On Facebook, in comment sections, and everywhere else on the internet, people say things they would never say to each other in person. The anonymity, and the fact that they may never meet, makes it easy for people to leave their real-world manners behind.
“No fems, no fats,” is just one example of this kind of behavior. “Clean” is often used as code for not being infected with HIV, which implies that HIV-positive people are somehow “dirty.” Racist comments abound. “Many minority men find themselves either objectified and stereotyped with phrases such as ‘white guys only – just a preference’. Where’s the community? Where’s the respect? 53% of our users are non-white,” said Adam4Adam’s David Lesage.
The problem is that insults can often have profound, lasting effects. This behavior is too prevalent on dating sites, when people are at their most vulnerable. For gay men, these same dynamics can have an even stronger impact.
John Pachankis, a Yale psychologist who has done extensive research on gay men’s mental health says, “The data are clear. When gay men experience stigma coming from other members of their own community, it can have even worse effects than when it comes from the outside.” Pachankis has also found that the kind of persistent rejection that many men experience online can lead to more risky sexual behavior.
There’s still plenty of violence and hatred coming from the outside. There’s no reason we need to inflict it upon each other. Just as we came together to fight AIDS, we can come together to treat each other better. All the apps and sites involved, as well as HIV and STD prevention experts, recognize the need to improve how we interact with one another online.
“Mental health is closely tied to intimacy, whether it’s romantic or not. Many times when guys are lonely or feeling depressed they’re more likely to take risks that they might not otherwise,” says Dan Wohlfeiler, director of Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC). BHOC is a partnership of dating apps and HIV/STD prevention organizations working together to support gay men’s health. BHOC approached a number of leading dating sites serving gay and bi men to see if they wanted to come together to address this – together. And they jumped aboard.
Joe Hollendoner is CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “I’m incredibly proud of San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s involvement in NiceAF,’ he said, “and thrilled that so many apps are yet again stepping up to support gay men’s health. Partnerships like these foster innovation and enable our work to reach so many more people who can benefit from HIV education.
Like Adam4Adam’s Lesage, the other apps are all excited to see the sites promote a healthier, more tolerant, and more welcoming community. Carl Sandler, CEO of Daddyhunt, says, “We’re participating in NiceAF because we believe that shaming people for their HIV status, use of PrEP, age or race is not something we want to see happening on Daddyhunt nor in the gay community at large.”
“It’s more important than ever that we come together as one community to address these issues of abuse and discrimination online, and we are proud to stand alongside other leaders in this coalition,” agrees Grindr’s head of communications Landen Zumwalt. “Through this partnership with BHOC, in addition to steps Grindr is taking through our upcoming ‘Kindr’ initiative, we hope to encourage a thoughtful dialogue in the queer community around how we can be more respectful and inclusive – both online and in-person.”
“POZ has long fought HIV stigma in all its forms and is thrilled to be a partner with niceAF.org with the shared goal to make the online dating world a more welcoming place for everyone,” says Ian Anderson, president of Smart + Strong, the parent of POZ Personals.
Simply put: “The ways we communicate may be constantly evolving, but being kind will always remain the same,” said GROWLr CEO & Founder, Coley Cummiskey.
Thoughts about being
- Don’t Be a Complete Jerk on Gay Dating Apps (great suggestions on how not to be one!)
- Racism in Gay Dating?!? Ft. Dylan Marron | Decoded | MTV
- How apps are affecting gay men’s mental health
And watch “The Daily Show’s” Jessica Williams and Ronnie Chieng on Sexual Racism below: