Some Individuals who identify as LGBTQI+ have been hired by companies to show support to the community, others are yet to feel the same
The time is 4 in the evening, we’re sitting in the Uber-cool club of the posh hotel The Lalit. Soon, 21-year-old Mohul Sharma walks straight into the club, greets us and takes a seat. His body language exuding confidence, with a vibrant smile on his face, Sharma is decked up in a concierge uniform, works as a Food & Beverage associate and loves his job.
For two decades, Mohul lived his life as Megha Sharma. When Sharma went to BPOs for a job, he was told that his “voice is of a man and on official documents you are a woman. The office environment will get spoiled.” During this time, he was on hormone therapy.
Sharma’s childhood, too, wasn’t a cakewalk. His parents got divorced when he was a child and his father was the only source of financial support. During his school days, when he hit puberty and started having a whole lot of doubts about his sexuality, Sharma still had to follow the school’s uniform code.
He was confused over the fact that he developed a crush on a girl. He loathed the times when he got his period. “I used to lock myself and not go out for a week or so. I would not talk to anyone,” said Sharma.
While grappling with his identity, Sharma when he was in Class 10, was shattered when his father died, leaving him and his 11-year-old brother totally on their own.
Sharma had to support him and his brother, and had to look for a job. His voice became a barrier as Sharma kept on looking for jobs. Facing difficulties seeking a job, Sharma came to know about The Lalit Hotel and its compassion for the LGBTQI+ community.
After giving an interview in the hotel, he was taken for a skill development program, wherein he underwent training for services in the F&B industry. Once the training was over, they employed him.
Last year, he also underwent the SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery) which was totally funded by the hotel.
“I was getting the treatment which I was looking for everywhere else,” says Sharma. Today he looks after guests and their requirements, and is among the pampered employees in the hotel. Sharma has a shift which suits him for he has to take care of his young brother.
He says, “Nobody knew about Mohul Sharma and whoever has made him is this hotel only and its people.”
The Lalit Hospitality Group through its countless initiatives for the LGBTQI community has transformed lives of more than 20 people. Besides providing a safe space for the community, the group also continues to sensitise its staff members to the idea that diversity is the key to a better life.
For Raghav Bahl (name changed) sexuality is rather a secret to be held up close to the heart, although he is open to his family and friends, he stays adamant to keep his professional and personal life apart from each other.
“You have to have a different identity there because you can’t be taken seriously if you come out to people,” said Bahl.
Bahl, who works in a big consultancy firm in Gurugram, says that because oftentimes he deals with “leadership people and you can’t really come out as it may take a toll on your work.”
In the case of Avantika Gurung, 30, the change within people was seen when she was working with clothing brand Vero Moda as a Visual Merchandiser. “We had to choose uniforms between male and female. So one day I asked my boss that I can take female clothing. He left it upon me, and I went with female uniform.
During her first job in home furnishing company Hometown, Gurung, had dressed up as a female, when she had not yet undergone the sex change surgery. She dressed up for a mujra number for a Pride fundraiser party in her office.
“Being Nepalese I have those features which are not quite recognisable as guys do not have facial or body hair. So it was quite easy for me,” says Gurung.
Later, she underwent the surgery, and started working at Shoppers Stop and then Calvin Klein. She had to leave her job to participate in a beauty pageant called Miss Trans Queen India. Because the event was held in The Lalit hotel in Mumbai, Gurung got in touch with a person who works for the Keshav Suri Foundation.
Been in the fashion industry and working as a Visual Merchandiser, it wasn’t very easy for Gurung to switch careers but it felt like a natural calling. “It was a bit tough but I’m coping up with it,” said Gurung.
For six months, Gurung worked as a F&B sale and marketing person in The Lalit in Kolkata, and in June, shifted to Delhi, to work holding the same profile.
Her childhood, she says, was one without any discrimination. She studied in all-boys school and college. When the time felt right, told her parents and friends too. “While pursuing the Master’s degree in Fashion Management, I became a bit defined and started wearing palazzos and earrings,” she recalls.
While working at The Lalit Hotel in Delhi since six months now, Gurung says the “loudness has subdued a bit after seeing the culture around and other women too.”
Switching her career is also because of her sexuality, “a sense of discrimination was there in the previous workplaces, which we did not see right on the face, but we felt it.”
As she became more and more confident about her identity, her parents too, started understanding — from not relating to her much, to now pushing her to undergo the surgery. “They tell me that I should do it now and shouldn’t cross the age,” said Gurung.
Amy Chauhan, who works as a co-ordinator in the engineering department at The Lalit hotel in Chandigarh, has a rather a different story than Gurung. After working for eight years in the communications sector in the calling and customer reach, Chauhan found solace in The Lalit Hotel, because she thinks that this is the place she would like to retire from.
Having worked in companies like Bank of America, Tata Consultancy Firms, Genpact and Bharti Airtel, Chauhan holds a significant experience which would have landed up job in any big organisation suiting her profile. Her stint at TCS ended because she was on Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) and she couldn’t shift to Gujarat when the company asked her to.
After taking a break from work for 1.5 years, she persuaded a person who was working at The Lalit to get her a job. Although she worked in big corporate firms which boast of diversity in workspace, the inclusiveness she wanted was missing. She desperately needed a truly queer-friendly environment.
Today, being a differently abled person, she leads life on her own terms, has made friends in a new city, and has requested her seniors to shift her to London, because it’s one of her dreams.
For, Faisal Khan (name changed), who works in one of world’s biggest tech firm in their Gurugram branch, feels that although the workplace is very queer-friendly, some people may be not.
“I was in the lift the other day and two men kept laughing while looking at me. And then while leaving the lift, they said I’m chakka and meetha. All because of my nose ring,” he said.
Inclusivity comes from people who are kind and open to the idea of diversity. These testimonies show that although the big corporate firms hold diversity values, implementing them requires a heart in the right place.