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Dating apps for gay men don’t have the greatest reputation.From Grindr to Scruff, Hornet to Jack’d, the digital platforms are best known for dredging up flakey users, svelte-only fat-shamers, masc-4-masc femme-phobes, and it’s-a-personal-preference racists.They’re helping, in other words, make the connections so many queers have been yearning for all along.This isn’t to suggest that having an out presence in public spaces is the only thing that matters for strengthening the community, especially when vulnerability often attends visibility.Yet their scope and reach in the queer community are hard to overstate.Since the 2009 launch of Grindr, the first and most ubiquitous of the set, gay dating apps have racked up north of several-dozen million users in some 200 countries (including Cuba! Grindr says that its users average 54 minutes on the app per day.

Now, almost a decade after they started bringing torso pics to queer men’s devices the world over, these powerful gay platforms are trying to reach beyond their hookup origins.

But there’s power in being able to meet, forge connections, take up space, and simply point queer people to gatherings of all different forms and shapes. At a time when—for reasons like rent, warming attitudes toward the queer community, and technology—gay bars are disappearing, apps are trying to offer the sorts of interactions that reproduce many of the same historic functions.

They appear to be reconceptualizing spaces that have historically been bulwarks against anti-gay bigotry; spaces where one can, at least to a degree, enjoy being in public without mainstream judgment.

In 2015, it conducted a survey with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Centers for Disease Control to gauge its users’ awareness of Pr EP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily regimen that can protect users from contracting HIV.

The company also participated in a University of California, Los Angeles, study that showed using the app to push banner ads and notifications for free HIV home test kits was an effective way to reach high-risk populations.

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