Hi, my name is Khedamba Haorokcham, and I am a Client Success Manager at Cvent, based out of our India office in Gurgaon. I have spent 11 glorious years with Cvent, and I am a proud Cventer.
October 11, 2021 is National Coming Out Day. A day that is dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ and allied individuals who have opened up about their authentic selves and provides a platform to celebrate, share, and amplify their stories. But in India, this day has come to mean even more in recent years. Why? Because prior to 2018, homosexuality was a criminal offence in India. While it is no longer a crime, LGBTQIA+ individuals still fight against societal discrimination on a daily basis – we don’t have legal recognition for our relationships, we can’t open joint bank accounts, and it’s often difficult to even rent an apartment – we have a long way to go.
But my hope is that my Coming Out story, and the tips I share about how to be a better ally below, will help even just one other person who may be struggling to be their true self – and to know that there are people – and companies – out there, who will welcome you as you are.
In 2008, I came out to my parents, and it involved as much drama as a Bollywood movie. Their response and actions to my truth were less than kind. I ran away from home and didn’t speak to my parents for many years. It took them some time to understand what this meant to me and my life. Later, my mom came around, but my dad would often say hurtful things like, “you are not a real man.” In short, he disowned me. But I didn’t want our relationship to end this way. I had a real conversation with him about who I am, what gay means and how I am a man, just like him or my brother even though I’ll never compare my fashion choices to them ;). He didn’t say anything, but when I was leaving for Delhi for work, he was emotional and told me that he is proud of me. He wished me all the best.
Coming out can be a confusing and scary time for many people and coming out to family members may be particularly difficult, especially if they hold negative views and attitudes about homosexuality. And coming out to your family is just one step. As an LGBTQIA+, it often feels like you have to come out to new people at every step of your life! It’s a lifelong process and its allies, like I’ve found in my friends and colleagues at Cvent, that can make the journey easier.
If you are reading this article and wondering how you can be a better ally, I’ve shared seven tips below to help. What’s critical to remember is that Coming Out is a very personal experience, and the support needed will look different for everyone. There is no one right way to be a great ally, but here are some ways in which you can become a more supportive friend, loved one, or colleague.
Seven steps to being a better ally
1. Be open to learn, listen and educate yourself
Part of being supportive to your LGBTQIA+ friends and loved ones means developing a true understanding of how the world views and treats them. It sounds obvious, but to learn, you need to be willing and open to truly listen. Listen to your friend's personal stories and ask questions respectfully. Take it upon yourself to learn about LGBTQIA+ history, terminology, and the struggles that the community still faces today. Sure, your friend may be happy to answer your questions, but online blogs, podcasts, and books are all wonderful resources. The Trevor Project has a great collection of resources to get you started.
2. Check your privilege
Most of us (including those of us within the LGBTQIA+ community) have some type of privilege - whether it's racial, class, education, being cis-gendered, able-bodied, or straight. Being privileged doesn't mean that you have not had your fair share of struggles in life. It just means that there are some things you won't ever have to think or worry about just because of the way you were born. Understanding your own privileges can help you empathize with marginalized or oppressed groups.
3. Don't assume
Don't assume that all your friends, co-workers, and even housemates are straight. Don't assume someone's gender or pronouns. LGBTQIA+ people don't look a particular way and someone's current or previous partner(s) doesn't define their sexuality. Someone close to you could be looking for support – and not making assumptions will give them the space they need to be their authentic self and open up to you in their own time.
4. Think of 'ally' as an action rather than a label
It is easy to call yourself an ally, but the label alone isn't enough. To be an effective ally you need to be willing to be consistent in your support of LGBTQIA+ rights and speak out against discrimination. It takes all members of society to make true acceptance and respect happen and your open and consistent support will hopefully lead as an example to others.
5. Confront your own prejudices and unconscious bias
Being an ally means you will often find that you need to challenge biases, stereotypes, and assumptions you may not realize you held. Think about the jokes you make, the pronouns you use and if you wrongly assume someone's partner is of a particular sex or gender just because of the way they look and act. Being a better ally means being open to the possibility of being wrong and being willing to work on these biases.
6. Know that inclusive language matters
What pronouns you use, or terms you use to describe certain things, can have unintentional negative effects. If you are unsure of someone’s pronoun or label, just ask them respectfully. When meeting new people, try integrating inclusive language into your regular conversations by using gender neutral terms such as ‘partner’ and keep an eye on any unintentionally offensive language you may use every day. For example, at Cvent, our technology team changed the terminology we use – both within our team, and in our technology, to be more inclusive. Here is an inclusive language guide you can reference from [email protected]
7. Know that you will mess up sometimes – breathe, apologize, and ask for guidance
Accidentally assumed someone’s label? Unintentionally used the wrong pronoun? It happens - don’t panic. Apologize, and correct yourself. Here’s a good response: "I’m sorry, that wasn’t the word I meant to use. I’m trying to be a better ally and learn the right terminology, but I’m still working on it. If you hear me misuse something, I’d really appreciate if you could let me know." Likely, the person you are talking to will know that this process of unlearning is new to you and will appreciate your honesty and effort!