The power of being a Pride ally at Elsevier
June 28, 2022
By Divya Aruna Kaliyaperumal
I’m proud to be a Pride ally — let me tell you why I’m part of Elsevier Pride’s influential and powerful ally network in Chennai, India
In the image above: Members of Elsevier Pride’s Chennai chapter include allies of LGBTQIA+ colleagues. Clockwise from top left: Gayathri S (Project Manager) Divya Aruna Kaliyaperuma (Executive Journal Manager), Janani Sekar (OR&F Associate), Rama Boobalan (Associate Content Project Manager), Sangeet Jayan (Production Manager), Judy Raj (Conference Content Executive), Lavie Ashwin (Team Manager), Balasaraswathi Jayakumar (Senior Manager), Sathish Sandhu Kumarbabu (Associate Account Manager), Aparna Nagarathnam (ORF Executive), and center: Gurubaran Kumaresan (ORF Executive). I am thrilled to speak with all you through this article, especially during this joyous and revolutionary time of year. Pride Month!
As a child, my powerful role models were my mother and my paternal grandmother. I knew them to be headstrong, smart and astute women. However, I was always curious about dynamics of the relationships between them and their respective partners. While my grandmother would do everything that was asked of her, my mother would not. I saw that things were never equal. Equality among genders was not prevalent, and roles were predefined. We lived in an unequal society, and gender played a key role in it.
A moment of powerful truth
Divya Aruna Kaliyaperumal
At 14, I was introduced to works of Urdu novelist Ismat Chughtai(opens in new tab/window). Lihaaf(opens in new tab/window) (“The Quilt”) was my first story that dealt with sexuality and same-sex desire. I was curious and asked my teacher what makes the “great shadows” described in the short story. The teachers in my school were asked to support and clarify everything the students asked about, so she explained to me about gender and sexuality. I felt so proud as I knew that there were more than two genders, and it was not always necessary that a man and women should be attracted to one another.
I wondered what that meant in day-to-day life. I continued my final two years of high school in a different boarding school. I could go home once every three months, and I usually traveled by train. On one trip, I saw a small group of trans women on the train. I should explain that in India, the transwomen community is pushed into beggary and sex trade because society discriminates against them and creates a forced lack of opportunity. On the train, a passenger asked them, “Why don’t you work like the rest of us?” — to which a transwoman responded:
You don’t treat us like the rest of you.
This was the moment of a powerful truth for my growing adolescent brain. We do not treat people equally, and they are oppressed through various means. In this way, gender and sexuality have a duality: since ancient times, they have played a major role in oppression, and they continue to do so. They can also evolve with time and can be wielded to oppress anyone.
I have a vibrant and politically charged group of friends, and it is an inclusive network. This set the basis of my political understanding of gender and sexuality. I knew that I was an ally, and it was my responsibility to build safe spaces in all the areas that I work and engage.
Once I graduated from college, I worked with a couple of organizations and was surprised at the extent of patriarchal values seeping into work culture. I never felt that I belonged anywhere and never felt accepted. At one job, for example, the managers were all men, and they expected obedience from all employees, especially women. We were not empowered to question decisions or offer suggestions; we were asked to do what we were told and never allowed to experiment.
My company holds a pioneering workplace Pride event
In the image above: Elsevier and our parent company, RELX, organized a pioneering event in India: the LGBT Workplace Symposium. From left to right: Mark Emdin – Chair, Workplace Pride; Poongkhulali Balasubramanian – lawyer; Lavanya Narayan – Journalist; Sunil Menon – pioneering social activist; and Ritesh Ranjani – IBM Diversity Engagement Partner. (Photo by Mohanapriyan Rajendran).
In 2013, I joined Elsevier as a Journal Manager. I was curious to work for a company that published few of my college textbooks on molecular biology and cell biology. From then on, there has never been a dull moment. I felt a sense of belonging, and I was awed as this organization was walking the talk with respect to diversity and inclusion.
It was a time when Section 377 of the British colonial penal code(opens in new tab/window) was still active, and it was solely used to criminalize people from the LGBTQIA+ community. In 2017, Elsevier and our parent company, RELX(opens in new tab/window), organized one of the pioneering events in India: the LGBT Workplace Symposium(opens in new tab/window).
Instilling Pride in our organization
The event paved way for us to create the first Elsevier Pride Chennai chapter in India(opens in new tab/window). This is a remarkable and a significant achievement. We were not just pinkwashing the organization — we were creating innovative safe spaces. We knew that visual media was the most powerful tool, and we engaged with our employees through movies. We advocated for policy changes and equitable recruitments. The founding members of this Elsevier Pride Chennai chapter are Lavanya Ashwin(opens in new tab/window), Elavenhil Pallipatti Mohan(opens in new tab/window) and myself, and we were supported by Garry Ward(opens in new tab/window) and Ganesh Venkatesan(opens in new tab/window).
We have been doing remarkable and important activities that led to the strong ally network that you see today.
We have screened movies, including Pride(opens in new tab/window), The Danish Girl(opens in new tab/window), The Pink Triangle(opens in new tab/window), Aligarh(opens in new tab/window), and The Half of It(opens in new tab/window). These films are selected on the criteria and the narrative we want to build in the organization. In addition, we conducted a fun filled interview “Coffee with Malini Jeevarathnam(opens in new tab/window),” who spoke about her experience in the film industry and the homophobia in films.
We have created two sets of posters to explain safe space and the importance of inclusion and diversity, displaying them in common spaces like the pantry, lobby, and notice boards. These not only livened the working space but created conversations around gender, sexuality and the Elsevier’s policy on inclusion and diversity.
We have conducted workshops, including “How to be an Ally,” “Safe Space — Sensitivity in the Workplace,” and “
” with PeriFerry.
We conduct quizzes and organize competitions that revolve around the necessity to create inclusive and diverse spaces at work and in the society. These include an LGBTQIA+ art competition organized as a family event.
We have advocated for a gender-inclusive washroom and gender-inclusive terminology in Elsevier’s polices.
We are strong and we are growing — paving the pathway to the future!