Chinese Australians speak out against racism on LGBT dating apps amid Sydney Mardi Gras celebrations

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Rilun Li says racist phrases like “sorry, not for Asians” on gay dating app profiles make him uncomfortable.

The 27-year-old left China for Australia more than eight years ago, hoping to start a new life in “this friendly country”.

But despite the passage of time, he still feels marginalized in the LGBT community because of his race.

“I feel like an underdog,” he said.

As the annual Mardi Gras celebrations take place in Sydney this weekend, Mr Li talks about his experiences.

They ranged from a particularly “humiliating” incident a few years ago at a nightclub to the racist language he sees on gay dating apps.

“I was pushed and [someone] shouted, ‘Fuck Asians,'” he said.

“I had done nothing wrong and I didn’t understand why I was being treated like crap.”

Mr. Li wants racism in the LGBT community to be exposed.

“People need to report racism [they] suffered in order to help get rid of unfair stereotypes about Asians,” he said.

Racism on dating apps

Gay dating app Grindr removed an ethnic filter feature in 2020.(Reuters: Aly Song)

Racism on dating apps was in the spotlight in June 2020 when one of the most popular gay dating apps, Grindr, removed an ethnic filter – which allowed users to filter people from certain backgrounds – and updated user agreements.

Grindr’s community guidelines also explicitly prohibit abuse and racial discrimination.

At the time, gay Australians of color pointed out that sexual racism on dating apps was still “widespread”.

Two years later, University of Latrobe researcher Dr Gene Lim said little had changed except that expressions of racism were more subtle.

profile picture of an asian man
Dr. Gene Lim says sexual racism on dating apps can be subtle.(Provided)

Dr Lim wrote a doctoral thesis on the sexual racism experienced by the Asian LGBT community in Australia.

He said an example of racism seen on apps was when users expressed a sexual preference against a particular race.

A search on Grindr this week revealed a dating profile that read, “No Asians or Blacks [please].”

“[But] it’s not just an attitude white people … look, a lot of Asians have the same attitudes,” he said.

The ABC has contacted Grindr for comment but has not received a response at the time of publication.

Dr Lim said a sexual preference for a particular race was based on preconceived stereotypes and was therefore considered sexual racism.

a man with a face mask and a pair of sunglasses sitting in front of a computer desk
Lucas Sun says he has a preference for men with similar backgrounds.(Provided)

Lucas Sun, who emigrated from China to Australia in 2010 and is now in a same-sex relationship, disagrees.

He doesn’t believe that his personal dating preferences are a form of racism.

“I prefer men with similar cultural backgrounds to mine, so it’s easy to communicate [with them] and share the same ideas for our future,” he said.

Mr Li said he respects people’s preferences, but agreed with Dr Lim that racially based expressions of sexual preference were racist.

What can you do if you are a victim of sexual racism?

People hold colorful signs in a large crowd in support of gay marriage
Calling it out, don’t take it personally, and getting more media exposure from role models could help fight sexual racism.(AAP: Carol Cho)

Dr Lim said one way to tackle sexual racism was to try to step back from the situation and put it into a bigger context.

“I think it has a lot to do with first recognizing that it’s a problem, but also not catastrophizing it,” he said.

“A random guy doesn’t want to date you, that’s fine.

Racist incidents can be reported to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Racial Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan said “any racial intolerance and hatred is unacceptable”.

“Addressing people’s experiences of racism, including experiences of unconscious and subtle forms of racism, has been a consistent issue raised through the Australian Human Rights Commission’s consultations and submission process for national anti-racism framework,” he said.

Mr Li has taken matters into his own hands by blocking offensive profiles on dating apps.

Grindr’s guidelines on blocking and reporting people violating the app’s rules can be found on its website.

William Yang, a prominent photographer from the Asian LGBT community, agreed that racism and ageism were prevalent in the LGBT community in Australia.

But compared to his love experience several years ago, he said there was “more tolerance for Asians now than there was then”.

Dr Lim said experiences of sexual racism can impact a victim’s physical and mental health.

“We know the impact is so much deeper than just a momentary sense of pain, shock and dismay,” he said.

“It has a very sustained, very negative effect [on] how you see yourself and how you approach future situations with dating.

“[It could lead to] low self-esteem, with low life satisfaction.

“Studies have shown it may be linked to body image issues, anaerobic steroid abuse, and even sexual health issues.”

He said it was important for people to reflect on their own attitudes.

“A lot of people take offense at being called racist, rather than trying to consider whether what they’ve done is hurtful or harmful,” he said.

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