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The Short Version: A study from the Pew Research Center found that while LGB singles are more likely than straight singles to use dating platforms, they are also more likely to experience harassment in the process. We spoke with Dan Leveille, Founder of Equaldex, to learn more about how online and in-person dating culture varies for LGBTQ+ people around the world. Equaldex seeks to collect and analyze data about the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement around the globe. The organization helps influence research and policy, as well as inform the general public about the progress of the movement.
It’s no secret that LGB — lesbian, gay, and bisexual — individuals face discrimination, disadvantages, and sometimes even violence in their daily lives on the basis of their sexual orientation. In over 60 countries, queer sexual activity is still criminalized. Conditions are improving — especially in the Western world — but queer individuals still face serious marginalization.
Despite encountering oppression, queer individuals continue to seek love and self-acceptance, both in-person and online. In 2020, Pew Research Center conducted a study that found that LGB singles are more likely than their straight counterparts to use online dating platforms, and they consider their experiences largely positive. However, these singles also report encountering significant harassment on dating platforms.
One effective way for queer individuals to protect themselves is to stay informed about the laws, cultural attitudes, and rights of LGBTQ+ individuals where they live and around the world. While it’s impossible to guarantee your safety and quality of life at any given moment, understanding the discrimination you might face in your city, country, vacation destination, or online can help you make decisions to protect yourself and calculate risk.
Data on LGBTQ+ issues is dramatically lacking, especially in regions where homosexuality and queer gender identity are less accepted — the very areas where this sort of data collection is the most needed. Luckily, dedicated groups are working to better the information available. Among them is Equaldex, a collaborative knowledge base that tracks, measures, and analyzes the LGBTQ+ rights movement and presents it in an easy-to-understand and compelling way.
Dan Leveille, Founder of Equaldex, started keeping track of LGBTQ+ rights in the late 2000s. “There were a lot of changes to laws in the US as many states were considering legislation to legalize same-sex marriage,” Dan said. “I realized that there wasn’t a single, comprehensive resource that provided this information in an easy-to-access format. With the rapid pace of changes and the amount of data that needed to be collected and organized, it became clear that the project would need to be a collaborative effort, so it evolved into a community-run initiative to track LGBTQ+ rights globally.”
We discussed the trends reported by the Pew Research Center with Dan to get a deeper look into online dating for LGB individuals. He shared his insights into the research and its implications for LGB dating and personal safety in the digital age.
Pew survey results found that, while only 28% of respondents who identified as heterosexual reported having used a dating platform at some point, 55% of LGB respondents said they had used a dating platform. “One of the advantages of online dating is that it can help people with a small pool of potential partners – such as those seeking same-sex partners – to find a match,” Anna Brown writes in her report of the study. For LGB singles, online dating may not only be a desirable way to find a partner, it’s also a necessary one.
This makes sense to Dan. “I’ve seen similar research in the past, and based on my own experiences, I can definitely attest to that being true,” he said. “I think, just by nature, it makes more sense for LGBTQ+ people to seek partners online, where they can be assured that the people they’re meeting share a compatible sexual orientation.”
Queer dating apps tend to have more options for same-sex or nonbinary dating, and some apps automatically block and remove profiles seeking heterosexual matches. For example, the lesbian dating app HER cultivates a women-only space where lesbian and queer matches are the norm.
As Dan said, “It’s pretty clear this is why online dating is so popular to LGBTQ+ people, especially in smaller towns where other queer people might be hard to find or if there isn’t much (or any) LGBTQ+ nightlife.”
Dan added that in more rural areas, where it’s more difficult to be out or there are fewer opportunities to meet other queer singles, the need for online dating is even greater. And compared to dating in person, where the threats to personal safety may be physical in nature, online dating feels safer and easier to navigate. This may be why 65% of LGB individuals say their experience was positive, while only 56% of straight individuals say the same.
Despite the generally positive experiences LGB singles say they encounter on dating platforms, they are more likely than straight singles to experience harassment and abuse dating online. Unfortunately, 56% of LGB dating site users said they have been sent an unsolicited sexual message or image compared with 32% of straight users surveyed. Approximately 17% of LGB singles in the survey said they have been physically threatened online — over twice the number of straight singles who reported to have experienced the same thing.
Dan said he wasn’t surprised by this seemingly incongruous reality. Online dating is easier and faster. And while LGB singles say they feel safer dating online than they do meeting people in person, elements of LGBTQ+ dating culture, coupled with violent homophobia from those targeting the community, can make dating online riskier for LGB singles than straight singles.
“I think there are two sides of the harassment here: from within the LGBTQ+ community and from outside the community,” Dan said. “Gay dating apps are notorious for being toxic, especially for minorities or people who don’t fit into the ‘fit, masculine, young, cisgender, and white’ profile. The other type of harassment LGBTQ+ people face is homophobic and transphobic people who might be targeting them through apps and online communities.”
Hookup apps like Grindr are popular with many in the LGBTQ+ community, but the quick, casual, and anonymous nature of the app can make it easier for bad actors to send abusive messages online. Online daters can report this behavior and block the offending dating profile, but few other repercussions exist for harassment in the app world.
While abuse can come from toxic individuals looking for a hookup on the apps, it can also come from homophobic individuals who go on queer-focused apps with the intent of causing harm. In November 2022, a man was sentenced for scheduling meetups with men from Grindr for the purpose of robbing them. Similar criminal cases continue to pose threats to LGBTQ+ individuals’ safety.
While dating comes with safety risks everywhere, Dan’s work through Equaldex illustrates the wide range of safety levels for LGBTQ+ people around the world. Being aware of local attitudes no matter where you are is important, but especially so for LGBTQ+ people intending to date while moving or traveling to a new place. “Dating as an LGBTQ+ person can be pretty dangerous in certain countries, so it’s always good to be aware of the public’s views,” he told us. “In some cases, it might be unsafe to even have location-based dating apps when you visit these regions.”
When dating online, pay attention to the experiences of others on the apps you use and in the area where you live. Talking with members of your community or friends who share your sexuality or gender identity can give you a better idea of how to stay safe online and in person. Online dating is a fantastic tool for meeting other singles, and it’s usually safe. And by staying in the know about best practices, you can go the extra step to protect yourself from harassment.
Dating can be dangerous for anyone, especially marginalized people. But when you stay informed about your rights, local culture, and public safety, you can make more informed choices about how and where you date and how to stay vigilant. Equaldex can help LGBTQ+ people understand the best and safest places for them to live, work, travel, and love. Its data can give you ideas for your next move or suggest ways to protect yourself on your next vacation.
And soon, you’ll be able to get direct input about user experiences to give you a more personal picture of life in any locality.
“One of Equaldex’s next features will allow users to submit ratings and write about their experiences in any state or province in the world, from dating to nightlife to safety,” Dan told us. “I think this feature will be helpful in understanding what the LGBTQ+ culture is like in new places you’re about to visit or move to. You’ll be able to understand not only the laws, but how safe LGBTQ+ people feel in this region, if it’s a good place for meeting people, and how it compares to your home state, province, or country.”