In many ways, members of West Hollywood’s gay community – who make up 33% of the city’s population — are being forced to embrace the “social distancing” that health experts are advising during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Palm Springs White Party,one of Southern California’s largest gay party events, attracting thousands, was scheduled for April 24 and now has been postponed to Oct. 30. LA Pride, scheduled for June 12-14, is being postponed to a date uncertain. The Mr. Los Angeles Leather Contest, scheduled for March 28, at the Globe Theatre, has been postponed. On Sunset, the annual gathering of leather men and their fans on Sunset Boulevard outside the Eagle, scheduled for March 29, is cancelled (and all previously purchased tickets will be refunded.)
But what about Grindr? And Scruff, and Adam4Adam, and Growlr, and Daddyhunt, and BBRTS? These are websites and apps that gay men use to connect with one another. Some, like Grindr, in recent years have promoted themselves as social networks for gay, bi, trans, and queer people. But in reality, they are tools that gay men (and some transgender people) mostly use to find sexual partners. That Is especially evident in the branding of BBRTS, whose letters stand for “bareback real time sex.”
BBRTS has responded to the COVID-19 epidemic by blocking use of the “Local Parties” section of its site, which BBRTS members and some party promoters use to post notices of sex parties. However, its members can still use the app to notify other users that they are looking for someone to have sex with. At 8:30 p.m. Sunday, 24 men who identified themselves as West Hollywood residents were live on BBRTS looking for sex.
Grindr, which is managed out of the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, now posts a warning online of the dangers of COVID-19. It reminds Grindr users to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, use hand sanitizer while out and about, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed fingers, and to stay home if you’re not feeling well. However, the Grindr app doesn’t mention the possible risk of engaging in sex with a stranger. As of 1 a.m. on Sunday, 300 men in and around WeHo were on Grindr looking for what likely were sex hookups rather than post-midnight coffee dates. Around noon, a little more than 200 West Hollywood residents were on Scruff, another popular sex app, with the profile of one stating “Takeout Only.” Another user, however, had updated his profile to say he was only looking for a “socially distant” online connection
In this virtual world, there no longer are many brick and mortar venues where gay men can meet up for sex. The closest one to West Hollywood is the Zone, a gay sex club on North Sycamore Avenue just east of La Brea, which responded to the virus on March 16 by announcing it was closing temporarily. However, Oink Night, which bills itself as a “private social club” and operates out of a building on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, said on its website that it would allow no more than 69 men to attend its March 14 orgy because of the COVID-19 epidemic. It said that those attending would have to wash their hands and that it would steam clean the venue and provide hand wipes. For its “Oink Night Quarantine” orgy on Saturday afternoon it announced that it would be more selective in deciding who could attend.
To date there is no information about how the 19 people in West Hollywood who have been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus as of Sunday became infected. The virus is easily transmitted by coughs and sneezes that transmit saliva and mucus, and it also can be transferred with a kiss from someone infected with COVID-19 There also is no information as to the sexual orientation of those infected in West Hollywood. However, research has documented that gay men are known to be more sexually active and more likely to have multiple partners than are heterosexual men. Indeed, City Councilmember John Duran, a Grindr user, has described West Hollywood as a “sex-based city” because of its large gay population.
Gay men in a conversation on Reddit about COVID-19 and sex with strangers offered a variety of opinions, with most expressing concern that sex with a stranger was risky, and some saying they were willing to take the risk.
Local gay publications haven’t written about the risk of getting a COVID-19 infection from sex with strangers. However, the New York City Health Department has posted a guide to sex and COVID-19, which is on a PDF document that can be downloaded here. “You should avoid close contact — including sex — with anyone outside your household,” says the guide. “If you do have sex with others, have as few partners as possible. If you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex, consider taking a break from in-person dates. Video dates, sexting or chat rooms may be options for you.”
Unfortunately, the owner of Oink Night (Francisco Tolentino) continues to facilitate “private sessions” via Twitter allowing up to 10 person entry.
His place of business also serves as living quarters. Somebody has to pay rent, I guess
I changed my Grindr profile to say that I was looking for a monogamous quarantine lover until this is over. I live in WeHo. Jump online and say hi, boys – maybe we’ll be a match! xoxo
unbelievable that these places and apps are so irresponsible and that the city has not taken actions to stop them from facilitating the spread of the virus .
This article is insulting to the gay community and to all of West Hollywood. To assume that that majority of users on Grindr, Scruff, etc are looking for sex is just wrong. Many people are feeling isolated and alone right now. So many of West Hollywood’s residents come from other parts of the country and they have nobody right now, they are alone. There are many responsible gay residents doing what they are supposed to be doing and staying home. They are unable to go out and socialize with other gay people, they are in many cases out of work,… Read more »
Hahaha, uh, no. There are plenty of other places to engage with other humans. This article is spot on.
To which other specifically gay places are you referring?
“At 8:30 p.m. Sunday, 24 men who identified themselves as West Hollywood residents were live on BBRTS looking for sex” Really?
Grindr: Profits Before People
The sex club that stated they would not admit more than 69 men to its orgy is the most disturbing part of this article.
I agree, in fact, I am surprised that this sort of thing still exists. WTH?
The lessons of HIV are lost on many. Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign proved that there are things people do because the really, REALLY enjoy them – and to hell with the aftermath.
Stigmatizing someone for being online is akin to the LAPD’s generations-long tactic of arresting everyone in proximity to certain (i.e. gay) clubs.
Hank, this sort of Alabama church-lady shaming you’re publishing really is straight out of the Reagan era.
I applaud WEHOville for once again initiating a conversation that will likely provoke varying responses from the community.
This article makes it sound like only gay men visit sex hookup sites. There are thousands of such sites that are straight
An article one could only find in West Hollywood.
Scruff has an official “Stay Home, do not contact in person” front page flag on their website as of this morning.
Grindr does not.
Get it together, Grindr.
This is a complex issue because sex and physical touch are basic human needs. While all of us are certainly capable of taking a few weeks off for the benefit of everyone else, I do wonder how we manage this if it persists beyond April 19. This is one of those times I am actually grateful being past my sexual prime because I remember how powerful my hormones were in my 20s!