The gay internet went gaga over Grindr's "naughty" new emojis — a set of 500 images that included symbols for foot fetishists, size queens, anilingus lovers, and more communicators of mood and sexual preference.
But the most groundbreaking "gaymoji," as the hookup app termed it, is a little blue pill. Imprinted with "701," the capsule is an image of Truvada, a drug used for pre-exposure prophylaxsis. If taken daily, this treatment has been shown to be up to 99 percent effective in preventing HIV.
How far we've come. In 2014, The Advocate published a GLAAD Award-winning series on PrEP, which analyzed its efficacy as well as the stigma attached to its use. Sex-shaming was (and is) rampant. Around that time, Michael Weinstein, the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, called Truvada a "party drug'; Star Trek's Zachary Quinto, to some controversy, warned that PrEP may lead to an increase in "recreational sex."
However, Grindr was an early PrEP advocate. For years, the app has used its reach of 5 million active users to educate the global queer community about its potential.
“Grindr is working with PrEP groups around the country to find ways that utilize Grindr’s network best and most effectively get the word out,” a spokesman for Grindr told BuzzFeed in 2014, adding, "Actions can take the form of signing petitions, donating money to a worthy cause or participating in a specific call to action."
That year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the daily pill as a powerful prevention tool for at-risk gay men. And Grindr amped up its push to spread awareness. In 2015, Grindr for Equality — its activist arm — published a report that 25 percent of its users were using PrEP. The survey, which measured statistics related to access, adherence, and stigma, prompted the app to increase awareness campaigns in Spanish and map clinics where the drug is accessible. In 2016, Grindr also added filters for HIV status and PrEP use.
The "gaymoji" is a fun and functional extension of this outreach campaign. As users scroll through images to communicate their desires to potential partners, they will be reminded that prevention is a part of sex.
Some, illustrated by a memorable 2015 billboard campaign from AHF, have blamed Grindr and other hookup apps for contributing to a rise in sexually transmitted infections, just as they have pointed the finger at PrEP for increased rates of syphilis and gonorrhea.
Yet apps or no apps, people are not going to stop having sex anytime soon. And Grindr, by working to educate its users of all the tools in the toolbox of prevention, is doing a public service.
Joel Simkhai, the founder of Grindr, told The New York Times that the company created the gaymojis in order to visually express ideas and conversations that were specific to the gay community — and to visually simplify conversations.
“Partly, this project started because the current set of emojis set by some international board were limited and not evolving fast enough for us,” Simkhai said.
Similarly, LGBT people — faced with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and an administration that has yet to declare how it will address the AIDS crisis, if at all — have no time to wait for an international board to evolve toward HIV-prevention emoji. If a digital image on a hookup app can translate to education, then (sorry, egglant!) the PrEP emoji may be the most important one in this new update.