Entrepreneur Raga D’silva champions lesbian visibility and connection: ‘Role models are important’

Author and entrepreneur Raga D'silva with lesbian Pride colours pictured behind her.

As part of Lesbian Visibility Week, the PinkNews Business Community welcomed esteemed author and entrepreneur Raga D’silva to speak at a special virtual live event to mark Lesbian Visibility Day on Wednesday (26 April).

The hour-long event saw writer and LGBTQ+ advocate D’silva reflect on her storied life as a sexually-conflicted young woman growing up in India, to a closeted wife and mother married to a man, to a newly-out professional woman in New Zealand navigating discrimination at work.

The exclusive chat was introduced by Neil Hudson-Basing, Senior Events and Community Manager at PinkNews, who highlighted recent data that showed that less than half of lesbian women and non-binary are out at work.

“We need to understand behind those stats, we need to recognise the people and the stories behind them, and why that’s the case and celebrate those lives,” declared D’silva.

In conversation with PinkNews’ Managing Editor Nic Keaney, D’silva recalled her upbringing in Mumbai, India. At 20 years old, she fell in love with a woman but had no understanding of the concept of what a ‘lesbian’ was in an environment where homophobia remained rife. She married a man in 1995 and together, they relocated to New Zealand, where D’silva became a mother to twins and began to come to terms with her own sexual identity.  

“It is in New Zealand that my life changed”, D’silva recalled. “I suddenly started noticing that actually, two women could be together, two men could be together, two people could be together, regardless of their sex or gender.”

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After enduring an abusive relationship with another woman, D’Silva finally found her ‘person’. She is now married to her partner Nicola and the couple live in London along with her two children.

Asked by Keaney about navigating parenthood while exploring her own identity, D’silva spoke of her own mother – who despite not supporting her daughter’s coming out remained a huge inspiration and influence in her life.

“When my mother behaved the way she did, I really felt like I had let her down,” the writer commented.

“So I thought to myself, I would never do that to my children. I would always make sure that they understood life better, that they were inclusive, that they would understand how to navigate life if there were any difficult situations.”

One common thread in the discourse around lesbian visibility is the word ‘lesbian’ itself. When asked about the terminology, D’silva compared language to technology: it keeps changing.

For many years, she associated the word with trauma, but now it means something different to her. “The word lesbian is now about grace, courage, strength, happiness and love,” D’silva explained. “Because I have love in my life with my partner.”

Authenticity was a recurrent theme throughout the conversation. “Closets have clothes, it’s not to hide a truth,” D’silva noted. “So don’t hide anything in the closet. Just be yourself. Don’t be anyone else. Just be you.”

According to D’Silva, this spirit of authenticity is especially important within the workplace. Even though New Zealand had anti-discrimination laws in place 18 years ago when she came out, she claims she was still subjected to discrimination. “It was the most horrible time in my life because at work I had a team of five people, and suddenly they would not talk to me,” she confessed. “There was homophobia, but it was not to your face, it was indirect – work would be given to someone else.”

The former TEDx speaker continued: “I get invited by a lot of corporates to talk about values, respect and empathy and it saddens me again, to think that we actually have to teach people about respect and empathy.” 

The session was brought to a close with reflections on D’silva’s life, her late mother – who never made peace with her daughter’s sexuality – and how important visibility is for any lesbian woman, no matter their age.

“For me, visibility is very important. Role models are important. Talking about it is important. Meeting people like us is important. Normalising is important,” D’Silva concluded.  

“So that is how then the younger generation or those who are not able to come out or in hiding will recognise and say that, “I can be this person, I can be successful”.”

Launched in 2022, the PinkNews Business Community has swiftly become a forum for D&I and LGBTQ+ network leads across the UK to connect with peers, build skills and share insights and best practices across a variety of sectors.

Aside from virtual events like this one, the PinkNews Business Community offers quarterly London-based in-person meet-ups that give members a chance to network with other professionals from businesses committed to diversity and inclusion.

Last but not least, the PinkNews Business community offers monthly emails that deliver the latest on ED&I best practices, key topics and links to the latest business and career-related news.

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