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Posted by Brindaalakshmi K

On December 9, 2017, British Council, Chennai, had organised a panel discussion during the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence’ campaign in 2017. The focus of the panel discussion was violence and discrimination faced by the LGBTIQA+ community. Anannya Krishnan, a transgender woman was on the panel representing Orinam, an LGBTIQA+ community collective in Chennai.

During the panel discussion, Anannya narrated her protracted struggles to find a job that was related to her field of study, and one that would simultaneously acknowledge her identity as a trans woman. A few months prior to the panel, she said, she had managed to land a position in the drug safety vertical of a multi-national business

However, despite a promising career, her struggles were far from over. Anannya spoke of her ongoing struggles to find a place to live, and to have her family acknowledge her gender identity. Little did the audience realise that these challenges would prove to be more than she could handle. Anannya Krishnan took her life on December 30, 2017, just three weeks after she had spoken at the panel.

Also read: Responses From Trans & Intersex Communities On The Transgender Rights Bill 2016

On November 20, 2018, when Orinam, along with the Bangalore-based collective Diversity Dialogues, released Transgender-Affirming Guidelines for Indian Workplaces, it was dedicated to Anannya.

Many workplaces in India are already likely to have transgender+ individuals working with them.

Even though Anannya had managed to find an employer that recognised and respected her identity as a trans women, many other transgender+ persons, (a term referring to intersex, bigender, agender, non-binary or genderqueer persons) face discrimination and exclusion at multiple levels beginning from the interview process, continuing through misgendering, verbal, physical and sexual harassment, being forced to use restrooms not inappropriate for their gender, and lack of support if they choose to start or continue gender-affirming medical procedures.

“As transgender+ persons, we go through unnecessary scrutiny at interviews or even otherwise.People sometimes think it is their right to ask deeply personal information about our genitalia,about our sex lives, about our transition surgeries, while all they should be caring about are our names and pronouns, treating us like regular individuals. The guide (Transgender-Affirming Guidelines for Indian Workplaces) provides essentials about culture and acceptable behaviour required for organisations to be transgender+ affirmative”, says Aditya Batavia, who works at an Indian retail conglomerate, and identifies as a man.

And even if they do find a job, the organisation and their colleagues may not be sensitive enough about the issues faced by transgender individuals.

“As a transgender person and IT professional, I have had to refrain from potential job opportunities, have faced micro-aggression, and been denied client-facing moments because of my identity/expression. The anxieties and fear of discrimination, difficulties in finding another job,and risk of losing livelihood prevent many of us transgender+ people from revealing our true gender and force us to live dual lives,” says Kanaga, a trans woman working as Domain consultant for a large Indian IT services provider.

The guidelines cover different aspects to guide human resources departments in making their organisations more inclusive. 

Although the NALSA judgement recognising transgender persons was passed by the Supreme Court in 2014 along with the directives to improve the standard of living of transgender people, there has been a lack of initiatives from different state governments to implement these directives. This essentially has allowed toxic working environments to continue to thrive. Given these circumstances, it becomes essential for workplaces to establish uniform trans-inclusive workplace policies like those recommended in the Transgender-Affirming Guidelines for Indian Workplaces.

Transgender-Affirming Guidelines for Indian Workplaces

Transgender+ people face discrimination at several levels in a workplace. The Transgender-Affirming Guideline released by Orinam and Diversity Dialogues has covered these different aspects in a way to help organisations create an inclusive environment for existing and new employees. The guideline says that it is designed to address the needs of individuals who possess the requisite formal education and skills, and are, or can be, recruited through mainstream hiring practices and evaluative procedures.

It also notes that a future publication will focus on the needs of marginalised transgender communities such as hijras, thirunangais, and working-class trans men, who lack formal education or skills for mainstream employment. There would be a need for additional affirmative actions with respect to skilling, placement, and retention when the focus is on marginalised transgender communities hence the need for a different publication.

The guidelines cover different aspects to guide human resources departments in making their organisations more inclusive. This includes the interview process, usage of correct name and pronoun, attire, washrooms, inclusive health insurance that covers gender affirmation, supporting employees during transition, among others. This could serve as a useful list to cross-check even for organisations with an inclusive policy already in place, in order to avoid any gaps that may exist in their processes.

“Awareness on transgender people’s existence is slowly increasing in some of the urban cities especially in the corporate companies, because of the dedicated efforts of some sensitive diversity and inclusion experts. Transgender people are able to come out and discuss their gender affirmation procedures and are able to take leave for their procedures in such companies. Due to sensitisation, the HR in these companies are also pro-active about making an effort with respect to informing the organization about the employee’s needs like preferred name and gender, among others. However, even with the good intent, there still seem to be gaps. These gaps need to be addressed. Similar to mandatory Prevention of Sexual Harassment training in different organisations, transgender people’s issues also need to be taken up uniformly by all organisations. Things like web-based training should also be given to gender and sexuality issues as part of the training and tests that are expected of employees during the induction process,” suggests Shyam Balasubramanian, an assigned female at birth transgender, trans-masculine person, who works as a DFT engineer in the semiconductor/chip design industry.

What’s In It For Organisations

“Post- the NALSA and 377 verdicts it’s the right time for the business community to pitch in and address discrimination faced by transgender+ community in their organizations as they now have moral and legal obligations to ensure a safe, inclusive and healthy workplace”, says Kanaga.

Apart from being a moral and legal obligation, it also seems to be a much-needed decision for organisations to adapt to the changing times because such discrimination is rampant across the private and public sectors. Discrimination and harassment were the reason behind the recen suicide attempt of R. Nasriya a transgender employee of the Tamil Nadu State Police department. Such incidents make it imperative for organisations to promote a genuinely inclusive workplace, in both the private and public sector. Becoming an inclusive employer will encourage more people to join them due to their employee policies.

Also read: On Transgender Day Of Remembrance, Here Are 5 Trans People Who Were Victims Of Our Transphobic Society

This is could be a winning proposition for companies, and would signal a sincerity of intent that goes beyond releasing queer-friendly ads the day after the historic Section 377 judgement. Irrespective of their size, it is time that organisations act on the promise of true inclusion. Besides, a genuine effort from diverse organizations across the country can also give the different state governments enough imppetus to take actions that affirm transgender identity keeping in mind the commercial interests and constitutional obligations at stake, including employment and welfare of all its citizens.


Brindaalakshmi K. is a writer and researcher working at the intersections of gender, sexuality and technology. She is currently working on a study titled ‘Gendering of Development Data: Beyond the Binary’ with the Centre for Internet & Society. You can follow her on Twitter.

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