The LGBT community is celebrating ‘Pride Month’, June, in different ways. It is also an opportunity to peacefully protest and raise political awareness of current issues facing the community

Post Supreme Court decision on Section 377, India has been making strides with respect to recognising the rights of the LGBT community. It has promoted the right to live and work with dignity. The judgment is believed to have long-term impact. The need of equal opportunity and recognition is the right of the individual. Few major corporate giants have been advocating diversity at workplace for this community, but there is strong need of other corporate and mid-size companies to take a step ahead to support them and work towards creating a safe workplace for LGBT employees.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation India and Impulse India strongly advocate and work for the wellbeing and the rights of the LGBT community across the country. During this ‘Pride month’, they want your support to create conversation on various important issues. Dr. V Sam Prasad, Country Program Director, AIDS Healthcare Foundation India spoke to The Statesman to support the rights of LGBT communities of India.

Q) Give us a brief introduction about your foundation and how do you all plan to spread awareness about AIDS?

The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is a global nonprofit organisation providing cutting edge medicine and advocacy to over 1,000,000 people in 43 countries. We are currently the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the world. AHF funds its mission to rid the world of AIDS through a network of pharmacies, thrift stores, healthcare contracts and other strategic partnerships. Generating new, innovative ways of treatment, prevention and advocacy has been the hallmark of our success. Since 1987, AHF has cared for thousands of people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide. As we create and implement new programs in communities across the U.S. and abroad, we expand delivery of healthcare and influence over policy with the aim of saving more lives.

Q) What do you think about the position of LGBT community in India?

Post section 377 the LGBTQIA has started coming out quite boldly and embracing their identities. At the same time these young come outs need a shoulder to lean on and a solid social support system that we lack. The current levels of stigma and discrimination, if it continues, will bring in closed societies and communities and further the gap between LGBTQIA and the general population. This is a very precarious situation with scores of parents unable to understand the sexuality and gender diversity of their children. It is often seen as something which will change and they will become normal by counselling or religious influencers. A lot of education needs to go into the community to make aware that being different from the perceived normal is the new normal and we need to embrace and support these communities from a very young age.

Q) What is your foundation doing for the well-being and rights of LGBT community?

Impulse Group is an international group dedicated to promoting healthier sexual lifestyles among gay men in 18 cities around the world. With support from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, this group of volunteers works to create campaigns, events, and online content to reach a new generation of gay men who live in a modern and rapidly evolving world. HIV prevalence among gay and bisexual men is different in each city, we understand that, but we also acknowledge we are living in a global era where together we can find a solution. We believe in a community where knowing, asking or sharing your HIV status is appreciated and not judged. The HIV epidemic is a reality, there are currently more than 36 million people in the world living with the human immunodeficiency virus and about 40 per cent do not know that they are carriers of the virus.

Despite the economic and political efforts of many countries, the real front to fight against this epidemic is in each one of us. It is we who must initiate the conversation with our friends and the people we love remind them to be tested and remain negative or undetectable, to give visibility to people living with HIV and among all to fight against stigma and rejection, even within of the gay community. Currently the disease is not fatal, but it is not curable either; the real cause of death is ignorance

Q) What can an organisation and we as a part of India do to advocate diversity at workplace for the LGBT community?

The first step to having an LGBT-friendly workplace is to set up specific policies that outline your company’s position on LGBT rights. But having a policy isn’t enough on its own. You also need to make sure that you’re very clear about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour at your company, and establish procedures for dealing with people who violate your policies. Then you’ve got to follow through on those processes, making sure that any allegations of discrimination or harassment are taken very seriously.

Also, go through your company policies and make sure that you haven’t unwittingly excluded people with the language you use. You’ll also need to consider changing your employee benefits to accommodate LGBT employees and their families, which we’ll look at in more detail later on. Next will be to change your hiring strategies

If you’ve got LGBT-friendly policies, you’ve now set a baseline for welcoming LGBT employees. But what if your hiring practices are preventing people from joining in the first place? Even if you haven’t been actively discriminating, you may have been giving the wrong message in your job ads or succumbing to unconscious bias in the recruitment process.

It’s important to create networks. LGBT employee networks can be very powerful ways for workers to come together and share experiences. That can lead to positive changes in company policy, as well as opportunities for mentoring, networking, and career progression for individual employees. So set one up in your company, or encourage employees to come together and create a network themselves. As well as a network for LGBT employees, you could also set up one for allies (heterosexual and cisgender people who support LGBT rights).