Gay men and lesbians experience cultural invisibility. They are routinely told that their innermost feelings and desires are disgusting, dangerous, just a phase, or non-existent. They are denied civil and legal rights and the recognition of their partners and relationships. Their consenting sexual relations are criminalized and policed, and they are subject to verbal and physical harassment, bashings and even murder – Michael Flood
History is testimony to the fact that most queer communities experience media invisibility, or limited opportunity to enter broadcasting. However in many countries, LGBT programmes are “coming out”. India is no different, even though the world may brand India to be the largest homophobic democracy! And so on a recent trip to Australia made possible by the Australia India Youth Dialogue Alumni Grants, learning about voices of an underrepresented and often misrepresented community was definitely an eye-opener.
What is the need to have community identified and supported radio or a community radio? It is one thing to be an advocate for queer rights and quite another to be a queer anchor or producer. So, what was it like to come out on Radio?
In Australia, the origins of queer radio had modest beginnings on community radio in 1978, with 4ZZZ presenting “Gay Waves”, a weekly lesbian and gay programme. This was followed by a series of different shows on other community radio stations. However, it took Australia, 15 years to sanction a queer-community radio station. For over 22 years, the unrestrained voices of the LGBT community have been broadcast on JOY FM, Melbourne, making it the longest running all LGBT station in the world.
I met Yen Erikson, a Queer broadcaster and volunteer at 2XX, Canberra at the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) conference 2014, who was very vocal about the fact that the value of community radio is in the autonomy of content. Yen presented the Friday Night Lip Service, with other local women on 2XX FM 98.3, and was awarded the Outstanding Young Person in the LGBTIQ community, for the programme by SpringOut Act. She also worked on other shows like “The Morning After, Sunday Night Jazz and Hey Grrl Hey.
Chosen as SYN Media’s Young Media Leaders, as part of the National Youth Media Project in 2014, Yen believes that community radio makes one feel valued. Growing up in a hetro-normative society is often tricky, as one often looked at as an outsider. In that sense youth community media platforms encourage people to tell their own stories, share their perspectives, and build a safe community co-existing with non-queer peers.
It is fascinating to see the range of content on queer issues on community radio. Some of the interesting shows included Sydney Gay and Lesbian History Walk Radio Series and the Melbourne Queer History Radio Series, produced by Barry McKay, which was first broadcast on JOY FM and the Sydney segment on OUT FM; The Vixen Hour on Joy FM which brings together voices of sex workers, and provides a connection to the broader queer community; 3 CR’s Out of the Pan, which goes beyond the boundaries of sex and gender; and Queering The Air which presents critically engaged commentary from a mix of transgender, queer, gender-diverse, bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, gay, and intersex perspective.
In 2015, queering the Air created the series, We Weren’t Born Yesterday exploring queer heritage, vocabulary and intergenerational connections in Arab, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian communities in Australia. Some of the shows aired, also look at queer perspectives on issues concerning health, environment and politics, as often in the mainstream, only popular views points are portrayed.
Given the diversity of India, do we need an exclusive radio station? “I am not sure if it is too early in the day, but at present the community must demand airtime on existing radio stations, and gradually increase the frequency, as the sexual minority community in India is stigmatized and face discrimination”, says Akkai Padmashalli. a transsexual woman and volunteer at Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz in Bengaluru. Akkai was also the recipient of the 2015 Rajyotsava award in Karnataka.
Clearly, India has a long way to go. Speaking out on such issues is a first step, and there is no better platform than community radio.
Radio Active CR 90.4MHz