India, every individual gets an equal opportunity to pursue a career path they want. We want to be judged on the basis of our talent, skill, knowledge, and experience like any straight person is judged for at any workplace.”
“The day we are given equal opportunity, equal pay and the same chance to grow in a non-discriminatory environment, any queer professional would prove to be as good as their colleagues/peers.”