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From Being Flamboyant To Being Included

Honestly, in 19th century, both Hollywood and Bollywood saw its queer characters as nothing but flamboyant, laughing stocks who were just there to establish a twitchy note within the films.

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In 1894, a poorly shot 17 second experimental film shows two men dancing, holding each other “awkwardly”. This was the first ever depiction of homosexuality that ran a stride of discomfort in the audience. The film was called Dickson Experimental Sound Film, commonly labelled online as The Gay Brothers. It was shot to check the mixing of sound in moving images by William Dickson. The experiment did not work but the footage somehow became a benchmark.

Conventional sexual behaviour between the same sexes was not accepted on the silver screen and was only used to typify homosexuality as a mental illness. “Sissy” looking man or the “hardboiled” woman in a film came only to throw light on the negativity as perceived by the white middle class culture in the West. 

Similarly, how can we forget our famous Kantaben from the iconic Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Naa Ho, where she perceived Shahrukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan to be gays. And in the movie, Pyaar Kia Toh Darna Kya, a character who has no name, no background, is asked to bowl and he begins to sway in the breeze and seduce the batsman of Salman Khan’s competitive team. 

There’s another unlikely hero in the Indian web television landscape: Karan, a gay wedding planner in Delhi, whose professional and personal life makes for an engrossing subplot in the drama series Made in Heaven. Played by Arjun Mathur, the co-lead’s character in the Amazon Prime show directed by Zoya Akhtar promises to be a game-changer in the portrayal of LGBTQ persons in pop culture. Karan is intriguing and complex, introspective and handsome. The 30-something event planner devotes himself to his career, parties with friends, enjoys his me-time, takes difficult decisions, wears jeans and makes love — just like anyone else. 

Honestly, in 19th century, both Hollywood and Bollywood saw its queer characters as nothing but flamboyant, laughing stocks who were just there to establish a twitchy note within the films.

Present Day Scenario

The reason we are shedding some light on the history of homosexuality in cinema is to determine how far we have come in doing our own course correction — from heaping ridicule upon them or maintaining a cold distance to acceptance and speaking up for their rights. Today, post the decriminalisation of Section 377 we are openly talking about their inclusion rights at workplaces. 

Yes, indeed we have come a long way!

Today we are openly working towards their seamless inclusion within the workforce realm. Today, hiring is on the basis of talent and not over someone’s sexual preferences.

In today’s workplace, ensuring that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts include individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ), is essential for business success. Employers who have inclusive practices for LGBTQ individuals gain the support and respect of not only that community, but also of other minority groups that recognise the efforts as an indicator of an overall inclusive work environment. 

The majority of individuals today support the LGBTQ community and seek out places to work and spend their money based on the diversity and inclusion practices of the company. Employers see the positive impact in almost all aspects of business, from employee recruitment and retention to revenue and profits.

Legal Victory  

A landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in 2018 brought hope to the LGBTQ+ community 

he Supreme Court of India, in September 2018, decriminalised consensual gay sex, on the grounds of right to privacy. The apex court held that right to privacy is “an intrinsic part of Article 21 that protects life and liberty”. A fivejudge constitutional bench, passing the judgment in the case of Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India, overturned its 2013 ruling that had upheld the British era law (Section 377 of the IPC) that had criminalised gay sex as unnatural offence. 

Justice Indu Malhotra, in her concurring judgment, stated: 

“History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. The members of this community were compelled to live a life full of fear of reprisal and persecution. This was on account of the ignorance of the majority to recognise that homosexuality is a completely natural condition, part of a range of human sexuality. The mis-application of this provision denied them the Fundamental Right to equality guaranteed by Article 14. It infringed the Fundamental Right to non-discrimination under Article 15, and the Fundamental Right to live a life of dignity and privacy guaranteed by Article 21."

While this will go a long way in empowering the community and providing them access to government schemes and healthcare, etc, the law still doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. While there is a strong opposition to the prospect, there are now a large number proponents for legalising it, including parliamentarians, artists, lawyers, activists, and members from the community, who are fighting for the rights that are available to couples to be extended to the same-sex couples too.  

Struggles Ahead

Having a written policy isn’t enough. Even if an employee is in a workplace with internal policies that protect LGBTQ workers, a company’s culture may inhibit employees from bringing their whole selves to work. 

A survey by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that LGBTQ women are more than twice as likely as straight, cisgender women to feel that they cannot talk about themselves or their life outside work. The survey found that LGBTQ women who are open about their sexual orientation at work are happier, view their workplaces more favourably and intend to stay longer than those who are not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

An inclusive work environment is one where all employees are able to contribute and feel like they belong; it does not require that employees agree with another individual’s lifestyle. Regardless of how someone feels about another person’s sexual orientation, all employees should also be required to treat everyone with respect. Organisations should define appropriate workplace behaviours that are consistent with the employer’s stated beliefs and values about inclusion, such as using an individual’s preferred name and pronouns and speaking up when someone is not being treated respectfully. This process is about changing employees’ workplace behaviours to be in accordance with the company’s expectations, not changing an employee’s personal beliefs. 

(The article appeared in the August issue of BW People publication)


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