Everything had been appropriately set up on the app-of-note; pictures sent, preferences described, smirking devil and suggestive produce emojis exchanged. I was working for the week in Kansas City and my mate for the night was leaving his apartment to come over to my hotel. I sent him my room number. This particular hotel didn’t require key card access at the elevator, so he’d be able to come right on up; a relief since that meant I could keep fixing my cowlick until the second I heard his knock on the door.
But there wouldn’t be a knock. While my gentleman caller was approaching the building from his car, he messaged me to say that he’d like me to come meet him in the lobby regardless of the elevator situation.
In the 30 seconds between this and his next message, many thoughts bounced around my head. Did he think I might be a “catfish” and not want to knock on a stranger’s door? Did he want to see me in a public space so he could walk away comfortably in the event I had sent him pictures from 10 years and 100 pounds ago? I understand all of these concerns since that’s why I like hosting in my hotel room; so I can peek through the peephole before opening the door to see if someone matches their pictures or to see if a Scream mask is waiting on the other side to “Drew Barrymore” me.
But then the next message arrived: “I just don’t want any trouble from security at the hotel.”
Of course that was his concern. He was a 6’6” black man in Missouri. He was a 6’6” black man in America. Bundled in winter clothes and sweatpants and walking into a hotel in Kansas City’s downtown, he had every reason to suspect that he might not have the easiest time waltzing in at 1 a.m., past a front desk potentially manned by BBQ Becky and Permit Patty, and heading up to the guest suites.
“Absolutely. Heading down.” The state of my cowlick would have to suffice.
Although I still didn’t think he had anything to worry about, I wanted to make him comfortable. It was the bare minimum I could do since he felt he might be in jeopardy; I’ve watched the news more than once in my life, and I wanted us both to have an enjoyable time free of unwarranted police reports.
When the elevator opened, I walked to the front door to retrieve him. I’m not sure if his message made me hyper-aware, but the front desk attendant did appear to be staring him down. Perhaps he was looking past him into the dark abyss of the street, but I’m fairly positive he was sizing him up. The wave of relief and confusion that swept over the attendant’s face when I went over to greet my guest was disheartening, but not surprising.
An hour later, re-dressing in the confines of my temporary home, my comrade struck up conversation. He was very easy to talk to and after a while, when conversation moved to his life in Kansas City, he brought up the racism he faces on Grindr and used racial tensions as his reasoning for wanting me to come down to the lobby earlier that night. I finally asked what had been on my mind since riding down the elevator shaft earlier.
“Have you ever run into a problem coming into this specific hotel before?”
He said no. However, he told me a story from earlier that week. His barber has a shop in a complex a couple blocks from the hotel and, when walking into the building for his appointment, he was stopped and questioned by an older white man as to why he was outside the building. To avoid any escalation, this black man eventually had to show this stranger his barber’s business card as proof he should be allowed to go in. The white man had no particular dominion over this space, he was just a patron of a business who was also standing outside of the building. Since this was fresh in my new acquaintance’s mind, he just didn’t want to risk anything at this hotel because, in his words, “it is so late, and I am so black.”
The next morning, cautiously turning on CNN to see what new hell was in the news cycle today, I was shocked by the coincidence of the first story I heard. At the same time as my companion and I were talking in my hotel room the night before, on the Pacific coast my friend’s concerns had been validated. An actual guest at a hotel in Portland, Ore., had the police called on him while sitting in the lobby of a hotel he was paying to stay in for the unspeakable crime of calling his mother while black. If any of these stories sound surprising to you than you are most likely white or haven’t picked up a newspaper ever.
So, for a white gay man who uses Grindr while working remotely across the country and prefers hosting hookups rather than traveling myself, this was the first time someone asked me to escort them through the lobby but most likely not the first time someone, specifically a guest of color, had been made to feel uncomfortable traipsing through a hotel at all hours of the night. And if recent news has anything to teach, it’s that “living while black” is not only a crime in the rural South as we are sometimes made to believe. The police are called on black people living their lives all over this country. It is, obviously, no different for black men on Grindr. I am not equipped or able to tell their story, although I’d like to hear a lot more of them, but what I can write about are simple things I believe allies within the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically those on hookup apps, can do.
First things first, if you travel for work and stay in hotels or live in a city with an overly cautious doorman or have suburban neighbors you know are racist and trigger happy with their emergency numbers, make sure your partners feel safe coming into your environment. This doesn’t mean you have to ask every POC who is traveling to you if they want you to wait at the front desk or stand out on your porch to escort them in. It just requires that you be smart about the situation you’re asking someone else to be in. Pick up clues they give if they’re uncomfortable -- a good rule of thumb for interacting with anyone you are hooking up with -- and if they ask for something, like coming to get them from the lobby, then (cowlicks be damned!) go down and do it.
What I think matters more is that we fight racism within the LGBTQ+ community so our brothers and sisters of color are safe with us. I can only imagine that facing rejection and bias because of your race, within another minority community you belong to, is maddeningly demoralizing. And judging others within your own community based on their race is about the most asinine thing imaginable.
For a community that all too often fetishizes rather than humanizes racial minorities, white gay men cannot sleep with black men and not treat them like human beings. White gay men must join in the fight for a world in which black men are not arrested for loitering on their own property or shot in their own homes.
That man from Kansas City texted me the next day with a link to the story from Portland and a “See?? lol.” Regardless of the flippant end of his text, I knew there was no “laughing out loud” on the other end of the phone. He knew he had every reason to be nervous. I feel foolish for initially thinking he had nothing to worry about. I am trying to be better. And for his sake, and the sake of hundreds of thousands of others, I hope a lot of people will try the same.
KENNY FRANCOEUR is a writer and dance captain for The Book of Mormon. Follow him on Twitter @kenny_francoeur.