‘So Lesbian, why don’t you say yes?’
‘Maybe the Lesbian is not interested!’
‘Oh this Lesbian only likes girls….’
It had been a year of bullying and harassment at the workplace and the jibes were only increasing with every passing day. There were days when I would just smile and ignore the conversation. Sometimes, I would laugh at the hilariousness of the situation. And on others, I would just seethe with anger.
It so happened that I joined an organization and became part of a large team led by millennials. The culture was fun and the team’s umbilical cords were thicker than ever. And then I met this colleague of mine, who happened to hail from the same state as me. All hell broke loose when he expressed his interest openly and I declined the offer. So over the next half year, the Team’s Leader, a CXO level profile, started taking jibes at my being single. He felt that we would make a great pair, this colleague of mine and me & as the team’s eldest leader, he was duty bound to ensure that we get together.
As the situation started to turn messy, I requested for a HR intervention and the relevant people got this message loud and clear. But my troubles were far from gone; this colleague of mine started invoking sympathy in team connects and offline conversations. Somehow I was always the object of attention in all chai parties. And why not….I was the one who had said no and he was heartbroken!!
At some point in time, he addressed me as a lesbian in a team meeting and the ‘joke’ lingered on. Thereafter my name was conveniently forgotten and I was only addressed with the L word by all the men who were common friends with both of us. So here I was, a young 29 year heterosexual woman, trying to make an honest living out of my day job but being tagged as a lesbian because I had rejected someone’s advances……….and then one day this person did the unthinkable.
On a bright Monday morning, we were all told that he would be leaving the organization for greener pastures. As we all congratulated him one by one, he expressed his interest to discuss the offer letter with me, in private. We walked into a conference room and I reviewed the terms and conditions earnestly. I was sharing some pointers with him when all of a sudden, he offered me a print out of his CTC sheet and said, “No man who will earn this much, will even take a second look at you. Would you like to reconsider saying yes to me?”
I looked outside from the glass door. My entire team was seated bang opposite to the conference room …and in that moment, I made my decision. I walked out with the CTC letter in my hand, clapped loudly for convening people to my desk and literally forced them to get off from their telecom conferences. My colleagues thought that I was falling ill but my blood shot eyes gave my intentions away. Brandishing the offer letter in the air, I asked my supervisor who was a very senior woman leader in the organization, “Will you give away your daughter’s hand in marriage to a man who calls her a Lesbian on one day and pushes his CTC letter on her face, the second day?”
Pin drop silence ensued because different teams co- occupying the space began to move in from their workstations. The conversation seemed very charged up and I was being loud enough for people to understand that I would not be cowered any more. My supervisor got the message and firmly asked my colleague to back off. After a few minutes, the team went back to their work and I walked back to my desk too.
A few weeks later, this colleague of mine, left the organization, after serving the notice period. And the team started getting back into the habit of addressing me with my name. But the incident left a deep mark on me. Proactively I switched gears and moved from a compliance role to being a D&I professional; as I could not stand being part of the same team anymore.
Post my transition into the new team, within the same organization, I had the opportunity to share my experience with another team member who was anchoring the LGBT+ charter for us. We had a very detailed conversation and his first response is still etched in my memory, “So why did you allow it to happen? Why did you never object?” And from there on, this member of the LGBT+ community who was out in the organization, became my biggest pillar of support. He made it a point to counsel some of old team members and reassured me that I would be very safe in the new team. Had it not been for him, I would have always lived with fear that the ghost of that incident would continue to torment me, if those common friends decided to revisit the agenda, some day.
As I reach the end of sharing my story of becoming a LGBT+ Ally, I can’t help but reflect on how important this conversation is at the workplace and in the societies that we live in. As allies, it is our responsibility and duty to stand up for diverse minorities who may not be able to voice their concerns. It is only by mitigating exclusion, can we create a world that is meaningfully inclusive for everyone.
It has been many moons since that incident and in all my roles, I have ensured that the LGBT+ conversations are elevated in the D&I charter. To the community members who are closeted and the ones who are not, to the allies who are ridiculed for supporting the charter and bullied by stigma of association, to Workplaces that uphold the values of Inclusion, I quote Jean de La Fontaine, “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”
Picture credits: Source linked to the images