Op-Ed: Why Grindr Mattered

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The body of Ryan Uhre, a gay grad student from FSU, was found Tuesday morning on a rooftop near the campus. The worst fears are now a grim reality. A young man has been lost, and a promising life has been snuffed out.

Last week, I editorialized that the refusal of close friends and his family not to publicly discuss his sexuality may have compromised the efficiency of the investigation into his disappearance. You see, the last place Ryan was ‘seen’ was not just leaving a Super Bowl party at a sports bar in Tallahassee. The last place he was ‘seen’ was on Grindr an hour after he left that sports bar, chatting with friends.

Ryan went on Grindr often, and to their credit, some of his hookups contacted the Tallahassee Police Department on their own, sharing their liaisons with him. One young man from Key West met Ryan on Grindr during one of his trips to FSU. Like others, he provided information to the police that he hoped would be useful. “I pray for him,” he had said.

Ryan was drinking at the Super Bowl party that night, and has apparently gone on a few binges before, disappearing for a few days at a time. Family and friends had hoped against hope this was just another episode, and that he would turn up okay. But as hours passed into days and weeks, with no sign or use of cash, his credit cards, or bank accounts, hope had turned to fear. If it was a binge, it was not going to be a good one.

In this loss, what I found troubling was the steadfast determination some friends had not to make Ryan’s semi-closeted sexuality an issue in the search. It most certainly was. SFGN did not seek to embarrass Ryan Uhre, his friends, or his family by demanding that the media release information about his personal life. We sought only to move them in a direction that might simultaneously help them find him sooner, while also potentially protecting gay men.

As the police knew, the venues for gay men in Tallahassee are significantly less varied than straight bars for frat boys. Of course, we wanted to make sure they were looking in the right places. There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about an attractive young man finding a partner online and having a rendezvous, whether or not for sexual purposes. This is not only what gay men do, it is what straight men do also.

Unfortunately, as I said last week, you hope for the best, but think the worst. It’s a cruel world we live in, populated by violent people who engage in vicious acts. It’s also a world of unforeseen fate, where a careless drunken driver can smother out a lifetime of dreams in one reckless moment. Or you can do yourself in by taking too many pills. Here, we don’t know anything yet. All we know thus far is that a young man’s body was found on a rooftop alone. It will be up to a medical examiner to determine the cause of death.

We do know that Ryan left a straight sports bar at about 8:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday. An hour later he was chatting with someone on Grindr. So the gay community of Tallahassee, once alerted, could have helped in his search. He may not have been alone on that rooftop. Maybe he just finished a hook up.

Worse, suppose a predator was out there targeting young gay men. Wouldn’t you want to share with the police someone you talked to who seemed suspicious that night or the past week? If the only information police released about this man was that he left a straight sports bar, drinking with straight frat brothers, and all the pictures showed him with beautiful girlfriends, the gay community would have been misled on one hand, and less cautious on the other.

If it turns out Ryan met a homicidal end, do you think the killer talked to him alone that night, or wasn’t he more likely cruising other potential victims as well? The gay community needed to know about Ryan’s predispositions so they could proactively respond. If there is a predator out there, cruising a social app like Grindr, it is better we find out before there are more victims. You don’t sacrifice someone’s life to protect someone else’s sexual identity.

Tallahassee police followed our suggestion to check out gay cruises where Internet access is often limited. A shout out and salute to their department is ever so appropriate. They were thoroughly exhaustive, consummately professional and entirely dedicated to finding this young man. Using helicopters and bloodhounds, social media and investigative sources, they blanketed the community with awareness.

So too was that the purpose of SFGN. We are proud of our contribution, supported by national gay media sources like Queerty, which generously aided our effort. We extend our sad condolences to his friends and family at the tragic and disappointing outcome. However, if revealing this young man’s sexual identity was a necessary element in helping find him, then you do so, not only to save him, but also to protect others.

The gay community has won many achievements these past few years, and we have become belatedly accepted by society. We are no longer apart from it. We are a part of it. We take the warts and the wounds, as well as the applause and accomplishments. Ryan Uhre though is lost forever, and right now, straight or gay just does not matter.


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