By Puja Gupta
New Delhi, Sep 10 (IANSlife) A year after the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) decriminalizing homosexuality, the LGBTQ community still struggles with social stigma and lack of opportunities, but people have found the courage to speak up and come out of the closet, says Keshav Suri, who was at the forefront of LGBTQ community's battle for equality.
In an interview with IANSlife, the Executive Director of The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group shares the changes he has observed in the society in the past one year.
It has been a year since Section 377 was repealed. As a member of the LGBTQ community, has the Supreme Court decision brought any changes in your life?
KS: I was open and accepted by my friends, family and team long before Section 377's repeal. However, as a community member, the judgement affirms my believe in the Constitution of my country. It means I, and several others from my community, can walk freely in our country without being made to feel like a criminal. It signifies freedom! A lot changed in my life last year. I married my long-term partner, Cyril. Though the wedding happened in Paris, we hosted a reception in Goa. I also performed in drag with my mother. It was a big day in my life, the wedding videos and photographs went viral and there has been no backlash. It is a positive change.
Since then, what changes did you see in the society?
KS: In the last one year, I see a positive change of attitude and acceptance towards the community. Millions of queer people have found the courage to speak up and come out of the closet. There is serious intent with regard to conversations and engagement with the community members. Several content creators have produced content with protagonists from the community. To name a few there's the movie "Ek Ladki ko Dekha To", series "Made in Heaven" and short film "Intezaar". Also the coming out of athlete Dutee Chand is a classic example of growing social acceptance.
I see the corporate India trying to establish a connect with the community, by forming ERG groups, doing sensitivity workshops and creating safe environment. We recently hosted India's first LGBTQ job fair, which saw a healthy participation from the community and corporates. Affirmative action is the need of the hour. I am glad work in that direction has begun. But there is still a long way to go. The community still battles social stigma, lack of education and equal job opportunities. We are giving 100 per cent scholarships for LGBT individuals at the Lalit Suri Hospitality School to ensure a fair opportunity is given to them. urge more and more corporates, thought leaders to come forward and embrace the change.
Your group has always stood for inclusivity. But members of the LGBTQ community usually get little space in organisations. How can these places be made more inclusive?
KS: Start with regular sensitisation workshops. A lot of homophobia gets generated out of lack of knowledge. It is important to address it. I have taken session with teams at all my hotels across the country. We also do sensitisation workshops at The Lalit Suri Hospitality School and have introduced a Drag Queen Story Hour to educate children and make our work an inclusive and safe space for all.
What can be done to create a safe working environment for LGBTQ employees?
KS: It is essential to form Employee Resource Groups (ERG) and ensure the teams are sensitised. The community members should feel safe and wanted. There are issues like locker rooms and toilets that need to be taken care of. Organisations should to be mindful of their needs such as leaves etc, especially in the case of trans community. Make an effort to provide equal opportunities and benefits such as insurance. It is good to have a psychologist on board as a lot of people from the community find it easier to talk to one. We, at The Lalit, have taken the Lalit Equality Pledge that upholds our core value of ‘Respect to Individual' and ensures equality.
Do you think the Indian society is not evolved enough to embrace homosexual people?
KS: Homophobia is a western concept. There are several examples of queer gods and goddesses in our scriptures. I believe we are an extremely tolerant and loving society, as opposed to what people think. We need to be educated, open our minds and rid ourselves of our prejudices. At some level, I feel we all are closeted. We need to open and embrace the change, and our society and its people.
How do you see the path ahead?
KS: The road to equality is a long one. We need representation across industries and functions. We need marriage equality, health insurance, housing, education and adoption rights to begin with. As of now, the community has only been told that they are not criminals. It was said in the judgement, the society needs to be educated and sensitised to ensure there is no discrimination. The community should stand together, support each other and keep the dialogue alive to ensure equality.
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Puja Gupta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org