Racism on gay dating apps is nothing new to black gay and bisexual men. The LGBT community may be progressive, but it still has plenty of problems. Queer people can share many of the same prejudices as heterosexuals, including racism. A new study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology by Ryan Wade explores the topic of racialised sexual discrimination in sexual/social networks within LGBTQ communities.
By camouflaging discrimination as a “preference,” men on gay dating apps commonly seek or reject potential partners based solely on race. Profiles regularly contain language that is (a) either openly racist with phrases like “no blacks/no Asians” or (b) viewing race as a fetish with terms such as “seeking BBC” (big black cock).
Wade calls this pattern “the new face of racism in online sexual and dating networks of gay/bisexual men,” and refers to this phenomenon of racialised sexual discrimination as RSD.
The study introduces a scale for judging racism on gay dating apps and networks as it relates to black gay and bisexual men. The scale identifies four areas of discrimination: exclusion, rejection, degradation, and erotic objectification. These experiences were not isolated to white men rejecting black men or men of other races or ethnicities, but also included men of colour rejecting one another within these categories.
On gay dating apps, blackness is often either fetishised or objectified. This pattern is repeated with other people of colour, transgender individuals, and various groups whose identities have been historically reduced to stereotypes. Anonymity and geographical distance can make users bolder. It’s easy to get away with being racist when no one knows who you are, and when you can block or report someone if they call you out.
In many ways, the study’s findings are unsurprising. Racial discrimination in gay cycles is nothing new, and racism on gay dating apps has a documented history. In 2018, for example, the popular gay dating app Grindr acknowledged racism in its users and launched the platform “Kindr Grindr” to give people of colour a voice in updating the app’s guidelines. One statement from the app on this initiative says,
“Profile language that is used to openly discriminate against other users’ traits and characteristics will not be tolerated and will be subject to review by our moderation team.”
Despite this, the idea that discrimination can be called a “preference” persists. Many men still write about race in their profiles, whether to be exclusionary or to fetishise.
According to Wade’s study, there is still a lot of work to do to minimise racism on gay dating apps and online platforms. But identifying racialised sexual discrimination (RSD) as a real problem is a significant first step. His research provides undeniable proof that gay online dating has a race problem. And the consequences of this aren’t isolated to dating apps.
The racism that Wade is studying in gay dating apps reflects problems that continue offline. Seeking companionship and finding prejudice has consequences on mental health and self-esteem. Dating apps shouldn’t be a place where racial discrimination is suddenly acceptable or even expected. Hiding behind an anonymous user profile doesn’t excuse prejudice.
Wade closes his study by encouraging further research on the issue of Racism on gay dating apps,
“There is still considerable work to be done on this subject. Indeed, investigators have only scratched the surface of this unique type of discrimination, and it will be critical for public health researchers to continue to broaden their understanding of the phenomenon moving forward.”
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