Jonathan hasn't received a message in weeks.
A 25-year old gay man who lives in New York, he keeps a folder filled with various dating apps on his phone—including Grindr, Scruff, and Tinder. Since moving to Hell’s Kitchen two months ago, he says he can “count on one hand” the number of messages he’s gotten from men in the popular Manhattan gayborhood.
Jonathan, a muscularly built student at NYU decides to engage in a little experiment over coffee in a Harlem café: He changes his profile picture to a male friend’s photo. The friend is cute and clean-cut, but most importantly, he’s white. Jonathan gets 50 messages in less than a half hour.
To be honest he isn't surprised. In fact, he is used to this. “It doesn’t matter what I write in my profile,” Jonathan says. “You’re not going to read it because you’re automatically going to make assumptions about me based on my race.” It was recently that someone sent him a message on Grindr that he can't forget, “You fucking chinks are the reason why there’s so much racism in the gay community,” it read.
Unfortunately, his experience isn't uncommon, especially on dating ("hook-up") sites. In 2014 Christian Rudder, founder of OkCupid told NPR there is a "bias" on almost all platforms against black and Asian users. “Every kind of way you can measure their success on a site—how people rate them, how often they reply to their messages, how many messages they get—that’s all reduced,” he stated.
Researchers in Australia polled about 2,000 gay and bisexual men, and found that 70% percent felt that it was o.k. to exclude someone based on their ethnicity and it wasn't racism, and they also believed that to have 'no Blacks', 'no Asians' was just stating a preference (what a load of crap, in my opinion).
Let's just be real about this, sexual racism has become a contentious one in the gay community, as most gay and bisexual men depend on their phones in ways they once did at local bars; which as you know leaves certain types of people in these online communities out in the cold. As Jonathan explains "it can be difficult to find your place in the community where you're too often shut out by people who believe that exclusion is harmless - or even natural."
Peter an Asian American living in Salt Lake City stated: “It took a toll on my self-esteem, I wondered, why not me? I thought that was the culture,” he said. “But when I talked to my white friends about it, it was if they lived in a completely different world. Their profiles are flooded with hundreds of different messages and filled with conversations with all different kinds of people. My friends of color, though, had the same experience as me: You rarely get a message and rarely does someone respond to yours.”
Peter admits that he doesn't get many messages on any dating platform and that it took him a while to understand why people were not responding to him. "I just get the feeling that I am not wanted because of my heritage and that is Asian." What bothers Peter the most is when people send messages that include words such as 'chink', 'slant eyes', 'bedtime', lemonhead', and 'japanigger'. “I see my friends who are always with new people or going on dates. It makes me feel left out and isolated knowing that it’s not as easy for me to navigate the gay scene. I’ve struggled with not feeling attractive enough because there are such strict beauty standards in the gay community around what’s considered attractive. You have to fit into that box.” he stated.
We have to understand that sexual racism is not exclusive to online spaces, but what makes the discrimination unique is unlike chat rooms, most users believe they have some sort of expectation that what they share is private. Allowing users to express exclusionary preferences around race, but otherwise would not in public. But statements like 'no chocolate', 'no rice', 'whites only' are very prevalent in online dating sites. "It's less common that I experience overt racism when I'm at a bar, but online it's an entirely different situation," says Akio a 28-year old gay man from Seattle. "I can’t log on a dating app without people telling him that they’re “not into Asians guys."
Akio recounts an experience where he was talking to a guy online, when he sent a picture, the man he was talking to replied, I doesn't mess around with Asians. However, it just so happened that he was out with friends and low and behold he spotted the same guy he was just talking to three days prior. I asked a friend to introduce us, and when we walked over this man was all over me, but when I recounted our online conversation, he had nothing to say, except sorry.
If you were walking down the street with other people and yelled discriminatory slag, that would be socially unacceptable. But for some reason when you're alone and not in the presence of others it appears to be o.k. Why? Maybe because you have a physical barrier between yourself and the people you're interacting with? When is it alright to say "it's a preference" and it's not racist? It's racist regardless how you look at it there are no other words to describe this behavior. This applies to all social groups in the LGBT community, we see just as many 'no whites', so let's not fool ourselves to think otherwise.
When I hear people talk about togetherness, we're one community I have to call bullshit. Let's just be real about discrimination in the LGBT community, it happens across the spectrum.
The bottom line is when we use discriminatory language on social app's we invite a complete lack of empathy for those with whom one is engaging.
If you don't know who you're talking (chatting) with and don't have to physically see their reaction to what's being said you don't feel as bad.
What a sad community we still have to deal with open discrimination and racism in the LGBT community.