Finding Queer Love Online With OK Cupid

Episode 150 · 2 months ago

Finding Queer Love Online With OK Cupid


Maybe it’s the movies, maybe it’s the cold weather, or maybe it’s just in our heads... Either way, the holiday season often brings pressure to find romance, and dating as a queer person can sometimes feel like a minefield. Add in a lack of inclusive language on dating apps and the whole prospect can seem overwhelming. Bumble, Hinge, Grindr, HER, Tinder… Though some are more inclusive than others, they often fall short. But one app is trying really hard to improve the dating experience for the LGBTQ+ community.

Almost 20 years ago, OK Cupid introduced online dating to young people. On this week's episode, we’ll hear about OK Cupid’s history of inclusivity and what sets it apart from other dating apps and more from Michael Kaye, the Associate Director of Global Communications at OkCupid. 

Send us your stories about online dating as a queer person! We love to hear from you:

Your host is Levi Chambers, founder of Rainbo Media Co. You can follow Levi @levichambers across socials.

Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @PRIDE across socials.

PRIDE is produced by Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson, and Brandon Marlo. This episode was also produced by Frank Driscoll. It was written and edited by Maggie Boles and Daniel Ferrera.

Do you have a queer story to share? Email us at

*This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media.

Straw media. DTF stands for down to expletive go to bed with someone, and we decided to completely flip the script on what DPF stood for. Do you find that as the holiday season closes in you feel more pressure to find romance? And maybe it's the movies, maybe it's the cold weather, maybe it's the shorter days, or maybe it's just in our heads. Either way, dating as a queer person can sometimes feel like a mine field, and add in a lack of inclusive language on dating apps, the whole prospect can just seem overwhelming. Bumble hinge grinder, her Tender. Though some are more inclusive than others, they often fall short. But one app is trying really hard to improve the dating experience for the lgbt Q plus community. Almost twenty years ago, okay Cupid introduced online dating to young people. It was one of the first of its kind and also one of the first to offer an inclusive space for members of the lgbt Q plus community. I'm Levi Chambers. My pronouns are he him, his, And today on Pride we're talking to Michael Ka, Associate director of Global Communications at okay Cupid. We'll hear about okay Cupid's history of inclusivity and what sets it apart from other dating apps. How Michael came to his role at okay Cupid, and what it means to work for a company that values and celebrates queer people, the recent major expansion of gender and identities on the app, and whether or not the moral capital translates to business capital. Hey, I'm Michael Kay and this is Pride. So hello, Michael. Thank you very much for joining us today to talk about this amazing company that you work for. So first, could you go ahead and talk a little bit about where you work and what kind of your responsibilities are and what what you do from the day to day at that company. Absolutely, First, thank you so much for having me here today. It's such an honor to be here. So I work at the dating app okay Cupid. We've been around for nearly two decades at this point, so we are definitely an o G in the dating game, and in my role, I'm really focused on storytelling for our brand across markets all over the world, from North America to the Middle East to Southeast Asia. So it's really fun to get to talk about dating and relationships and how those really differ based on where you live and who you are. Okay Cupid first launch almost twenty years ago in two thousand four, and even so it was a trail blazer...

...for inclusivity. It was started by four Harvard guys that were not queer. They weren't even looking for love. Instead, what interested them was more of a social experiment. The question was, is there a scientific way to predict compatibility. What's really different about okay Cupid from all the other dating apps out there is that we are the only dating app of the world that matches you on what matters to you, and we do that through thousands of app matching questions. And before anyone panics if you create an account on okay Cupid, we are not going to put you to work and make you answer thousands of questions, um, but we do make you answer at least fifteen, although most people go on to answer dozens and dozens more. And those questions really cover everything you could imagine within the dating relationships and suck realm. But we also have questions that um relate to anything that's top of mind for millennial and Gen Z daters, from black lives matter to climate change to reproductive healthcare, marriage equality, and other lgbt Q plus rights. And because of these questions, we are really able to create a tailored experience for every single person who uses are at, whether you are a bisexual person dating in New York City, or a straight user dating in London, or a gay person dating in Mumbai. UM and we have localized questions in over thirty countries around the world, so you know, British daters have things that are top of mind that American daters might not care about. And similarly, we also have a whole set of questions for lgbt Q plus people because we recognize that what's top of mind for straight people might not be top of mind for the queer community. And even within our own community. I mean I myself identify as gay, so within our own community, we have questions for lesbians, questions for gay people, for bisexuals UM So we really use these questions to create an experience that feels really unique to every single person on the app. This inclusivity that you've that you just kind of described, and it goes beyond the LGBTQ plus community to even people within certain geographic regions. Why has inclusivity been a precept of okay Cupid really seemingly since the beginning, and why do you think it has taken so many of the other dating apps and some of them still really aren't that focused on that level of inclusivity. UM, why is it taking them so long to follow suit or catch up? We're a dating app. People are coming onto our platform to find love of to find meaningful relationships.

