Jia (name changed), a 27-year-old worker at a business process outsourcing unit in Mumbai, is not allowed to use the women’s washroom in office.
A pre-operation transsexual who has lived as a woman, she is not ready to use the men’s lavatory.
“Some women complain they feel uncomfortable in my presence. I cannot use the men’s room because I am a woman. I have no choice but to use the washroom for the differently abled,” Jia said.
A recent Supreme Court ruling setting aside a 2009 Delhi high court verdict decriminalising homosexuality has put the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the spotlight.
The central government has taken up the issue, as the order has paved way for a debate on the relevance of the Section 377 of IPC — which dates back to the colonial era and criminalises homosexuality.
But, the everyday ordeal of members of the LGBT community largely goes unnoticed.
Sonal Giani, 26, another Mumbai resident, cannot forget how she was forced to quit a job four years ago.
“I had confessed to my boss that I was a bisexual. She promised to keep it a secret. But the word spread. Every time I stepped into the washroom, the women would leave.
“I was even harassed by the driver of the drop service. I quit the job and had to undergo counselling sessions,” Giani said.
Worse, LGBT community members are not even secure in the media industry, which is known to be inclusive and open-minded.
Joy Pal, 27, had a bad experience in October after an interview at a film production house.
“I had mentioned I am a transgender and would undergo a sex surgery next year. She (the interviewer) did not seem to have a problem and said she was impressed with my resume,” said Paul, who is from Kolkata and lives in Goregaon.
“She said she was busy after I called to check on the status. After that, I received a call from a man from the company who abused me,” Paul added.
Adding insult to injury, even the law does not give members of the LGBT community a shield against mistreatment in office.
“There are no specific rules to safeguard the community from harassment at workplace,” said Anand Grover of the Lawyers’ Collective.
“Some companies had broadened their sexual harassment policies to include them... (but after the SC ruling) there is hardly any recourse for them.”
Hostility at home is another problem. The plight of Manvendra Singh Gohil, a member of the erstwhile royal family of Rajpipla in Gujarat, is a case in point.
“I had publicly come out as a gay in March 2006. My parents did not say anything for three months. Then, they issued two public notices disinheriting me,” said Gohil.
After legal intervention, his family retracted the statement. “They have now accepted my sexuality,” he added.
But, not everyone is as lucky as Gohil. Anjali Gopalan from Delhi-based Naz Foundation, which had filed a petition in the Delhi high court for decriminalising homosexuality, said the LGBT community members were subjected to harassment in every part of the country.
“We have seen so many cases in Delhi wherein families have thrown them out,” she said.
However, Gopalan added the discrimination was largely based on social position. “A gay fashion designer may not face as much discrimination as a working class person."
Members and supporters of the LGBT community feel there has to be more than just a change in the law.
“There has to be a change in attitudes and it should begin in schools,” Gopalan said.