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Tinder Makes Dating App More Inclusive for Transgender Users

(CBSNews) -- The dating app Tinder is making moves to be more inclusive to the transgender community. On Tuesday, Los Angeles-based company announced that it’s updating its app to allow users to add more information about their gender identity. In the past, the app only allowed users to select “man” or “woman” when listing their genders on their profiles; now, it allows people to move beyond that binary choice. The app also gives users the option of displaying their gender on their profile.

The move is seen as a step forward for people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming who wanted to be better represented by the popular app. Crucially, these updates also aim to create a safer, more accepting environment for transgender users. The changes come after complaints that many transgender users were being inappropriately “reported” and subsequently blocked by other users, in addition to the reality that after matching with prospective dates or partners, many transgender users received derogatory or threatening messages through the app.

The changes to the app are personal for Zackary Drucker, a performance artist and associate producer on the popular Amazon series “Transparent.” Drucker used the app in the past and consulted with Tinder while it was looking into how to be more inclusive.

“Dating while trans is difficult, and one of the biggest hurdles is disclosing your trans status,” Drucker told CBS News in an email. “Tinder’s update ameliorates the typical discomfort and stress that trans people experience around disclosure. Much of the violence that trans people encounter is in the context of sex and dating, and for us to be empowered with the tools to communicate who we are and on our own terms, is incredible.”

Tinder isn’t the first social media company to shift away from the male-female gender binary. In 2014, Facebook started letting users choose from more than 50 different terms for describing their identity. 

Tinder engineers adjusted the field where a user enters a chosen gender identity to leave it completely open, giving users the freedom to enter whatever term they’re most comfortable with, rather than having a restrictive drop-down of options. For Drucker, this was one of the most progressive changes made to the app. 

“I’m pleased that Tinder decided to include a range of gender identity keywords, because there are many different ways to identify,” Drucker wrote. “This update shows to me that Tinder is able to see around the corner and plan for the future — the next generation will have a much more expansive understanding of gender than we do today.”

These new gender options are now available to users in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

“A complex issue”

About seven months ago, Tinder started reevaluating how it could make its app more inclusive. Tinder co-founder and CEO Sean Rad told CBS News that several of the company’s own employees shed light on the problem of in-app harassment against transgender users that many others in the company at large weren’t aware of. For example, not only did transgender users say they received inappropriate messages, but they were also being “reported” to the app unfairly by other users. Rad said that it was clear many of these users were being “reported” simply because of their gender identity, creating a hostile environment within the larger app community.

The tech company then partnered with GLAAD, the nonprofit organization aimed at raising awareness and advocacy for LGBT issues, to figure out the best way to make changes to the app that would be most beneficial to the transgender community.

“We realized this is a very complex issue and we wanted to take the time to get this right,” Rad said. “We started put together the ‘dream team’ around not just understanding issues surrounding the transgender community but also understanding the harassment that’s out there in the real world.”

Rad said that the overriding goal is for transgender users to ultimately “get matched with people who appreciate who they are.” Beyond that, the company hopes to reduce the harassment users encounter through the app.

“The least visible but most impactful thing that we worked on was through back-end algorithm moderation. Our tools were re-written from the ground up so that we could better pinpoint harassment that is happening in the platform and allow us to quickly react and delete people quickly,” he stressed. “We also focused on education throughout the Tinder community. We trained our team on what is acceptable and what is not and how best to handle cases. This is going to be an ongoing thing for the company — it’s not just us. This is something that is facing this community and we hope to set an example.”

Tinder’s platform has a wide reach. The app was launched in 2012 and has since gone global. It claims to make some 26 million online matches every day — more than 20 billion total, and counting. 

Making dating apps like Tinder safer and more inclusive for transgender users seems crucial especially when looking at statistics of some of the violence faced by people in the LGBTQ community. In just one example, a 2013 study from the Urban Institute found that while 29 percent of heterosexual teens experienced dating violence, a much larger 42.8 percent of LGBTQ youth were found to be affected. Within that number, transgender youth reported experiencing the highest level of dating violence, coming in at a staggering 88.9 percent. 

More broadly, the federal Office of Justice Programs reports that one in two transgender people will be sexually assaulted or abused at some point in their lives. 

“A steep learning curve”

Nick Adams, the director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, was also a consultant with Tinder on these app changes. For Adams, a transgender man who has been with the organization for 18 years, Tinder’s openness to learning more about the transgender community was something of a welcome surprise.

“All of the companies I work with — media companies social media companies — are well-intentioned and set out to help the trans community,” he said. “But there is always a steep learning curve in understanding the nuances of who transgender people are. There’s a lot of education to be done about the diversity in our community.”

Adams jokingly admitted that he had his own steep learning curve — he’s been in a relationship since “before smartphones” and had to learn how to use the app himself when he first came on board the project.

Tinder’s Rad said he sees this as part of a movement toward greater inclusivity that most companies end up facing. 

“Look, I think we have a responsibility as a platform of our size talk to our user, to set an example, not just for other tech companies, but for our users,” Rad said. “It is absolutely necessary right now that we promote an example of tolerance and inclusivity.”

Following a particularly divisive election season where the political climate was full of negative, incendiary discourse — including some directed at the LGBT community — Adams said that this kind of move by a company like Tinder is particularly welcome. 

“I’ve been working on this since June, and it’s an important kind of step forward in terms of trans visibility,” Adams added. “Now that was before the election. After the election, it’s even more important. We have to look to private sector companies to make strong stands for inclusion. The hope that comes out with that is that companies like tinder will continue to make strong statements.”

Drucker has a particularly interesting vantage point in this move toward broader inclusivity. Given her work on “Transparent,” a show that has placed transgender characters at the center of pop culture, Drucker has noticed “a difference in my own family and community’s understanding of trans issues.” 

She added that all of this added visibility for the transgender community is relatively recent, and that “further down the road we’ll have a better sense of what this cultural shift looks like.”

Personally, Drucker wrote that she is hoping the changes to the app will help more people in their quest for love.

“I’m interested in creating a safer world environment for trans people, and for us to have a fair shot at finding love,” Drucker wrote. “As a person in a healthy relationship with a guy who loves me openly, I have a lot of hope that there are plenty of folks out there like him willing to do the same.”

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