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Sunali Aggarwal launched As You Are, a dating app solely for the Indian LGBTQ+ community, to offer more safe spaces to meet others.
In a country where there is a paucity of safe spaces, both real and virtual, for folks from the LGBTQ+ community to connect with each other, Sunali Aggarwal has launched a much-needed dating application that caters to the LGBTQ+ community.
Sunali’s app – As You Are – is a ‘no-pressure’ dating app for the LGBTQ+ community.
The larger context is the greater and growing interest in online dating, which has only grown with the pandemic. While dating apps like Bumble, Tinder, and Hinge are LGBTQ+friendly, there are few apps catering to the community specifically. Thus, Sunali Aggarwal decided to fill this gap with her application, As You Are.
On 6th June 2018, the Indian Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment and decriminalized IPC Section 377 which had long been used as a stick to threaten the community with.
However, there was still a gap in the Indian LGBTQ+ dating sector. So, keeping in mind this gap, Sunali decided to launch As You Are (AYA).
Months after the decriminalisation of Section 377, in 2019, Aggarwal noticed a gap in the dating industry. That is when she began researching her bit on the LGBTQ+ dating sector.
In an interview with The Telegraph, she said, “I had always observed this problem with the community where people could not find each other mostly because everybody was closeted. Even with the decriminalization of Section 377 in 2018, the problem persisted. And that is what triggered this idea of creating a space that is safe for the community to interact with each other.”
One of the fascinating things about AYA is that it is not just a dating app. It is a social networking site to meet like-minded people and form long-term friendships within the community.
While it started as a dating app, Sunali realized that it could be used to form friendships and have meaningful conversations. In an interview with The Statesman, she says, “In As You Are Community,’ members can be a part of discussions with like-minded individuals that encourage them to be their true queer selves, whether it is a judicial news discussion or venting about erroneous queer representation in movies. The second feature, ‘Group Chat,’ is a place for members to engage in chat in invite-only groups created based on similar interests or hobbies, be it gaming or baking.”
While online dating can lead to jeopardising someone’s safety, Sunali has taken a few steps towards making AYA a safe app to use. In her interview with Edexlive, she explains how, saying, “We have a rigorous verification process. The user has to upload a selfie to verify their profile. Based on that they are either allowed or not allowed to use the app.” Moreover, Sunali and her team have rejected over 2000 people from using the app.
She further adds, “We want to encourage people to have a conversation, get to know each other and form long-term relationships. While photos are there, the profile focuses more on details about the individuals.”
Users need to fill in basic details, including their gender. After they fill in the details, they need to upload a selfie that verifies their face. In an interview with The Hindu, Sunali states, “The mischievous kind gets filtered out early in the system. If 100 people sign in, only 25 get through. We try to create ‘safe profiles’ and a platform where individuals experience comfort interacting with each other.”
If accepted, the users can create a personal profile including their hobbies, food preferences, interests, etc. Moreover, Sunali has designed the app after keeping in mind that people usually do not like to share excessive information.
Aggarwal is a NID (National School of Design) graduate. With over 18 years of experience in design, business and technology, Sunali Aggarwal believes these three factors can offer sustainability too.
When Aggarwal and her co-founder, Aditi (who has now moved out) launched the AYA website in 2019 to close friends and family, she received a great response, thus strengthening her decision to go public with the app. In an interview with Edexlive, Sunali also talks about her plans to offer additional services as the law evolves in India, “We are not looking at it as just a dating app but more as a matchmaking app. In the future, when matrimony will be legalised, we would like it to be considered as a matrimony app.”
The best part about AYA is that it does not restrict itself to one gender or orientation within the community – it is for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community.
Even though Section 377 is decriminalized, many people hesitate to actively date because of the lack of safe spaces to meet people. Spaces like AYA are an important part of addressing that need.
So, this pride month, let us celebrate the efforts of people like Sunali Aggarwal, who are making dating and life easier and safer for the LGBTQ+ community. Happy Pride Month!
I am a journalism student with a penchant for writing about women and social issues. I am an intersectional feminist and an aspiring journalist. I identify as she/her. read more...
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