When straight people commit crimes, their sexuality is not the focus. Why is the same rule not applied to queer people?

Man on gay dating app loots priest Tamil media goes after entire LGBTQI communityImage for representation.
news Media Sunday, December 03, 2017 - 16:23

The Kerala police is investigating a tricky case: A duo from Chennai robbed a priest in Kerala who had invited them to his house. Hemanth and Sudhan drugged the priest and made away with Rs 1.5 lakh cash, a digital camera, laptop and other valuables, according to The Hindu. One of the duo, the police found, has been using an app to target gay men, and has reportedly followed this modus operandi to rob at least 20 people.

When the Tamil media covered the case, however, it became less about the crime itself, and more about LGBTQI+ community – with unnecessary details about the vulnerable community, vilifying comments, and even comparisons to the Blue Whale game!

Understandably, the LGBTQI+ community in Tamil Nadu is upset with the media coverage, and have called in unnecessarily sensational and completely irresponsible.

“We have conducted sensitisation programmes for the media for the last 20 years – from reporters to editors, we have spoken to everyone. And yet, this is what they have done. It’s very saddening,” says Sharan Karthik Raj, one of the moderators of TamilNadu LGBTIQ Movement.

There are multiple problems with the coverage by Tamil media in this case. Firstly, a newspaper decided to disclose the places where queer people usually meet, leading to fear that the community may be targeted by the police and/or the public.

Deepan Kannan, an LGBTQI+ activist from Chennai says that such disclosure could lead to hate crimes. “There is definitely a risk that people could be targeted,” he tells TNM. “Already, there is a lot of femmephobia (the hatred and fear of anything feminine.) I’m afraid gay men may be targeted more because of such reportage.”

“This particular Tamil newspaper described gay men in a very insulting way – speaking about their accessories and equating them to women. The English version of the same paper however was very sensitive in its coverage. So what are they trying to do? Are they trying to say that they can sell to Tamil readers only by insulting us and sensationalising the issue? That’s quite condescending,” Deepan adds.

Another newspaper decided to compare the dating app allegedly used by the accused to Blue Whale, the suicide ‘game’ targeting vulnerable teenagers.

“They quoted a ‘cyber crime expert’ to claim that the dating app – and many others including some chatting apps! – were misleading youngsters just like Blue Whale. It further says that ‘family women’ are being lured by such apps. I feel hurt by such reports,” says Sharan.

“There are so many men and women who have been cheated on apps like Facebook too. So do you go around asking for banning of Facebook?” asks Deepan.

A consistent demand of the community is that they should be addressed by the terms they choose. While the Tamil media has used the term orinacheyarkaiyalar – which roughly translates to people indulging in same sex behaviour – the community has been asking that they use the term oru paal eerpu instead, referring to sexual orientation.

But by refusing to do so, the media is insisting on making queer relationships only about sex, the community says.

Sharan and Deepan also point out that it is not even clear whether the men accused of robbing the priest were gay, or just using the dating app in question to target victims.

“Let me ask you, if a party worker kills someone, will the police automatically go and arrest the leaders of that party? So why is it that is a person believed to a part of the LGBTQI+ community commits a crime, the entire community is targeted?” Sharan asks. “Already, Section 377 is making us vulnerable,” he says.

“If it was a straight man who committed this crime, would the media even get into his sexuality?” Deepan asks.

“My request is to media and law enforcement is to look at a crime as a criminal case. I don't think the identity matters here. Law enforcement should be more sensitive. They can't look at these cases with homophobic, transphobic, patriarchal lens,” Deepan adds.

“It's their duty to protect us also, they cannot use this as an opportunity to harass us,” he says.

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