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“People would look at the ads and be shocked by how sexual they were,” said syndicated advice columnist Dan Savage, who also hosts a popular podcast, “Savage Love.” “It facilitated human connections that were not always exploitative or dehumanizing — I know people who are in 10- and 15-year relationships that began on Craigslist, that began with a hookup.” When I asked Savage what impact losing services such as Craigslist personal ads could have on the queer community at large, he paused and said, “It’s just hard to put into words.” For a generation that came of age with the Internet, Craigslist and its contemporaries were queer spaces where people could “tiptoe out of the closet” without having to risk outing themselves, Savage said.
“Apps and Craigslist turned everyone’s apartments, if they wished, into a bathhouse — cruising moved online.” Craigslist was, of course, not the first such “bathhouse of the Internet,” as Salon so dubbed AOL in 1999.
In his 2009 book “Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column,” Harry Cocks, a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, showed how personals ads in the 20th century were a precursor to today’s mobile dating apps.
And much in the same way as queer people once posted print personal ads out of sheer necessity, the LGBT community was also an early adopter of online dating.
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“There are still very real consequences — such as loss of family ties and employment discrimination — toward people with same-sex desires and attractions, especially if these desires and attractions are known,” Robinson told me.
While there are a wide variety of LGBT-focused dating apps, Robinson said it was the open-to-anyone-with-an-email-address accessibility and total anonymity of Craigslist that made it so appealing — and distinct.
They’d scroll through explicit posts submitted by anonymous users, many of whom were displaying grainy nude photos and soliciting no-strings-attached sex. Reynolds said she started reading these personal ads while she was in high school.
This legislation purports to stem the rising tide of online sex trafficking, even as groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union claim it will, in fact, “harm the very people it is intended to protect.” And free-speech advocates view the amendment to Section 230 as an “unambiguous chilling of free speech,” according to the Center for Democracy & Technology.