Growing up as a gay individual in nineties’ India: Dharm’s story

M,Dharmarajan, Director Wealth Management Proposition


The nineties: a period where even the concept of sexual orientation was non-existent, leave alone LGBT+ rights – life was quite difficult for people from our community. You didn’t know how to place your feelings, whether your feelings were OK or not, and there was no one to talk to in confidence either. There wasn’t any internet, no media stories on LGBT+ people; just a more-or-less uniform stereotype of gay men being effeminate objects of ridicule. Schoolkids were routinely bullied for the way they talked, or the way they walked – and I remember so many of the gratuitous comments offered by teachers, friends, relatives on how to ‘man up’!

It was only during my college days, when the internet started to become prevalent that I realised I could finally find a term to define what I was feeling. I came to realise there were many people in India who were similar, even if not very visible, and that having an alternate sexual orientation was nothing to be ashamed about. Years passed, and I found a partner who has been with me for over 16 years now. Today, I have the privilege of being able to lead change in my workplace as the Chair of the SC Pride India LGBT+ resource group. It has been an incredible journey so far, and I have had a wonderfully supportive and encouraging environment at Standard Chartered.

For the longest time in India, LGBT+ individuals have been stereotyped and faced prejudice, living under threats of public morality and societal disapproval. In recent years, thanks to the positive representation of LGBT+ people in media and art, the SC judgment overruling Section 377, as well as allies and organisations stepping up to vocally show their support – there has been a definite change for the better. I have been comfortable in my skin for many years now, and never hide who I am. I may not be forthcoming, but if questioned I never choose to hide. If someone chooses to shun me for my orientation – their loss!

That being said, homophobia is a very real and potent issue in India. Hate crimes notwithstanding, public attitudes to LGBT+ individuals still border a lot on disdain and ridicule – which only serves in pushing individuals deeper into hiding. I feel that the greatest disservice that you can do to someone is to dislike them for a trait over which they have no control. It is hence not surprising that mental health issues, depression and substance abuse are so much more prevalent in the LGBT+ community.

Many of us may have these unsaid privileges as cis-gender, heterosexual individuals – of leading conjugal lives that have legal sanction with individuals whom we love; the right to inherit; the right to adopt a child – rights that are still unavailable to LGBT+ people in India. When I talk of ‘privilege’, I don’t say that you have it made – it is just that simply by virtue of who you are, you may never get to visualise some of the challenges that people from the community do.

I would say this – if you can offer your support and commitment to LGBT+ inclusion, please do so. And do so vocally. A kind word, a token of support, a welcoming shoulder – these are signs that can deliver far greater benefit than you could imagine. And call it out when you see homophobic behaviour - discrimination and bullying can never end if there aren’t enough people who speak up against it. Learn about the evolution of the LGBT+ movement, the issues that individuals from the community have faced and continue to face, and teach your children, relatives and friends the value of empathy and inclusion for those with orientations and identities beyond the norm. Educating someone about LGBT+ inclusion and encouraging them to be empathetic doesn’t turn you lesbian or gay – it only turns you into a better human being!

Dharmarajan M is Director, Head Wealth Proposition, India and has been with Standard Chartered Bank for over 6 years.

Interested in joining us?

If you're looking for a career with purpose and want to work for a bank making a difference, we'd love to hear from you.