And if you're not able to show up as your truest self and express yourself however you possibly want, then we're really not doing our job, or you know, if we're not creating a space where you can do that. UM. We were the first leading dating app to create a dedicated space on profiles for lgbt Q plus people to share their pronouns, and we actually recently opened up that feature to our straight users to UM because we want to really normalize the use of gender pronouns, and it also makes it easier for our non binary and transgender users when they're seeing straight people use pronouns as well. UM. We were also the first dating app to offer expanded gender and orientation options, so we now offer twenty two gender and twenty orientation options for our datas to choose from, and last Pride Month so Prime Month, we actually expanded our identity options for our l g B t Q plus data specifically, and some of those expanded identity options included terms like their bottom switch versatile. Michael says. Okay Cupid now offers over sixty identity options to choose from, with the option to choose up to five at any time. And with all that added specificity and inclusivity, the folks that okay cupids on an opportunity for education. So we spoke to non binary people, we spoke to transgender people, and they were saying, hey, it's great that you offer all all these options, but what's happening is I'm being matched with people who don't really understand what my identity is. So we partnered with the Human Rights Campaign and we started adding definitions to all the different identities we off for to our users. And when we think about inclusivity, it's not just the l g B t Q plus community. So we have a really great feature that I love on okay qpid. It's called profile badges, and this allows us to let our own datas signal to other people what's really important to them. So we've released a climate change advocate badge over the years. During the summer of we actually launched the Black Lives Matter profile badge so that our users could signal to other people that they were in support of the BLM movement, and over eight intend datas decided to add that badge to their profiles. UM. So we're always using the product to make sure that people feel really safe and comfortable on our platform. UM because if they're not feeling like they can be themselves, like they're valued or heard or respected on a platform where they're looking for love, they're never gonna be able to find, you know, those meaningful connections.

So then in in countries let's say that have anti lgbt Q laws or things like that, do you have to navigate the political escape and kind of work within the guardrails of the culture essentially UM to still be able to provide a platform where people are safe, if that makes sense. What's beneficial to us is that we are always speaking to our daters. We're not just talking to people in our own backyard. We're speaking to people all around the world. We also have teams of people all around the world, whether that's people who work specifically at okay Cupid or its agency partners that we're leaning on. UM. So there are certain questions and features that might show up for you if you're next to me in New York City, UM, that won't show up for someone if they're let's say, in Turkey, and that's for their own safety. That's for their own protection. UM. It's also based on what they're comfortable talking about. We have very and conversations, especially when it comes to some of these more conservative markets where uh, you know, conversations around sexuality or sex or identity is a little bit more taboo than it here than it is here in the United States. So we tailor our product to make sure that you know, people are feeling safe and that they're um able to express themselves as much as they want to. Many companies, especially ones who are operating in the same it's like you have to contend with the political stances of lots of governments and societies and and um political groups as opposed to just what's here in the United States. Okay cup it is still very open about being a progressive company and trying to be progressive even in those markets and to kind of express those progressive values even if you have to, um, pull them back a little bit for the safety of users like you just described. Do you think that helps or hurt the company overall as a business, that is, you know, a platform trying to connect people. That's a great question, UM, and I love that you talked about it in terms of, you know, us catering to more progressive issues, because we really don't see this, this being what we're doing here at okay Cupid, as something that should be politicized. You know, we're not trying to align ourselves with different political parties around the world or political candidates. What we are doing is we're listening to our gen z and millennial daters. Those are the biggest demographics on okay Cupid. And those daters are telling us that they are concerned about climate change, that they support the Black Lives Matter movement, that they believe women should have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies. So when our daters tell us that something is really important to them to them, Um, and they do so by answering our in app questions on all...

