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Gay Olympians Should Not Be Treated Like Zoo Animals

Gay Olympians Should Not Be Treated Like Zoo Animals

Gay Olympians Should Not Be Treated Like Zoo Animals

A recent story by Nico Hines of The Daily Beast on Olympic Grindr usage is not only homophobic, but puts closeted queer men in danger.

MikelleStreet

Olympic athletes are human. Sure, they can do a few superhuman things (we all saw gymnast Simone Biles practically levitate) but at the end of the day they are human. And like any other humans, they have sex.

In an article for The Daily Beast, journalist Nico Hines decides to “investigate” just how carnal athletes are and downloaded apps like Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, and Jack’d for an hour-long test run. The idea is in no way novel; articles have been written on Tinder usage at Coachella and Grindr usage at the Republican National Convention. In fact, Tinder reported that matches rose 129 percent around the Olympic Village. Grindr hasn’t released similar statistics. But Hines’ handling of the article was not only insensitive to gay men but potentially dangerous for athletes that were included.

While the self-described heterosexual married man starts out listing four apps, his article quickly narrows down to the usage of one: Grindr. For anyone following sports, this is little surprise; at The Advocate’s count there are over 40 actual out Olympians in Rio right now. Reports say this is a record breaking number.

Some, like Tonga’s Amini Fonua are quite vocal about their usage of the app which surprisingly doesn’t differ from the average Joe Schmoe. But in a scene that could be likened to a kid approaching a caged bear and prodding it for a reaction, Hines turns Grindr into a spectator sport to be ridiculed.

At one point, Hines begins to to try to make an excuse for himself, explaining that he never misled anyone using only photos of himself and admitting that he was a journalist when asked. That admission isn’t enough; there are many journalists on Grindr who don’t have intentions on writing about their interactions there and “what do you do?” in terms of vocation isn’t typical Grindr chit-chat.

Pulling quotes from profiles like “In village ready for action! Let’s make an athletes orgy!” Hines provides a glimpse of what was on offer. But to anyone actually familiar with the app, the messages were pretty common place. In fact, the “expose” brings to mind Marc Jacobs’ response to the backlash from accidentally posting a photo of his ass to Instagram. “I’m a gay man,” he wrote as a response to a commenter at the time. “I flirt and chat with guys online sometimes. BIG DEAL!” Indeed.

While ripe from criticism, what Grindr provides for the most part is a safe space for gay men. Whatever your end goal, the idea is you’re likely to get there by interacting with like minded men. Hines was clearly not likeminded. His report comes off like a critique of gay athletes seemingly doing the same thing that their straight counterparts were doing if Tinder’s report is to be believed.

What’s worse, the report could cause problems for some athletes. While the article has been edited since people began to speak out on social media, it originally contained identifying information about various athletes, some of whom came from homophobic countries. We saw the effects of exposing individuals’ identities in homophobic countries following the Orlando Pulse massacre when gay men were forced to flee their homes after photos of them surfaced showing support for those affected by the tragedy.

Hines no doubt made a mistake by writing this article, putting the safety of various athletes into question in addition to possibly outing others prior to when they wanted to be for no reason. As a straight, married man he didn’t have the contextual knowledge to write about Grindr in a way that didn’t “other” the users on the platform as if they were doing something other than just living their typical lives.

But, Hines wasn’t a rogue operator: The Daily Beast no doubt edited and then subsequently published the piece, OK-ing it. Instead of asking a gay man, who had familiarity with the app to write something insightful and actually revealing, this “siesta fire” as it has been called by some saw the light of day. And for that reason, The Daily Beast is at fault too.

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Mikelle Street

Mikelle Street is the former editorial director of digital for PrideMedia, guiding digital editorial across Pride.com, The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus. Catch his words on Twitter. 

Mikelle Street is the former editorial director of digital for PrideMedia, guiding digital editorial across Pride.com, The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus. Catch his words on Twitter.