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Especially for people who might be deeply closeted or marooned in bigoted communities, these services offer keys for investigating what may initially seem like errant feelings of homosexuality.
In many respects, this isn’t too different from the late 1990s, when online chatrooms cracked open a universe for curious queers that had previously been mired in mystery.
What perhaps sets these new brands apart from their predecessors, then, is their push to expand the visibility of the queer community.
For instance, one user might not know much about another offline, but he might know little things about him from having scrolled through his geotagged social media page.
Yet their scope and reach in the queer community are hard to overstate.
Since the 2009 launch of Grindr, the first and most ubiquitous of the set, gay dating apps have racked up north of several-dozen million users in some 200 countries (including Cuba! Grindr says that its users average 54 minutes on the app per day.
Grindr, too, has been tapping its extensive user base for public health awareness campaigns.
In 2015, it conducted a survey with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Centers for Disease Control to gauge its users’ awareness of Pr EP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily regimen that can protect users from contracting HIV.
But there’s power in being able to meet, forge connections, take up space, and simply point queer people to gatherings of all different forms and shapes. At a time when—for reasons like rent, warming attitudes toward the queer community, and technology—gay bars are disappearing, apps are trying to offer the sorts of interactions that reproduce many of the same historic functions.
The company also participated in a University of California, Los Angeles, study that showed using the app to push banner ads and notifications for free HIV home test kits was an effective way to reach high-risk populations.
It’s a fitting role for apps whose original purpose unquestionably (and unavoidably, given that stigma still forces many men into silence about their health status) contributes to sexually transmitted disease transmission.
Scruff, which leans just a touch toward the “bear”—or husky, hirsute—crowd, has started helping host parties and Pride events across the planet.
From the French Alps to New Delhi, it’s encouraging revelers to use gayness as an entry point through which they can traipse to faraway places.
And that seems about right: I can’t even count how many gay friends I have for whom popping open Grindr is as rote of a smartphone task as scanning their email-clogged inboxes.