In conversation with people from the LGBTQIA+ community, we try and understand their outlook towards the inclusivity & acceptance of the community on social media & marketing campaigns.
From not having a sense of belonging due to lack of representation, to experiencing bullying & harassment, till dying by suicide, the LGBTQIA+ community still faces discrimination & hate despite portions of Section 377 being decriminalized.
We reached out to citizens from the community to gain perspective and look at the world through their eyes, especially the social media world, the inclusiveness it offers, and the representation of the community in marketing, as brands are prominent voices in social conversations.
In conversation with:
Anwesh Sahoo, Mr. Gay World India 2016, Model, Illustrator & a TEDx Speaker
Praanee Chandrasegaram, a graduate in Psychology, studying Mental Health & Addictions
Jesmin Ahmed, an Artist & Photographer
Maitrayanee Mahanta, Content Writer & Scholar in History
Nilay Joshi a.k.a Miss Bhenji, a Drag Queen who has performed at events such as Rangeela Toronto
Vinay Verma aka Vinzey, Vice President, AIQA(Delhi NC), a Queer Union working for Human Rights
Poornima Sukumar, Founder, Aravani Art Project, who shares inputs on behalf of the collective – working to embrace the Transgender Community through Visual Arts
Pride Month – An Initiative Or A Topical Trend?
It has been observed that several people on social media support the community when the topic is talked about or is trending, say during the Pride Month, and then go back to being insensitive about it, or only show support during this time. We sought thoughts from the community if this observation stands true.
Vinay shares, “I won’t say the discussion of issues is amplified during Pride month by everyone on social media, it may be more visible, during this month, but the discussion still remains confined to the NGOs the activists and the sections of people who had a history in same”.
Jesmin says the practice of queerbaiting is nothing new and feels it has taken a massive form on social media platforms. “Gay culture has been treated as an SEO trend right around the time of Pride Month. There is far more than brands, media platforms can do to actually support the queer community than rainbow-washing their logos for a month”.
Maitrayanee shares an instance where she witnessed a cisgender straight person sharing a picture with their significant other with ‘Queer’ & ‘Trans’ GIFs on their Instagram Story to get more views. “People act as allies but are unaware of the consequences their actions might bring, in the process”.
Poornima reckons there are waves of rage about queer, trans, and (in general) the gender politics when there is a hype in trend, and a lot of people from the communities are fighting against the capitalism of Pride.
She adds, “I don’t think people understand that the actual work, on-ground work is one of the most unexplainable, and of course a rewarding (aspect).”
Anwesh says a lot of YouTubers and influencers want to paint an inclusive picture by sharing links to NGOs & more but just put up a facade and not do anything substantial. People who really want to help should reach out to the community and understand them first.
Nilay shares she has been a Drag performer since 2008 and has observed that during the Pride month, suddenly people realize that Miss Behnji, Drag, gays, and Trans people exist, and they all want to talk to her to keep the trending topic active.
Has Decriminalization of portions of 377 helped?
Poornima mentions a large percentage of social media users and on other mediums have become more accepting; it has created a space for communities to raise concerns. But discrimination and systemic inequality still exists. “Digitally slurring, trolling and other ways of abuse still takes place. Yet, the voices and social conversations are becoming powerful, globally”.
Maitrayanee shares the positive shift brought is in the social attitudes, it enabled a lot of people to come out of their closets. Although some parts of society acknowledge the community, some still stigmatize them.”We need to understand and educate such sets of people. It’s high time!”
Jesmin says she hasn’t seen much of a change other than people knowing it isn’t illegal anymore, and people pretend to be woke but in zero efforts to know the community. “They go from ‘I am not homophobic’ to ‘it’s my choice’ in 10 seconds. The saddest part is that so-called influencers who have the power to affect collective thinking, post content relating to the LGBTQIA+ community in an attempt to seem supportive simply end up misgendering/misrepresenting LGBTQ folks, out of sheer ignorance”.
Anwesh thinks social media behavior has not been positive in the last few days, it may also be because more people have access to the internet now.
He recalls, when his story was covered back in 2014, he didn’t receive any negative comments on social media, but he got several hateful comments in a recent Live session.
Nilay shares the media representation has changed, people are supporting the community on a public forum, they were probably backing down earlier.
The community feels safer because there is no opposing rule that says ‘Your sexuality is illegal’. “The exchange of information since September 2018 (around the community) has been more transparent, and it has definitely affected me and the community members in a lot of ways”, she adds.
Pride-Related Social Media Features
During the Pride month, social media platforms launch Pride-themed filters, emojis, GIFs, rainbow-colored hashtags, and more, but do these features have a practical function?
Anwesh says somewhere down the line it brings representation and conversation. People have reached out to him on Instagram asking ‘How did you get the rainbow circle around your picture?’ or ‘Where are these cute-looking Instagram stickers? We want to use them’.
He adds, “I don’t think there is any problem with it, but I do feel, there has to be more to it than just rainbow hashtags, we have to contribute to the NGOs who are working for these marginalized communities”.
