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Experiences at the workplace - The Queer Chapter

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We had a conversation with Jishnu, Yogi, Kabeer, and Priyadarshini two years ago about the challenges queer people face at work. Despite some progress, true inclusivity remains lacking, making their experiences still relevant today.

What otherwise looks like a regular 9 to 5 for cishet individuals across different industries, a.k.a simply existing in the workplace as who you are, unfortunately, isn’t the same experience for people belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. Unequal job opportunities, facing queerphobia, or being hired to fill a quota; there are a ton of issues that they face at the workplace simply because of their gender and sexual preference.

There’s no denying that workplaces in India are far more progressive today than they have been over the last few decades. But we still have such a long way to go! Back in 2021, we had a conversation with Jishnu Bandyopadhyay, Yogi and Kabeer and Priyadarshini Chitrangada where they talked to us about their experiences at the workplace, whether or not their gender identity and sexual preference define how they’re treated at work, and common measures that can be taken for queer folks to feel safe at work. 

Also Read: Dear Parents and Queers, here's all you need to know about coming out

Here's what they shared:

How was the job hunt experience for you?

Jishnu was lucky to have put out his art on Instagram and gained a client base from there. However, he believed that as an out and proud queer person, it could prove difficult to apply to formal jobs, especially if one did not pass as cisgender or heterosexual. Initially, job hunting wasn't very difficult for Yogi and Kabeer, considering that they weren't out or vocal about their sexual orientations. "When we applied to an organization, we checked the way they had responded to LGBTQIA+ issues in the past and what their views were in general." Yogi was very vocal about his company’s stand on queer issues while joining his then-current workplace. "I also got a same-sex partner insurance policy at Saregama India Ltd." Job hunting was always a daunting experience for Priyadarshini because they never wanted to end up in a space that wouldn't be inclusive enough to house them. "I got fired from my workplace during the first wave of COVID-19, and it took me a while to get another job again. It was very anxiety-ridden because it was not the best time to be a fresher in the job market."

What has your experience been like at the workplace?

During Jishnu’s first year of college, he had applied to a Delhi-based design studio, and they had told him during the final stages of the hiring process that they didn’t want someone with such radical political opinions. "My radical political opinion was that queer people should have equal rights. I didn’t get the internship." For Yogi and Kabeer, their experience had been very positive, thankfully. One of their previous workplaces, Radio Mirchi, was very inclusive and anti-discriminatory. "It was the place where we met and grew into our personalities. Even when our colleagues were homophobic, there were people in the management we could approach to get things resolved. That's how a workplace should be!" Fortunately, Priyadarshini never faced any form of harassment from the employer's end. However, they did face severe homophobic behavior from external stakeholders at an organization they worked for in 2019. "Multiple cisgender heterosexual men who were part of our clientele made me feel extremely uncomfortable by saying lesbophobic things right to my face. However, my workplace always stood by me, and profits never came before my safety - to them."

Did you face differential treatment at the workplace?

Jishnu’s workplace had quite a friendly environment when it came to LGBTQIA+ people. "Even though things weren't perfect, they were far better than many places and clients I had worked for before! Being in the art, design, and entertainment industry also had the added advantage of having more openly queer folks who you could find support from in the workplace, which was irreplaceable." While there were some instances of casual homophobia for Yogi and Kabeer, they were lucky enough to be able to complain to the management, who rightfully sided with them. Priyadarshini hadn't had any such experiences that they could recall.

According to you, what measures should be taken to make you feel safe at work?

Jishnu believed that there should be policies for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their partners. "Surgeries like sex reassignment should be covered, and there should definitely be sensitivity sessions that queer folks are paid to conduct in the workplace. Homophobia often shows up in very subtle but harmful ways; this needs to be looked at." Yogi and Kabeer thought it was great to have a committee of people who could help LGBTQIA+ people advocate for themselves. "The best an HR department and the managing team could do was create awareness around our community. Companies should have gender-neutral washrooms, and insurance policies should include same-sex partner coverage and more." Priyadarshini also believed this. They added, "Not just me, but in order to make any Trans* and Queer people feel safe at work, there had to be sensitization and awareness across organizational hierarchy levels.

What were some of the most common problems you faced at work?

Jishnu had been very conscious about doing his research on the organization before working there. "I picked and chose places that were LGBTQIA+ friendly and/or had queer people working already." This helped a lot with the level of hostility that one could face at the workplace. During the very beginning of Jishnu’s career, he didn’t have the freedom of choice and would take measures to not face discrimination at the workplace. "I’d dress less extravagantly or avoid wearing makeup, and it was really difficult for me to constantly not be myself. Fortunately, as I grew up over the last five years, things changed quite a bit. Today, I am hired for my opinions and body of work. I don’t have to hide and be boring to find acceptance all the time, and that’s beautifully liberating!" Sometimes, with the intent of being woke, people at work alienated Yogi and Kabeer. "Instead of just acknowledging our identities and treating us the same, they tended to label us as the ‘other’. Also, the way they defined family was often not inclusive of same-sex spouses." In many of Priyadarshini’s workplaces, they had often been misgendered. Clients had joked about lesbianism to their face, and cisgender heterosexual male clients had had the audacity to ask them out on a date with the motive to 'fix' their sexual identity. "After I left a workplace, I got to know that an ex-cis male employee had spread a rumor that my sister and I were actually a couple and we were lying about being family to one another because we were scared of being outed. This rumor gained heat because she was not my kin by blood but my chosen family."

Even though this conversation happened two years ago, the experiences and challenges shared by Jishnu, Yogi, Kabeer, and Priyadarshini are unfortunately still relevant today. Discriminatory practices persist in many workplaces, affecting the community. Despite some progress, many organizations continue to struggle with true inclusivity, often maintaining environments where casual homophobia and subtle biases are still prevalent. Social media has played a crucial role in spreading these messages, amplifying voices, and encouraging a sense of community and support among everyone. Also, the resilience and advocacy of these people highlighted the ongoing need for structural changes and widespread awareness to make this society genuinely inclusive. 

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