My first foray into the gay dating app scene came when I was a closeted college sophomore. Laying restlessly on the bottom bunk in my musty dorm room — such luxury! — I fired up OkCupid for the first time.
Then came Tinder. And Grindr. Soon, my home screen was filled with all sorts of scintillating rectangular boxes, each one containing the keys to an intoxicating world that I could only fantasize about experiencing.
Those apps were my safe space for the duration of the school year. They allowed me to escape and imagine living as an out gay man. Most of all, they showed me that I wasn’t alone. Gays were all around me — and they all had great torsos. Amazing!
About two months later, I came out.
I give you that backstory, because Olympic athletes’ Grindr profiles have once again been exposed. This week, Insider reported that TikTok and Twitter users were posting photos and videos of Olympians’ profiles on each platform, unbeknown to them.
The revelation harkens back to the ugly outings of the 2016 Rio Games, when a straight writer for the Daily Beast used Grindr to out gay athletes from homophobic countries.
Much like that writer, many of these users appear to be dangerously ignorant. One video captain on TikTok read the following: “I used Grindr’s explore feature to find myself and Olympian boyfriend.”
The post revealed over 30 full faces from inside the Olympic Village. It was viewed more than 140,000 times, according to Insider.
“These individuals are in breach of Grindr’s Terms and Conditions of Service which prohibit them from publicly displaying, publishing, or otherwise distributing any content or information that are part of the Grindr services,” a Grindr spokesperson said.
We know why it’s dangerous to out LGBTQ athletes. Many countries remain hostile to LGBTQ people, and publicly posting their profiles could threaten their safety. Even Japan still fails to legally protect LGBTQ people, or allow same-sex marriage.
Back in 2016, gay Tongan swimmer Amini Fonua explained how harmful the shameful practice can be.
Imagine the one space you can feel safe, the one space you're able to be yourself, ruined by a straight person who thinks it's all a joke?— Amini Fonua (@AminiFonua) August 11, 2016
No straight person will ever know the pain of revealing your truth, to take that away is just... I can't. It literally brings me to tears— Amini Fonua (@AminiFonua) August 11, 2016
In addition to endangering LGBTQ people, sharing Grindr profiles on other public social media platforms is deeply disturbing. For some, these apps are the only place where they can express themselves, or meet anybody like them.
“The big problem is, as a society, we have not created enough safe spaces for LGBTQ young people to explore their gender and sexuality,” LGBTQ researcher Jack Turban told me last year.
I can already hear the cynical responses: “Nothing on the Internet is private. Why do you expect Grindr to be any different?”
That’s a fair point, but I don’t know — there is some sort of unwritten code. Even as a very publicly out person, it would be mortifying if I saw my Grindr profile posted on Twitter. I have shirtless pictures and list my HIV status, including the last time I got tested.
None of that is embarrassing, per se, but also, it’s not everyone’s business. Gay men look for dates and hookups on the apps. There is an expectation of privacy that comes along with those kinds of conversations.
And it was shattered for all of the Olympic athletes outed.
This has been the gayest Olympics on record, with more than 170 out athletes competing. It’s an incredible figure that illustrates how far we’ve come.
But stories like these remind us of all the challenges that lie ahead.