Hiring in PR while fighting homophobia? Asif Upadhye has some tips

In 2014, Starbucks partnered with the LGBT network OUTtv to release the ‘Coffee Frenemies’ commercial starring drag queens Bianca del Rio and Adore Delano. Closer to home, Anouk’s “Bold is Beautiful” campaign created waves among Indian viewers. The media knows no limits in its capacity to create change. 

However, according to a 2016 World Bank report, India’s GDP loss due to transphobia and homophobia amounts to around $32 billion.

 So, how far have we reached?

From the Judiciary to the Mindset

In September 2018, the Supreme Court passed its landmark verdict reversing the colonial ban on homosexuality. Members of the LGBT community celebrated nationwide. However, a few months down the line, not much had changed in terms of people’s mindsets. While laws can change in a day, humans evolve but slowly. 

This phenomenon is starkly apparent in two articles published by the Economic Times, a month apart from each other. The first, published on December 10th, 2018, rightly felicitated the manifesto published by Godrej India Culture lab on the importance of trans inclusion at the workplace. Titled “India Inc Looks at Wider LGBTQ Inclusion”, this article was a celebration. On January 4th, 2019, another piece by the Economic Times titled “A Long Way to go for the LGBTQ Community”, highlighted continuing prejudice against people at the workplace.

Clearly, laws are just a baby step forward.

Where does the PR Industry become an Important Vehicle for Change?

Is PR an industry that should take the lead in more inclusive hiring systems? As a field with a large outreach, and the massive responsibility that comes with this power, it might just be good PR for PR. That said, there are two real aspects to this.

First is that if you are a PR agency, this does not just mean hiring a stock number of people from the LGBT community. In fact, such moves need to be backed by training programmes and gender and sexuality sensitisation of your workforce. Additionally, HR policies need to be utterly clear and transparent in their incorporation of LGBT rights, with no room for ambiguity. Lastly, there should be no pay gap between LGBT and non LGBT employees at the same level. 

Step one is hiring, and step two is respecting those you have hired.

Second, we come to the external messaging that PR and marketing firms attempt to create. While many brands like Starbucks and Anouk get it right, there are still several that get it miserably wrong. One example is the Snickers campaign titled “Get Some Nuts”. The advertisement featured Mr T as his character from the A-team shooting Snickers bars at a man wearing tight yellow shorts and speed-walking. Mr T then proceeds to yell out, “You are a disgrace to the man race. It's time to run like a real man.” Not only was this an excessively stereotypical representation of gay men and the ad received mass criticism, but this was also followed by the brand issuing a statement saying that it understood that humour is “highly subjective”.

How does one impact this at a brainstorming level? The answer is ensuring that agencies put out well-informed, truly inclusive campaigns is to employ a more diverse range of people.  With more LGBTQ employees in the workforce, sensitivity becomes that much easier and that much more deeply ingrained.


As an industry already making strides in inclusion and diversity and using its power to positive ends, the PR circle needs to continue to, and accelerate inclusivity across the board. I know. Easier said than done, right?

Asif Upadhye is the director and a self-confessed 'Dark Knight' at SPRD | Stories.PR.Digital, a new-age public relations think tank.