How India's leading English paper put its brand behind LGBTQ acceptance

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Executives at the Times of India looked to classified, one of the newspaper's oldest sections, as a way in which they could help tackle social issues for the LGBTQ community following the historic 2018 court decision.

"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," say Sumeli Chatterjee and Alexander Valladares in an INMA Ideas post.

With its Out & Proud campaign - built around the idea of acceptance - The Times of India put the stature of its 'Change begins here' slogan behind the campaign.

"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. Major life moves like renting a home, finding a job, or even celebrating a milestone as a couple are frowned upon," they say.

The Out & Proud campaign was built around the idea of acceptance. And the classified column was the perfect place for it; 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."

Having taken a decision to use newspaper classifieds to confer the legitimacy to the LGBTQ community, on International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia (IDAHOT), the publisher launched the campaign Times Out & Proud with a special classifieds section available free of cost to the LGBTQ community.

A special classifieds section was available at no charge 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, and their milestones."

These stories were featured in a 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.

In their INMA post, Chatterjee and Valladares, who are the Times of India's brand vice president and national marketing lead for its metro supplements (respectively), say the concept of gender-fluidity is not easily accepted or even understood by many in India. "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."

The exact size of India's LGBTQ community will never be known 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," they say.

Using the paper's voice as a powerful tool 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, allowing people to show support for an LGBTQ friend or relative via a story in 50 words.

One ad told the story of a gay couple celebrating their anniversary.

The campaign was launched as a reverse-flap-jacket, with the TOI national front page capturing the classified story of a gay couple celebrating their 11th anniversary, the first time LGBTQ coverage had featured 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 areas such as housing and employment. NGOs, politicians, academicians, national award-winning actors and directors, LGBTQ activists, and sports medallists 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."

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