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Marginalization to Inclusion: Media’s Role in the LGBTQIA+ Movement - Helan Maria Cyrill

A recent article in The Hindu shed light on the gay pride and tolerance parade held in Jerusalem, which Hamas referred to as “the parade of perverts.” Jerusalem, a country deeply rooted in various religious ideologies, hosted the parade. LGBTQIA+ was a largely alien concept to the people of the country a few years ago. The digital era has created a space for them to represent themselves and draw out their presence, challenging the orthodox constraints prevalent across the country.

Media plays a crucial role in shaping our perceptions, broadening our worldviews, promoting inclusivity, and influencing different aspects of our lives. Despite a long-standing legacy of discrimination and criminalization against queer individuals, humankind has successfully transformed the narrative, leading to the creation of a significantly more inclusive world for everyone to inhabit. We have witnessed a significant change in the way we view LGBTQIA+ individuals in the past few decades.

The inception of social media and its wide usage in the 21st century have, in many different ways, accelerated the transformation of people’s views on different gender identities and sexual orientations. Popular brands like Pantene and Vicks, widely recognised by the general public, have initiated a change by featuring transgender characters in their commercials, igniting a new beginning. These commercials demonstrate the acknowledgement of a diverse range of people with various sexual orientations and gender identities, promoting inclusivity and representation. They effectively serve as a powerful medium to embrace and celebrate the diversity of the human experience.

Mainstream newspapers like The Hindu, Times of India, BBC, etc. have shed light on the advancements of LGBTQIA+ rights, legal battles, pride parades, and even changes in legislation like the decriminalisation of homosexuality and marriage equality. Repression of individuals for their sexuality is one of the most barbaric acts we could inflict upon our fellow human beings. Non-heteronormative identities were considered a mental disorder back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The mid-20th century saw the rise of LGBTQIA+ activism, which gave them a voice and empowered them to advocate for the equality and rights that they truly deserved.

A few years ago, various newspapers extensively covered the annulment of Article 377, which was a hard-fought victory for LGBTQIA+ individuals and will always remain carved in our history, thus decriminalising gay sex. The lawyer duo Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy, the pioneers of the successful annulment of Section 377 that dismantled the discriminatory laws, actively participated in various media discussions, educating the public about their arduous struggle and victory. These discussions strike a chord with tens of thousands of individuals who have spent their entire lives concealing their true identities, burdened by feelings of shame and fear.

They conveyed the fundamental message that the love you feel for an individual shouldn’t be the reason for a person to be subjected to imprisonment and be classified as a criminal. Love is the most humane and primitive emotion that touches the core of our being, and this triumph ensures that every single individual possesses the very basic and inherent right to love whoever they choose and engage in consensual relationships irrespective of societal barriers like gender, sexuality, or religion.

The media has provided LGBTQIA individuals with a platform for expression and discussion, empowering their marginalized voices to come to the forefront and speak for their rights. A recent article brought into focus the creation of a glossary of terms to address LBTQIA+ individuals upon the Madras High Court order, thus eliminating the sickening and derogatory terms by which the community has been referred to for decades. Journalism covering the advancements or issues faced by queer individuals expands the boundaries of the mind of an average Indian reading the newspaper every day.

Around two years ago, the brand BHIMA launched an advertisement campaign for their prominent South Indian jewellery that immediately grabbed my attention. This advertisement surpassed the conventional format of jewellery ads, which typically showcase a heterosexual woman wearing the brand’s jewellery on her wedding day. Instead, this advertisement portrayed the inspiring journey of a transgender person (played by a transwoman actor) as she underwent a transition from a man to a woman, while highlighting the unwavering support her family provided throughout the process. The advertisement beautifully culminated with her embracing her true identity on her wedding day, adorned with the brand’s jewellery, symbolising the realisation of her long-held desires.

This groundbreaking commercial holds immense significance as it reaches a predominantly middle- and lower-middle-class audience through daily television, many of whom may have limited exposure to unconventional ideas and perspectives. This advertisement challenges societal norms by presenting an inclusive narrative that may not align with their existing beliefs. A small advertisement like this, representing the character of a marginalised class as the lead model, can infuse thoughts and questions in the minds of the audience, thus creating a space for expression and discussion on an important issue that must be further explored and talked about.

Regardless of one’s identity or sexuality, every single individual should have the basic human right to love and be loved. Acceptance and love should prevail over any sort of discrimination. Media has evolved a lot over the years, created significant changes, and managed to improve the lives of LGBTQIA+ people through increased representation. However, there is still a need to strive further and harness its potential to contribute to building a far more inclusive society.

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