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Activist Sonal Giani On Making Our Country And Workplaces Inclusive For The LGBTQ+ Community

  • IWB Post
  •  May 17, 2019

Thirty-one-year-old Sonal Giani is one of India’s most prominent LGBTQ+ icons. She was around 15 when she started to notice her attraction towards both the sexes and it made her extremely uncomfortable. Afraid of the consequences of accepting her bisexuality and coming out to others, Sonal buried her feelings not realizing just how that would affect her.

Life changed drastically when she was forcibly outed by a classmate in the third year of college. Having to face the cruelty and judgment left her emotionally distressed and struggling with depression. But Sonal says her family was extremely supportive and was her rock through this trying time.

Life changed once again when she moved to Mumbai after graduation. The fast-paced metropolitan gave her the space to explore and find out more about her sexuality, working with LGBTQ collectives such as The Humsafar Trust further made her feel accepted and at home. She is currently doing freelance work, and helps LGBTQ+ members deal with issues in their lives when she isn’t speaking about the community and making films.

Rising above her struggles, Sonal has a long list of achievements such as being awarded the Diversity and Leadership Award by Community Business and being featured in the ‘Fire Within Me’ video that is a part of Levi’s IShapeMyWorld campaign.

In a recent interview with IWB, Sonal talks about struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community in the corporate world, ways to resolve them and the policies and laws that are needed to ensure complete inclusivity.

Here are the excerpts:

Community Business launched it’s pioneering report on Renewed Optimism for LGBT+ inclusion in India: Perspectives on Sec 377 ruling and it’s impact on Indian organisations. I spoke about my experience in the corporate world at this launch The event was hosted by Northern Trust. The report is ready for downloads. Encourage organisations, D&I leaders and evangelists to download copies and refer them in your inclusion journey. Please reach out community business team for any help. https://www.communitybusiness.org/latest-news-publications/renewed-optimism-lgbt-inclusion-india-perspectives-september-2019-ruling

179 Likes, 5 Comments – Sonal Giani (@sonalgiani) on Instagram: “Community Business launched it’s pioneering report on Renewed Optimism for LGBT+ inclusion in…”

Recently you’d attended the launch of Business Community’s resource guide for organizations to be LGBTQ+ inclusive. What steps do you think should be taken to ensure that these suggestions are implemented properly in the workplace and are upheld?

The D&I teams must push their leadership to actively roll out suggestions from community consultations. Queer leaders and activists should make companies accountable for their claims towards being diverse and inclusive. Communities must be consulted to ensure the processes are inclusive and accessible even during the rolling out stages.

Was your professional growth ever hindered by homophobic attitudes in the workplace?

Yes, I did suffer setbacks owing to my sexuality in my first workplace. I was unable to deal with it back then because I was not out and could not call out the homophobia without feeling fear for my safety. However, now I speak about the homophobic experience in different diversity forums, where there is an opportunity to make spaces safe and friendly.

Even though our society is becoming more inclusive, there is still so much stigma around being LGBTQ+, what would you suggest be done to address that?

As suggested by the Supreme Court of India, periodic and sustained sensitization workshops must be carried out in educational, government and law enforcement spaces. The media must introduce more characters of differing gender and sexual realities in the mainstream. Anti-discriminatory laws and policies protecting the rights of queer persons must be pushed for.

Sonal Giani on Twitter

If love is for all, then why not its emoji?. Sign the petition to give everybody a more inclusive symbol of love. #LoveMovesForward with @uber_india, you and me. https://t.co/4jdhY6Hdzn

The recent Supreme Court ruling was a big step forward that we as a country took towards accepting the LGBTQ+ community. But we still have a long way to go in terms of laws that protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and laws regarding same-sex marriages. How do you think we can move towards achieving these milestones as well?

Communities should file PILs for other constitutional rights. The Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 has ensured we have a lot of ground to obtain these rights.

Earlier this year in January, the Chief of the Indian Army, General Bipin Rawat, stated that homosexuality wasn’t allowed in the army. How do you think we can address the homophobia in the army and make it a more accepting environment for the LGBTQ+ soldiers?

Homosexuality needs to be addressed at a policy level. Same-sex relationships must be recognized and benefits should be provided to them as are provided to heterosexual relationships. Initiating disciplinary action just for being queer must be discouraged. Sensitizations are the need of the hour, there is a lot of ignorance around lived realities of being queer.

You mentioned ignorance around the reality of being queer, and that exists amongst the LGBTQ+ population as well. Can you elaborate on the challenges faced by bisexuals regarding the discrimination they face within the LGBTQ+ community? What are the ways to address that?

Bi-phobia is very predominant amongst LGBTQ+ communities in India. Bisexuality is not considered ‘real enough’ and bisexuals are dismissed as being confused, on the fence or promiscuous. Bi-erasure and gay washing are very common even on community panels and public platforms. Sensitization is the only way out. Giving platforms to bi leaders and supporting the formation of bi-collectives will go a long way.

Levi’s® | I Shape My World 2019 | Fire Within Me | India

The video features a prolific line-up of female personalities who have come together from different industries to celebrate the spirit of women empowerment. The campaign features Swara Bhasker, Hard Kaur, Anjali Lama, Neena Gupta, Kubbra Sait, Sandhya Menon, Malini Agarwal, Natasha Noel, Sonal Giani, Kanchan Daniel, Gurmehar Kaur, Kaneez Surka, Srishti Dixit, Prashasti Singh, Anushqa, Deepti Asthana, Toshada Uma and the Singh Sisters.

Congratulations on being featured in the Levi’s I Shape My World Campaign! Tell us how you shape your world to make it more accepting and inclusive.

I try my best to give back to my community. I give platforms to new people and encourage them when they do good work. I ensure there is healthy participation of communities in the teams I work in and work extra hard to overcome the challenges that women face in terms of mobility, sexuality, conditioning, and safety, especially when I organize events. I also try to highlight issues around gender and sexuality in the films that I make.

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