Is social media making a difference for the LGBTQ+ community?
Celebrating the one year anniversary of the historic Section 377 ruling by the Supreme Court of India, Social Samosa reflects on the role played by social media in the year that went by.
Social Media has played a colossal role in influencing the thought-process of the users and triggering actions in the real world. It has changed the way people look at things. This change can be positive or negative. As we evolve and grow, senile laws that don’t make sense in today’s world are put to rest and new ones take over. One such change was the reading down of Section 377 in Indian Penal Code, this date a year ago.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1861 during the British rule, made sexual activities ‘against the order of nature’ illegal. Imprisonment for life or a defined term was a punishment for this ‘offence’. On 6 September 2018, the section was termed ‘unconstitutional’.
We have seen many movements in the past, wherein the brave have spoken out to provoke a change and dump preconceived notions. One such momentous movement was the ‘Stonewall Riots’. We have also seen Pride marches around the globe, observed during the Pride Month and Equal Rights Campaigners actively voicing out and working towards bringing a positive change. So what role does social media play in this scenario?
Social Media Platforms
In 2017, Instagram introduced Pride Stickers and Rainbow Brush. The Pride Stickers were created by LGBTQ artists from their global community.
They also kicked off a global initiative to turn iconic walls around the world into colourful beacons of support. For instance, the iconic Paul Smith pink wall was turned into a rainbow.
In 2019, Instagram rolled out tools, updated gender options in Profile and released an LGBTQ+ teen guide to online well-being and self-care in association with The Trevor Project to support the community around the world.
They also revered the community’s history with #UntoldPride. The hashtag was used to share or learn about trans revolutionaries like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, or to share one’s own #comingout story.
Prominent hashtags such as #lgbtq, #bornperfect, #equalitymatters ad more were displayed in a rainbow gradient. When you used these hashtags in Stories, your story ring would turn rainbow while it’s live.
In 2016, whilst believing in the expression and celebration of Pride, Twitter launched a special emoji #LoveIsLove.
They also shared a heat map signalling the parts of the world that shared their messages and support on Twitter.
They continued to partner with nonprofit organisations such as the Trevor Project, and community-based organisations like Lesbians Who Tech.
The platform also mentioned to continue building an inclusive workplace and provide equal benefits to LGBTQ employees. And, continue to fight anti-LGBTQ efforts that restrict the rights of their employees.
In 2017, Twitter inaugurated the Pride Month by unveiling new Emojis that included pink and blue stripes, to reflect allyship with Trans people
The emoji also appeared every time someone Tweeted out with the hashtags #PrideIsHappening, #Pride2017 and #LoveIsLove.
They also engaged in offline activities such as hosting fundraisers supporting the Trevor Project and more.
And they ensured their restrooms have gender-inclusive signage.
In 2019, @TwitterOpen co-hosted two intersectional events. One of which was a Lunch & Learn, co-hosted by @TwitterParents with Dr. Guy Ringler, who spoke of fertility, surrogacy and other family-building options for the LGBTQ community.
In an official statement made to Social Samosa, a Twitter Spokesperson mentions, “Hateful conduct and abuse are not permitted on our service. At Twitter, protecting the health of the public conversation is our singular mission. We believe that everyone on Twitter should feel safe expressing their unique point of view with every Tweet – and it’s our job to make that happen. Our Abusive Behaviour Policy prohibits behaviour which intimidates, harasses or tries to silence another user’s voice.”
“We prohibit targeting individuals with abusive content content or intentionally trying to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.”
In 2017, Facebook mentioned that 12 million people across the globe were part of one of the 76,000 Facebook Groups in support of the LGBTQ community. They also launched more ways for people to show their love and support for the community such as a Pride-themed profile frame, limited-edition Pride Reaction, Pride-themed masks and frames. They also mentioned that they would host offline events & discussions and initiate policies and benefits to their employees.
In 2018, they brought back the Pride-themed Profile Frames, masks, effects and also launched a few new ones including AR filters and more.
They also featured stories from the LGBTQ community, tips on how to use our products, where to find LGBTQ celebrations in your area, and updates from musicians, nonprofits and more on their LGBTQ@Facebook page.
In the Facebook 2019 Diversity Report, the platform stated that they earned 100% on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 2019 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and the designation as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality.
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Brands on Social Media
After the repealing of a part of Section 377 was announced last year, several brands came out in favour of the decision and voiced out their support through creative posts on social media.
