How safe are online dating apps for LGBTIQ+?

How safe are online dating apps for LGBTIQ+?

In a conservative and queer-phobic environment like Azerbaijan, opportunities for socializing, dating, and finding a partner are limited for LGBTIQ+, which makes many of them turn to virtual dating sites. In a society where systemic queer-phobia overshadows personal life, online dating sites are both a place to take shelter and a risk. This, in turn, means a dilemma for LGBTIQ+ citizens.

Nevertheless, queer people still prefer online dating, which is relatively safer and therefore choose to turn to certain dating sites.

Virtual & Real

23-year-old Eldar (not the real name) is also an active user of one of the online dating apps. Besides online dating apps, he may also occasionally meet someone at queer events.

“Physical encounters are mostly unplanned. Usually, when I go out, I never plan to meet someone. There is no such an environment for this in Baku, either. But when it comes to dating apps, my intention is dating, and as others also use this mobile app for the same purpose, dating is faster here,” says Eldar, adding that queers rarely approach each other in real life.

“The problem in real life is that you are never sure about what is going to happen. You see someone, you like them, but you cannot tell them about this by simply approaching them. Because this person can have a terrible reaction in response. Let’s say you saw someone and approached him in a place for queers. You may experience problems, because you do not know that person. It is difficult to get out of the situation at that moment,” he says.

One of the LGTBIQ+, who prefers virtual dating apps is Saba (not their real name). She is 20 years old and is currently studying accounting.

According to Saba, they learned about such apps when they were 14 years old. It was one of those apps that left them with severe trauma. They were raped by the person whom they first met on a virtual dating app at the age of 16. Saba could not tell their family about it, because they didn’t come out to them at that time. Since they had no access to the community of LGBTIQ+ activists at that time, they had no one to complain about it and therefore were obliged to keep silent.

“When I was 14, I was treated as a sex object. They used to send me nude pictures without even saying hello and asked me to do the same. They do not see you as a human being; they don’t understand you and stigmatize you. In virtual experiences, you can’t properly get to know the person, but in real life, you can understand them from facial expressions,” says Saba, recalling the events that happened to them at that time. They say that even the people to whom they sent nude photos threatened them in various ways.

Despite everything that happened, they are still using dating apps. The reason for this is the lack of a suitable alternative environment for queers to meet in the country.

“The practice of getting acquainted is not very common among LGBTIQ+ people in Azerbaijan. Not every guy would dare to approach you and acquaint with you wherever he wants, or among his friends. Because they will be told, “Look, you are approaching a transgender person.” I would also like to get acquainted in real life, because people look better in real life. But unfortunately, I cannot.”

“People get to know each other even in Telegram groups. There is no supportive environment, and there are very few events and meeting places within the queer community, such as parties, where everyone already knows each other. Being able to meet new people also harms our personal lives,” they say.

Although Nigar (not her real name), a trans woman who lives in the capital and is a sex worker, uses online apps, she thinks that it is not the best choice to build a healthy relationship.

“Dating takes place on limited platforms in the country. If you are on the platform, it is like you are there for sex. That is what they think. This is why I give more preference to face-to-face dating. Those who want to get acquainted online say “let’s have sex at home.”

Nigar notes that she has to show her face on social media because of her work, which puts her at risk in a segment that prefers private dating.

“People prefer privacy and use apps where their numbers and pictures won’t be visible. Very few people would honestly send their information. Once the person whom I met online had a knife on him.” She recalls that one of her worst experiences was when a person she went to meet at home was not the same as the photo posted online. Moreover, he gathered other people in his apartment, too. Therefore, Nigar decided to leave the apartment, but this caused a problem and Nigar ended up fighting with him.

She believes that face-to-face dating is more different.

“In real dating, the other party is afraid to do something to you because, if they attack, the people around will see it,” she says.

Victims

“Femkulis” is a platform, which focuses on raising awareness about feminism in Azerbaijan and highlighting the injustice faced by women and LGBTIQ+ citizens in Azerbaijan. According to Sanay Yagmur, a feminist activist and co-founder of the platform, they are often contacted by people who have suffered from bad experiences after meeting someone on social networks. The victims refrain from revealing their true names to the activists, as they do not trust anyone after the bad experiences that they suffer.

“Until now, several victims have turned to us after their partners threatened them that the intimate photos they sent to them would be shared on social networks, on Telegram groups, or be shared with their family members. However, due to the lack of trust in the law enforcement system, the victims refrain from filing an official report,” says Sanay.

Sanay Yagmur’s statements are reiterated by other interviewees, too. So, LGBTIQ+ people who face danger, intimidation and violence during online dating prefer not to report it because they do not trust government institutions.

The social and legal situation of LGBTIQ+ people in Azerbaijan is deteriorating day by day. For example, the country has ranked last as the worst country in Europe in ILGA-Europe reports for years already.

Lawyer Emin Abbasov says that queers are afraid to defend their violated rights because there is widespread discrimination against them in society.

“This is mainly related to the fact that the rights protection mechanisms and relevant state and non-state institutions working in this field overlook the rights of queers, do not take their complaints seriously and never investigate them. In addition, even if they do consider their complaints, they do not inclusively treat queers,” he notes.

Parvin, a 23-year-old trans man, also says that he hesitates to ask someone out on a date in real life, because he has no idea about the possible reaction that the other side would demonstrate. But, he still prefers not to use dating apps.

“I don’t feel comfortable about mobile apps because someone can take my picture from there or my photos may end up in front of my family and friends. I do not want to encounter a cisgender person, but I do. This also worries me,” Parvin says, adding that he has only been using “Instagram” for 5 years for these reasons.

“The reason I chose this method is that my identity is more open here. “On Instagram, they know I’m a trans man. I can also get a better chance to get to know the other party,” he says.

Ilgar (not his real name), who is studying at Baku State University, remembers that once a person whom he met through an online app falsely presented himself and came to his place. When he entered, Ilgar felt something strange about him and then he noticed an electronic bracelet attached to his ankle. He therefore asked him to leave his place because he felt an immediate danger. According to Ilgar, he was very scared when he saw an electronic bracelet, because he did not trust the rehabilitation conditions of prisoners in Azerbaijan.

“I asked him to leave, but he started to take off his clothing, saying, “After all I have come this far.” Even though I told him to leave, he still walked towards me. I got stressed. It was at this moment that I noticed he had an electronic anklet. I threatened to call the police and yell out of the window. I was able to get him away from my place only after threatening him,” he says.

What to do for safety?

Aida Mirzayeva, a social worker at the Gender Resource Center, says that queers are afraid to complain in order not to reencounter the abuser, to avoid the possible trauma and because of the phobic attitude of the public.

“Given the possibility of what may happen in Azerbaijan, it would be better for queer people to make safety planning, that is, to inform their close acquaintances and friends about the person they will meet for the first time, the venue and time of the meeting, and also share their live location with them,” he says.

He adds that, just in case, when going on a date, queer people should ask a trusted person to come to that place or somewhere close to them, so that they can leave the place or make a call if they feel danger.

Lawyer Emin Abbasov says that it would be better for queer people to contact human rights organizations and trusted lawyers in their communities who specialize in legal protection in advance.

“This could allow queers to get immediate support and advice in dangerous situations they face. Having access to support and advice as soon as possible can help protect queer rights more effectively.”


*Names have been changed for the safety of respondents.

This article was produced for Mikroskop Media as part of QueeRadar‘s Mentoring Program.