By Elizabeth Flock, a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report.
God, sex, and politics. But forget the God part.
On Thursday, Grindr, a geosocial networking app that enables casual sex for gay, bisexual, and bi-curious men, announced it was going political.
In a blog post on its website, Grindr said it wanted to “mobilize gay men as a political bloc in the 2012 elections” through a new initiative it is calling “Grindr for Equality.”
Grindr’s 1.5 million U.S. users can expect to start receiving geo-targeted political messages when they log on to the app this election season. The messages will address equality issues and candidates, as well as deliver voting resources. Grindr says it will also target gay men in swing states.
In June, TIME Reported that Grindr experimented with this kind of initiative. In one instance, Grindr sent a notification to gay men in Saratoga County, N.Y., about a Republican state senator who was unconvinced about a gay marriage bill. The users could push a button to be connected to the state senator’s office line.
“All elections are won or lost on the local level,” Joel Simkhai, founder and CEO of Grindr, writes on its website. “There is no election or town too small to have a gay voice.”
The Log Cabin Republicans, a group that advocates for gay and lesbian rights in politics, say they aren’t sure about Grindr’s new initiative.
“Maybe I’m showing my age, but I didn’t know what [Grindr] was until one of our interns mentioned it this summer,” Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director Clarke Cooper told Whispers. “I guess this [initiative] is an extension of social media writ large… but I don’t know if this is just marketing, or if this is a financial incentive, or if they’re just doing it because they can.”
Cooper acknowledged that the initiative made some sense to him because Grindr has a defined target audience.
Even if Grindr isn’t able to move from sex to politics, there is already some evidence that this is happening the other way around.
During last week’s Republican convention, for example, Grindr traffic saw a 242 percent spike in Tampa, where the convention was being held.
In an interview with Whispers, Grindr founder and CEO Joel Simkhai said he believed it was “my responsibility” and “the company’s responsibility” to get into politics.
“I’m a big believer that a lot of people can do something small and get a very big impact,” he said, citing the app’s 1.5 million users. “We simply don’t have the rights everyone else has.”
Simkhai said Grindr will be issuing easy calls to action around gay rights issues to its users, such as asking them to sign a petition or attend a rally. The app will never ask for big donations, he said.
The group has seen already small measures of their political impact. In September 2011, more than 5,000 Grindr users clicked through to a page to donate to the Service Members Legal Defense Network, a group that works for equality in the military, after the repeal of the military’s policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, according to Grindr.