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Homophobia 'rampant' in workplaces in India

Criminalization of same-sex sexual activity by Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has greatly slowed progress with regards to LGBT diversity and inclusion

Homophobia 'rampant' in workplaces in India
Vinayak Das | CreativeCommons2.0
Participants at an LGBT Pride festival in Bangalore

A major study into the workplace experiences of LGBT people in India concludes that homophobia is ‘rampant’, discrimination is ‘commonplace’, and many employees feel unable to come out at work.

The study was undertaken by Mumbai-based LGBT advocacy non-profit Mingle (Mission for Indian Lesbian and Gay Empowerment). It’s the second study of its kind undertaken by the organization.

The first study was undertaken in 2012, but the latest study found any progress with regards to LGBT inclusion to be slow.

The authors believe that the criminalization of same-sex sexual activity in 2013 (with the re-introduction of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code late that year) is partly to blame.

‘The shock judgment of the Supreme Court on Section 377- which recriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults, has led to much confusion among both
Indian organizations and global multinationals that are based in India,’ states the report.

‘Risk-averse legal departments have stonewalled HR initiatives in some cases.’

The study gave detailed questionnaires to 100 workers in three sectors: IT, Finance and FMCG/Manufacturing. Ten of the 100 then also took part in detailed interviews.

Key findings include:

  • Although 44% reported being out to family, only 25% said they were out to work colleagues.
  • Half reported being covered by LGBT discrimination policies, while half were not and could therefore be fired for being LGBT.
  • Only 13% had access to an LGBT employee resource group at their place of work.
  • 40% said they were often or sometimes subject to workplace harassment because they are LGBT – and two-thirds said that they overheard colleagues making homophobic remarks.
  • One-fifth said they faced discrimination from their own managers/HR staff.
  • 25% of “out” employees are happy with their performance evaluations compared to 3% of closeted ones.
  • 65% said that they consider HR/diversity policies when deciding whether to join an organization.

The 40% figure for those reporting harassment is similar to a report finding released last year by Randstand, which found 44% of employees in India had been subjected to sexual orientation discrimination – far above a 15% global average.

The Mingle report concludes that much more needs to be done to create truly inclusive workplaces for LGBT employees in India.

It recommends the widespread introduction of equal opportunity policies that cover LGBT people, partnership benefits for same-sex couples, training for managers, more LGBT employee resource groups, and visible sponsorship from senior leaders, among other measures.

Parmesh Shahani, head of Godrej India Culture Lab, also wrote on the importance of straight allies.

‘You show us each day that you work alongside us and support us, that LGBT rights are not just our rights, but all our rights… just basic human rights.

‘When you march alongside us at Pride, join our LGBT initiatives “despite being straight”, and refuse to laugh at homophobic jokes cracked around the photocopy machine, you give us hope that the inclusive India we are imagining for tomorrow already exists today.’

You can download the full In & Out: The Indian Workplace Climate Survey 2016.

In a statement, Udayan Dhar, Diversity & Inclusion manager at Godrej Industries and lead researcher of the study, said, ‘These results show our corporate bodies a glimpse of the workplace environment from the perspective of their LGBT employees- what eight hours at the office mean for nearly 5-10% of their workforce.’

The report was officially launched at the Indian LGBT Youth Leadership Summit in Mumbai on Sunday, and following the launch, a panel discussion took place on the study’s findings.

Amongst those to speak was Fabrice Houdart (Human Rights Officer at UN HCR), who said, ‘The United Nations is resolutely behind LGBT rights because we consider it an integral part of basic human rights. I know some countries claim that it is not part of their culture or tradition, but we must understand that tradition cannot trump human rights.’

 

Main image: Participants at a Bangalore Queer Pride Parade by Vinayak Das, licensed via CreativeCommons2.0 


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