How many disabled and queer vocal leaders have you seen?

Karthik Damarsetti talks to us with an air of calm. There was a sense of carefulness and measure that made an impact. They don't necessarily want to be an icon, but they realize that their words and decisions can help someone. They want to reach a point where people know that if needed, they are there to help. Talking about their family and friends, Karthik shares how the support system of their close friends and colleagues has played a crucial role in building their confidence today. It was this group of humans who encouraged them to communicate and share their experiences more.

We should recognize that disability and gender also occur on a spectrum. We cannot have one solution suited for everyone.

For Karthik, it was even more crucial when they became aware of their sexual orientation and identity. As someone diagnosed with spastic diplegia, Karthik is very aware that they are at the intersection of disability and gender. When asked about how they came to terms with the double marginalization they are subjected to, Karthik pointed out that they were born with their disability and that their worldview has never had to incorporate it separately. But, they did tell us that accepting their queer identity was a different process. Slightly amused by the question, Karthik told us how their acceptance of their queerness and disability often replace each other in waves. But having talked more and more about their experiences, they are now comfortable discussing both their identities and helping make this society a better place. Karthik does say since both gender and disability occur on a spectrum, people can't approach it with a blanket intervention. Karthik's fun side also breaks through when they add that "intersectionality is what makes it fun."

With a historical lens, STEM has always been a male-dominated area.

Being a part of the Thoughtworks initiative, "Interning with pride," gave them the springboard they needed to vocalize the need for safe spaces for marginalized individuals in professional spaces. Why is there a lack of representation of the LGBTQ community in STEM fields? How has the patriarchal mindset limited our definition of diversity and inclusion? These are some of the questions that inspired Karthik. They are very aware of how diversity attempts are often monolithic and not nuanced. Instead, they believe inclusion needs to be approached with the mindset of a spectrum too.

Subconsciously we think, we still think, men are first, women are second.

Karthik's thoughtfulness and awareness are not just restricted to his marginalized identities. They are aware enough to acknowledge their privilege because they are a man. They pointed out how most LGBTQ+ speakers are homosexual men of dominant castes, also feeding us a bit of historical trivia that the community was previously known as the GLBT community. They also don't shy away from underscoring intersectionalities that are ignored, like caste or ethnicities. In fact, they pointed to the lack of representation in STEM as a cause of the underlying patriarchal tendencies in these fields.

Through micro-level changes - you can start building up.

Karthik believes micro-level changes can be as simple as celebrating International Day of Pronouns. People's pronouns on their social media handles and emails can create an environment of inclusion. They believe that calling the LGBTQ movement a revolution is poorly worded. As a member of the community, they think that they deserve ordinary moments and opportunities. Despite the struggle being long and hard, actual change can only occur when mindsets change. And that means people don't make homophobic remarks; same-sex couples can go to the bank without worry, get married, dream of a future without legal hassles together, they are assessed based on their potential and not whom they love. These are changes that need to be incorporated into everyday lives and in the small moments in between.

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