Various brands also took a stance against discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community with pride month campaigns and marched on the rainbow road.
Commenting on the subject, Shormistha Mukherjee, Co-Founder & Director, Flying Cursor Interactive mentioned, “This is great because it’s time that brands stand for things that matter. It’s important because when brands create memorable and genuine conversations around topics that we don’t usually or traditionally discuss, they create a safe space for people to take the conversation further, which is the only way to bring about change.”
She also admires the fact that when brands with vast social presence talk about it, the message of inclusivity reaches out to a number of people.
Nishith Srivastava, National Head of Strategy, Indigo Consulting says, “Continuous creation and sharing of content around the rationale of Section 377 has enabled our society to accept biology in its natural form.”
He adds, “More people have become aware of Section 377, and accept, acknowledge and express their support for the LGBTQ community.”
Although Shormistha believes that only riding on the topical wave and turning the logo into pride colours isn’t the only way to show solidarity. “People are way smarter than that. They want brands to walk the talk.”
She adds, “So while Netflix may use the #LoveIsLove hashtag, it would have spoken volumes for the brand had they used a transwoman in Cuckoo’s role in Sacred Games. Take Anouk and the same-sex relationship they depicted, in a perfectly normal, understated way. Or how Godrej doesn’t just talk about LGBT rights on their platforms but creates so much interesting and meaningful conversation on inclusivity via the India Culture Lab. We need to see brands do more of that: to embrace inclusivity beyond topical days.”
Nishith reckons that any major shift doesn’t happen overnight and we are heading in the right direction with the right intent.
He appends, “We all have to ensure that education and acceptance of LGBTQ becomes a norm so that wider sections of our society can also become the part of this evolved thinking. On the platforms’ part, communication should also enable assistance, help, guidance and voice to those who are still living in either denial or fear or shame.”
LGBTQ+ Community on Social Media
We also reached out to Sushant Divgikr, actor & performer and Harish Iyer, author & equal rights activist, to get a glimpse of their life on social media through their eyes and sight how the decriminalization altered their life.
Both of these personalities have been actively engaging in activities that support the LGBTQ+ community and have humanized the notion “Be Yourself”.
Remarking the change, Sushant mentions that he has been in the entertainment industry for more than a decade now and, he has seen a lot of people recently on the internet being much more supportive of and sensitive about LGBTQIA+ matters. “There’s still a long way to go but it’s much better than it was, say about 5 years ago”.
Harish states that it was a major indicator of homophobia failing and Queer freedom winning. Although he also adds, “If you profess your love for Queer freedom publicly, be sure to follow it through”.
He appends, “We are not your Navratri greetings or Christmas party. We are not your “good deed of the day” We are here throughout the year, don’t treat us as occasions, we will watch out for your sensitivity if you stand up for our causes”.
Both Harish and Sushant believe that social media acts as a tool to connect people and their digital identities might inspire others to come out of the closet.
Although Sushant adds, “Some people use this medium to spread sensitivity and good dialogue whereas some take it for granted and are basically drowned in a tsunami of inconsequence.”
Opining on the Pride-themed features, filters, hashtags and more, Harish states, “I think #loveislove with the Queer flag helped in Twitter. Positive imagery has a far-reaching effect cognitively too. However, too much of innovation leads to a lot of noise and could lead to dissonance.”
Sushant mentions that anyone can use any filter irrespective of their orientation or ethnicity.
He adds, “You don’t need to use filters to support someone! You need to support people with your actions. So as soon as we use our intellect and positions of power and exercise our rights to live with dignity more than the number of filters we use on a single picture, things should fall into place without having to resort to tokenism!
Social Media has also become a platform to vent out hate. Sushant & Harish share their two cents around it.
To which Sushant says, “Haters are gonna hate, potatoes are gonna potate! They don’t pay your bills or mine so their opinions shouldn’t matter. Everyone has the right to believe their fabulous! If you don’t like a profile, move on to the next one”.
Sushant apprises us about his experiences that should be considered alarming, “Of course, I have had rape threats, death threats, abuses all on social media. There are people who get extorted on social media. I should say though, that love is trumping hate now.”
Through the opinions and information available we can come to a conclusion that the change has triggered a positive wave but there are still miles to go. You can do your bit by treating the subject with the sensitivity required, using your voice to support the cause, educating the ones who don’t and use all possible mediums to spread awareness.