How Queerphobia & Misinformation Stifle LGBTQ+ Safe Spaces Online
From discrimination to violence, real danger of online hate against LGBTQ+ community lies in repercussions offline.
Panchali Kar, a theatre practitioner and gender rights activist, who identifies as a non-binary person, has had to deal with misinformation for years now.
Kar’s photo, from a pride-walk in Kolkata, has been falsely shared out-of-context, labelling her as a ‘progressive JNU student protesting against the Hindu culture.’
The Quint’s WebQoof team had debunked the claim in a fact-check, where Kar clarified that they are neither affiliated to JNU nor were they protesting against the Hindu culture.
“Their primary motive is to shame. They want to intimidate and shame gender minorities so that they cannot be who they are and stand up for their causes,” Kar asserts.
The LGBTQ+ community may have won a huge battle in 2018, when the Supreme Court decriminalised same-sex relationships. But the community’s fight for acceptance, equality, and inclusion still goes on.
Misinformation-fuelled by queerphobic sentiments and pre-existing notions, especially online and sometimes in mainstream media, are making online spaces increasingly toxic and unsafe.
And they are not the only ones to have faced online hate. The cases are in multitudes and speak of everything from abuse to doxxing.
Hate, Fuelled by Misinformation, Gets Amplified Online
Misconceptions arising from a lack of understanding about the community were abundant even before the internet. Historically, queerphobia has sought to oppress members of the community from speaking out, but it has amplified in the recent times.
“I have hate comments and direct messages pouring in from a group of Hindu nationalist extremists that I have to block almost every day,” says Meera, a 21-year-old trans woman.
She has been subjected to hate comments on social media and even dating platforms, often led-on by transphobic misconceptions that either seek to fetishise or disregard her identity because it’s ‘against their culture.’
“It’s sad, harassing and exhausting but also at times it gets a little amusing, given how their masculinity gets offended by a woman, let alone an unconventional woman.”Meera
She feels that these men find it easier to spread hate rather than having a mature and logical conversation, where everyone is allowed to articulate their points and discuss.
“They are not ready to do that, they are just pouring their hatred towards me, attacking my identity, my trans-ness. The fact that I am trans becomes the focal point. How dare I open my mouth?”Meera
This goes on to show that trans identity is still used as an abuse.
It doesn’t end there. Facebook posts trolling political opponents or religious identities often use ‘kinnar’ or ‘hijara’ as an abuse to attack the ‘other.’
‘Cures’ for Homosexuality and Queers
This hate manifests itself from misinformation, including claims like ‘queerness is a disease or disorder’ that must be treated. A post on Facebook claims that ‘homosexuality is not accepted’ and insinuates that acceptance of the queer community increases chances of sexual assaults in the society. It then goes on to say that preachings by a ‘Sant Rampal Maharaj’ can rid us of this ‘problem.’
Equal rights activist Harish Iyer had come across a similar quack in an advertisement on Hindustan Times in 2018, in which a ‘cosmic healer’ sought to ‘cure gay and lesbians.’
“He blamed the electromagnetic radiation by towers set up by mobile phone companies for turning me gay, considering that I am an avid user of the mobile phone,” writes Iyer in an article for The Quint.
Hindustan Times had responded to Iyer’s tweet, stating that the “official editorial position” of the newspaper on homosexuality is clear in their reportage and editorials that “there should be zero discrimination and absolute equality.” They would also investigate how such a classified ad had ‘slipped in.’
Speaking to this reporter, Iyer asserts that such offers for conversion therapy are worrying because they are exploitative and built on a false narrative.
“The American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organisation have delisted homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. There’s nothing to cure,” he says.
“It exists because there are people willing to buy it. Making money out of prejudice is one of the most lucrative businesses. Whenever society forces a diktat on a person, it becomes a goldmine for revenue.”Harish Iyer
The Quint had also done a sting in 2016 on Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Chikitsalaya, spreading misleading claims that homosexuality is a mental disorder and can be ‘cured.’
Online Hate & Offline Violence
From inciting discrimination to promoting violence, the more real danger of online hate lies in its repercussions offline.
Megha Sheth, a counsellor psychologist, recalls an incident of doxxing with a client, whose information was hacked through WhatsApp. “They were blackmailed into giving those hackers money and cops had to be involved. Online hate and cases of violence have definitely increased.”
Echoing her thoughts, Iyer shares how, over the years, he has received death threats and violent messages because he has been out on social media platforms.
“Death threats have gone down now, but I still get hate messages. They are mostly from religious fundamentalists – Hindus, Christians, or Muslims. I think queer unites all religions; they are all against it,” Iyer says in a lighter vein.
However, as Meera asserts, the fight is not against religion, but against oppression, which exists on the pretext of religion.
Drawing parallels between discrimination of gender minorities and lower-castes, and the acts of violence inflicted upon them, she says, “Lower-caste women, trans women and even sex-workers for that matter are considered loose women – they are easy to get to.”
She further argues that this necessitates a dismantling of the Brahminical patriarchy on which the Hindu religion rests, and in order to do so, “we need to stop glorifying toxic-masculine figures and idols.”
She also acknowledges that her ideas are ‘radical’ and may hurt the religious sentiments of someone, but she reiterates that her fight is not against religion. It’s against the use of religion as a ‘political tool’ to justify oppression of certain sections of the society.
Examples of attempts of such oppression are abundant on social media. The Facebook post below contests that India decriminalised Article 377 under the influence of the western civilisation, and how it will ultimately result in a society devoid of traditional families, which is against the Indian culture.
One can find several Facebook pages against sexual minorities even in the so-called ‘West,’ relying on vague and selective verses from the Bible to attack the community.
However, in their community standard guidelines, Facebook maintains a strict policy against hate speech and removes any content, which attacks anyone’s sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity.
But, in line with such policies, doesn’t the existence of such pages – that specifically speak against the LGBTQ+ community – goes against what the platform’s stance of providing safe space online?
Lack of Acceptance Can Trigger Depression, Anxiety
Online queerphobia is said to have had negative impact on people’s mental health.
“There are feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, depression and lot of anxiety surrounding it. Members of the LGBTQ+ community can have issues with trust. If nine out of 10 people have not accepted you, how can you trust the eleventh person?” Sheth says.
Sheth also adds that depression and anxiety can lead to a risk of suicide.
“If you feel that nothing’s going to change you assume that killing yourself is the last resort,” she states, highlighting the significance of acceptance and safe spaces.
The marginalisation in case of the LGBTQ+ community is amplified when discrimination against them intersects with class, caste and gender, she adds.
What can mitigate such risks? Meera argues that social media platforms must ensure that their policies give access to a safe online space.
“In regards to our own personal security, when it comes to messages and the information that is being shared by third-party clients, how can we trust them? Are these capitalist platforms making them safe for marginalised identities? That is what we need to work towards,” she says.
Iyer suggests an anti-discrimination law, a strong legislation where discrimination against queers can land you in jail.
As members of the LGBTQ+ community push for equality, acceptance, and minimising the false narratives that exist in the society, finding spaces to express without fear of hate and trolling becomes imperative to their journey.
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