Opinion | Give financial pride to LGBTQ+ community

Many partnered gay couples end up having problems with bequeathing their wealth

How much money does a person need? This is a question that bogged me down as a teenager growing up in the 1990s. It was an interesting time, when India was coming out of its socialistic thought processes and liberalization was starting. As a student studying life sciences at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai , my relationship with money was uncomfortable. Having a salary of 5,000 a month seemed completely fine to me. That was till a classmate from a business family complained about the poor value of 5,000.

It was a wake-up call. I realized that while I did well academically, my commercial understanding of how the world works was skewed. It is unfortunate that our education system makes us end up in silos based on our class, community and urban-rural divides, as well as the professions we choose. Another factor that shapes our career decisions to an extent is sexuality. Growing up, I realised I was gay and came out to close family. The possibility of marrying a woman was never on the horizon and the decision to settle down with a partner was not an immediate priority.

After getting a master’s degree in biotechnology, my first job at a pharmaceutical company fetched me a little more than my aspirational 5,000 a month. I went on to pursue an MBA degree at one of the top 10 business schools in the country. I rejoined the workforce and worked with several organizations in the sales and marketing domain before joining an international business organization, which posted me in Africa. I was an NRI earning in dollars and managing to bank almost my entire salary because the portion I received in local currency salary was enough to cover my expenses. At the same time, I was working towards paying off my education loan. After a 10-year run in the corporate space , I chose to move to the development space and start working for the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

This was a change of gears both financially and personally. I came home after 10 years and with a salary that was less than half of what I earned in the corporate sector. I have always chosen jobs that kept me engaged and challenged rather than the ones that paid me well. I did not have exorbitant needs and was not in the rat race to get married, settle down, have children and keep us with the Joneses. I do have other concerns to address. I need a good financial corpus to take care of my twilight years and I need to be wise about my lifestyle, spending and investments. I also need to provision for my ageing parents who are dependent on me. I need to strike a balance between my financial needs and my professional growth, while doing a meaningful job. The outcomes of the work I do, both social and commercial, are important to me and dictate my personal financial model.

I have several different investments aimed at building a retirement corpus. The earliest one is the public provident fund (PPF), to which I diligently contribute each year. A part of my savings is invested in property which provides a rental income. Another part of my corpus is invested through a portal that allows me to invest in shares, debt instruments and mutual funds, in a 10:10:80 ratio. I have recently begun investing in the National Pension System (NPS), which gives you an equity participation and a corpus that will convert to an annuity at the end of its tenure. I invest more in the tier-II of NPS as it also provides you liquidity in case of a crisis. I also have adequate life insurance and health insurance covers in place. My larger game plan is based on the fact that after I retire, I will need greater liquidity but a smaller spread of investments. In the coming years , I will consolidate my portfolio and shift to safer instruments that do not require regular management.

I do not think being gay makes my investment choices very different from that of a hetrosexual man or a woman. These issues may, however, change in the coming years if same-sex couples get legal recognition and have the option of having joint finances. Since these options do not exist at present, the spirit of a same sex union is compromised. As a result, many partnered gay men end up having separate financial structures and may have problems with bequeathing their wealth to their partners. We are yet to see how these operational aspects of finances will change with progressive changes in law and acceptance of same sex unions. After the reading down of Section 377, we look forward to seeing other progressive changes that will address quality of life of the LGBTQ+ community.

Pallav Patankar is director, marketing, Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival


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