#ExpertsSpeak: Platforms step-up to create LGBTQ+ inclusive ecosystem

Experts Speak: Article 377
Brand Saga

September 6, 2018, marked a historic moment when Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code decriminalized the similar sex relationships by the five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court. As the crucial judgment completes a year, Social Samosa delves into various brands from across the industry, and the initiatives undertaken by them.

Social Samosa spoke to the industry experts from across the OTT channels, platforms, and even the dating apps to find out the challenges persisting in the market when they cater to the special community and the responses from the target audience in India.

OTTs lead the way with content!

Some leading Indian and Global brands amongst the OTT players shed light on the perpetual challenges which persist when they cater to the sensitive topic with their bold content.

One such show, 377 अब Normal from ZEE5 Originals grabbed eyeballs in the market and continues to be one of the most viewed movies on the platform.

Aparna Acharekar, Programming Head, ZEE5 India shares that, “We realize that cinema influences the society and as a brand, our endeavor is to be all-inclusive i.e. we do not discriminate on basis of caste, race, religion, gender or sexual preferences. We are all for one and one for all.”

Highlighting further on the movie, she explains that 377 अब Normal is a story inspired by true events. The movie underlines the struggles of the LGBT community and hails the landmark judgment that marked the beginning of a new era of equality in India.

While the OTT platform believes in giving a voice to everyone irrespective of the caste, race, religion, gender or sexual preferences, Acharekar elucidates that,

“There is a sense of added responsibility when we are dealing with a sensitive subject. We have to be conscious of the story that we greenlit and see to it that it sends out the right message without hurting sentiments Having said that, we are willing to pick bold subjects.”

In the context of the responses to the show which caters to the sensitive subject, Acharekar mentions that in today’s digital age, audiences are more aware and thus more receptive to varied subjects that reflect contemporary society. She added that 377 अब Normal was a huge success on the platform getting rave reviews and responses from even the ‘non-metro cities’ in India.

Meanwhile, Jay Lin, the director of the Taiwan International Queer Film festival and the founder of GagaOOLala, also touted as Asia’s first LGBT film streaming platform, thinks that it is an opportune time in the Indian market. He shares that there is more independence to showcase content in India and how GagaOOLala can leverage the opportunity.

“While all the other platforms are trying to cater to everyone, our niche approach might prove successful”, he says.

Further, he adds that “Our goal, as a brand, is to not only bring more originals to the platform but to also put more LGBT content out there and help the community”.

Dating Apps – Path to the changing times?

While the OTT channels lead the bandwagon of trending and powerful content, various dating apps catering to the special segment, are not far behind in reaching out to the community and leveraging the changing times in the post Section 377 era. The major difference lies in the extra-cautiousness of such brands in the ad privacy policies to avoid irrelevance of content and ensure a relatable environment for the users.

Ms.Priti Joshi, Global Director of Strategy, Bumble, firmly believes in ensuring a safe environment for all the communities. She shares that “We’ve taken great steps to make our platform inclusive to everyone in our community. From giving users the option to select their gender identity to further choosing their sexual orientation, we have always implemented ways to make the platform more inclusive and safer”.

The users of ‘Bumble App’ are expected to adhere to the platform’s values and community guidelines. Joshi further adds that the brand has a zero-tolerance policy against misogynist, abusive, and inappropriate behavior on the platform. She says that “While we support freedom of speech, we don’t support abusing that freedom to harm, bully, or attack people online,”

In 2017, Bumble also partnered with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to ensure that all forms of hate were banned from the platform.

Keeping up with the changing times, Blued App also speaks on the topic. According to Wikipedia, the app is one of the largest gay social networks in the world. It is fast gaining momentum in India.

Sanyam Sharma, Marketing Director, Blued India shares that, “Today, dating apps attract the most and for the people belonging to LGBT community, these apps give them the freedom to open about themselves with no societal interference”.

He adds that while there are hardly any roadblocks to launching such an app, being a LGBTQ specific platform, they tend to be careful with the app privacy and policies. It is also necessary to be cautious in terms of making the platform user friendly and give the user their own privacy on the platform, according to the leader.

Sharma puts forth that to such channels, the true success story is when people come to their families and friends and open about their orientation and sexuality; which again is still tough for a lot many people to live with, he adds.

Another Dating App OkCupid shares that with 55% men and 82% women on the app expressing support for gay marriage and an average of 79% expressing deep support for LGBTQ issues, India is taking early steps towards celebrating diversity and individuality.

Further, on the app, users can choose between 22 gender options and 13 sexual orientations, along with the pronoun they wish to be addressed by.
“We always strive to be a diverse and inclusive platform where people can be themselves and tell their stories authentically, whatever the story may be,” says Melissa Hobley, CMO, OkCupid.

The platform has invested in a robust support and moderation system, including automated flags that point out any potentially harassing/abusive language, and human moderators.

Brands and CSR Activities

Tata Steel known for working towards inclusivity had launched Wings, an Employee Resource Group for LGBTQ employees under its Diversity and Inclusion program called Mosaic.

A Spokesperson from Tata Steel says, “We have adopted a culture of respect, inclusion, and diversity as we recognize that our employees give us the competitive edge”.

The idea behind WINGS was to get together a group of people or a repository of resources where people can easily get in touch to clarify doubts regarding the Company’s policies and track-record in supporting LGBT+ people.

Tata Steel further stated that the challenges associated with such initiatives include the lack of familiarity with the subject.

Another challenge is the question of metrics. Whenever an initiative is taken for LGBT+ Employees, it is often questioned if the impact is visible and quantifiable.

One of the best success stories of the brand was that of Anubhuti Banerjee, an employee in the Marketing & Sales Analytics & Insights team of Tata Steel, who came out a few years back identifying as a woman and transitioned socially, legally and physically while at the Company. 


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