Chennai, December 23, 2018: Community based organizations Orinam in Chennai and Diversity Dialogues in Bangalore today re-released a set of trans-affirming guidelines for Indian workplaces on the occasion of Orinam’s 15th anniversary celebrations. Titled Supporting Gender Affirmation: Towards Transgender+ Inclusive Workplaces in India, the guidelines were released by transgender+ community representatives Shyam Balasubramanian, Selvam M., Delfina and Prahasini at a community event held at Asha Nivas Social Service Centre.
The guidelines were first released on the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, 2018. The second release comes just a week after the deeply problematic Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018 was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 17, 2018.
The guidelines were dedicated to the memory of Anannya Krishnan, a trans woman who was part of the Orinam collective. Despite a promising career as a pharmacologist in the drug safety vertical of a Chennai business, she faced numerous struggles to find a place to live and have her family acknowledge her gender identity. She committed suicide on December 30, 2017.
Transgender, intersex, bi-gender, agender, non-binary or genderqueer individuals (collectively mentioned as transgender+ people in the guidelines) face discrimination at several levels in a workplace, starting with the interview process itself. To make workplaces more inclusive of transgender+ persons, these guidelines outline key aspects that the human resources departments of organizations should follow to make their organization inclusive.
“As transgender+ persons we go through unnecessary scrutiny at interviews or otherwise. People sometimes think it’s 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 provides essentials about culture and acceptable behaviour required for organizations to be transgender+ affirmative,” says Aditya Batavia, who works at an Indian retail conglomerate and identifies as a man.
It is worth noting that the NALSA judgement on transgender+ citizenship rights was passed by the Supreme Court of India in 2014 along with the directives to improve the standard of living of transgender+ people. However, there has been a lack of initiative from the Centre as well as different state governments to implement these directives. This includes making workplaces inclusive for transgender+ persons.
“As a transgender person and IT professional, I’ve had to refrain from potential job opportunities, faced micro-aggression, and been denied client-facing moments because of my identity or 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. Post the NALSA and Section 377 verdicts, it’s the right time for the business community to pitch in and address discrimination faced by the transgender+ community in their organizations as they now have moral and legal obligations to ensure a safe, inclusive and healthy workplace,” says Kanaga, a trans woman working as domain consultant for a large Indian IT services provider.
Though the guidelines are relevant to most institutions, the document acknowledges that it has been 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. The succinct guidelines have specifically covered the areas of safety and protection, gender-neutral policies and communication, transgender+ recruitment practices, names and pronouns, attire and washroom use, sensitization and awareness training, inclusive health insurance that covers gender affirmation, support for employees who are transitioning, and strategies for implementing insurance benefits.
That considerable thought has gone into the development of the guidelines is reflected in a section that details what steps might be helpful as part of gender affirmation support to a transitioning employee. This acknowledges the fact that guidelines are needed not just for new recruits but existing staff members as well who may not have yet come out with their desired gender identities.
Similarly, appendices on strategies for implementing insurance benefits related to gender affirming procedures and sexual health issues seem like an outcome of thorough research. The guidelines point at the ‘flexibilities’ or ‘opportunities’ included within the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India guidelines, which can be of particular help for employers committed to ensuring workplace inclusion.
Equally innovative is a listing of transgender+ inclusive employers in India, with a call to participate in a crowd-sourced directory of employers in India who are known to be transgender+ friendly and inclusive.
The guidelines also note that a future publication will focus on the needs of marginalized transgender+ communities such as Hijras, thirunangais and working-class trans men, who lack formal education or skills for mainstream employment. There will be a need for additional affirmative action with respect to skilling, placement and retention when the focus is on marginalized transgender+ communities – hence the need for a different publication.
These guidelines have been released at a time when the transgender+ communities are fighting against the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018 from becoming a law in the country. The Bill criminalizes begging without providing any alternative avenues of employment, or any reservations in the spheres of education and employment.
Such trans-affirming guidelines become crucial when the legal system seems to be letting go of opportunities to ensure the well-being of some of the most marginalized sections in society. The guidelines are a call to organizations to not wait for the State to show the way and instead persist on their own to make their workplaces inclusive and productive in a deeper sense of the term.
About the main illustration: Left half of the panel shows the cover page of the workplace inclusion guidelines developed by Orinam and Diversity Dialogues – Supporting Gender Affirmation: Towards Transgender+ Inclusive Workplaces in India.