The company has a variety of plans to achieve this. Some of the app's initial rebranding plays include Slumbr, a celebrity-studded Pride party hosted at The Standard hotel in New York this year; Grindr Varsity, a clothing line benefiting Athlete Ally, a nonprofit fighting homophobia in sports; and Grindr For Equality, a gay rights advocacy initiative. Leaders in the company also hope to expand the functions of the app in coming years, to transform Grindr into something closer to a "gay social network."
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Grindr's efforts to engage and shape queer culture are not limited to its North American audience. Simkhai is currently ramping up efforts with Grindr for Equality, an initiative promoting LGBT advocacy across the world. "It's illegal to be gay in over 70 countries in this world," Simkhai told me. "We're in a unique position where we can take technology and our mass audience and bring them together to advance gay rights."
I wouldn't mind walking into places and having Grindr unlock things for me.
But for all of Grindr's advocacy efforts, perhaps one of its greatest potentials is to change the way gay men treat each other when selecting sexual partners. "No fats, no femmes, no Asians," is a phrase utilized by a subset of Grindr users who are notoriously prejudiced when seeking partners on the app. As many writers have noted, discrimination is a major issue within the gay community, and critics insist Grindr has a responsibility to police racist, fat-shaming, and femme-phobic users.When I posed the question of "no fats, no femmes, no Asians," to Simkhai, asking if his app has the potential to reduce prejudice within the gay community, he didn't have an answer."I haven't figured out how to do that," he said. "And it sounds great—it would be great to foster a kinder community, potentially. But we're a platform where we want people to meet. That's not my job, to solve societal problems."
As CEO of a private company, it is not necessarily Simkhai's responsibility to take on the psychic damage of the gay community. He didn't, after all, create prejudice; he created a platform where it persists. Still, the company's pro-justice rhetoric is at odds with Simkhai's unwillingness to address the discrimination the app permits."Dealing with life-and-death issues and access to healthcare—that's where we're interested in the social side, and less so, 'Are people being nice enough?'" Simkhai 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."The idea of benign racial "preferences" has long served as justification for prejudice within the gay community. Dr. Patrick Wilson, associate professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University and lead author of the study "Race-Based Sexual Stereotyping and Sexual Partnering Among Men Who Use the Internet to Identify Other Men for Bareback Sex," believes that in order to reduce prejudice in online dating, we must understand how our "preferences" are formed. "What people don't tend to acknowledge is that preference is shaped by your exposure to people who look different," Wilson said. "A lot of [our understanding of sex] comes through the images we're exposed to, whether you're looking at TV, pornography, or the kind of men you're seeing on hookup apps."
We're a platform where we want people to meet. That's not my job, to solve societal problems.
Disabling Grindr's filter option could perhaps be one of the most effective ways to vary the profiles users are exposed to, and therefore normalize diversity on the app. "If you have preconceived notions about black men or Asian men, it will very much shape how you interact with men on Grindr," Dr. Wilson noted. In fact, because of the filter function, you can choose to not interact with them at all.Still, the "No Filter" campaign is a step in the right direction, and Harrison-Quintana believes starting this dialogue is essential. "I think the way racism and fat-phobia plays out in the LGBT community has so much to do with internalized homophobia," Harrison-Quintana said. "In some ways, it would be the most powerful thing Grindr could do if we could help people to address the shame about themselves. Both in terms of the benefit to every individual and [to] the internal cohesion of the LGBT community across lines of difference like race."Only time will tell how effective any of Grindr's new initiatives will be, and if the brand can rectify its often discordant symbiosis with the gay community. But the potential is there."I think the core of Grindr for Equality is always going to be connecting people," Harrison-Quintana said. "Which may be the core of Grindr itself."