In a historic judgement on September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, ushering in a new era of social equality and individual freedom. While the decriminalisation of Section 377 was a victory for the LGBTQ community, the larger issue at hand is that members are still marginalised as social outcasts.
Most of the LGBTQ community is still living a life of discrimination with constant worry about how their choices may impact their loved ones and themselves. Today, the LGBTQ community across the world has been striving for one goal that most of us take for granted: Acceptance. Major life moves like renting a home, finding a job, or even celebrating a milestone as a couple are frowned upon.
“Change Begins Here”
What could we do? “Change begins here” is not just the tagline of Times of India (TOI) but a philosophy. We looked at the oldest section of the newspaper, the classified column. It is one that concerns itself with life, death, birth, jobs, matrimony, and property listings — issues that concern members of LGBTQ community as well.
Newspaper classifieds are the bedrock of a city’s thriving local businesses and are considered the legitimate place to announce key milestones in a person’s life. Notices there would serve as the perfect reminder to humanity that there’s more to connect us than divide us.
Could we use the newspaper classifieds to confer the legitimacy to the LGBTQ community that has always struggled with acceptance in the society?
Times Out & Proud
So, on International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia (IDAHOT), we launched the campaign Times Out & Proud with a special classifieds section available free of cost to the LGBTQ community.
With this campaign, we hoped to carve out a mainstream space for members of the community who identify as LGBTQ to interact, share, and collaborate with the entire Indian population. As a part of the campaign, we invited the LGBTQ community to share their stories with the newspaper — their highs and lows, their celebrations, their announcements, their milestones, etc. These stories were featured in our specially designed Out & Proud classified section and were carried free of cost through the two-month campaign period.
The campaign film launched on TOI’s digital platform portrays a captivating story of people from the LGBTQ community and their families who have been living with the hope of an inclusive world. The film offers a sneak peek into the lives of the people who have endured societal discrimination as they pour their hearts out in the classifieds columns. It urges the families and friends of the LGBTQ community to extend their support to their loved ones.
The initiative, Times Out & Proud, was conceptualised as a series of initiatives across print, digital, TV, radio, and on-ground. Through various content, interactions, and activations, the campaign hoped to integrate the LGBTQ community into the mainstream and raise awareness of their issues. The concept of gender-fluidity is not easily accepted or even understood by many. We live in a world where everyone is presumed to be heterosexual (or straight).
A significant portion of society believes everyone should comfortably fit into a male or female gender bracket. Well, that’s not true. We will never know the exact size of the LGBTQ community in India because of the stigma attached to it that keeps many from coming out. But we do know that more people are extending their support to the pride movement, and more members of the LGBTQ community are coming out. The lack of understanding is one of the key reasons for confusion, fear, and hate leading to low acceptance and alienation of the community.
Opportunity for celebration
With our voice being a powerful tool to address the issue at hand, this was an opportunity, an outlet and platform where people could share their coming out stories or tell the world about an anniversary with a same-sex partner. The campaign offers the perfect opportunity to celebrate this community, allowing people to show support for an LGBTQ friend or relative via a story in 50 words.
Launched as an innovative ad-unit of reverse-flap-jacket, the TOI national front page boldly captured the classified story of a gay couple celebrating their 11th anniversary for first-time-ever LGBTQ feature coverage in mainstream advertising. The newspaper’s masthead was also changed to The Times of Pride instead of The Times of India.
On Independence Day, TOI hosted “Right to Freedom of LGBTQ” as a debate on national television. Articles and pride parades debated the rights to marriage, inheritance and adoption and addressed discriminatory practices in housing, employment, etc. NGOs, politicians, academicians, national award-winning actors and directors, LGBTQ activists, and sports medalists joined the conversation, pointing out the need to revisit age-old laws.
And most importantly, our newspaper published more than 300 stories of coming out celebrations, looking for a partner, looking for accommodation, and just general support for a friend. It takes great courage to publish your coming out story in national media, and we are proud that we could provide a safe space for people to publish theirs.
The LGBTQ community has always had a place in our hearts, now they have a space in our newspaper.