Social (hook-up) apps are ingrained in the gay community and are now a part of our culture. These apps have replaced old-fashioned communication and the way we hook-up. I can remember the days when we would go to a bar (talk face-to-face) or go to a sex-club to meet or hook up with a guy. However, those days are gone; hook-up apps are a big part of our community. It’s also how a large population of gay men hook-up nowadays. However, a group of us believe these apps and websites are filled with the undertones of hate and have decided to no longer utilize them.
Racism within the gay community sounds crazy, right?
In recent months the topic of race and how the gay community is not as inclusive as it should be has become a hot topic. We’ve been living in a world that has perpetuated the “illusion of inclusion.” How do we change this unfortunate divide within our community? It’s a topic I find difficult to talk about but it needs to be addressed. We’ve been turning a blind-eye to the larger issue for far too long.
The politics of racism is something I have stemmed away from until I heard Jack’d, a leading gay social (hook-up) app was endorsing DeRay Mckesson, a prominent #BlackLivesMatter activist who is openly gay, in his bid for Baltimore Mayor.
Jack’d backing DeRay Mckesson stirred up mixed emotions and I felt indifferent about it. In my opinion the #BlackLivesMatter movement has become more of a marketing strategy and pulling away from the meaning of the true cause. However, it was also because I was taking my personal experiences and observations as an African-American gay male into account. I would love to be a part of a community that is inclusive but this requires gay media and businesses to make some changes, from the images we project to the political issues we publicly address and support.
It is rare for the execs of such a leading social (hook-up) app to agree to be interviewed, especially when it’s on the topics of #BlackLivesMatter, racism within the gay community, their reason for backing DeRay Mckesson, and their action-plan to help our community become more inclusive.
As an openly gay man who is an African-American and the founder of Kinkster MAG, a new addition to gay media, I find it admirable how Jack’d was so willing to be in the hot seat. I commend and thank all the executives at Jack’d for taking the time to address and answer our questions.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Kevin Letourneau, Director of Marketing for Jack’d and the other executives last week and here is what they had to say:
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is a major social and political one that isn’t necessarily aligned with the LGBT community. Why is it important for Jack’d to indirectly align itself with this movement via its endorsement of DeRay Mckesson?
#BlackLivesMatter is actually a movement founded by queer women. Giving voice to those who are often marginalized by society, and other Black liberation movements – particularly gay, lesbian, and trans people of color, is an integral part of their mission statement.
Through their courage and activism, the disturbing realities of racism has become a dominant topic of the national conversation in a way that invites participation and forces response. While some may view the tactics of #BlackLivesMatter controversial, it is nearly impossible to find an example in our history where equality was achieved without demands.
Gay Pride may seem like a benign, mainstream celebration today, but it’s important to remember that the first-ever parade on Christopher Street was organized by a group of perceived radicals to commemorate the one year anniversary of an overtly anti-gay police raid known today as the Stonewall Riots.
DeRay Mckesson has certainly positioned himself into a national spotlight and has secured other significant endorsements from tech giants like Twitter and Netflix and even pop culture icons like John Waters. Why is Jack’d endorsing Mckesson for the mayoral race? What makes him stand out as someone to support, particularly since some might consider his run to be a local or regional endeavor?
As a young, Black, gay man, DeRay is more representative of the future than most candidates. While this may be a local, mayoral race, the issues Baltimore face are shared by many other cities throughout the country. Our endorsement for DeRay is a celebration of his commitment to get involved, and enact change to the best of his ability. He is an inspiration for many of our LGBTQ youth who may feel like their stuck on the sidelines. The only way to see change, is to be it.
Some readers we’ve been talking with, who are gay black men, think this is only a marketing ploy. How do you respond to that criticism?
I can understand their skepticism, but our endorsement is far from lip service. The Jack’d community has over 10 million members who are much more diverse and younger than any of the other gay apps. We have a responsibility to represent their interests, and are fully committed to addressing racism within the gay community, and getting behind those who are leading the conversation.
Let’s talk about the Jack’d app and what’s happening at your company. You have a new initiative being launched this spring called, “Change the Game.” Tell us more about this campaign?
