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It has been one year since Section 377 was struck down by the Supreme Court. But has the LGBTQIA+ community got its full rights?
September 2018 was a watershed moment for the LGBTQIA+ community because in that month, Section 377 was revoked in India, thereby decriminalising homosexuality.
This development has been a long time in the making and every member of the LGBTQIA+ community should take pride that their right to have same-sex relationships cannot be infringed upon. Undoubtedly, the revocation of Section 377 is a progressive step that brings India lockstep with other liberal democracies.
However societal outlook cannot be changed overnight simply with the annulment of a century old article. Societal outlook formulated Section 377 and remoulding these attitudes isn’t as easy as revoking a law.
This June, more companies have put out campaigns to celebrate Pride month than ever before. However, the subject of LGBTQIA+ rights still stirs up uncomfortable emotions in large numbers of people. Such unease concerning LGBTQIA+ members is plainly visible in the Indian corporate space.
The openness of Indian companies and organisations in relation to the LGBTQIA+ community falls along a continuum. Some organisations are willing to create employee groups for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and also formulate friendly policies such as facilitating surrogacy and adoption. Companies also have policies such as medical coverage for sex change of an LGBTQIA+ member who desires one.
On the other side of the continuum are companies that proclaim they’re not against LGBTQIA+ members or their inclusion into society. Nonetheless, they are unwilling to openly declare that they want to facilitate inclusion of LGBTQIA+ members. Such companies’ reticence springs from their discomfort with the discussions that the LGBTQIA+ issue evokes.
The question then arises, why is there any discomfort at all regarding the LGBTQIA+ community? The obvious answer is that since childhood we are taught to mock lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and queers.
Social conditioning runs deep and conditioning inculcated since childhood remains rooted when children grow into adults. Children are taught to refer to a heterosexual man as straight.
Yet, what is it that makes a heterosexual man straight and a homosexual man not straight or perhaps crooked? Why is the quality of being straight bestowed only on heterosexual men and not on any homosexual men? Social conditioning dictates who is considered ‘straight’ and who isn’t.
This is why it is unremarkable when a man hits on a woman. At the same time, heterosexual men display extreme discomfort when a man hits on them. Unlike laws that can be changed overnight, social conditioning – ingrained since childhood – cannot be changed nearly as easily.
Hence, a lot needs to be done to address the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, and to integrate them into every facet of society. It begins by reengineering society.
The LGBTQIA+ community has existed on the margins of society for centuries. Not only because society was unwilling to accept them, but also because their own family members often have not. Creating an inclusive society in which LGBTQIA+ members play a full role starts with giving members of the community the courage to come out.
Inclusion of LGBTQIA+ members into society can be facilitated by organisations in the society. Organisations reflect societies and their values.
All stereotypes, norms, and biases of a society shape and therefore are reflected in organisations. Conversely, organisations can help reshape stereotypes, norms, and biases and in turn reshape society.
This happens when organisations implement new policies, practices, and begin encouraging conversations that challenge stereotypes. Doing this changes the mindset of those working in organisations and therefore changes mindsets in society. Just as the biases of a society are reflected in an organisation, positive steps taken by organisations to address biases makes society freer from such biases.
Organisations must instil inclusive policies that encourage members of the community to come out and play a greater role in society. They also need to create policies that make everyone tolerant of LGBTQIA+ members
Inclusion of LGBTQIA+ members isn’t just about creating a more harmonious society. A recent US Chamber of Commerce report revealed that the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ members benefits a company’s bottom line.
The report clearly indicates companies that adopt LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies improve their financial standing. And perform better than peer organisations that lack such policies.
It also cited a 2017 study that showed 80% of adult employees considered inclusiveness an important criterion when choosing an employer. When given an option to work with an employer that had inclusive policies in place and one lacking such policies, employees would join the former.
72% of respondents in the study said they would leave their organisation for one that was more inclusive. Clearly, talented people want to work in inclusive organisations. However, despite greater inclusiveness of LGBTQIA+ members, half of them continue to remain closeted in the US.
Thankfully, some organisations have created groups in which members of the LGBTQIA+ community speak about their expectations and, experiences.
Now organisations must open discussions around adoption policies for same-sex couples, insurance for same-sex couples, and how to make complete healthcare available to LGBTQ members; and finally, discussions around how to cultivate tolerance and respect for LGBTQIA+ members. Often, intolerance stems from a lack of awareness. For instance, heterosexual men or women may fear engaging a gay or lesbian out of fear of being hit on.
Among leaders in organisations there is a need for discussion regarding supportive infrastructure, for instance, washrooms for the third gender. Transsexuals and queers have such needs and it is an organisation’s responsibility to fulfil them.
In India, the introduction of the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill in 2016 was a step in the right direction. It prohibits discrimination against a transgender person in areas like education, healthcare, and employment. As per the bill, forcing a transgender person to beg, denying them access to a public place, or physically or sexually abusing them will lead to imprisonment up to 2 years and a fine.
The LGBTQIA+ community’s inclusion into every facet of society is a journey, it cannot be considered complete simply with revocation of Section 377.
Society and organisations must be encouraged to take concrete steps to ensure the journey continues smoothly and I am confident we will move beyond Lip service to reshaping societal outlook.
Picture credits: Pexels
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Trigger Warning: This deals with severe postpartum depression, and may be triggering for survivors.
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