Assessing and Mitigating Risk for the Global Grindr Community
The idea for Grindr was born in West Hollywood, California, where the crosswalks are permanently painted with rainbows. When I joined the Grindr team In 2015, we were rounding the corner on the company’s sixth anniversary, and the app had taken off in nearly every country on earth. Becoming so global reflected on Grindr’s incredible appeal and success but also posed challenges: most of the world wasn’t (and still isn’t) as accepting a place as West Hollywood.
Grindr for Equality
Grindr has always been about helping queer people connect, but we knew that the possibilities for connection weren’t the same in every country. That’s why I came from the LGBTQ non-profit space to build Grindr for Equality, or G4E, the company’s social justice program with the mission to help create a safer, more inclusive world for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Through G4E, we endeavor to support local activism and uplift the safety, health, and human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the globe.
One of the first things I did at G4E was set up a classification system for the world’s countries based on the risk LGBTQ+ people face. As a geolocation-based app, we recognized an opportunity to do good in areas of the world that have the greatest struggle towards acceptance.
The annual State-Sponsored Homophobia Report from ILGA World and ILGA Europe’s Rainbow Europe rankings proved essential in developing the classification system, but I also needed to talk to members of my personal and professional queer networks so that we could learn how we might help address difficult incidents in their region.
This work is ever-evolving, and we continue to update and refine the inputs, but here is the five-tiered system, rated from active emergency to relative safety.
Countries whose governments have placed active bans on the use of Grindr like Indonesia and Turkey, as well as countries where we block our services like North Korea.
Even in these banned regions, I assume that some people find ways to access Grindr, even at great risk; their safety needs are often significant, so I ensure our safety resources are translated into relevant languages and made available to them.
Countries that are experiencing active, ongoing emergencies. This might either be for LGBTQ+ people specifically, like was the case in Egypt during the winter crackdown of 2017, or for a country’s entire population, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, like the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis.
For these countries, we disable the Show Distance feature that allows users to see how far away other users are. We also provide a set of free safety features to our users, send daily push notifications to announce known risks in the area, and share available safety resources.
Countries that are not experiencing an immediate crack down but that are still extremely unsafe for LGBTQ+ people.
Similar to the level 4 countries, users logging in from these areas of the world receive free safety features, the Show Distance feature is disabled, and weekly alerts are sent concerning risks in their area.
Countries that generally pose relatively little risk to LGBTQ+ people. They include places like Eswatini and Singapore where sex between men is technically illegal but the laws aren’t known to be enforced and there have been relatively few violent incidents motivated by homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia in recent years.
Even in these places, heartbreaking incidents do happen, so we provide users in this region with important safety resources, but thankfully the need isn’t so great that we send out unprompted alerts to users.
Finally, Level 1 countries are those with progressive legal and social systems that help LGBTQ+ people thrive. When I’m asked what countries I would point to that have the best laws, I often mention Malta, a relatively small country in the Mediterranean that has instituted some of the best policies for our community.
The safety features we’ve created for countries with higher risks is something that I’m particularly proud of. We’ve instituted things like screenshot blocking, disappearing photos, and the opportunity for users to unsend messages for the upper levels of the scale. We developed these features with the more dangerous countries in mind but ultimately released them to all users in recognition that even in countries with robust LGBTQ+ laws, users anywhere can become targets.
For example, we learned that as users in Beirut moved through multiple military checkpoints they experienced abuse when soldiers recognized the Grindr app on their phones. Of course, from our perspective, the Grindr icon is meant to represent connection for our community, not a trigger for harassment and discrimination. Thanks to our collaboration with the freedom of expression organization, Article 19, and the activist developers at The Guardian Project, users are now able to disguise Grindr as a notepad app, a clock app, etc.
Although the stakes are highest in the Level 4 and 5 countries where LGBTQ+ people are actively targeted simply for being who they are and loving who they love, the truth is that our community faces risks to its safety in every corner of the globe. We hope that our efforts to help address those risks serve as an affirmation that our community deserves to be safe and healthy. In solidarity with those who suffer hardship because of who they are or how they love, we as a company work hard every day to provide a platform that facilitates joy and connection.