Talk to most people about Grindr, and the response you’ll get is usually some variation of this: "You mean the gay hookup app?"
And yes, it’s true — Grindr is an app that gay and bi men use to connect for a variety of reasons, including hooking up. But in recent months, Grindr has been making headlines for a variety of other reasons, including using its technology and access to 5 million male users to spread information.
Grindr and its division Grindr4Equality were profiled in The New York Times in June for a Los Angeles-based study that showed the app was an effective means of distributing HIV self-testing kits to gay black and Hispanic men. Some of the nation’s top HIV and AIDS organizations have successfully used Grindr in the last year as a means of educating gay men about PrEP. And worldwide, Grindr’s geolocation technology has been used to connect users fleeing violence and oppression with health and legal services, as well as safe spaces for them to be themselves.
Which leads to Grindr’s latest effort — Hack4Equality, a seven-week hackathon that connects some of the best and brightest developers and designers (i.e., hackers) from around the world with nonprofits and LGBT advocates to build innovative applications that will tackle struggles in our community. To find these hackers, Grindr and its presenting partner HackerNest did a lot of work connecting with local tech communities and meet-up groups as well as colleges and universities. They worked directly with nonprofit partners — Planned Parenthood, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the True Colors Fund, the It Gets Better Project, and OutRight Action International. According to project organizer Jeremy Foreshew, Hack4Equality has "inspired ideas and interaction and connected incredible minds who don’t often get to spend time in the same room."
The hackathon will culminate in a major event at Grindr headquarters September 25 where more than 200 technologists will present their work — applications designed to better reach and assist the communities these nonprofits tirelessly work to serve. Hundreds more people who aren’t in the Los Angeles area are working on their projects globally. The best technology solutions will be identified and presented to a panel of judges. Prizes will be awarded and there will be opportunities for participants to connect with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
"When we first came up with the idea for Hack4Equality, we started with three of their pillars of work; LGBTQ international issues, access to sexual health services and PrEP, and transgender visibility and economic empowerment," Foreshew says. "Grindr has done some really remarkable work globally in these areas, and we wanted to take that work a step further [and] partner with the White House’s Opportunity Project (the Obama administration’s open data initiative), which is when we learned of the Obama administration's interest in solving problems for the national LGBTQ homelessness epidemic."
Foreshew said he was most impressed to find how committed the White House is to creating opportunities for innovation through its open data projects.
"We also quickly came to learn that, in terms of data, there really isn't much quantitative data on the LGBTQ community," he adds. "Most of that can be blamed on lack of representation in census data. So that’s where Grindr steps in — information collected from Grindr users allows us to offer some sets of highly-anonymized user data, to help accommodate for that."
For folks like True Colors chief creative officer Joe Moran, an opportunity to work with expert hackers and a company like Grindr is invaluable because it provides access to technology many nonprofits simply can’t afford.
"Technology has transformed our world in so many ways, but it’s remained largely inaccessible to the social sector because it’s simply too expensive to experiment with,” Moran says. "What’s great about an event like Hack4Equality is it provides an opportunity for nonprofits to be on the cutting edge of technology, without cutting into their budgets. It’s definitely a game-changer in the movement to end LGBT youth homelessness."
For more information on Hack4Equality, visit http://www.grindr.com/hack4equality/.
ROSS VON METZKE is a communications and public relations professional living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @RossWilliamVon.