grindr has a new app to address discrimination
Grindr’s upcoming rebrand to ‘Kindr’ says “It’s time to play nice” -- but what can an app do to solve the epidemic of discrimination among gay men?
Last week the popular gay dating and hook-up app Grindr did what many QPoC have been asking the platform to do for years. It announced plans to tackle the racism and discrimination many users who aren’t white or cisgender experience on a daily basis when using the app.
Spurred on in part by the damning evidence trans activist Munroe Bergdorf posted across her social media to highlight the racist and transphobic abuse she receives from users, Grindr announced it was launching new app, Kindr, this September. Details of whether it’s part of a whole company rebrand or a new app altogether haven’t been revealed, but a post shared on Grindr’s official Instagram account with voiceovers detailing the racism they’ve encountered on the app followed by the tagline “It’s time to play nice”, suggests drastic changes are on the way.
As a user of the app over the years, and a queer person of colour, Grindr’s acknowledgement that it’s pretty much allowed an environment of sexual and racial discrimination to go largely unchecked is definitely welcome. I’ve lost count of how many times cisgender white gay men have called me a racist slur and “a terrorist” because I’ve declined their advances. Or when I’ve been told to fuck off back to where I came from -- which is the old Greenwich Hospital in south-east London -- because I made them squirm a bit for asking me the classic line “Where are you really from though?”
Which brings me to my point that, while it’s encouraging to see active attempts to address racism and discrimination on Grindr, one thing I feel is absent from this entire conversation is an awareness that this type of abuse and ignorance isn’t confined to the inner workings of one app, where users sift through blank profiles and photos of headless torsos for their next dick appointment. Racism and transphobia plague our nightclubs, media outlets and supposed safe public spaces everyday by people from our own community. It’s just that Grindr (and other apps like it) have become the perfect space for racist white gay men to express their prejudices under the guise of it being just a harmless sexual preference.
"Grindr -- and other apps like it -- have become the perfect space for racist white gay men to express their prejudices under the guise of it being just a harmless sexual preference."
Take the example of Jeremy Joseph -- the founder and owner of London institution G-A-Y. Despite his part in bringing something special to the nightlife of London’s gay community, disappointingly, in a 2017 Facebook status he claimed Somali people, along with “drug dealers” and “scum gangs”, were the reason for the sharp rise in crime in Soho. He pledged to “claim Soho back” and urged others to do the same in some bizzare Nigel Farage-esque call to the nation. It rightfully received widespread criticism and the club owner quickly deleted the status and issued an apology. But, without missing a beat, a plethora of white gay men were quick to defend Joseph and offer him their support, unashamedly admit they felt the exact same way. The incident spoke volumes about the prejudice many of London’s gay community harbour.
It also doesn’t help matters that former CEO of Grindr, Joel Simkhai, brushed off the very real problem of black men being festishised on the app as just part and parcel of the black experience when using the app. Speaking to Broadly in 2016 he said: “To say, 'I'm only into black guys'— is that a bad thing? I think we should allow you to say that, because that's your preference.”
To anyone who is a QPoC these examples of just how deep-rooted racism is within the queer community aren’t shockingly new. We’ve known for a long time that our place within the mainstream queer community is firmly on the sidelines. We’re guests who apparently should be grateful we’re even allowed to occupy these mainstream spaces, both online and offline. It’s the exact reason why events like UK Black Pride and club nights like Saathi Night in Birmingham exist and continue to thrive.
This is why if Kindr has any chance of being a real force for change and a true watershed moment for our community, it needs to look at discrimination in the queer community on a much broader scale than just how we talk to one another online. To think any of this occurs in a vacuum is naive at best.
"Scruff, Tinder, Hornet and Jack’d are just as bad for normalising sexual racism -- which should tell you that this is a problem with the people using these apps and not simply a product of the apps themselves."
It also needs to take into account discrimination takes many forms, whether it’s femmephobia from “Masc4Masc” gays who want their “men to be men”, queer Muslims vilified for minding their business and practicing their faith, or the endless number of gay men shamed for their sexual health status. And for the record, these types of behaviours aren’t exclusive to Grindr alone. Scruff, Tinder, Hornet and Jack’d are just as bad for normalising sexual racism -- which should tell you that this is a problem with the people using these apps and not simply a product of the apps themselves.
I’ve spent more hours than I’m proud to admit explaining to white gay men why calling themselves “curry queens” or starting a conversation with “hi, I’m really into Asian guys!” aren’t compliments. Quite frankly, I’m tired. Year after year, earnest think pieces are pitched, written and published all over the internet telling the world that racism is rampant within the queer community. There’s the obligatory period of moral outrage that it’s happening, but then nothing ever changes beyond that.
If the world’s best known gay hook-up app wants to light a spark in the minds of its users, and make them realise their ‘preferences’ are merely glossed up racial prejudices, then both Grindr and Kindr need to need to be aware that calling out racism, transphobia, femmephobia etc. on their own platform is just the beginning. Not only that, the people behind the scenes need to reflect the community of people Kindr is trying to support. It shouldn’t be another repeat of the laughable “Out to Brunch” event where a cartel of white gay men from the film and music industry got together to talk about racism, with not even one PoC person in attendance.
What Grindr is pledging is great and I truly wish Kindr becomes an agent for change. I just hope it’s backed up with realistic and proactive solutions that address the the broader picture here: the LGBTQ community has a massive issue with racism and discrimination and Kindr should not be celebrated as a one-size-fits-all remedy for it.