As I watched Simon Spier kiss his first boyfriend on the Ferris wheel in the concluding scene of the LGBTQ+ film, “Love Simon,” I dreamed of the day I started dating as an openly gay man. I soon realized that dating as a gay man differs immensely from a Hollywood blockbuster. As a freshman at IU, I was introduced to a seemingly fundamental aspect of the gay dating scene — dating apps.
Popular dating apps today, such as Tinder, Grindr and Hinge, are subjects of severe scrutiny in the media. The propagation of “dating app fatigue” and the capitalization of sharing frightful dating apps stories in magazines such as "Cosmopolitan” and "People” normalize negative connotations associated with online dating.
But demonizing dating apps is fatal for the gay community, proving to stigmatize a safe alternative to the perils of expressing one’s true identity in a world engulfed in homophobia.
To highlight queer perspectives and experiences with online dating, I spoke with queer students at IU, asking them to anonymously share their personal thoughts and experiences. Firstly, two students shared similar views when discussing the importance or needfulness of dating apps in the queer community, revealing the hardships of a dating pool that makes up only 4.5% of the United States.
One student said, “Dating apps are crucial for LGBTQ+ dating. Otherwise, it’s sometimes very difficult to meet other queer people.”
“For me personally, it is impossible to find people to talk to in a romantic way without dating apps — absolutely impossible,” another student said.
Sardonically expressed in a recent TikTok trend, queer creators break down the reality of dating within a small community. For example, the population of Bloomington is 85,755, leaving roughly 4,000 LGBTQ+ individuals if you use the 4.5% estimate. For a gay man, only 50.31% of Bloomington is male, which implies about 2,000 gay men in Bloomington. When taking individual preferences such as age, personality type, common interests and more into account, there lies a tumultuous journey in finding a suitable partner.
Dating apps expand the range of queer dating, connecting the queer community in a finite space with disclosed identity. A space is created to unabashedly express one’s identity and shelter from the bigotry of a prejudiced world.
In the LGBTQ+ community, security is vital. According to the FBI’s 2018 Hate Crime Statistics report, more than 1,300 — or nearly 19% of hate crimes — stemmed from anti-LGBTQ+ violence. There is a sense of security established in platforms composed of individuals sharing the same identity.
“Yes, they make me feel safer meeting a partner because just walking up to someone and flirting feels to risky/dangerous to me as a queer person,” one student said.
And when asked broadly what students wanted me to contain in this article, one responded, “How important dating apps are for queer people and how much harder and more dangerous it is for queer people to approach romantic or sexual relationships than for heterosexual or cisgendered people.”
One Cosmopolitan article containing horror stories in heterosexual dating describes unfortunate events such as a man’s card declining on the first date, or a man calling the women a different name.
The fear of publicly dating in the queer community, though, contradicts this reality. Queer individuals are constantly reminded of the risk of public affection. 2020 had the highest death rate for transgender people since records began, and anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes are rising. A card declining is a small price to pay in comparison to a fear of murder.
Although dating apps provide an efficient and safe method of communication for queer individuals, online dating cannot be seen as a certain solution to discrimination against the queer community.
“The issue is rarely the individual and almost always the culture in which we must operate,” said a student.
No matter the community developed on dating app platforms, discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community will continue. The problem lies in the blatant homophobia expressed by the Trump administration. The problem lies in the call to strip rights form same-sex couples in Indiana. The problem lies in LGBTQ+ hate crimes, appallingly high murder rates for transgender people and disproportionate suicide rates amongst LGBTQ+ teens.
The problem is the continual stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community — not online dating. The demonization of dating apps must stop.
Russ Hensley (he/him) is a sophomore studying mathematics, political science and international law. He is a curator for TEDxIndianaUniversity, a member of IU Student Government and a member of the Hutton Honors College.