We have a young team here at Jack’d. Many of our discussions revolve around how the gay community often ignores realities about gender, sexuality, race, dating and self-empowerment. There is a real hunger to rise above the tired stereotypes and demand more. Our mission with #ChangeTheGame is to tackle these issues head-on by initiating candid conversations on social media and within our app to give voice to those who have gone unheard for too long.
There is renewed attention on the lack of images of gay men of color in major media environments eg. the hashtag campaign,#GayMediaSoWhite. How might this conversation play out in the “Change the Game” initiative?
We’ve jumped into the hashtag here and there, but intend to do much more. It’s an important conversation that’s long overdue. Our approach will be to lead by example. Many of the partners we’re working with are men of color who have been extremely vocal on how we, as a collective, still have a long way to go.
Last year, we updated all of the models on our website, screenshots, and advertising to show a more accurate representation of our users. We are really proud of the diversity of our community, and will continue to embrace all that makes us unique as individuals.
How will you determine the effectiveness of this initiative?
Success will be based on the level of participation we receive through the #ChangeTheGame hashtag. Whether or not they’re current Jack’d users, we hope that people will join the conversation and help us shake the preconceived notions of what it means to be a “gay man” in 2016.
A few weeks ago, we held an Instagram takeover that followed two young guys getting to know each other through a series of photos and conversations around the inner thoughts we all go through when navigating the dating scene. We received hundreds of comments about meeting new people in the big city, confidence, first-kisses, and the importance of friendship. In the coming months, we will be announcing a call for submissions, asking our community to upload their unique stories of how they #ChangeTheGame – whether it’s through living unapologetically, giving their advice and perspective on the current state of the gay community, or showcasing their passions and pursuits.
Above all, we are individuals with personal interests and goals, regardless of who we bring into the bedroom. This campaign is more than Jack’d – it’s a movement to be the change we want to see in our community; to let every young person know that it’s okay to be true to yourself, and that anything is possible when you set your mind to it.
We did a quick unscientific poll of our reader influencers regarding dating and meet-up apps in anticipation of this interview. Several of our readers including myself, deleted our profiles because there were so many listings blatantly rejecting various groups of people, eg. “no blacks,” “no asians,” “no fats,” “no fems.” Some people might call these “preferences.” What does Jack’d think about users posting these statements? How will Jack’d work through this apparent desire for some users to post these statements and at the same time resolve the company’s desire to promote an inclusive environment? Do you believe that by endorsing Mckesson, there might be some improvements in this area?
It’s a real problem. We called this behavior out in the “Don’t Be an Apphole” video we released last year, and are helping produce the upcoming documentary #NoFatsNoFems. People don’t understand the devastating effect these statements can have. It’s one thing to have a preference, it’s another to brazenly reject people by ethnicity, body type, masculinity, sexual interests or HIV-status. Whether it’s overt or subconscious, there’s no place for it on Jack’d.
We’ve taken many of our users to task on Twitter, challenging them to rethink their approach and encourage everyone to focus on the positive attributes they are looking for in their profiles. We have a tendency to forget that there are human beings on the other side of our devices. Could you imagine walking into a bar shouting “no fats, no fems, no asians?” It says more about you as a person, than it does to help you find who you’re looking for. It’s not cool. We can do better than that.
I think everyone can agree that people have preferences based on an array of characteristics and attributes. Aren’t there algorithms or technology Jack’d or other apps could use that would display only those profiles that align with my preferences? Why do I have to be subjected to blatant racially based statements (“no blacks”) rejecting who I am?
It’s unacceptable. I’m so sorry for your experience. Sadly, it is one shared by far too many. Thankfully, it’s pretty rare that we receive any reports about these sort of hurtful profile statements, but we know they’re out there. While other apps tend to skirt the issue, we see it as our responsibility to lead by example and explore all options.
What can Jack’d users do right now as a community to promote more inclusivity?
It sounds cliche, but it really doesn’t get any better than the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you like to be treated. Period. We understand guys are looking for what turns them on, but everyone should feel welcome in a safe space to meet new friends, go on dates, and enjoy some fun along the way. Your profile page is a first impression. Make it count.