July 12, 2019 will remain etched in the minds of Indians for years to come. After all, on this day, India saw its first ever LGBTI+ job fair in Bengaluru - an event aimed specifically at helping members of the queer community find jobs at leading companies like Intel, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Uber and so on.
It has been a year since Section 377 of the Indian Constitution, which criminalised gay sex, was abrogated. As of September 6 2018, "being gay" is no longer a crime in India. Has this helped the LGBTQIA+ community find suitable job opportunities, especially since employment is one of the fundamental determinants of equality? Are more and more companies warming up to the idea of hiring queer employees?
Ramkrishna Sinha, co-founder of Pride Circle thinks so. "The job affair wouldn't have been possible in a pre-377 verdict world. This time we had 38 companies taking part in the job fair, I don't think that would have happened had the verdict not been passed. We even had offers from companies which have traditional mindsets and you wouldn't think that they'd be open to having queer employees."
However, does that mean that workplaces are also gradually becoming more and more inclusive? A study by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, titled "Queering the Law: Making Indian Laws LGBT+ Inclusive" revealed that most laws in India do not have special provisions for the marginalised LGBTQ communities.
Although pulling down the draconian law was a monumental feat for the community, the truth remains that most laws in India only take into account "males" or females". But what about the third gender? This is all the more poignant in the workplace, where discrimination, homophobic slurs and borderline harassment and abuse are rampant. A study conducted by the World Bank showed that homophobia, which forms one of the underlying principles behind the exclusion of Queer people, was detrimental to the GDP of a country since it had a direct impact on the economy.
Social stigma, discrimination which may also include violence and abuse and the fact that queer individuals would have to hide who they really are could be some of the reasons why they've chosen to stay away. But organisations like Pride Circle are fighting relentlessly against to eliminate the taboo associated with the LGBTQ communities or the stereotypes which get in the way of them living a normal life, like their straight counterparts.
"We ensured that the companies who took part in the job fair were committed. Most of them had non-discrimination policies in place. These companies are definitely ahead of the curve because they had taken a public stand by merely taking part in the employment drive," Sinha said.
For the first time in a long time, the queer community had seen a ray of hope at the end of a very dark tunnel, and as one would expect, they welcomed this golden opportunity with open arms. "A woman came all the way from Bhubaneshwar to take part in the job fair. Another woman left the job fair with three offers, and is now deciding which way to go. It increases their self value and puts them in a position of demand if such leading companies are offering jobs to them," Sinha said.
This doesn't mean that queer individuals were incapable of landing good jobs before the verdict, especially since a person's sexual preferences has nothing to do with his or her capabilities as a working professional.
However, stigma associated with the LGBTQ communities and fear or being marginalised and discriminated against kept them away. It took almost a year since decriminalisation for India to have its first queer job fair; and although we have miles to go before we can sleep, suffice to say, this past year has been a step in the right direction as equal opportunities and queer rights are concerned.