One of the world's largest social networking apps for gay men is getting political.
With just two weeks before Election Day, Grindr is attempting to mobilize its 1.5 million U.S. users as a "political bloc." Through a series of national and geo-targeted service messages that display when the mobile app is opened, the "guy finder" hopes to raise awareness of LGBT equality issues that will be voted on in November.
Formed in February, "Grindr for Equality" has already delivered dozens of messages encouraging users to register to vote and informing users about pro-LGBT candidates in their areas. According to Grindr's general counsel, Ken Priore, users will receive about another 50 messages before Election Day.
"The power of Grindr is the ability to message, but also in a geo-targeted way where you're messaging users near you," Priore told Metro Weekly.
In states like Maryland, where marriage equality will appear on the ballot, Grindr for Equality is encouraging users to join grassroots campaigns. In congressional campaigns with LGBT candidates, the company is hoping users will turn out at the polls to increase LGBT representation in Congress. And in swing states, the company is attempting to spur voter turnout to help elect a pro-equality president.
In a statement released in September announcing the company's efforts to mobilize gay voters, Grindr founder and CEO Joel Simkhai said Grindr wants to make a "combined national impact."
"We must elect not only a president but representatives and senators who are supportive of our community and our equality," Simkhai said.
Despite the stark differences between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on LGBT-rights, Priore emphasizes that the company is seeking to inform, not endorse one candidate over another.
"At the heart of what we're doing is educating our users to take their own stand on equality," Priore said.
Nevertheless, Grindr for Equality has teamed up with Stonewall Democrats, a group that makes no bones about its partisan views, to issue messages highlighting President Barack Obama's record on LGBT issues.
According to Jerame Davis, executive director of Stonewall Democrats, the politically affiliated LGBT-rights organization will issue three different national messages across the Grindr system on three separate days beginning later this week.
"We're putting out some messages on Grindr to support President Obama's re-election, obviously," Davis said, adding that the messages will attempt to encourage turnout for Obama and highlight how Romney "would turn back the clock on our advances on equality."
Priore says Grindr for Equality has attempted to balance Stonewall Democrats' partisan message by contacting Log Cabin Republicans, but with little luck.
"We've reached out to the head of the Log Cabin Republicans and they didn't respond," Priore said. "We'd be happy to work with any group that is interested in educating users about equality and moving equality issues forward regardless of party affiliation."
Grindr for Equality has also been in contact with the nonpartisan Victory Fund, which has endorsed eight LGBT congressional candidates, including one Republican. It remains unclear if LCR will team up with Grindr for Equality prior to Nov. 6. LCR has yet to announce if they will endorse Romney for president.
Davis speculates that because Grindr for Equality's sole purpose is to educate users on candidates that support LGBT-rights, a persuasive case cannot be made for a Romney presidency.
"It's pretty obvious there's just no way they could be advocating for Mitt Romney and be calling him a pro-equality advocate," said Davis.
Some believed Romney, who has said he supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and opposes civil unions that guarantee the same rights and benefits as marriage, was softening his position on marriage equality after campaign advisor Bay Buchanan told The Advocate that Romney believes marriage equality should be left up to the states. Over the weekend, Buchanan clarified her comments in a statement to BuzzFeed, stating that Romney still believes in amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but believes certain benefits for gay couples, such as hospital visitation rights and the ability to adopt children, should be left up to the states.
This is also not the first time a gay dating service has entered into the political process. Four years ago, prior to Grindr's launch in 2009, the chairman and founder of Manhunt, Jonathan Crutchley, was forced to step down as chairman by Manhunt's board after it was revealed he had made a $2,300 personal contribution to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. Users expressed outrage that Crutchley would support a candidate opposed to many key LGBT issues.
Despite the inherent divisiveness of electoral politics, Priore says Grindr was not fearful of accusations of partisanship because of the importance of equality issues.
Says Priore, "The heart of this program is about our users understanding gay rights both on a national and local level."
[Photo: A sample broadcast message from Grindr for Equality (Courtesy of Grindr).]