...these topics, that allows us, or really encourages us to create marketing campaigns and product features that resonate and mirror the issues that are top of mind for those people. So in that way, it's it's almost like you are kind of crowdsourcing the platform in some way, you know what I mean, in terms of um asking these questions, getting the feedback from the datas, and then using that to kind of guide where you steer the company. Absolutely, I mean, when we started to see that climate change was becoming a trending topic on our platform, we thought, why don't we introduce a feature where it goes right on your profile and you can tell people that, yes, you believe climate change is real, and yes you want your government to do something about it. And you know, features like that have been really successful in your pin It's it's literally from us just listening to what people on our platform are saying is important to them. I mean, to me, that gives me a lot of hope to see so many people expressed that black Lives Matter was important to them. So I would imagine that that is not only nice to see in terms of things you can do with the platform, fund badges and stuff like that, but also somewhat promising about the future. You can kind of get a window into the future especially with these younger demographics. That has to be somewhat uplifting for you all. And and it's I mean it is to me just hearing that absolutely. I mean, as I mentioned, I identify as a game man. But the l g b t q I A community is not just important to okay Cupid employees. Where seeing that it's really important to our datas as well, and that is extremely uplifting And it makes me feel really happy to come into my office or go to my living room and work for this company. You know, every single day, nearly of datas on our platform, it's actually nine seven percent said that they care about lgbt Q plus issues and seven intent datas say it's important that their match cares about this community as well. We also recently found that seven per cent of one and a half million people on okay Cupid support marriage equality. Um. And honestly, how can that not make you happy? Um? It gives me a lot of hope for you know, the next generation that is coming up right behind us. And you know, it makes me feel really good to be working at a brand that is really excited to support all these different communities. I mean, we're supporting the very people who are on our platform, and we're supporting the very people who are in our office.

Absolutely. It's like it's almost like you have this this company that's like doubling as an amazing polling system that finds out what's important to people beyond you know, dating and finding love and things like that. These, you know, things that will eventually shape the world in some ways. So tell me a little bit about your personal origin story as we are recording today. I'm in New York City and I am actually a New Yorker born and raised. My parents are Brooklyn born and raised. UM. I went to college in New York. I've worked in the city since graduating, so very loyal to this city and UM. After graduation, I started getting right into public relations, which is what I do now. I worked at different agencies across pretty much every brand you probably use in your personal life, and in spring of someone from Okay keep It slid into my d m s on LinkedIn and asked if I wanted to have a chat. And over three years later, I am still here helping people find love all around the world, and it's just been such a wild ride. Is this what you saw yourself doing being a part of this sort of industry. Actually, no, I have like a very unique maybe experience with dating apps. I didn't come out of the closet till after graduation, so I was almost twenty three before I started telling people I was gay. And I turned to dating apps after graduation because those were the only places where I could safely and discreetly meet other gay men. And it was really overwhelming, and I was really terrified, um of meeting up with them, because this was, you know, something that I tried to hide about myself for my entire life at that point, um, And I remember matching and connecting and talking to so many different guys, and when it came to the point where you know, they wanted to meet up, they wanted to bear a coffee or a drink or whatever it was, I would always check it out. And I got really scared. And there, you know, as a about to delete my dating app, and I matched with one more guy and I thought, Okay, this will be the final conversation. Then we're deleting this and calling it a day. And he was the one person I decided to meet up with and go to dinner with, and over eight years later, we're still together. So congratulations, thank you. I wasn't on dating apps for long, but I am, I guess, one...

...of the best success stories for dating app so I'm here to say they really do work. Um. But on that note, like I never thought I'd find myself back at a dating app in a different capacity. Your decision to join okay Cupid and dating did its history of inclusion of i'm gonna say queer identities, but also just lots of people, right, diversity, it's it's it's history and diversity did that way you in one direction or the other in terms of joining the company? Was it a factor you cared about? Absolutely? I mean before I joined, when I was you know, during the interview process, when I was doing all this research about okay Cupid, and I found that they had really been committed to the lgbt Q plus community for one for years and years. That made me feel safe, and it made me feel like when I walked through these doors, I could show up as my true self. I didn't have to hide anything about me. What really got me excited about this job was not only seeing how inclusive of a product it really is, but when I walked into the office, I saw people of all different backgrounds, and it was actually the first time I saw an openly queer person in the C suite and that person is responsible for building our product, and that meant a lot to me because it was the first time where I felt visible, I felt seen, and I I saw someone like myself reflected in you know, leadership, and it made me think that could be me one day. How does that focus on diversity kind of flow through everything that the company does. Besides our product features that were you know, releasing every year, we're also making sure that with anything that we're putting out from the company, that it's reflective of our values, of our mission, and of the very people that are on our platform every single day. So in our our marketing campaigns, we are showing interracial couples, we are showing queer couples. We're using models who are people of color, We're using models who identify as non binary, models who identify as transgender. Because it's really important to us that if we're creating a safe space for these people on our app, that when they see a commercial from Okay Cupid or they see a billboard from us, that they're also seeing themselves reflected there as well. And sometimes people say that what we're doing is controversial, and we really don't understand that. It's a hard idea to wrap our minds around that showing a queer couple is controversial or an interracial couple as controversial. We don't get it, but we're definitely not going to stop doing it. We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, we'll hear about how okay Cupid flip the script and their mark in campaigns, and how their commitment to taking...

