The Terrible Irony of Grindr at Rio 2016

How straight people overtake queer spaces: The Case of Nico Hines 

by Arish Mudra Rakshasa

There are very few places for socialising that do not cater explicitly to straight people. When you walk in to a restaurant or bar or log on to a social networking website on the internet, chances are that it has a heteronormative environment and assumes (and often even hopes) that all its patrons are heterosexual. With growing political power and tolerance or moderate-acceptance of queer identities in the last few decades in Western countries, bars and clubs that catered exclusively to gay men started popping up and providing a safe space for gay men to socialise[*]. The beginning of the digital age made this even easier, especially for men in non-Western countries that weren’t progressing towards equal rights for all sexual orientations. Gay men in such countries or communities could now practice discretion but still socialise and hook up. Enter Grindr, the “geosocial networking app geared towards gay and bisexual men” became wildly popular.

Just over three years after its 2009 initial release, Grindr had 4 million users across the globe including in countries that had severe anti-gay[†] laws and cultures. Grindr had provided both out and closeted gay/bisexual men just what they had needed: a way to discreetly contact other gay/bisexual men who were nearby without needing to go to a bar or other public place and risk recognition or persecution.

Grindr was a dream come true for your average closeted gay man living in an anti-gay community. Until straight people began using it to target or track down gay men, that is.

Reports emerged of a potential security flaw in the relative distance feature of Grindr that allowed for triangulation to pinpoint a person’s exact location. In fact, while some LGBTQ+ organisations informed Grindr of this issue and even published a “GrindrMap” to prove the risk this security flaw posed, law enforcement in anti-gay countries had already caught up. In August 2014, Egyptian police officers were reported to have used Grindr to track down and arrest gay men. In response, Grindr disabled the distance feature but it was reactivated, even though in May 2016, Kyoto University scientists demonstrated the ease with which Grindr allows for pinpointing locations of its users.

In short, Grindr has become a weapon for anti-gay straight people (including abusive law enforcement) to track down and out gay and bisexual men instead of the safe space for these men that it was intended to be. Why? Because straight people have always felt entitled to queer spaces, and have had no qualms whatsoever of occupying or overtaking those spaces. Straight people have been occupying space at Pride events. Straight people are targeting gay nightclubs for being ‘exclusive’ and (ironically) ‘unaccepting’. In the same spirit of heterosexual entitlement, straight people are getting on Grindr for a myriad of ghoulish reasons.

Madonna and Ariana Grande have both used Grindr to advertise their music. Setting aside the whole issue of tokenising and marketing to a group stereotypically assumed to be ‘lucrative’, it violates the very essence of Grindr – an app for gay and bisexual men looking to meet each other, not popstars looking to sell albums. And even though police have been known to use Grindr for much worse purposes, the portrayal of Gay-Straight Alliance members at a fictional high school using a geosocial app for gay men to track down and out a gay student is eerily similar and potentially just as devastating for the individual (see: G.B.F., 2013).

Straight people have occupied space in a queer safe space, and weaponised it to force gay men out of the closet and persecute them.

The recent journalistic fiasco at the Rio Olympics in a typical example. Nico Hines, writer for The Daily Beast (and reportedly a straight man with a wife and a child) decided to write an article titled “I Got Three Grindr Dates In An Hour In The Olympic Village”. The point of the article was “to see how dating and hookup apps were being used in Rio by athletes” (other people have already explained how this is ridiculous, since the apps are used for dating and hookups … obviously). What the article actually did, however, was entrap gay and bisexual athletes (some of whom may have been closeted and from countries where being openly gay could be disastrous) and provide enough information to identify which athletes Hines baited.

Social media uproar was instantaneous, and largely justified. While death threats, suggestions to ‘kill himself’, and homophobic slurs directed towards Hines are entirely inexcusable, most of the social media response was clear and warranted: Hines and The Daily Beast had ignored the ethics of journalism, violated the privacy of gay men, and exposed them to potentially devastating consequences in their home countries and communities. My own response was similar.

The Daily Beast also did not do very well in apologising for the article, and only took it down after trying to half-heartedly explain the point of the article to placate critics. Needless to say, the attitude of the publication reflected the attitude of straight people in general: an inability to understand just how critical it is for most queer people to come out on their own terms and only when it is safe.

Grindr was meant to be a safe space for gay and bisexual men, but more and more, it looks as if the idea of gay/bisexual men being able to date, hookup, or network without being persecuted is an unattainable dream. Grindr and other such hookup apps were major steps towards that dream, but their use by straight people to ‘innocently’ bait gay men, and for anti-gay institutions to hunt and punish them, has made it clear that these safe spaces are not so safe after all.

Maybe this is why we can’t have nice things – because straight people take over everything.

The picture is without modifications and is under a Generic 2.0 Creative Commons license and can be found here.

[*] Sexism is still alive and well, though, even and especially in queer communities, so most safe spaces still only cater to gay and bisexual men, and ostracise queer women (and trans individuals, at that).

[†] To clarify, I use the phrase “anti-gay” instead of “homophobic”, because anti-gay attitudes aren’t latent fears, they are active prejudices.

Arish is a rising sophomore from Ghaziabad, India studying at Earlham College, Richmond, IN. He plans on double majoring in Biochemistry and Neuroscience and is on the Pre-Medicine track, aspiring to obtain an MD and a PhD. He is also quite passionate about politics and social justice, and wants to enter international politics to counter hate, prejudice, and fear in the world. He likes ‘science, languages, and occasionally people’, and enjoys pushing the liberal agenda on Facebook and binge watching TV shows with ice cream in his free time. He is excited to draw on his experiences to discuss global issues through the lens of a young immigrant for the column.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.

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