We were honored to host Kalki Subramaniam as part of the Pride Month celebrations at SAP Labs India, who shared her inspiring journey as a transwoman to help promote inclusivity and allyship at the workplace.
Kalki is a globally renowned Indian transgender activist, artist, entrepreneur, poet, actor, and inspirational speaker. She is the founder of Sahodari Foundation, an organization which works for the empowerment of transgender communities. She was one of the prominent Indian activists who lobbied for the recognition of legal rights for transgender communities in the milestone victory of 2014, when the Supreme Court of India finally recognized the transgender Communities civil rights in the country.
Kalki has been honored with several awards around the globe for her incredible work. In 2015. she was chosen by Facebook as one of the 12 inspiring women in the world. In 2016, she was nominated by Loreal Paris India as the Women of Worth under the Arts category, and in 2019 she was honored as one of the finest change makers of India by MG Motors.
As a D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) champion, Kalki has also represented the country at several global forums such as the Harvard University in 2017 and the Ministry of Global Affairs Canada in 2018. Kalki is an avid painter who has exhibited her art around the world. Through the Sahodari Foundation, she offers free workshops for transgender communities to promote their artwork and support their livelihood. She is a published poet, author, and the first transgender actor in India to do a lead role in a major motion movie.
In the session, Kalki shared about how she was here, not only to represent the transgender communities around the world, but also to represent the entire LGBTQIA+ spectrum, which is a very silenced community yet. Born in Pollachi, a small town near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, Kalki grew up as the only male child in the family along with two sisters. When she was around 12 years old, she said that she felt a change that she could not accept. Kalki questioned her belonging due to a confusion about her gender and the nonconformity in her. The change in her nature led to constant bullying both at school and in public places. Kalki opened to her parents at the age of 14 but faced rejection. She recalled how her family and society treated her.
Kalki said she lost a lot of her friends from the community because of various societal pressures. She was afraid she would succumb to the same societal restraints if her parents did not accept her for who she was. After a lot of struggles, her family realized that she was born this way and accepted her because she was their child.
Despite all the struggles and bullying, Kalki managed to complete her master’s, and start a Tamil magazine for the transgender community known as – Sahodari. Later she founded the Sahodari Foundation to empower the transgender communities. Since starting the foundation, Kalki has been working with universities, policymakers, and the government for the rights of the transgender communities. She cited various references from the Indian mythology that recognized transgenders and treated them with respect. She insists that it is important to break the fear with which we see the transgender communities and says that there has been a change after the Supreme Court legalized their civil rights in the country in 2014. She also mentioned the notable efforts by various corporates to make workplaces inclusive and requested to continue such events consistently.
Kalki shared insights on how one can become an ally and suggested using inclusive language. A few examples she shared were to address a group as Hello, everyone instead of Hello, ladies, and gentlemen. She also emphasized the importance of addressing people without calling out their gender as we might not know everyone’s preferred gender pronouns. She reiterated the importance of acknowledging all genders in a day-to-day conversation rather than limiting it to just male and female. She encouraged people to break biases, think without judgements, and accept people as they are.
Kalki also answered a bunch of questions from our employees that gave them better clarity, encouraged all of us to help create a safe working environment for all, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender.