This article has been written by Sriya Sindhoor Kompally, pursuing the Diploma in Business Laws for In-House Counsels from LawSikho.
As the era of technology came in, slowly everything started being available on the internet. Although dating services saw the light of the day as early as the 1990s, it was only in the 2010s that homosexual consumers of the online dating service were provided exclusive features hence turning away from heteronormativity. One such online dating application is OkCupid. One-third of LGBTQ+ Indians met people for dating or friendship digitally. In the year 2011, by enabling the feature ‘I don’t want to see or be seen by straight people ’, the app took its first step towards inclusivity. Since online dating has become one of the most prominent methods of dating in the current world, these dating services must practice acceptance, inclusivity, and offer assistance.
This article discusses in length various ways in which OkCupid has become the ‘LGBTQ+ friendly’ application.
Inclusion of the LGBTQ+ into our society is not just a moral obligation. Economic, social and political equality to all is mandated by the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. Equality is provided through Articles 12 and 21. In Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, the Supreme Court ruled that “the LGBT community possesses the same human, fundamental and constitutional rights as other citizens do since these rights here in individuals as natural and human rights. We must remember that equality is the edifice on which the entire non-discrimination jurisprudence rests.” Similarly, in the case of NALSA v. UOI, the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that “Everyone is entitled to enjoy all human rights without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity”.
Internationally, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights embarked that “any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression violates the American Convention on Human Rights”. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights believes “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” Discrimination based on gender identity has been condemned at all levels. The United Nations for LGBT Equality has brought in International Human Rights Law and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity that lays down obligations for the states. Two of the important practical steps mentioned in this initiative are to prohibit discrimination and safeguard their freedom of expression by promoting a culture of equality and diversity. The OkCupid application has taken various steps to promote this culture of diversity. The initiatives of OkCupid that we will study in the upcoming sections are nothing but a way to integrate the LGBTQ community into mainstream society.
Not just in India, but around the world, there are no uniform laws that govern dating websites or applications in their entirety. But, data privacy is protected by the Information Technology Act, 2000. This provides a legal route to curb data breaches. The OkCupid application makes sure that the data is secure. In a recent incident, an American-Israeli Multinational Software Company called Check Point has identified various issues and vulnerabilities that could have compromised the sensitive and private data of the users. On receiving this information, the application fixed the issues reported within 48 hours. They works hand in hand with external entities to ensure a safe experience.
Educating themselves and others about the growing community
They have an ‘in-app matching questions’ feature that has specifically curated questions for the LGBTQ+ group that helps the app cater to the needs of this growing community. They make most of this feature by constantly adding in new options and deleting the ones that prove to be unavailing and will not fulfill the purpose. The application no longer has the word ‘sapiosexual’ as part of its gender orientation. They removed the word on receiving negative feedback as the word is not associated with orientation.
American Civil Liberty Union (“ACLU”) was founded in 1920. This non-profit organization tirelessly works for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community alongside other causes ranging from National Security to Human Rights, Immigrant Rights, Juvenile Justice, etc. This Union rose from the fear of America becoming a communist country following the revolution that took place in Russia.
Through their research, via in-app matching questions they have reached a finding that ACLU matters a lot to the majority of their users. Every user who answered “yes” to the question “Do you support American Civil Liberty Union?” will receive a badge titled #RightToLove. This badge will help the users connect with like-minded people who support the right cause. This gives a broader idea as to how many of them fight for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, women, oppressed people, etc. Each time a person receives the #RightToLove badge, a dollar is donated to ACLU.
Under OkCupid Help, they have a separate category called ‘LGBTQ resources’ that is educative because it has crisp information on non-binary dating, gender, and orientation.
In 2018, they identified the problems that come with the intersectionality of race and sexual identity. They constantly update themselves and others by maintaining their blog. For example, these blogs contain research on how gay white men have more chances in their dating game in comparison to gay men of color.
Making the community feel welcomed and secured
Robert Luketic, director of the film Legally Blonde has mentioned “When I watched Moonlight, I saw myself and my experience represented on screen.” In this heteronormative culture, it is extremely off-putting for the LGBTQ+ community to always come across films and stories that revolve around heterosexual couples and their lives. OkCupid shares success stories of all types of couples in one place to make the LGBTQ+ community feel more welcome and accepted.
The #AllyOfLove is a campaign that was launched by OkCupid in India in the year 2020 to celebrate pride month. It comes with a tagline – “Love Doesn’t Discriminate and Neither Does Millennial India.” It was launched as a result of 96% of users answering that they care about the community and 90% of users answering that they wish for same-sex marriage to be legalized.
OkCupid’s CMO stated, “Through the app and the campaign, OkCupid empowers millennials to show who they are and reminds us that to be an ally of love, one should just be willing to accept and celebrate love in every shade of the rainbow.”
As far as the users’ safety is concerned, an incognito feature is available. Upon purchasing this option, the user will be visible only if they message or like the opposite person’s profile. If the user wishes to be anonymous but is facing difficulty in purchasing, they can approach the OkCupid team via mail. This option can be availed by people for either not wanting to disclose their identity to the outside world or just to avoid interaction with random people unless they wish to.
Under the Privacy Control, they also advise the users (especially travelers) to check the safety guidelines of the community in that particular territory. Some countries have strict rules against the LGBTQ+ group and might target them. They need to check the legal protection available to them beforehand. They are advised by the app to either switch to the incognito mode or simply disable their accounts on the app.
The social stigma attached to homosexuality in India for instance makes it even more difficult for the community to feel safe. Ishaan Sethi, founder of Delta (India’s first dating app for LGBTQ+) has mentioned that he faced moral policing, catfishing, and violence while dating online in India. To address these kinds of harassment issues, under the LGBTQ resources itself, Privacy controls for the LGBTQ community have been added. Alongside there are a lot of safety tips included in the app, that even give examples of offensive behavior for people on both ends to understand and for the user to report.
Using gender-neutral language
OkCupid is the first dating application to have added 22 genders and 12 orientations. They brought it in the year 2014. In 2018, the app has come up with a new feature called ‘share your pronouns’. Right next to their gender and sexual orientation, they can add the pronouns that include and are not limited to ‘he/she/they. They are also provided with a blank space for the user to fill if they want to. This indicates that the app acknowledges the fact that LGBTQ+ is a growing spectrum and the pronouns are not limited to he/she/they.
In 2021, during pride month, the app has expanded the identity options. Overall, OkCupid now has 60 identities. They have done this in consultation with the Human Rights Campaign that works for the LGBTQ+ community. This Campaign tirelessly works for the rights of the gay community to end discrimination in all forms. It has been fighting for justice for four decades.
OkCupid has become a great LGBTQ+ inclusive app by constantly asking questions, researching, and updating to keep up with the ever-growing spectrum.
They have a Gender-Identity Inclusive Design that consists of:
- Not assuming pronouns
The application strictly uses gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them instead of assuming someone’s identity and pronouns. Assuming pronouns, identities and genders of people are offensive to them and OkCupid abstains from doing it.
- Changing name and gender
The app is a great ally to the community as it understands the concept of gender fluidity and provides an option to the user to change their gender and name as and when they like it.
- Gender-neutral placeholder image
Unlike other applications, that either have a male or a female placeholder image, OkCupid has a gender-neutral placeholder image, thus putting an end to hetero-sexism.
Being a constant part of the community
Pride month is celebrated every year in June. It is to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. This month is for the community to show the pride they take in being themselves. It is to celebrate their existence locally, nationally, and internationally. People celebrate it by organizing concerts, throwing parties, etc. They also mourn the souls lost to hate crimes towards the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2017, in honor of pride month, they have teamed up with US Real-Estate giant Trulia to research the best neighborhoods in the United States for LGBTQ+ couples. The parameters were based on safety, friendliness, and expense. Towards the end of their research, they have recommended states and certain areas that are affordable and friendly for same-sex couples. In 2018, they took part in the NYC Pride March.
In 2019, during pride month, the app in collaboration with The Glitch has launched a campaign called #LoveAtFirstPride to capture happy stories of individuals coming out. This was to celebrate the decriminalizing of homosexuality in India.
In 2021, during pride month they have released a new ad film on inclusivity that features a queer couple. This ad film is to challenge heteronormativity and normalize a gay couple in love.
Being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is not a choice but is mandatory because fighting against oppressive and homophobic behavior is the only way the allies can make this world a better place for the community to live in. Striking down Section 377 has encouraged many members of the community to enter the domain of online dating. In the future, legalizing same-sex marriages may bring millions of other queer people into the world of online dating. This puts an onus on these applications to make sure the community does not feel neglected or misunderstood. Intersectionality is coming in the way of the LGBTQ+ community’s safety, because of which they are developing dating app fatigue. In the community itself, not all the members have been treated alike thanks to racism, patriarchy, and many more. Addressing these intersectional issues is extremely essential in order to provide an overall enjoyable experience of using a dating app.
 OkCupid is an online dating application that was launched in the year 2004 in the United States of America. https://www.okcupid.com/about.
 Deepa Bhatia, Over 30% of LGBTQ+ members are finding love through dating apps, YouGov,https://in.yougov.com/en-hi/news/2019/06/28/over-30-lgbtq-members-are-finding-love-through-dat/.
 Elly Belle, Best Dating Apps for Queer and LGBTQ People, TeenVogue, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/best-dating-apps-queer-lgbtq-people.
 Eli J. Finkel, Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, https://www3.nd.edu/~ghaeffel/OnineDating_Aron.pdf.
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