Earlier this summer, I attended the Out & Equal (O&E) Forum in Bangalore, India. The purpose of the forum was to discuss ways we can create and sustain inclusive workplaces for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community. Symantec was a Leadership Sponsor of the forum this year, and continues to be one of the leading corporations that embraces workplace inclusion for people from the LGBTQ community.
As a straight ally, attending this conference was a proud moment for me, but my allyship journey begins much earlier.
One of my friend's is transgender. They were born male but knew early on that they were female, and were in a committed relationship with a man. However, the pressures of society forced them to live their life as a man, get married to a woman, and have kids. Not being able to reveal their gender identity paralyzed their zest for life. They could not be their true self, could not love freely, and has had to lead a closeted and unfulfilling life.
This was so unfair! How long could they fight for their truth all alone? Because of my friend’s experiences, my feelings of empathy with the LGBTQ community grew stronger and have shaped my views of being an ally. I believe that if allies join hands with the LGBTQ community in a show of support, we can begin to shift the norms, raise awareness, and grow acceptance of the LGBTQ community. This is why I attended the O&E Forum this summer.
I believe that if allies join hands with the LGBTQ community in a show of support, we can begin to shift the norms, raise awareness, and grow acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
The forum was attended by entertainment companies, well known hoteliers, and a surfeit of executives, directors, and leaders from top corporations, as well as plenty of allies like myself. Symantec representatives were also on a panel discussing how ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) can benefit members of specific underrepresented communities.
Throughout the day, many organizations shared good ideas on how to create, adapt, and embrace inclusive workplace strategies for the LGBTQ community. There were discussions on recruitment, hiring, HR policies, creating comfortable workplace cultures, shortlisting people from the LGBTQ community for promotions, and providing health insurance benefits for surgeries and procedures for people from the transgender community. These panels shed light not only on the various struggles of the community, but also how beautifully the LGBTQ community has thrived to gain greater recognition and acceptance by mainstream society.
As I listened to the discussions throughout the day, I was reminded how important it is that each of us is acknowledged and accepted for who we are. When we come to work, we deserve not only recognition for our talents, but basic human respect. Unfortunately, in India, normative cultural values dominate public opinion, making it difficult for people from the LGBTQ community to live authentic lives.
For the panel I was on, a conference attendee asked a question that demonstrates this perspective. He said, “Since you are an active member of the PRIDE ERG in Symantec, do other employees think that you are just using this to be closer to appraisals and add depth to the volunteer section of your resume?”
With a tight-lipped, dimpled half smile, I answered, “We’re lucky that we don’t hear questions like this in our organization. Thoughts like these have never contributed to anything successful. As an ally, I can only ignore such things and concentrate upon making the workplace a better place for the LGBTQ community and for everyone else who is in good faith towards the community.”
As an ally, I concentrate upon making the workplace a better place for the LGBTQ community and for everyone else who is in good faith towards the community.
This interchange was not too different from what I experienced at other organizations where I worked. People are often mean – or at best indifferent – towards the LGBTQ community. These thoughts and behaviors are often subconscious generalizations of people who are perceived to be “different.”
I became an ally because I wanted a free world for people in the LGBTQ community. When I would see my friends being hurt or excluded due to the behaviors and beliefs of other people, it would hurt me too. I was lucky to escape the drama and ridicule because I was considered “normal”, while my friends were marginalized. I am working to change that. I am challenging the phobia. Being an official member of the PRIDE ERG at Symantec, I am spreading awareness, and showing my support in a structured manner.
Things are not perfect for the LGBTQ community in India, but we are making progress. Just a few months ago, India officially decriminalized homosexuality by scrapping Section 377 of the Penal Code, a horrible law that dehumanized people from the LGBTQ community for who they loved. I can sleep better at night knowing that things are getting a little bit easier for my LGBTQ friends and colleagues, that they now have the basic fundamental human rights of living their truth and loving who they choose without fear of criminalization.
If you have preconceived notions towards people from the LGBTQ community, question yourself every time you have a negative thought or are about to make a comment.
Reflecting on the forum, I was left with two clear takeaways for creating a more inclusive world for members of the LGBTQ community. First, sometimes silence is the best alternative. If you have preconceived notions towards people from the LGBTQ community, question yourself every time you have a negative thought or are about to make a comment. Reverse your thoughts and practice silence. Remember that every human being deserves to be respected. No reaction is often the best reaction.
Second, Employee Resource Groups in organizations are extremely important. You can make a difference by joining an ERG in your organization and becoming a substantial ally. Joining an ERG shows your intention and support for people who need it the most. It’s a beautiful start to make.
The new ruling in India will open up countless opportunities for conversation, education, and positive change for the LGBTQ community and their allies.
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