The suitable one

High rejection rates and biases faced by the LGBTQIA+ on mainstream apps have led to an upsurge in many dating apps trying to make an effort to put the community folk first but are they able to match up? Paarth Singh finds out
Last Updated : 03 April 2021, 19:15 IST
Last Updated : 03 April 2021, 19:15 IST

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A historic decision by the Supreme Court more than two years ago gave freedom to millions of people from the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community. However, the words glitter only on paper as the community still grapples with discrimination from society. In such a scenario, leave alone leading a normal life, dating or getting into a relationship, and finding the love of their life has become the biggest challenge. A few dating apps came to the rescue of those who were wanting to find a soulmate without stepping out of their homes. But these apps come with their own perks and perils.

“I was looking for someone special to share my joys and happiness. It was through a dating app that I found my partner who was on the same page as me and not essentially looking for sexual encounters,” says Pune-based Sagar who is in a relationship for the past 18 months. “The lockdown was a boon as it brought us closer,” he says with a hint of laughter. While Sagar may have been lucky, there are many others who are finding it difficult to trust the many dating apps which are flooded by fake identities and mismatched profiles and the trauma of discrimination.

“I am not a fan of any dating apps for any community. I still prefer the old school ways where I meet someone before I engage with them in any way,” says Simi Mehra, the first Indian to play on the coveted LPGA Tour and the first sportsperson to have come out even before the 2018 decision.

And for the people who like to swim in the socialising sea, apps like Grindr, Romeo, Tinder, OkCupid and Delta came to their aid. However, most of these were international apps and designed on the lines of mainstream dating apps and as such included the community but catered to a certain section or were open to all without dwelling into the person’s orientation or preferences. Delta was the first homegrown app in that genre but is believed to have been discontinued.

“I have used a few apps but none worked for me. I don’t think there is a good app available in India for transgenders. People using those apps do not know about true profiling. While it says inclusive, they are not sensitised. The moment I get a match and tell them about my identity, they either unmatch or stop talking. Most dating apps have become more like a hook-up app,” laments Sahil who runs a family-owned book depot in Vashi, Navi Mumbai.

Well, Sahil’s prayers may have just been answered with the launch of As You Are (AYA) — an indigenous app especially tailored for the LGBTQIA+ community which promises to do away with the ‘hook-up’ tag that most apps have, and create a platform for a serious relationship. “Even after the changes to Article 377, we realised that only a few had come out. We wanted to create a space where even the closeted people could interact with each other and choose to be anonymous till they want,” says Chandigarh-based Sunali Aggarwal, Founder, AYA.

Getting blocked for who you are — read discrimination based on sex, religion, colour and most importantly the trust factor has forced many people from the community to shift from popular dating apps to Instagram. “I love to meet people but where do I find them? The only way I thought was to use the dating app. However, it became futile as there were no ‘real’ persons. Hence I shifted to Instagram and the experience has been intimate, to say the least,” admits Stella, a software engineer from Kolkata who works in Bengaluru.

Marred by many factors, a lot of people from the queer community depend upon forming private forums and interactive clubs where a group of like-minded people meet. “We have done a lot of research and modified our app to make it truly inclusive. This has taken a hit on our finances, leaving a meagre budget for our marketing but that is fine as long as we live up to our promise of catering to the entire gamut of the community,” says Sunali adding that apart from the security measures, a selfie-based verification is in place to verify the identity of a user and ensure that only genuine members sign up while also keeping the members’ privacy strictly confidential.

Dating apps have become a crucial means of introduction for gay folks looking to settle down. A 2019 Stanford study and 2020 Pew Research survey found that meeting online has become the most popular way for US couples to connect, especially for gay couples, of which 28% met their current partner online versus 11% of straight couples. Back home, AYA has over 10,000 downloads with 50 to 60 sign-ups every day. “We are also working on including regional languages since English is not the first language for a lot of people,” says Sunali.

It may take a generation before the LGBTQ community members are respected and treated as equals in society. But for now, many of them do not have a choice but to depend on dating apps.

Published 03 April 2021, 19:11 IST

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