Freedom to Come Out

Freedom to Come Out
Sunitha is a beautiful, bright, young engineer working in an IT company in Chennai. She was born and brought up in a small town of Andhra Pradesh. As she turned 25 years, her family eagerly started planning her marriage and looking for a suitable match.

A well-wisher brought Sagar's proposal to Sunitha's family. Sagar is handsome, smart, an engineer cum MBA from one of India's premium management institutes and works in an MNC in Bengaluru. His parents were also settled in Andhra Pradesh.

Sunitha and Sagar met each other in the presence of family members and agreed to get married. A grand engagement ceremony was conducted in Sunitha's hometown and every family living in that town attended this.

The wedding was scheduled to take place 3 months later. In this period, Sunitha and Sagar met in chaperoned environments a few times. Both their families were conservative and ensured that some family member or the other accompanied them when they went out together.

On a Sunday morning, 2 weeks before the wedding, Sagar called Sunitha and told her that he couldn't get married to her. He told her that he was in love with a man and couldn't imagine a life with Sunitha. Saying this he disconnected the call.

Sunitha was shell-shocked. She tried to call Sagar but he refused to answer her calls. She sent him a message and he started giving details of his homosexuality via message. He told her that he didn't have the courage to tell his parents and so, had gone along with the marriage plans. He had contemplated ending his homosexual relationship and starting a future with her. However, as the wedding date got closer, he felt claustrophobic and knew that he couldn't go ahead with the marriage. He told her that he was on anti-depression pills due to the stress and guilt he was feeling ever since their wedding had been announced. He also expressed his regret for hurting her.

Sunitha didn't know how to handle this news. She had really liked Sagar and had been dreaming about a life together. She was heartbroken and kept thinking about the fact that at no time in their limited interaction had she seen any signs of Sagar being homosexual. Ofcourse, her experience with the LGBT community was negligible.

She was consumed with worry for her parents. She was concerned about their embarrassment and the reaction of the people of her village who, she knew, would enjoy gossiping about her situation.

She messaged Sagar about her predicament and pleaded him to re-consider his decision. She expressed her desire to marry him inspite of his homosexuality so that her family is saved from the shame and embarrassment of a wedding being called off. Sagar, however, was firm about his decision. He explained to her that what she was considering was a short-term solution. In the long term, both of them, and their respective families would be hurt even more deeply.

Reluctantly, Sunitha broke the news to her parents and family members. As anticipated, they were livid, upset, embarrassed, confused and immensely concerned about the future of their daughter.

Sagar's parents were equally shocked by the news. The families decided to meet in person with both Sagar and Sunitha also being present. In the meeting, Sagar reluctantly admitted about his homosexuality to his family members. He told them that he had been keeping it a secret for the last 4 years.

Sagar's parents were aghast and speechless. Such a thing was unheard of in their family. His mother started beating him up. She started cursing her bad luck and also talking aloud about where she had gone wrong in her parenting to drive Sagar towards becoming a homosexual. Close family members who were present started commenting on Sagar's upbringing, the family's bad luck, and various pujas that would have to be done to ward-off the evil called homosexuality.

Sunitha and Sagar's case is not unique. Such scenarios play out in many families in India. Both Sunitha and Sagar were justified in their respective emotions and reactions. Here, Sagar had the courage to come out to Sunitha and to call off the wedding. In many cases, the girl or boy realizes the sexual orientation of their spouse only after the marriage, when things get even more complicated.

Homosexuality is a taboo in the largely conservative Indian society. Most families look at homosexuality as a disease or an attack of an evil force. This is an unknown space and many don't even want to make an effort to understand this world even for their own child's sake. A reason why people like Sagar hide their sexual orientation and are compelled to live a pseudo life. This is also the reason why girls like Sunitha become unknown victims.

What goes unnoticed is the amount of stress and energy drain experienced by a homosexual individual in the process of hiding their sexual orientation. If they are allowed the freedom to express themselves, this energy can be channelised to achieve a lot for themselves and the society.

Being a homosexual is not an illness. It is a natural sexual orientation of a person and needs to be respected. In India, the awareness about LGBT is limited. Efforts to increase awareness and help homosexuals come out in the society and at workplaces is restricted by the existence of Sec 377 which criminalises homosexual relationships and all non-missionary position sexual acts.

I have come across many progressive organizations taking proactive measures to create an inclusive environment for their LGBT employees. They have official LGBT networks and policies supporting same sex relationships. However, inspite of their best efforts very few employees come out voluntarily. The existence of Sec377 and the social stigma associated with homosexuality in India prevents many employees to come out freely. In my view, scrapping of Sec 377 will go a long way in creating a healthy environment for people from the LGBT community to live a free and dignified life.

Being a diversity and inclusion consultancy, in.harmony has a deep understanding about the concerns of the LGBTQI community. We are also conscious about the talent pool existing within this community and work towards giving them opportunities through appropriate recruitment and training support.

We work with corporates to increase awareness about LGBTQI issues and help them create an inclusive environment for the LGBT community through organization specific diagnostic studies, policy changes, recruitment and sensitization programs.

If you resonate with the incident or have your own experience to share or have thoughts on how to create an inclusive work environment for the LGBTQI community, please post your comments. It will not only help my learning process but may also be beneficial for someone struggling with similar issues.

About the author :
Anupama Easwaran is the founder of in.harmony, a diversity & inclusion consultancy. She is a management graduate and counsellor with 20 years of work experience in employee wellness, business development, client servicing, training, marketing, brand & event management. She is a fitness enthusiast, has diverse interests like reading, acting, and painting and firmly believes in living life to the fullest.

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