Grindr for Equality (G4E), the philanthropic and advocacy arm of the global gay hookup-app behemoth Grindr, has announced that it will give a total of $100,000 to 15 different LGBTQ health and rights organizations in the Middle East and North Africa -- many of which cannot be named because they operate in quasi-secrecy amid governments or cultures hostile to LGBTQ people.
The $100,000 is part of $250,000 that G4E has disbursed to such groups worldwide this year, according to Jack Harrison-Quintana, who has directed G4E since 2015, three years after it began. Five groups got $10,000 grants each, and 10 groups got $5,000 grants each.
Harrison-Quintana said that the groups -- located in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, and other countries -- would use the money for "a variety of projects that will help them move ahead." These range from direct services for those living with HIV and training around safety and security for LGBTQ people to movement building, such as setting up workshops for emerging LGBTQ leaders or doing a health needs assessment for LBQ women.
One group, LebMASH: Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health, a network of Lebanese doctors and nurses throughout Lebanon as well as the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom (all countries with large Lebanese immigrant populations), will put its $10,000 toward its annual LGBT Health Week conference in Beirut next March. There, health providers from the region and the world will convene to share new research, findings, and practices on LGBTQ health issues.
The group will also use Mother's Day, which falls in March in Lebanon, as a platform for a campaign that encourages families to talk openly about differences in sexuality and gender. "A lot of Lebanese mothers would like to know how to treat their LGBTQ kids," said Suha Ballout, Ph.D., RN, the Boston-based director of LebMASH.
Beirut, currently the epicenter of a national popular uprising against Lebanon's corrupt, nepotistic, and religiously organized government, is the rare Middle East or North Africa city that has a dedicated LGBTQ-focused health clinic. It's called Marsa, and it works closely with LebMASH on research, education, training, and policy.
Ballout says that the anti-government protests in Lebanon could ultimately benefit LGBTQ health and rights in Lebanon, a relatively LGBT-tolerant country compared to much of the region. The country's longstanding penal code against homosexuality is only intermittently enforced and has even been rebuked in recent years by judges who declared that homosexuality is not a crime.
"The revolution wants more openness and less religious and political monopoly, so this is in line with what we do, trying to push back for LGBT health," said Ballout. "Advances in sexual and reproductive health have been opposed for many years by religious entities within the government, so we've tried to tiptoe around and convince existing organizations and institutions [to work with us]. But clinics will still say, 'I can't put posters of same-sex couples in my clinic,'" because religious entities will object.
In recent years, Muslim groups have shut down Gay Pride events in Beirut, and Christian groups have kept the popular indie band Mashrou' Leila, some of whose members and lyrics are openly gay, from performing in certain venues.
Another entity that received a grant is Ahwaa, an Arabic/English language platform for LGBTQ people throughout the Middle East to communicate with one another.
G4E has also funded projects in India, Indonesia, and Colombia, according to Harrison-Quintana, including helping LGBTQ activists in India set up a national HIV testing site locator website, which is also promoted over Grindr. G4E is also the arm of Grindr that allows LGBTQ nonprofits worldwide to promote their services for free over Grindr in their localities.
Plus, said Harrison-Quintana, G4E has helped "infuse more social justice into the Grindr app itself," such as by giving users the option of posting their HIV status or the last time they were tested for HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and giving users regular reminders that it's time for their next HIV and STI tests.
"It's about creating more easy, low-anxiety ways [for users] to communicate about sexual health," he said.
According to Harrison-Quintana, Grindr founder Joel Simkhai , who was born in Israel to parents of Iranian and Yemeni Jewish descent but raised in the U.S., is particularly devoted to the cause of LGBTQ rights in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2016, Simkhai sold a $93 million majority stake in the app to Chinese mobile company Kunlun, which bought the rest of it in 2018 -- the same year Grindr's heterosexual president said publicly that he was against gay marriage, a comment for which he later apologized. However, that remark sparked outrage from many of the app's mostly gay staffers -- and a #deletegrindr and #boycottgrindr backlash among users worldwide.
But apparently Grindr's Chinese ownership will be short-lived. Last spring, Kunlun agreed to a request from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the U.S. agency that oversees foreign acquisition of U.S. companies for possible security risks, to divest itself of Grindr by June of next year. This year, the FBI also started investigating to see if Grindr's vast trove of personal user information (including, often, HIV status) was being used for "nefarious purposes." A representative from Grindr said that they were unaware of this investigation,
Asked to comment on if or how those matters affected the work of G4E, Harrison-Quintana said, "I think that's beyond the scope of what I'm deputized to talk about."