In-Depth: Is the content world truly inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community?


One year after decriminalization of #Section377, Social Samosa gets in touch with industry experts understanding the evolving content space in the aftermath of this iconic decision.

“I am what I am. So, take me as I am. Section 377 is arbitrary,” – with these words over a year ago former CJI Dipak Misra and five judges of the top court unanimously decriminalized ‘unnatural sex’ and partially scraped Section 377 to exclude any sort of consensual sex- oral, anal or homosexual.

Soon #LoveIsLove #PrideAllDay #LoveForAll were among the top trends with billions of Indian hearts basking in the glory of the verdict.

Major brands like Jack and Jones India, Mother Day IceCream, Uber, Airbnb, Harper Collins India, Durex India, Zomato, Ola, Swiggy, et al joined the celebration – some changing their logo colour to suit the pride rainbow while a few rolled out video campaigns showing their support. Pride month too was celebrated amidst much galore in June.

It is said that advertisers are steadily transforming from ‘non-inclusive’ to ‘bandwagon-ing’ to now finally all-inclusive, accepting, and celebrating the community for who they are; brands like Borosil, Airbnb depicted same-sex romance in their campaigns.

While everything looks hunky-dory, have we actually learned the art of ‘acceptance’ in its rational sense when it comes to LGBTQ+? Changing logo colors, creating pride creatives, organizing parades and community events – is this enough?

Social Samosa spoke to a cross-section of industry experts to understand the implications of decriminalization of Section 377 on the content space.

The AdNama and Section 377

How successful has the ad world been in making the advertising inclusive spaces?

According to Priti Nair, Director, Curry Nation shares every advertising professional or for that matter, an advertiser should take it upon themselves to show progress in their communication. “We as marketers and advertisers have the tool of projecting to media and therefore to the nation. I feel we should use this powerful weapon to bring some progressive change”.

She also noted that unfortunately very few marketers take the risk and often end up showing what is more acceptable. “It is only now that brands have started to experiment and show unexpected progressive stuff”.

Echoing similar views Ashish Khazanchi, Managing Partner, Enormous Brands thinks that yet there has been no defining voice or a significant communication which may have happened in the last year.

Although he stated that there has been a fair amount of communication since the decriminalization. “I can’t immediately recall any brand that has done significant work and became a voice of this particular demographic. But it’s commendable that brands are becoming braver.”

Meanwhile, Upasana Naithani, Business Head- Digital, Infectious Advertising believes that decriminalization has definitely upped the visibility and started some serious conversations.

She exemplified further, “Having major brands like Levi’s or Fastrack feature an LGBTIQ individual in their ads is quite a success. The ad agencies as well have worked on inclusion and diversity by the virtue of their internal policies and the kind of communication they have rolled out”.

However, she pointed out that so far we are looking at “Urban” inclusion only.

Highlighting the occasional and momentous trend of marketing in this new world, Angad Singh Manchanda, Co-founder & CEO of Chimp&z Inc observed that efforts are decent and we have seen a lot of brands even with traditional roots be a part of the movement, which is a great beginning. 

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

The Communication Gap

While the efforts are justified and noticeable, there’s a gap since the communication isn’t exactly scalable and might not end up reaching the end audience, which is the masses of the country.

Manchanda thinks that while brands have accepted the judgment and decided to be a part of the movement, they haven’t been able to include the community in a larger way.

He added, “Like promoting the hiring of people from the community, or bringing real stories of real people out and supporting them. Brands globally have gone out and even shot ad campaigns accepting the community, taking a bold stand. There aren’t too many brands in India who have been able to take a bold stand. This is not just a gap but an opportunity for brands who want to communicate to the new age Indian who is not only opinionated but respects bold and righteous moves.”

On the other hand, Khazanchi remarked, “We are advertisers, marketers and we follow the money. Although there is a consensus conversation that one must have and these will come around occasions. This doesn’t look like a conversation that one could possibly have the year-round.”

Where same-sex relationships are concerned, Nair thinks that will take a while before mass FMCG brands will take that leap. Meanwhile, Naithani too opined that the idea of beauty, luxury, love, sex, food, holidays – everything under the sun, needs to be looked at with a new lens.

Also Read: Is social media making a difference for the LGBTQ+ community?

The OTT  Play

Whether it be the cinema like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga or Kapoor and Sons or OTT shows like Made in Heaven, Sacred Games, 377 Ab Normal – online content creation has seen a major boost in becoming inclusive.

But has the execution been right? “It has been a commendable one”, exclaimed Khazanchi. “Shows, like Made in Heaven, were becoming the voice of the marginalized and ill-treated group- in a small but significant way. More and more such conversation will normalize the situation.”

Films, series, and other mass entertainment mediums are vehicles to influence society at large. Aparna Acharekar, Programming Head, ZEE5 India shared, “Curating and releasing  377 अब Normal was our way of representing the various facets of the struggle the LGBTQ community went through and how, after much hustle, they triumphed. The story has been inspired by true events.”

ZEE5 is also set to exclusively premiere an Indian feature film A Tribute to Rituparno Ghosh: Season’s Greetings. The film will raise awareness about acceptance of same-sex relationships and the lives of LGBTQIA people in India. “As responsible content producers, we are inclusive and do not differentiate against people on the basis of caste, gender, sexual preferences, etc. In fact, with a lot of myths about the community being busted, most content exploring the topic with serious intent has been handled very sensitively,” she added.

Meanwhile, Naithani is of the view that content creation is getting from caricaturist to somewhat close to reality. Ek Ladki ko Dekha was a good attempt for example. She thinks that the major problem with any portrayal or story is that they want to say a lot and cover all the talking points leading to confusion. We need to look beyond sex and coming out as themes of these portrayals.

Inclusion is more important than the mere portrayal of the community.  According to Manchanda, one of the best examples is Sacred Games, Ganesh Gaitonde who has been idolized by millennials on social media, who is also Pan-sexual, not to forget his love interest Kuku, who played a transgender, one of the most important roles in the series.

However, Dooj Ramchandani, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Blink Digital begged to differ. He explained that there’s a term in the fashion industry called “Fast Fashion”, which typically refers to inexpensive clothing produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. A critical definition adds that fast fashion is not only about moving from runway to retail but also from consumer to garbage.

“A lot of what OTT content platforms do is what I would like to call “Fast Content”, where content is basically created in response to the latest consumer trends. I believe inclusion is just another trend they leverage and therefore another opportunity for content providers to tap into until the next one arrives,” he quipped.

While it is quite evident that sincere efforts have been taken by both worlds in declaring their support to the LGBTQ+ community, there are gaps that still need to be filled.