No Mr. Agrawal, pronouns are neither an illness nor a political ideology, but your hatred is

How the queer community became a scapegoat for a rich person’s marketing campaign in India

If one follows news or LinkedIn, one might be aware of the transphobic rant that a cab-hailing services company’s CEO went on about the usage of pronouns. It seems like a meltdown from someone ignorant when AI referred to them as – they, a pronoun often used to describe someone whose pronouns are not clear, used in describing plurality too. This is an educational post and a clapback to the cheap marketing tactics used by companies to promote their new products while making marginalized sections their scapegoats.

“All publicity is good publicity” – Phineas T Barnum, a circus owner

Image via news 18

The post started with a rant about the use of LinkedIn’s AI tool being accused of “Imposing an ideology on Indian users” by Bhavish Agarwal on his LinkedIn. The AI tool uses neutral pronouns when the pronouns are not visible on one’s LinkedIn profile. However, Mr. Agrawal took it upon himself to exaggerate this and make it an agenda for their marketing tactics. Bhavish went on to say that “pronouns are an illness” The post tried to call pronouns a political ideology and an illness was well received by the conservative section of society which is often transphobic and homophobic at their workplaces and educational institutions. If one may look deeply, many influencers have also tried to attack the LGBTQIA+ community by creating fear among people and trying to use words like “woke agenda”, and “wokeism”. The question arises if using pronouns is being woke then how come the cis heterosexual section of society functions while using pronouns correctly for cis het individuals? This heterosexual man had a meltdown because instead of “he/him” the AI tool used “they/them” but in the same post he is seen mocking those who are often misgendered, and discriminated. To damage control, he later posted some initiatives but his rampant transphobia was not hidden as he complained about his post being removed.

Myth Busting : Being queer isn’t a western ideology

One often asks – what’s the big deal? The real question is why it is made a big deal by heterosexuals or “straight” people when someone tells them what their pronouns are. Often, it is treated as something laughable with not only Linked In but also apps like Instagram being flooded with “I identify as a helicopter” sort of crass jokes to demean the queer community.

“Most of us in India have no clue about the politics of this pronoun illness. People do it because it’s become expected in our corporate culture, especially MNCs. Better to send this illness back where it came from. Our culture has always had respect for all. No need for new pronouns.” stated Agrawal. But is being queer a western concept? It is not. India always had queer people, they were part of the society but were not treated well. Calling queer community an illness does more harm than good. But with the number of conservative leaders increasing in India, this has become a trend, i.e. to bash queer community as it ensures good responses from conservative and right-wing individuals.

Creating rhetoric that a community is an outcome of western or foreign influences has remained an integral part of divisive politics and politics of hate. When one starts to demonize a community, often it is also treated as a foreign element to begin the “othering”. It sends a larger message that the marginalized group does not belong to the society that they exist in and shall be uprooted and outcasted. Not only the queer community but many other marginalized sections in Indian society face the same. Either they are told that they are migrants or they are told that they are not Indian enough. In the case of the LGBTQIA+ community in India, they are told that they are influenced by the west. This othering creates a sense of “us vs them” to further divide the society. Bhavish not only stigmatised the community for the sake of creating a stir but also tried to use the LGBTQIA+ community’s discrimination for his advantage by pushing the agenda that they are not Indian, their existence is not valid and further creating more discriminatory behaviors to endorse his product tools.

It is a very common tactic of politicians and businessmen to create a divide in society for their benefit. His message was clear – queer people are not ours, they are western, the app is western, and we should have our products and apps where queer people cannot exist. This was echoed by numerous followers and news portals to create a wave. No paper covered him being transphobic but they covered his post being removed to help him gain sympathy. Similar events occur when right-leaning groups in the west harass queer individuals and are asked for accountability. They victimize themselves and gain support via the sympathy of other right-leaning individuals and groups. This is done for various reasons including expansion of business, political support, gaining social media followers, causing controversy for individual gains.

The queer community has faced persecution across the world. In India, having queer rights is seen as decolonizing for the community. The LGBTQIA+ suffered since the British colonial rule due to the imposition of laws that banned them. Instead of bashing a community that has been suffering for generations, many people like Bhavish try to use misinformation and stigma towards the community to further their profits. With Ola electric facing severe losses in FY23 and further complications, this publicity stunt seems like a gimmick to gain some support.

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