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How Media Insensitively Used A ‘Romeo-Juliet’ Analogy For A Lesbian Couple’s Suicide

Posted on September 1, 2016 in Cake News, LGBTQ

By Cake Staff:

There are the usual faux pas when it comes to reporting on LGBTQ people, from misgendering to using unacceptable vocabulary. And these have cropped up once more as the news of a lesbian couple’s attempted suicide broke yesterday.

The incident, which took place after the couple was spotted together at Mumbai’s famous Marine Drive, proves yet again what perilous lives LGBTQ people lead on Indian soil.

The families of the couple began meddling in their lives, threatening and issuing ultimatums to them. Things escalated when Kishore Gawand confronted his daughter about her relationship, and then went after her partner as well. He even involved a local politician, Mahendra Nagte, by calling his daughter’s partner to Nagte’s office and quarrelling with her there. Faced with this sort of clamp down, one of these young women downed a bottle of phenyl. She survived, but her partner, who had hung herself, did not.

But even as the police did its job with due diligence, booking Gawand and Nagte, the way that the story was carried raises a number of issues with how we respond to an incident like this, and how that response ties up directly with the way our society maligns LGBTQ people.

For this particular case, Indiatimes ran the story with this title:

Mumbai Lesbian Couple Attempts Suicide After Family Spot Them Together In Beach, One Dies.

HuffingtonPost, which had the presence of mind to change the names of the two women, also used a standard title:

Forbidden To See Each Other, Mumbai Lesbian Couple Attempts Suicide; One Dies.

However, Mid-Day publicized sensitive information about them, and chose this title:

Heartbroken ‘Juliet’ hangs self after her girlfriend drinks poison.”

One might like to believe the analogy of Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers is a good attempt at describing same-sex love in India. But it really isn’t.

It simply resorts to heterosexuality’s most tired cliche, without really looking at why realities are especially harsh for queer people in a country that clings to old laws like Section 377. And his has always been the narrative – of same-sex love couched in absolute tragedy. It’s a narrative that is so pervasive you see it even in “progressive” media that actually acknowledges queer people exist. It is also becoming clearer and clearer that real life violence against LGBTQ people, and the violence of erasure, misrepresentation or even no representation in our media have both been feeding into each other.

This signals a dangerous time for LGBTQ people, who perhaps previously slipped under the cracks, and went unnoticed. Even as media houses try to prove their sensitivity towards the community, things continue to be amiss, things continue to look more sensational than human That isn’t to say that conversations building awareness are actually training a spotlight on queer Indians. But maybe it’s time to train the spotlight on people who built this atmosphere of fear and hate and violence.