The Bengaluru sun shone shyly behind the rainbow-coloured banners flying high. Unlike other days, the spick-and-span courtyard of LaLit Ashok was not only lined with luxury cars and exotic blooms. The premises were abuzz with a thousand murmurs, intercepted by loud cheers of freedom; the freedom of choice, the freedom to love.
On July 12, Bengaluru witnessed perhaps the biggest national LGBTQ+ event since the historic Supreme Court judgement in September 2018 which decriminalised Article 377. Pride Circle, an active conclave for queer rights, organised RISE (Reimagining Inclusion for Social Equity) – India’s first LGBTQIA+ job fair. The event welcomed job seekers from around the world, connecting them to multinational enterprises who opened up their offices to the often-overlooked and isolated community.
The Logical Indian team had the privilege to participate in the daylong event as exclusive goodness partners. As soon as we stepped inside the gated complex, the sprightly vibe in the air conveyed that India has come a long way since the times of unabashed discrimination against the queer community. We decided to delve a little deeper.
“Don’t Publish Our Photos Or Videos”
“Don’t publish our photos or videos please,” a group of men pleaded almost in unison when we asked them for a byte. Afterwards, as they settled down, one of them divulged the truth.
They were a group of closeted gay friends, who are yet to come out to their conservative families. They have arrived here looking for job opportunities, but the last thing they want is their families to find out.
Our initial shock mellowed a little with a heartwarming speech from keynote speaker Selisse Berry – an openly gay woman entrepreneur from USA, who started Out & Equal to advocate equal workplace rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Her journey from conflicting with her own sexuality to ensuring a safe professional space for the entire community garnered a huge round of applause.
India’s First Gay Prince Was Disowned By His 650-Yr-Old Dynasty
Emceed by notable style icon Maya the Drag Queen, the first half of RISE saw illustrious personalities open up about their journey as a queer person in India. Each of their struggles was heartwrenching, sometimes traumatic as well.
For instance, we all have heard about India’s first openly queer prince Manvendra Singh Govil, who graciously opened his gates to welcome anyone and everyone from the LGBTQ+ community. But, the lesser-known part of his story is that he was disowned by his own family and royal heritage, to protect the 650-year-old dynasty from ‘immorality’.
“There is so much hypocrisy and bigotry in the society that people hesitate to accept the core reality. But, you have to be strong and have faith in yourself to swim against the tide,” he smiles, continuing how the RISE job fair is a huge step towards a society where every individual can live with equal dignity.
“If Lord Rama Accepted Queer Identity, Why Shouldn’t We?”
Homosexuality and LGBT identity has featured time and again in the tales of mythology or the pages of ancient Indian history. Thus, it is indeed perplexing as to why socio-religious resistance happens to be the main hurdle for the LGBT+ community in India. So, we chose to ask acclaimed mythology author Devdutt Pattanaik, one of the speakers at the event.
In answer to why homosexuality still continues to be denounced in religious foremen despite featuring predominantly in Hindu mythology, he smilingly replies, “Maybe they are not well-read enough.”
Shedding light on transgender identity in India, he continues to explain, “India is the only culture in the whole world which always has recognised three genders – male, female and the other. Ramacharitmanasa openly acknowledges the existence of the queer. So, if Rama did not have a problem, why should we?”
The Job Fair Offered A New Breath Of Life
The job fair which commenced from mid-day comprised a mixed bag of job opportunities – from big-scale corporate firms like Google to local social enterprises. Nervous candidates in formal attires and armed with their resumes soon thronged the hall, their eyes glinting with hope. We managed to interact with a few of them once the nervewracking interview sessions were over.
“I am from Bhubaneshwar. It’s a small town. People say a lot of hurtful things. It was so difficult for me to find a job there. I was not given room for rent. The moment I heard about this event, I instantly registered. I guess my interview went well,” reveals Sonal (formerly Suraj), a communicative English trainer.
Born as a male, Anusha was struggling with her identity almost entirely through her growing years. After her post-graduation, she sunk into depression and found little motivation to struggle towards a decent career. The RISE job fair, in her own words, is a ‘revolutionary step’ for herself as well as hundreds like her, who are battling day and night to discover themselves. “Yet, I would say that if any of the companies are doing this for their own promotion, that would negate the whole purpose of inclusion,” she expresses.
“My family does not approve of me. I hope I can change their mind if I secure a good job,” Rashmika chokes up while sharing.
India Has Come A Long Way In A Year
RISE presented a conglomeration of individuals from all walks of life, in search of a better livelihood – one that’s above their gender identities or sexual orientations. A few of the A-lister guests chose to share with us their opinion of the event.
“It’s amazing how India is progressing so quickly on the right track. Less than a year ago, homosexuality was a criminal offence. Today, we are here at a job fair exclusively for LGBTQ people. That’s incredible!”, exclaims Dr J Harrison, a Harbinger of Change at ThoughtWorks.
“377 is gone now, that means we are no longer criminals. We now have rights as equal as our heterosexual brothers and sisters. The easiest and best thing everyone can do is to support our community in every walk of life,” urges Paramesh Shahani, Vice-President of Godrej India Culture Lab.
Social Inclusion & Equal Opportunities
The RISE event was indeed a momentous milestone in the journey of the LGBT+ community in India. However, more remains to be done. Alongside opening up office spaces to warmly welcome queer employees, they need to be provided to ample skill development training and career counselling, which they are often excluded from.
“Mainstreaming has to happen, but before that, we have to climb two other steps – embracing and empowering. So, alongside making our workplaces LGBT-friendly, first and foremost we have to provide skill training to them,” explains Keshav Suri, executive director of LaLit group of hotels and a proud man with a husband.
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