By Prarthana Mitra
Back in 1994, in his award-winning novel Funny Boy, gay author Shyam Selvadurai recounted his ordeals growing up and coming out in Sri Lanka. Last month, comedian Hannah Gadsby moved the world with her new Netflix special Nanette, sticking her sore thumb on queerness perceived as an abnormality in Tasmania.
Both these artists moved out of their homeland in search of a more liberating space where they could forge an identity and alliance.
As India stands on the eve of a historic Section 377 hearing, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the pressing need for safe and inclusive spaces, both online and offline. Creation and reclamation of such spaces alone can keep the dialogue alive, and help the LGBTQ+ community raise awareness, dispel taboos and enjoy visibility and interaction. With the Delta app going live in June, India got its first homegrown app and networking platform for the country’s queer folk, which seeks to provide a space for celebration, representation, and liberation.
Imagine Tinder but gayer, safer and more inclusive. And with a greater cause.
LGBTQ+ rights activist and founder Ishaan Sethi, 27, wishes to address the non-legal aspects of homosexuality in India, leaving Section 377 to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. For instance, the team behind this initiative is already working with healthcare professionals for queer individuals (HPQI), and with other stakeholders like medical professionals, mental health professionals, and legal experts, for a holistic change in society’s attitude and for protection of gay rights.
Striking at the roots of corporate responsibility
A key goal of the Delta Network is to help brands take up initiatives and adopt policies that drive greater LGBTQ+ inclusion, says Sethi.
With corporations eager to chip in for the cause, the Delta Network intends to make public places inclusive and free from discrimination. It already has over 100 sign-ups from various sectors, including brands such as the Lalit Group of Hotels, the Olive Group of restaurants, Urban Clap, MissMalini, a spokesperson said.
Any brand that wants to demonstrates their commitment to inclusion and enroll as part of the Delta Network, must take the Delta Equality Pledge which entails setting up gender-neutral bathrooms, sensitisation workshops for their staff and the immediate community.
Love is love is love is love
Another wing of the project, Delta Connect, enables members of the gay community to meet like-minded verified people. With transparency, trust and compatibility scores, Delta’s social networking app aims to address the grouse that a lot of people have against the “looks and location”-based apps popular today.
At present, Delta users answer a set of “questions that give the algorithm insights on their views on topics such as trust, love, intimacy, relationships, and shared interests” based on which, the app suggests compatible matches.
“I think the concept and execution of the app in itself is pretty fantastic,” 22-year-old transwoman model Taksh Sharma told Qrius, adding, “The user interface is slick, easy to use and provides you with three distinct networking options. The fact that they also have little lists of queer-friendly brands and eateries is pretty cool.”
On a more serious note, she said, “As a trans woman, navigating dating apps is always a bit of a challenge, but Delta has made a conscious choice to use language that IS more inclusive than other dating apps like Tinder. Also, the fact that they have a comprehensive system of verification for profiles is really important for the safety of queer people (especially in countries like ours). Profiles on dating apps ought to be thoroughly vetted to prevent predatory people from using the app to catfish people.”
After graduating from Brown University with a degree in economics and a brief stint in New York’s corporate world, Ishaan moved back to India in 2014, which is when he realised, as someone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he ought to address the rampant homophobia and the ignorance it stems from.
Mulling over his own experiences and those of others, the idea behind Delta began to take shape after a conversation with Sachin Bhatia, the man behind MakeMyTrip and TrulyMadly, which provided a safe and secure dating platform for women and was looking to create something similar for the LGBTQ+ community.
The elephant in the room
What the queer community needs today is correct representation in media, platforms to initiate a dialogue, healthcare benefits and anti-discriminatory laws at the workplace.
“While the legal landscape with section 377 still around is treacherous, there are a whole host of non-legal arena issues that need to be worked on and addressed too.” The obstacles that arise due to a lack of education, a lack of understanding, ignorance, dysphoria at the workplace, unfamiliarity with the LGBTQ community and societal beliefs can be tackled only through the medium of conversation, believes the young activist.
“We often discount the power of conversation, and in this case, I believe that having the right conversations that spread the right message and facts can yield incredibly powerful, positive steps on the path to inclusion,” he said, hoping to achieve just that with Delta.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius