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From Grindr to Groom: For Better Or for Pandemic

When U.S. borders began closing amidst rising COVID-19 numbers, Benny Or and Cristian Shoemaker of Brooklyn, New York knew their wedding was about to be anything but ordinary.
Gianfranco Lentini
&
Guest Writer
August 26, 2020
June 15, 2024
6
min. read
From Grindr to Groom: For Better Or for Pandemic
Table of Contents

But before 2020—before pandemic and revolution and travel bans—this story starts with an app. Grindr, to be exact, in the fall of 2018.

OR: We lived in the same neighborhood, so we’d seen each other around on the app.
SHOEMAKER: But I was too nervous to say hi first.
OR: Yeah, so I did. And honestly, I led with, “I’m sorry, but your dog stole the show.”

And in dating-app fashion, a first date was immediately on the books.

SHOEMAKER: He had tickets to Disney on Ice because he designed the props in the show.
OR: And I gave him a boner during Aladdin’s scene.
SHOEMAKER: Are we allowed to say boner?
OR: You could say there was a magic lamp for rubbing.
SHOEMAKER: How about just, “It was a whole new world.”

Photo by Nir Arieli
Photo by Nir Arieli

One magic carpet ride later, the couple was engaged in March of 2020, just as the U.S. was preparing to read like a spec script of Contagion.

Prior to their first hellos and long before Miss Rona came knocking, Or and Shoemaker, both queer immigrants to the U.S., had each taken to Grindr during their time in New York to connect with what they both call “a safe community.” It was an easy way for them to make friends, get bar recommendations, and of course, the occasional hookup. “Grindr gave us spaces in which to be ourselves amongst like-minded folx,” says Or. “So then to find each other felt like being found. Being home.”

Little did they know, 2020 was about to put that notion of “home” to the test.

“It was twofold. First, we watched our friends and community in New York struggle day by day with how suffocating quarantine was,” says Shoemaker. “And then the travel bans and border closings happened, and we were suddenly cut-off from our families.” Or was born in Hong Kong, China and raised in Ontario, Canada; Shoemaker was born and raised in Chile, South America.

“With our wedding supposed to be around the corner, we didn’t know if this was even a time to be thinking about ourselves,” says Or. “So we made the decision, if we’re going digital, we’re going to use the platform to show the world something positive. Hope.”

Or and Shoemaker turned to TheHAU5, a Brooklyn production company for artistic collaboration, with a mission to create a backyard, virtual wedding free of prejudice, restrictions, and pandemic that absolutely anyone could attend. Between the grooms and TheHAU5’s Founder and Cultural Strategist, Alexander McMichael (whom Benny had also befriended on Grindr years prior), the three assembled a creative team of LGBTQ+/BIPOC New York artists just as intent on combating COVID-19’s stifling effects. The result: a publicly live-streamed, 3-camera setup dubbed a “Celebration of Love.”

Photo by Amara Norman
Photo by Amara Norman

“This live-stream experience was the marriage of collaboration and foundation,” says McMichael. “In the midst of everything that’s happening right now, when you have the capacity to create, you produce magic. We departed from the traditional plug-and-play, and TheHAU5 integrated innovative interactivity to share a story that helped people around the world feel courage, hope, and less alone.”

Sure enough, on August 8, 2020, the world watched. With just a wedding website and a few social media pushes, Or and Shoemaker’s wedding was witnessed by people on every continent, save Antarctica, in countries including Egypt, Kenya, India, Singapore, Taiwan, Honduras, Milan, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, Lebanon, and Peru, just to name a few. In all, strangers accounted for 30% of the wedding RSVPs.

“The fact that people around the world RSVP’d is confirmation that they needed examples of family and partnership and community,” says Shoemaker. “We showed the world that hate is based in fear and fear is based in the unknown. When you educate people, it reduces their fear and therefore their hate.”

Photo by Nir Arieli
Photo by Nir Arieli

On U.S. soil unfortunately, this is a lesson in civility and compassion that comes in the midst of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual “Year in Hate and Extremism” report. Released at the beginning of 2020, it states “the SPLC documented an increase in the number of [U.S.] white nationalist, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant hate groups.” This, of course, does not take into account the countries in which it is illegal and even punishable by death to be a homosexual.

However, this did not stop attendees from sending messages of gratitude to the newlyweds. One anonymous message reads: “I’m from a country where people are sent to prison for being gay, so watching this gave me so much hope. Sometimes I feel so hopeless, like I’m running a marathon, but I’ll never get a chance to reach the end because there’s a wall I can’t get over, go around, or break. I feel like giving up. But you give me hope to hold on for as long as I can. Thank you.”

“This started with the simple fact that our family couldn’t be here,” says Or. “But with an open invitation, our story had the ability to educate and inspire and change the world. And it did just that. We took no concessions with it. It wasn’t about what we couldn’t do. It was about what we could do.”

Photo by Nir Arieli
Photo by Nir Arieli

In lieu of the traditional wedding registry, the grooms also started a fund to offset their wedding costs, 15% of which was donated to The Trevor Project. “We’ve both had periods in our lives where we didn’t think we would have the opportunity to get married, let alone find love,” says Shoemaker. “Through this ceremony, we hope that we reached out to those still searching for acceptance. The only way to live your life is to believe full-heartedly that the best is yet to come.”

The virtual wedding production was creative directed by Alexander McMichael, and featured a guest performance by Freakquencee and TheHAU5 band, wardrobe design by Patrick Church, ring design by Karen Piu, floral design by Brenton Wolf, makeup by Kevin Cheah, photography by Nir Arieli, and video editing by Stephen Hebert.

Or and Shoemaker still reside in Brooklyn with their two dogs, Logan and Rocko, happily rounding out what they call, “The new American nuclear family.”

Got your own #metongrindr story you’d like to share? TAG US @grindr on instagram.

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