Facebook group offers some LGBTQ + people a replacement family

Editor’s Note: This article contains references to racial and ethnic slurs.

By David Tuller | SAN FRANCISCO – Corey Baker, a gay man from Columbus, Ohio, has seen many profiles of dating apps that include phrases like “Black, don’t apply.” Sometimes when he declines the invitations, he said, the men go wild with slurs like “you’re an ugly black person anyway.” And some of his friends have been slammed with the N word in similar situations.

Many of these events happened “when I didn’t think I was attractive or deserved to be loved,” he said. And they had an emotional impact. “If you come across a wall of people saying they’re not attracted to you, I think it impacts your mental health,” said Baker, 35 and school librarian.

The notion of nicer, gentler rejects on hookup sites can seem like an oxymoron. Yet sexual health experts – as well as gay dating app users like Baker – say the harshness of many online behaviors can exacerbate low self-esteem and feelings of depression or anxiety. This toxic combination can also lead to impulsive and potentially dangerous sexual choices.

In response, Building Healthy Online Communities, or BHOC, a San Francisco Bay Area organization focused on HIV and STD prevention, has launched an effort to improve the cuteness of apps designed for men who have sex. with men. “Members of the LGBTQ community face discrimination externally, but we also need to recognize that there is discrimination within the community,” said BHOC Director Jen Hecht.

Through surveys and focus groups, BHOC asked over 5,000 users of nine gay apps how the sites could promote better online behavior regarding race, appearance, HIV status. , age, disability, gender identity and other factors. He also asked for advice on technical improvements the apps could make, such as giving users more flexibility in locating contacts.

“If I can filter out people who wrote ‘no fats, no fems, no blacks’, I don’t even have to see it,” wrote a respondent quoted in the BHOC report on data collected from users of the application. Representatives from some of the participating apps said they welcomed the collaboration. “We have had a no-bullying policy from day one,” said David Lesage, director of marketing and social media for Adam4Adam.

Average online behavior is of course not limited to male apps. When asked by email last month whether mainstream dating sites should also try to fix the problem, Evan Bonnstetter, Tinder’s director of product policy, replied that the company was “unable to to participate in this opportunity “. (Bonnstetter has since left Tinder.) Bumble, another popular site with heterosexuals, did not respond to a request for comment.

Gay and bisexual men, like other discriminated groups, have higher rates of depression, substance abuse and related mental health problems. But John Pachankis, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health who studies gay men’s health, said his research had identified aggression within the gay community as a major problem.

“At first, I was quite surprised that gay men consistently note that their treatment by other gay men is a predominant stressor,” Pachankis said. Apps, he added, “are a site of a lot of potential rejection in a short period of time in a particularly anonymous and efficient manner and can be really damaging.”

In one study, Pachankis and his colleagues simulated a gay app environment in which some research participants were exposed to dismissive comments and others to approving comments. (The comments were all computer generated.)

In subsequent questionnaire responses, men exposed to dismissive comments reported greater emotional distress and expressed more skepticism about the benefits of condoms. They were also more likely to choose riskier options in a card game.

Since the app environment is the source of stress, Pachankis said, it makes sense for BHOC and other public health organizations to try to influence him.

Some respondents cited in the BHOC report dismissed the initiative as stupid or unwarranted. “If someone doesn’t meet the user-specified preferences of being ‘fat’, ‘too old’ or not of the right ‘race’ then too bad,” wrote one. “I find this overbreadth in trying to be PC so offensive and ridiculous.”

But most of those polled agreed that apps can promote better online behavior and reduce unnecessary pain, Hecht said.

“This is a company wide problem, and I agree that gay dating apps alone aren’t going to solve it on their own, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. not play a role, ”she said. “Since users can control and customize, it will increase their positive app experiences and reduce the likelihood of them having those negative experiences.”

A popular recommendation from respondents was to allow all users, not just paying customers, to block anyone they deem abusive. Another was to allow users to restrict who can view profile fields containing potentially sensitive information, such as HIV status or gender identity. Respondents also believed the apps could help reduce the pain of rejection by providing users with pre-written, neutral messages to send, such as “sorry, this is not a match.”

Grindr, one of the participating apps, doesn’t include standard rejection statements, but explores that option to help users on both sides of what is inevitably a “high-intensity moment,” said Jack Harrison-Quintana, director of corporate equality.

“It’s very easy to feel very rejected because you are rejected,” said Harrison-Quintana. “People are very hurt by the things that are said to them online, and that is what we are trying to fix.”

Jehangeer Ali Syed, an international development consultant in Washington, DC, said he was disturbed to be treated as an “exotic element” in online trading. Although he is not from the Middle East, some men “sexually objectify me as an ‘Arab stallion’,” the 36-year-old Pakistani said. “I was called ‘sand-‘[N-word],'” he added.

This kind of encounter, he said, “makes you doubt yourself, makes you feel insecure and makes you wonder if I’m doing something wrong.”

BHOC noted in its report that many respondents were unaware of the functionality of existing applications that could help them personalize and control their experiences. The report called on apps to expand their education efforts on these possibilities.

This suggestion resonated with Grindr’s Harrison-Quintana. Grindr already includes some of the options recommended in the report, he said, but it could communicate better with customers. “It’s not just about implementing features, it’s also about letting users know that those features are available to them,” he said.


David Tuller is a senior public health and journalism researcher at the Center for Global Public Health at UC Berkeley, part of the School of Public Health.


This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an independent editorial service of the California Health Care Foundation, and is republished with permission.

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