Interview : Mingle, Udayan Dhar (Chief Diversity Consultant)

Mingle is an advocacy group with a difference. And what is that makes them different? Well, we managed to catch up with Udayan Dhar from the Mingle group to know this…


Q. Please give us a bit of history about how Mingle was formed and what inspired the need to institute this organization.

About a couple of years back, we realized how India lacks a nationwide platform to discuss and advocate on LGBT issues in key areas like our University campuses, workplaces, etc. A lot of organizations are doing great work in various cities, but after interacting with them, we understood the problems they face in terms of acceptability by the mainstream and authorities. That’s where we thought we need a body that acts as a catalyst for change to happen faster; to create a more enabling and welcoming environment for grass roots organizations to function freely and be more effective. Plus, give more visibility to the issues that matter to us.

We got immense support from community leaders across India, including people in our advisory council, who have great experience in LGBT advocacy in our country- from Aditya Bandopadhyay, Arvind Narain, Anjali Gopalan and many others. Ashok Row Kavi has been a great moral support, pitching in with his suggestions and ideas whenever we needed. But our greatest strength is our base of nearly 150 volunteers across various cities who make sure that our projects get executed efficiently and in time!

Q. Your website has a lot of free educational resources on LGBT issues. What has the response been like to these surveys and reports?

Much of the resources we’ve gathered and put together are pioneering work in India. Our survey of college campuses in 2011, and that of workplaces in 2012 on LGBT issues brought forth the real nature of the challenges faced by our community. That’s why the mainstream media, community and authorities have taken notice of our work, and we’ve been appreciated through lots of follow up discussions and workshops. The LGBT Resource Guide for Indian Employers published by Hong Kong based Community Business in partnership with Mingle has been greatly appreciated by Diversity and HR professionals in Corporate India.

Q. Some of your studies are related to the LGBT friendliness of college campuses in India. Could you illuminate us about the current environment in colleges for queers?

Things are certainly looking up compared to 2009. Many colleges like IIT-Bombay and Delhi now have gay-straight alliances, and more of such groups are coming up. Initiatives like Queer campus have given gay students safe spaces in places like Delhi and Bangalore. Because of media visibility of the issue, younger people are becoming more gay friendly- encouraging LGBT students to come out, furthering our visibility. Of course, the authorities need to be more sensitive to the concerns of queer students and there is a lot of work yet to be done in even getting a basic support infrastructure in place at most colleges.


Q. Mingle deals with companies and attempts to educate them about their LGBTQ workforce and help in ‘breaking the glass closet’. Would you say that this need to be inclusive has largely been limited to MNCs and big corporations or has there been participation from small organizations?

Sadly, that’s true. But we also need to be realistic in our expectations of progress. It is these few MNCs who have always led the way in diversity issues even for women, and racial minorities. Once their initial steps towards inclusion of LGBT employees bear fruit over the coming years, they would surely be replicated across the board- even in the smaller firms. We must acknowledge the progress on this front over the past two years. I have felt a real willingness on part of companies to engage on this issue through the inter-company meets, panel discussions, and workshops that I’ve attended in Bangalore and Mumbai. Plus, a lot of companies like IBM, Goldman Sachs, etc. have functional LGBT affinity groups in their Indian offices now.

Q. Tell us a bit about the hurdles that are faced in the work for equality at the workplace?

Firstly, HR professionals face trouble convincing senior management on the necessity for such initiatives; they need to work on a sound business case before embarking on these projects. Secondly, building sensitivity on the ground level will be a long and arduous process- we must be patient, and persevere through innovative and engaging methods. Thirdly, LGBT employees themselves need to support their company’s HR initiatives in this matter more enthusiastically- which I feel is currently lacking.

Q. One finding of your Workplace Survey 2012 was that a large number of the participants claimed they were not subject to verbal abuse or bullying in the workplace. Are things finally looking up for LGBT in Corporate India?

Nearly 80% of out gay employees reported they did not face any discrimination or harassment since coming out at the workplace. This shows that given LGBT friendly policies, and some sensitization training, gay employees need not be so fearful of consequences after all. While it is important to stand up effectively and at the right time against homophobic abuse, we must also remember that being LGBT is only a part of who we are as an individual- whether at home, or at the workplace. Often perceived harassment overwhelms any real harassment simply because of the baggage of our fears (even though they may be based on real negative experiences in the past). We must concentrate on building honest and meaningful relationships with both LGBT and straight people at work. At the end of the day, no company or manager would want to let go of a talented and dedicated employee who gets along well with his/her colleagues.

Q. Can you tell us about the short term goals of Mingle? How can the aam junta contribute to this cause?

Mingle’s upcoming programs include translating our ‘Coming Out’ guides for LGBT Indians and their families into Hindi and other regional languages and distributing them across India free of cost through local community partners, reaching out to more corporate offices & conducting workshops and training sessions for managers, expanding our pioneering LGBT History Course and giving it a more structured shape, and organizing initiatives aimed at LGBT youth later this year. We need volunteers who can help us with our projects all the time! Every new helping hand is welcome. As our member or supporter, you’ll be advocating for equal rights and benefits in the workplace, ensuring gay people are treated equally under the law and increasing public support for fairness among all Indians. So take the first step by becoming a part of our community and get involved with us.

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Now 30, 100% shudh desi lesbian. Likes living large, and on the edge. Dislikes stagnation, fence sitting and hypocrites. Lives in a bubble of joy, with occasional lapses into drama queendom. Currently nursing a massive crush on actress Chitrangada Singh (kind of eerie, her resemblance to the late Smita Patil, don’t you think?). Aspires to build a fully functional support system for the Gaysi community in India. And most importantly, top the 'Hottest eligible desi-lezzie' list one bright sunny day.

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