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Grindr for Equality, the app’s advocacy arm, and the Russian LGBT Network, a St.Petersburg–based gay rights group, worked together at the height of the crackdown in April to distribute updates, as well as a hotline number and email addresses for aid and evacuation assistance, via the app.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.The gay social-networking app Hornet, too, has been hosting live events.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.Just this month, it put together a group of LGBTQ media gurus in New York for Loud & Proud, a sold-out panel discussion that centered around the importance of inclusion in a diversifying media world. Lots of queer men power up their gay app of choice when they go out or arrive in a new city in hopes of finding people who might be navigating similar life experiences.With open events and publications, these companies get to put their brands on a wider variety of gay connections.And, in doing so, the likes of Grindr, Hornet, and Scruff are re-creating queer sociability in significant ways.These apps, on the one hand, still allow queer men the messiness of exploring our identities.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.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.They appear to be reconceptualizing spaces that have historically been bulwarks against anti-gay bigotry; spaces where one can, at least to a degree, enjoy being in public without mainstream judgment.Grindr, for instance, seems to be looking to shed its scurrilous image as “just a hookup app.” In March, the company that pioneered the geolocation-based, casual sex–facilitating sensation launched the online magazine Into.CEO Joel Simkhai told in a recent interview that “millions of Grindr users [were] asking us to figure out what’s going on around them,” so the company decided to start curating culture-minded content.