...a stand on important social issues has helped the business grow. If you live in a major city, you probably noticed okay cupid's marketing campaign that started back in January. They were big, splashy, colorful billboards that said DTF, except the f didn't mean what you thought it meant. Instead, it meant down to fall head over heels, and it showed two women about to kiss, one in the other's arms and holding a red rose. It meant down to fly the red eye, and it showed an interracial couple with sleep masks decorated with each other's eyes. It was extremely provocative and the idea behind that campaign was honestly just to make a splash. We wanted to scream from the rooftops that Okay Cupid is here. But as the years went on and they thought about new Mark getting campaigns, Michael says, they wanted to tell people why Okay Cupid was here. So when we were thinking about the every single Person campaign, and it's right in the name, we wanted to let people know that we are an app for them no matter how you identify, no matter what relationship you're looking for. If you are a bookworm, we are for you. If you want to be at a club at all hours of the night, we are for you. If you are looking for marriage right now, that's great. If you are interested in an open relationship, that's awesome. Do you we want you to do that. So it was really all about celebrating the people and the kinds of couples that we're seeing form on our app. So for those who are listening and may not know because they I don't know live in an Amish community, what does DTF mean? So DTF stands for down to expletive go to bed with someone, And we decided to completely flip the script on what BPF stood for. So we had images and billboards all over the country. That just gave a new meeting to the acronym. So some of those said down to fall head over heels, or down to fight about the president, or down to fire up the kiln, you know, whatever you want to do. Um. So really that was all about reimagining what this overtly sexual term really meant and celebrating it in a brand new way that resonated with people all around the country. It falls right back into what you've talked about with kind of pushing the envelope a little bit...

...with everything. If you could kind of elaborate a little bit on what it exactly means. This like this perspective of reimagining what intimacy means. What do you mean by that? Yeah, so when you think about DTF or when you thought about eight years and years ago, it was said in a way that really shamed people for being DTF. Um. It sort of put people down and look down upon people who wanted to sleep around. And we see no problem with that if that is what you want to do. We always say that we are the platform where you come to whether you are looking for someone for Saturday night or Saturday nights for the rest of your life. And we were tired of DTF being this bad word, and we just wanted to flip it on its head and define it in a way that just made sense to different people that made them proud to b DTF. And that's sort of what that campaign was all about. I love that and I feel like that is something that you and the company very much UM achieved. So when you rolled out the more inclusive app features that came earlier this year and the questions, could you tell us a little bit about how these inclusive features UM effect not only inclusivity within your platform and your community, but also in determining compatibility among users who are looking for people. If you haven't been an Okay Cupid, these questions power our algorithm and help us connected with people that we feel you are most compatible with. So when you're Honor app and you see another user, you will actually see a match percentage on their profile. That is a number that we have calculated that tells you how compatible you are with the other person based on three things. What you said you're looking for in a partner, so their age, their identities, where they're from, what they say they are looking for a a partner, and how you both answered the questions in a similar way. So we want to make sure that, because you're also busy, that when we're showing you different people on the app, we're showing you people that you actually have something in common with. You know, if you are someone who is a workaholic, we want to match you with someone who is okay with that and is not going to feel neglected by you. Um. If you're someone who is really active and fitness is really important to you, we have questions about that too, about living a healthy lifestyle, and if you're a runner, you want to be my to the...

