Against the urgent, vivid, and profoundly human backdrop of uprisings exploding across the globe — catalyzed by the extrajudicial police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, among countless other Black people — several gay dating apps have cobbled together their own little, and perhaps belated, response: removing long-criticized ethnicity filters in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
Over the last week or so, three of the world’s most popular location-based gay dating apps — Grindr, Scruff and Jack’d — all announced they would finally be disabling the user option to filter search results by ethnicity.
This means users will no longer be able to flick a switch, or enter a search term, and make disappear the profiles of whichever race or ethnicity they don’t want to engage with.
It started with Grindr. “We stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the hundreds of thousands of queer people of color who log in to our app every day,” the company tweeted on June 1. “We will not be silent, and we will not be inactive. Today we are making donations to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute and Black Lives Matter, and urge you to do the same if you can.”
Grindr did not specify exactly how much it donated, but did go on to promise it would “continue to fight racism” on its app, a sentiment mirrored in a tweet made by Scruff, which also owns Jack’d, the following day.
“We commit to continue to make product improvements that address racism and unconscious bias across our apps,” read the tweet. (Perry Street Software, the parent company of both Scruff and Jack’d, also pledged donations to Color of Change and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.) “We will continue aggressive moderation of content that is racist, hateful or bigoted within our apps, in keeping with our zero-tolerance policy.”
For many users, though, none of this was enough:
Gay dating apps have a long and ugly history of allowing racism to run wild on their platforms, to the degree that “no Blacks, no Asians” has become a common refrain parcelled out among the profiles of mostly white users.
In fact, this point lies at the root of the frustrations for many who have responded to this news: that removal of this filter still fails to address the everyday racism that plays out comfortably in chats as well as on user profiles—which, in 2018, was the subject of a whole class-action lawsuit.
Many headlines over the last couple of years have focused on the racism people of colour experience in navigating gay dating apps. And in 2018, studies linked that racism with lower rates of self-worth and higher rates of depression among black men. It got so bad that, in 2018, Grindr launched the “Kindr” campaign as a way to combat “racialized sexual discrimination” among its users.
The removal of these filters is part of a looping conversation which, on one end, sees those who justify them as facilitating their “sexual preferences,” and on the other, sees those who point out how “sexual preference” is often just a euphemism for “racism.”
(Editor’s note: BAME stands for Black, Asian and minority ethnic, and is a common term for racialized people in the U.K.)
And while this argument is true and valid, many people pointed out that removing the ethnicity filter is a doubled-edged sword, since some queer people of colour have previously used it to find each other in a sea of predominantly white profiles. It’s unclear how often these filters are used for that purpose specifically, and it’s also unclear what deliberations took place to arrive at these decisions in the first place.
In the meantime, these apps will likely continue to ignore the various other problems that run amok on their platforms—namely the xenophobia, fatphobia, femmephobia and transphobia that have been hallmarks of their user experience for years, and will, it seems, continue to go unchecked.
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