IFWEA Global Knowledge Community News

Jan 14

A safe space for the Trans and Queer worker community

Bhoomi Harendran is the Executive Director of the National Transgender Network Trust of Sri Lanka. They are currently based in Colombo, but work all around the country with the collaboration of other civil society organisations, to make sure that all community members have equal rights and the opportunity to live with dignity.

In Sri Lanka the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer/Questioning (LGBTIQ) population are subject to legal, political and social restraints. Sri Lanka criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of Trans people is also criminalised. Research has shown that LGBTIQ individuals experience significant discrimination in the labour market throughout their employment cycle due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. They are denied access to employment, training and promotion.

Bhoomi talks about necessity of creating a union for the LGBTIQ community, and how this has worked:

“The idea of creating the National Union for Trans and Queer (NUFTQ) workers came about during a consultation which we had with other trade unions. The debate was whether to have a separate union or use existing unions for advocacy work. By the end of the discussion the finalised idea was to create a new union.

It was thought that the lack of knowledge and information in relation to gender minorities among trade unions and in the work world generally would create a less sensitive environment for community members to join and work together. While there have been discussions about the violence and discrimination which women face at work, there have been no discussions happening about gender minorities such as the LGBTIQ community.

Creating a new union specifically for the Trans community and Queer workers and doing awareness and advocacy work will help to create more platforms to hold more discussions about why we need equal opportunities and why our lives and our contributions are important. The National Union for Trans and Queer (NUFTQ) workers officially started one year ago and we are still working on registration and structuring the union. We want to develop this union based on community members’ inputs and requirements. The main aim of this union is to create a safe and sensitive environment for community members in the work world, where we can create discussions and look at related policy changes.”

Attitudes and perspectives

“After we held a few awareness programmes with other trade unions we managed to change their attitudes and perspectives about the LGBTIQ community. Most of trade unions have showed their support and love towards to the community, and they have initiated discussions within their trade unions to be more inclusive and supportive to the community. Some trade unions are also supporting the creation of platforms to develop policies and laws which protect the equal rights of LGBTIQ workers.

I personally have been engaged in media platforms for the past 13 years and I have managed to have an impact on changing general public attitudes towards the Trans community. But still it’s difficult to reach out to some platforms such as government institutions, due to the legal situation and social attitudes.

As a trade union the first achievement we achieved was that we got an opportunity to meet the Minister of the Labour Department to discuss the challenges which the Trans and Queer community face in the work world, and the importance of having an inclusive and non-discriminatory service within the Labour Department. And as a result of a discussion which we had with the head of the Police Department, we were able to distribute a circular which provides advice and instructions on how to treat Trans people.

The ultimate goal of the trade union is to create a safe and inclusive environment for the Trans and Queer community to have proper job opportunities and to live with dignity.”

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