Ankita loved being a student. She was one of those devoted children who would make cute cards for teachers' day and wish them. For her, teachers were a source of inspiration and someone to look up to. But those very same role models would, later on, hurt Ankita immensely. In her adolescence, when she slowly understood she was unlike others and preferred to dress differently and keep short hair, she quickly became the object of ridicule and taunts. These taunts surrounding her womanhood continued well into college. But the difference was that at that point, she was fully aware of her identity and the lack of sensitization that infected India's basic education systems.
I was going through depression because of my sexuality and acceptance.
Ankita had no resources or representation to understand why she was different. Her only confidant and pillar of support at that time proved to be her sister to whom Ankita came out. Since then, Ankita has also come out to her parents, who took time but now support and love her unconditionally. Ankita's compassion makes her so understanding of why parents may need time. Metropolitan cities in India face such a severe dearth of knowledge and sensitization that it is practically unimaginable in tier 2 or 3 cities. She understands that parents have not had the exposure required to understand the spectrum or its needs. This is why she encourages everybody to educate their parents, especially in non-cosmopolitan areas. She requests patience and empathy. After all, as most LGBTQ individuals sometimes take years to accept themselves, it is natural to extend the same expectations towards their parents.
Ankita adored her teachers and looked up to them. As she says, she was one of those kids who used to bring gifts for teachers for teacher’s day. But her pain is evident when she recollects how those very teachers whom she idolized were also involved in making derogatory remarks and jokes about Ankita’s dressing sense or non-normative behavior. Her experiences have deepened the realization for Ankita that, after parents, teachers are the first people who should be sensitized.
I know a lot of queer people who are homophobic themselves.
One of the reasons Ankita moved to Bangalore was because she could not adapt to the lack of community in smaller cities. She exasperatedly stressed that Nashik, the most industrialized city in Maharashtra, did not have a single public LGBTQ community support group present. And she does say it is impossible that there are NO LGBTQ people in Nashik. It's just that society and media have made it impossible for these individuals to feel safe enough to come out publicly.
Ankita also attributes the severe bullying and harassment faced by LGBTQ people to the role of mainstream media. Portrayals in film and pop culture have often been used for slapstick comedy that has hurt the community's sentiments. She wishes it were a thing of the past, but it isn't. Ankita pointed out that several popular YouTubers have been known to call LGBTQ members derogatory terms which, unrealized by them, has long-term damaging effects.
The success of inclusion is when the folks that you have hired are not leaving your organization.
Acknowledging her privilege, Ankita discusses with us what she is doing to pay it forward. Ankita, a former employee at Equiv, is now the Lead of Diversity and Inclusion at CareerNet Technologies. Both organizations are working towards more representation and gender equity at workplaces. For Ankita, her bond with her team and their commitment to ensuring their clients' confidentiality are two things she treasures. She also stresses how inclusive hiring is just tokenism unless working conditions also contribute to creating safe spaces.
Ankita has been speaking to educational institutions, corporates, and media agencies to ensure that she can reduce the information asymmetry about the LGBTQ+ community. Ankita has had quite the learning curve going from a small-town conservative girl to publicly coming out on a televised reality show and now being a vocal advocate. A journey that she is and should be incredibly proud of.