I go to Pride in 2015 and see black, Asian and Muslim LGBTIs applauded like never before. I go on Grindr and see profiles saying ‘no blacks’, ‘no Asians’.
Everyone knows being a gay Asian means facing homophobia and racism. Some people are surprised to hear this includes negative experiences as an Asian man within the LGBTI community, which is supposed to be a liberal, welcoming environment.
The Islamophobic abuse of Muslim men on Grindr in the days after the Paris terror attacks again highlighted the prejudices within the gay community.
Anthony Magallanez was accused of being part of ISIS by another Grindr user. The irony of course being that ISIS is barbarically homophobic and Muslims are by far the most numerous of its victims.
I regularly go on Pride marches. The warm welcome that Black and Muslim groups get at these events show boundaries are being broken down all the time. All is not rosy – it’s often a fight to get high profile visibility and these environments are not free of racism and prejudice either. But, from what I’ve seen, that is improving and people are listening.
So when I see phrases such as ‘no blacks’ ‘no Asians’ and ‘no Muslims’ on dating apps, it feels like something from the intolerant Britain of the 1960s when my parents faced ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’ signs in landlord’s windows.
As a black man, when I see these words, I do not feel like I’m on a dating app in the 21st century and I’m surprised there are forums in which people think such language is socially acceptable. It certainly wouldn’t be in a bar, café or workplace.
Some people argue they are entitled to date and sleep with who they want and that in some instances, that preference can be for black or Asian men over white men. This is true although I personally don’t have any ethnic preference.
To gay men who don’t understand what the fuss is about, I would ask you to subject your profiles to the ‘1960s racist landlord’ test. If what you are writing sounds like one of those signs my parents faced, then you need to change your wording.
By the way, that racist landlord from the 1960s was also a homophobe, so you and your boyfriend were not getting a room there just like my parents.
There is a way of stating your preferences positively. ‘(Preferred ethnic preference) to the front of the queue,’ for example. Although if there was a queue to speak of, I doubt you would be on Grindr.
The truth is that dating apps are a tiny expression of a bigger issue.
The idea of that the LGBTI community, liberated and liberal on sexuality, would also be liberal, enlightened and liberated on the issue of racism was shattered quite early on in my foray into this community and politics.
And I can tell you that coming out was hard enough without having to also accommodate these problems.
This is not just my experience. I know Muslim women in hijab, some of whom are straight but huge advocates of our community, others who are lesbian Muslims looking for a night out at a gay venue, who get stopped in the queue and questioned.
The assumption by security guards is they are straight and they don’t belong. This could easily be the first experience of a young Muslim LGBTI person looking for a supportive environment to come out. They describe it as being the same as being stopped at immigration in an airport.
A study by FS Magazine in the UK shows African Caribbean and Asian men’s experiences range from flagrant racism, to being excluded in clubs to being considered fetishized sexual objects.
Some conclude that racism on the gay scene is harder to deal with than homophobia in society. You can ‘hide’ your sexual identity, even though that is highly damaging, but you cannot hide your skin colour.
As activists, we need to challenge our own community. We are not immune from bigotry, racism and prejudice – no part of society is. After all there is internalized homophobia on Grindr too – ‘no camp, ‘no queens’, ‘no fems’ so it’s hardly surprising there’s racism and Islamophobia too.
I have been proud to work with Lesbians and Gays Supports the Miners, Rainbow Coalition Against Racism and others who work with communities to over come prejudices.
There are other great groups out there with a strong ethos on challenging racism, Islamophobia, and prejudice against the LGBTI community, like Safra Project and UK Black Pride.
I’m not suggesting all dating app users have to match their high standards. But it is clear we need a cultural shift to eradicate prejudice against LGBTI people of color – whether that’s in wider society or the smallest space we all inhabit, that little screen in the palm of our hand.
Denis Fernando is an activist and a musician. The video for his new track, Relentless, is out now here. He tweets here.