Feature story

Ready to be the change

26 November 2021

La Beauté and Style salon, created by UNAIDS Solidarity Fund grantee Gaurav Trust, opened its doors to customers in September 2021. Located in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, it is one of the few Indian salons that is established, managed and run by members of the transgender community. The salon is a social enterprise set up to provide socioeconomic support and to address the age-old, yet deeply woven, stigma that the community faces in India.

“There are skilled and talented individuals from the community who fail to make a mark in the beauty industry because of stigma surrounding their identities. I know of a transwoman who was let go from a salon despite being an exceptional worker,” said Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a key member of the social enterprise.

Despite the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, the transgender community continues to face denial and rejection in areas such as employment, health and public services. 

Ms Narayan Tripathi has been a transgender activist since 1999 and has seen discourse evolve from HIV to now encompass funding opportunities and social enterprises led by the community. Aryan Pasha, who is a lawyer, activist and India’s first transgender man bodybuilder, and Ms Narayan Tripathi are both board members of the Gaurav Trust, a community-based organization working on the promotion and protection of the health and rights of sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, and young people. Its programmes specially focus on using its networks to strengthen project management, skills-building and livelihood support to nurture a self-sustaining community. Despite their collective advocacy and action over the years to advance the welfare, rights and health of transgender people, stigma remains a major challenge.

While the Gaurav Trust team acknowledge that breaking stigma is a long process, they also believe that change is inevitable. By recruiting and engaging community members, La Beauté and Style salon is an opportunity for the team to establish a platform promoting socioeconomic inclusion. It will provide a conducive space for many interested people to leverage beauty and grooming training facilities and develop essential skills, enabling them to earn a livelihood.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw people from the community who had lost jobs and had no place to live. So why not have a space where our own people can feel safe and comfortable and also create jobs and experts from within the community?” said Mr Pasha. To uphold this vision, 70% of people employed at the La Beauté and Style salon will belong to the transgender community.

The uplifting reaction from the community towards social entrepreneurship models encouraged Ms Narayan Tripathi to leverage her network to mobilize additional funding from partners and local bodies to sustain and grow the enterprise. Through the example of La Beauté and Style salon in Ghaziabad, they have been successful in creating a pipeline of other diverse social entrepreneurship projects led by the transgender community for the coming months. The team believes that interesting entrepreneurial ideas that exist within the community can succeed if funding is made available.

Established to support vulnerable populations to survive the immediate impact of the socioeconomic crises exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNAIDS Solidarity Fund is a critical instrument in building sustainable income mechanisms.

“Through these tools of self-reliance, we are nurturing a variety of leaders. Today, our diverse grantees are enhancing community leadership to set the path for future entrepreneurs. And the community-led social enterprises are ultimately working towards the collective objective of inclusion and socioeconomic prosperity,” said Nandini Kapoor Dhingra, Community Support Adviser at the UNAIDS Country Office for India.

For the fellow grantees of the Solidarity Fund, this project has set a precedent for sustainability and growth beyond the seed funding. As a message to the fellow grantees, Ms Narayan Tripathi said, “From the point of seed funding, it is important to think of sustainability. It remains essential to look for partners and local funders to enhance the project. It takes hard work and advocacy, but success is certain.”

Currently, the second cohort of community members is being trained in Pune, which will host the newest franchise of La Beauté and Style salon. Through this journey of hope, highs and lows, community members have been keen to grow and uplift the socioeconomic fabric of the transgender community in India. 

Watch this social enterprise featured on Indian national television.