Vinay says somewhere down the line yes, “But making distinctive style of emojis and hashtags and such things which depicts difference end up coming out as patriarchal anyway”.
Jesmin points out that queer rights are often discussed in the context of ‘love’ and hashtags like #loveislove have been widely used and also exploited, but rights flow from the virtue of being human and the inherent dignity. “Although #loveislove is true, a queer person doesn’t have to be in a loving relationship for them to deserve rights”.
Nilay believes that while many still don’t understand the purpose of the hashtag with many colors, one practical function it has is that ‘Maybe its easier for people to find the LGBTQIA+ community with those hashtags. “Also, it is cute to look at that rainbow-colored hashtag”.
Coming Out on Social Media
Coming out on social media and expressing one’s identity and sexual orientation on a more public platform has been a practice witnessed by many. With the moment being a milestone with many additional ties, what is it like coming out on social media?
Praanee shares the first time they indicated they are queer was with a picture standing in front of a wall in Toronto that said “Gay & Proud”, but didn’t publicly speak about their experiences until the beginning of this year.
They add, “I made a post on Instagram with a caption about my experiences as a queer Tamil womxn living in Markham, Ontario”. This post spread to more people than just their friends and garnered a lot of attention.
Vinay shares he has been open on Instagram since he made his account, and came out on Facebook a few years ago. He did not expect it to go smooth but got several compliments from friends, but bullies from school talked about it behind his back.
Nilay shares she has been very open about her sexuality on social media since the age of 19-20. People have been supportive, some have disagreed, some have come up to her saying, “How are you writing about this so openly?” But she has maintained that it is her profile and she can do whatever she wants with it, and if one doesn’t agree with it, they have the option to unfollow or unfriend her.
Social media has been used to amplify concern for issues, show support, and come together but several also face abuse and hate. So how accepting has the social media circle been towards the community?
Maitrayanee says she is glad that society has been amazingly accepting towards her, and she has never received any sorts of abuse. “The love that people shower upon us, on a daily basis, is so overwhelming and we can’t ever thank them enough!”
Speaking in regards to the Aravani Art Project platform, Poornima says the collective has received a lot of love and support. “The art is sometimes more powerful than who did it, which is somehow what we as a collective strive for”.
Praanee shares they have been fortunate to have received a lot of positive and accepting responses on social media. But they mention a few instances when they received homophobic or invalidating comments. “It’s frustrating getting comments like these because we shouldn’t have to prove our queer identities to people to be taken seriously as queer South Asians”.
Vinay shares he surrounds himself with people who are understanding and open, even if they’re not, his sexuality never affected relationships much. But a few times a person has followed him with a shady mindset to message inappropriate things. “That’s not hate but it’s still the ugly side of love”.
Jesmin too says she surrounds herself with people who treat her with love, respect, and dignity both in real and reel life. But once in a while, she has had people who slide in her DMs with negativity. “But that’s when I pray to God to cure their homophobia”.
Anwesh shares it has been equal parts good, bad, and ugly. He has previously seen good comments, but recently he has seen very demeaning and abusive comments on (for example) his YouTube videos, which he thinks anybody shouldn’t have to deal with, and not everybody can be thick-skinned, although the queer community grows up being thick-skinned.
Nilay says it’s pretty straight-forward for her, few like her and few don’t. And she only cares about the ones that do, and understand her art form.
She adds it is important to not focus on the negativity because it harms mental health and drains the brain. Nonetheless, there are always users who attempt to encroach personal boundaries. That’s when she would counter them by saying if it doesn’t stop she would screenshot the conversation and post it. “It’s so important to call out these people, so they learn to respect other people’s personal space”.
Representation of the LGBTQIA+ Community in Marketing Campaigns
Few brands are inclusive and support the community, but campaigns need more authentic involvement. Love stories in campaigns mainly remain male-female oriented, and several misrepresent them, opine the speakers.
Praanee thinks some campaigns genuinely try to support, but Pride is commonly used as a marketing tactic. These brands give an image of acceptance, “but have gone on to support homophobic and transphobic initiatives & people in power”.
Maitrayanee believes brands need to be more inclusive, by having an understanding of them. Nilay too feels brands do not show the diversity of couples from different backgrounds and few only show LGBTQIA+ related topics which is benefitting them.
Jesmin shares brands need to go further, queer voices don’t need appreciation but need to be acknowledged. “Support the community throughout the year – donate to more queer organizations, hire more queer actors, amplify more queer voices”.
Anwesh points the Vicks’ campaign featuring Gauri Tai was empowering, but representation in media lacks in general. He further adds non-binary, intersex individuals are not portrayed enough, and fem gay men are often portrayed as sexually-deprived or harassers instead of powerful or beautiful.
Poornima shares that there is a need to create a space for training people from the community to represent themselves.
Poornima, Anwesh, and Vinay believe that involvement from the community in executing these campaigns, will give the brands a better understanding and form more authentic and factually correct narratives.
Vinay feels the reality is already hard for the general public to acknowledge, and advertising has the power to mobilize the masses. “I hope the advertisement companies have something better and more authentic to depict”.