...other runners, like, That's what our questions are all about, UM, and that's one of the biggest purposes they serve. Another reason for our questions is besides being a deal breaker, they're a dealmaker. They're also a conversation starter. So when people look at the match percentage that they have with someone, they can actually see all the questions that they answered in common UM, and also the questions that they answered but might have had different answers too. So that will help you realize that this person also loves horror movies. That's going to tell me that, Okay, Instead of using hey or hi, or are you up? I'm going to message them and ask them what's your favorite horror movie? What are we streaming this weekend? UM? It just gives me a little bit something to go off of UM and that's really how we think about our questions on the app. All of these things together create the unique product and company that is Okay Cupid. And it makes me wonder about the relationship between moral capital and business capital. Do they work together? And as Okay Cupid's focus on inclusivity and diversity help the company grow absolutely, I think it really depends on who you're targeting. If your target consumer is part of gen Z, if they are millennials, these are the most progressive generations that we are seeing. They want to purchase a product or service from a brand whose values really aligned with theirs. So for us, we've seen it be a really huge benefit to UM for our company to be a values driven dating app. We've seen that these different features, especially ones for the LGBT you blessed community, these questions, these different features on the profile have really benefited our business. When we look at the last year, we've seen a big increase in new users who identify as bisexual, as non binary, as transgender coming to our app to look for love, and it's because of these features, it's because of our campaigns, it's because of everything that we're doing here that people from across identities really feel like this is a space where they can come to and be themselves. And if that's how they feel, our users are only going to continue to grow. So yes, it's it's absolutely benefited okay cup it in the United States, but really all over the world. So as as someone who you work for the company, but you also have this perspective that you've been successful with with dating apps. What is something that you from like a user perspective, and then also as an employee... to see from okay Cupid in the future. I would say that I would love for us to just continue to customize and localize our app as best as possible. I think it's just really cool that someone in San Francisco can have a great experience on okay Cupid, but it's very different from the experience of someone in Tel Aviv or Mumbai or London. I think that's awesome that we are making sure that no matter where you are in the world, no matter what's important to you that when you come onto our app, it feels like this has been created for you specifically, So I would just like us to continue down that path, which we absolutely are. What about for for someone who is not currently on any dating apps for whatever reasons? What is something about okay Cupid do you feel like is the reason they should join and try? I I'm sorry to interrupted. Is this for me? LEVI? This is our producer Frank And yes that question was for them. Oh my god, you're calling him out. I'm here for it. I'm not on any dating apps, Michael at all. Right now, I don't know, like I've used them a bunch before, but like, yeah, how do you convince someone like me who's who hasn't had huge success with dating apps in the past? Um as a queer person, as someone who identifies as non binary, as someone who'ses key that pronouns like yeah, I guess, like, why should should I try okay Cupid? See how it works well for you? Specifically? I would say we're definitely the most inclusive dating app that you're ever going to find. I can say that with confidence. Um, But for anybody, I would encourage you to get Okay keep it a try because you're able to tell the app the perfect person you're looking for. When you download okay Cuban and create an account, you don't just give your name and a photo and call it a day. We really make you work for it, so you have to answer at least fifteen questions before you get to get started. And what's nice about that is if you see a question that doesn't resonate to you, or it's not really relevant or even makes you uncomfortable, you can skip it. There's not a single question on the app that's mandatory. It is mandatory to answer fifteen of them. Um. And then there's all these different profile prompts that you can fill out, so we definitely have more robust profiles than any other dating app. And right now, what we hear from people sometimes when they complain about dating is that you know, they're tired of swiping and going out with someone for coffee or drinks or whatever the date is and finding out that they're not compatible. But on our platform,...

...through our questions, we really make sure that before you even meet up with this person or have a phone call with them or a FaceTime, you know a ton about them. You know what their interests are what they're passionate about, what values um they have, and that's really important and I think it makes dating a lot easier. And if you I'll just share this with you all. But if you want to give Okay keep it a try, please email subscriptions. I'd okay keep it dot com and I am more than happy to upgrade your account on me. Frank, make it now, literally going to make a profile. Now You're gonna end up with a bunch of people. I have nothing to lose. Yeah, I'm gonna go on like thirty days and thirty days and then I'll send you I'll let you know how it goes, Michael. So listeners, if you're on the fence about online dating, if you're exhausted by the endless swiping and profiles that tell you nothing, give Okay Cupid to try. If Frank can do it, so can you. And if you have something to say about dating online as a queer person, we'd love to hear from you. Send us an email at Pride at straw hut media dot com. Pride is a production of straw Hut Media. If you like the show, please leave us a rating and review. On Apple Podcasts Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Then follow us on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and snapchat at Pride and tune in weekly for more episodes. Be sure to share this episode with your friends and subscribe for more stories from amazing queer people. If you'd like to connect with me, you can follow me everywhere at Levi Chambers. Pride is produced by Me, Maggie Bowls, Frank Driscoll, Ryan Tillottson, and Brandon Marlowe. Edited by Maggie Bowls and Daniel Ferrara.

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