By Joe Harris
Gay men’s hook up app Grindr is finding new life—sort of—as a modernday Paul Revere, sounding the clarion and alerting an otherwise torpid citizenry about matters of political import. Take the case last summer when gay men in Saratoga County, New York received Grindr notifications that Republican State Senator Roy McDonald and others were possible “yea” votes in upcoming marriage equality legislation.
The evidence is far from empirical that the call “to arms” impacted the decisions of five GOP Senators (and one very religious Democrat), who eventually voted in favor of same sex marriage, but the final vote itself, 33 to 29, with McDonald and a handful of other GOP lawmakers in the “yea” column— and the fact that Grindr’s message was accompanied by an electronic option to connect automatically with McDonald’s office—shows the kind of legerdemain both sides in the gay marriage debate must employ to maximize message, and its impact.
Although location-based, the Grindr phenomenon is most assuredly a global one, with the app having about 4 million users spread across 192 countries. Although its primary use—and original intention—is to connect gay men for casual hook ups, it also serves as a way for men to offer recommendations to one another about sights and scenes in foreign locales, and to let gay men in less-open societies know that they are not alone. It also includes large user bases in such destination-lands as Brazil, France, and Thailand.
On its Web site, Grindr for Equality—which was launched in August 2010—notes that “Grindr has a greater capacity to provide assistance within the [LGBT] community, and harnessing the power of our global user base is where the idea for Grindr for Equality was born. The ability to contact people in specific geographic areas en masse aided us in swaying voters in California, and enabled users to contact their representatives in New York to vote in favor of the marriage equality bill. There is strength in numbers, and this initiative will enable our users to use our platform for the greater good of our community. The goal of Grindr for Equality is to raise awareness for [LGBT] issues, and spur action across the globe.”
Grindr’s muscle flexes globally. In November, Grindr for Equality directed over 57,000 people to an online petition to prevent politicians in St. Petersburg— the one in Russia—from criminalizing “gay propaganda,” a classification so broad that human rights organizations rightly argued that it would be tantamount to making homosexuality illegal in the former playground of the Tsars. The developer is also partnering with Web-based equality group All Out in a campaign to condemn violence against LGBT persons in Iraq.
In November, several states will include same sex marriage initiatives—either in favor of establishing the institution, or to ban the concept in the states’ constitutions—including legislation to legalize it in Maine, and a Washington State referendum to overturn it. In some ways, too, the presidential election in November will be a plebiscite on Barack Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality, which his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, opposes. Says Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: “Electing officials that support gay rights is probably the most important thing you can do to support gay rights.”