community

Meet the head of the United Nations' LGBTQ staff network

In partnership with myGwork.

2020-06-10

“I’m still on this journey and it is important to speak out” - Gurchaten (Nanoo) Sandhu, programme support officer at the United Nation's International Labour Organization (ILO), speaks to Louise Sinnerton from myGwork about his work and role as President of UN-GLOBE.

Nanoo was born into an Indian Sikh family in the UK, and wants to be a good role model for those coming after him in the community.“I’m a person of colour and of faith, and it is particularly important to me to speak out for those of us who are being ‘invisibilised’. My intersectionality and how the different elements of my life intertwine are hugely important.”

Turning 40, it’s something Nanoo finds himself to be much more comfortable with and eager to share that, but he hasn’t always been able to live in harmony with who he is. “I’ve struggled a lot with that, coming to terms with my sexuality and being Sikh, for example, it’s something that has taken years of work on myself, therapy, and a journey of self-acceptance”.

Growing up in the UK, Nanoo experienced homophobia from British and Punjabi communities, and hasn’t always spoken up or been a visible part of the LGBT+ community.

When he first joined the UN, as an intern, one of his colleagues in Geneva told him it was better for him not to come out. This “advice” came at a time when he was already struggling. “When I was encouraged to keep my sexuality secret at work, it really pushed me further back in the closet, and that took a while to work through. I found that going into the issues from a more cerebral point of view was what helped me to move past that. Now I understand gender and sexual identity and the constructs around it. And that learning about who I am is such a big driver for the work I’m doing now”.

Nanoo did come out at work, six years after that colleague’s comment, and started to dedicate a huge amount of his spare time to UN-GLOBE: a global staff group that fights for the non-discrimination of UN LGBTQI+ personnel.

Nanoo’s passion for the work and achievements of UN-GLOBE is evident. “It was set up by an all-female group of UN employees almost 25 years ago. What’s important is that we are unlike other employee resource groups; we negotiate and work with our employers and managers - we aren’t a mandate or organisation set out by them. We exist for UN personnel and by UN personnel. It’s really all about social dialogue.”

UN-GLOBE exists, because just like any other organisation, the UN isn’t perfect and can still improve in areas. “While it’s very important that we hold the UN on a high pedestal; it’s a great organisation that promotes peace and social justice, and does amazing things, we have to hold it accountable as well. UN organisations and agencies are driven by member states - who set the agenda internally and externally, and govern what goes on. Now, if any of those are in countries or cultures where it might be illegal to be LGBT+, that discrimination could creep in. So it’s really important to keep our employers accountable.”

Accountability is something that Nanoo takes to heart, and he speaks openly about doing that for himself as well. “When I finally came out it didn’t mean that I was the 'perfect gay' straight away, I still had my own phobias around it and had therapy to explore what was happening internally and work on myself. Being on that journey makes me understand things more and helps me live in my skin better. After spending time in therapy to explore some of his own issues, Nanoo started as the treasurer of the UN-GLOBE board in 2014. In 2019, he was elected as its President.

At a global level, this interagency group representing LGBT+ workers has achieved quite a lot. It achieved equality for partnership recognition regardless of nationality; moving to a jurisdiction rather than a nationality approach, and has ensured that partnership recognition in the pension fund is in alignment with that too.

There is, of course, still a lot that the group is striving towards. “Now we’re pushing for equality for parental leave, that means equality in terms of bonding time, for the birthing parent and the non-birthing parent. And that isn’t just an LGBT+ issue of course. It’s for everyone, regardless of the way a family is constructed. This is a big issue in the UN that we are hoping to resolve.”

Looking towards the future, Nanoo wants to see UN-GLOBE become stronger and stronger, and grow the culture of inclusion at the UN. “I would like to see us become more structured, and have a seat at the table and not be lumped in as a Diversity and Inclusion issue. What needs to happen is the issues need to be cut across all the HR policies and procedures, just like gender.”

Besides this, Nanoo works on non-discrimination and equal pay and has a dream of becoming a leading authority on the economic development of LGBT+ rights, and is striving to achieve a great amount in the coming years. “I want the UN to be a leader with LGBTQI rights in the workplace; we need to put political issues aside and bring human rights to the core to leave no-one behind.”

Nanoo will be speaking at the myGwork WorkPride free global conference sponsored by EY. Register here.