At a time of growing concern about racism in gay social media apps, a former campaign intern for Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) was recently caught using racist epithets on Grindr while on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Wilson was widely criticized in 2009 for shouting “You lie!” at former President Obama during the 2009 State of the Union Address.
The Grindr user messaged D.C. resident Rashad Humphries, who’s black, on Nov. 9 from a profile named “TGIF” with the words “sup nigga” and two photos of a youthful, white male — one near a river apparently with a male friend, the other with two females at a graduation ceremony. The user followed up with another message, “Fuck me nigga.”
Humphries did not express interest in the request for sexual intercourse.
“Bro you think using nigga in any context would make a black person want to fuck you?” Humphries responded. “Get the fuck outta here with that racist shit.”
The Grindr user responded, “Nigger.”
Humphries, a 27-year-old former Marine who’s now an administrative specialist for the U.S. government, told the Washington Blade the exchange was an “unfortunate situation” and he wanted to make it public because it was “the last straw” in being subjected to racism in the LGBT community.
“I became upset, more so annoyed,” Humphries said. “I wanted to find out who he was because the communication between me and him was obviously negative at best.”
A Grindr screenshot reveals “TGIF” messaged Humphries from less than 500 feet away, which indicates the user was in the Capitol Hill area where Humphries lives.
After the exchange, Humphries alerted his boyfriend, Joel Garcia, and his friend, Matt Curtis. Garcia, a 27-year-old teacher, said he had a different reaction than Humphries over the exchange and was more “upset and like ticked off” than his boyfriend.
“It becomes personal and I don’t experience that that often, so just seeing that from an outsider’s perspective really hit a chord with me,” Garcia said.
Both Garcia and Curtis took it upon themselves to uncover the identity of “TGIF.” Under the false pretense of arranging sexual encounters, Garcia, who’s Latino, and Curtis, who’s white, both exchanged messages with “TGIF” on the same day. The two obtained different photos than Humphries and had exchanges that were markedly dissimilar from their friend’s.
Curtis, a 39-year-old information technology official for the Defense Department, said he was “livid” when he found out about the exchange, but cooled down to win the user over in his messaging, bringing up topics like sports.
“I reached out to him and basically…pretended to be like someone who wanted to meet up and hook up with him,” Curtis said. “My sole motive was try to find out who this person is. That person had a totally opposite conversation with me. It was very nice.”
In a screenshot of one of the exchanges, “TGIF” asserted he came to D.C. from California for a “job offer bro,” prompting Curtis to comment, “That’s one good thing about D.C.” The user replied, “Yeah, Ha ha.”
Curtis said “TGIF” initially identified himself with the name “Alex,” but later said that name wasn’t right and provided a different name. Curtis persuaded “TGIF” to send his cell phone number and a friend request via Facebook in anticipation of a sexual encounter.
A screenshot of the Facebook profile viewed by the Blade shows pictures that were consistent with Curtis’ exchange on Grindr and subsequent name “TGIF” offered. The profile, Curtis said, also revealed “TGIF” is a Republican and a Trump supporter.
Instead of proceeding to meet for the sexual encounter, Curtis immediately sent the photos and identity to Humphries, who posted the information on Facebook alerting others to the exchange of hate speech on Grindr and the identity of “TGIF.”
It appears “TGIF” has undertaken racist exchanges before. After Humphries made his Facebook post, he said a fellow gay veteran told him he received a similar message from the same user. That gay veteran, Humphries said, doesn’t have evidence of the exchange because “TGIF” blocked him shortly afterward.
“Keep in mind I never messaged him, he messaged me directly first,” Humphries said. “It seems as though the reason why he used these fake pictures, fake profile, totally different information [is] either he gets a kick out of it, he thinks it’s funny, or I don’t know what his motive is.”
Humphries said “TGIF” was alerted to the Facebook post when someone he knew tagged him in it. The Grindr user sent text messages to Curtis, which were shown to the Blade. Curtis also said “TGIF” attempted to call about 10 times.
In apparent alarm, “TGIF” urged that the post be deleted because he wasn’t open about his sexual orientation.
“Look man, I truly apologize,” the Grindr user writes in one text. “I truly apologize. I’m just now coming to terms with who I am.”
In a subsequent text, “TGIF” says, “I’m fucking crying.” And in a subsequent text, he writes, “Please tell him to delete the post.”
Although “TGIF” blocked Curtis’ number, Curtis said he was able to continue texting him through an app that hid his phone number.
“He immediately responded back, was like, ‘Who is this?’ ‘Tell him I’m sorry.’ Tell him to take the post down. I’m conservative. I grew up in a conservative environment. He shouldn’t be posting stuff like that.”
Curtis said he hopes the fallout of making the exchange public will make people “start to think before they send these messages.”
“He kind of felt that Grindr was protecting him and he could act a certain way anonymously and not be held accountable…a total disregard for the other person’s feelings on the side of it,” Curtis said. “And all because of someone’s skin tone. To me, that is absolutely wrong and I feel like people shouldn’t be able to get away with that. It’s 2017.”
It’s unclear whether “TGIF” is in fact closeted about his sexual orientation. The Blade has more information about his identity — including his name and photos — but has decided to withhold that information from this article.
Humphries said the racist epithets to which he was subjected aren’t unusual. Since he left the Marine Corps, Humphries said he “encountered more moments of racism than I ever did in the military.”
“Specifically in the Marine Corps, they always teach you, no matter what your race…in the Marine Corps, everyone’s green essentially,” Humphries said. “We’re all fighting on the same team, on the same mission. Race should never be an issue.”
Humphries said he’s been subjected to less overt racism at other times within the LGBT community, but acknowledged the exchange on Grindr was more direct.
“It’s usually the idea that, ‘I don’t talk to black guys’,” Humphries said. “People who don’t talk to black guys because they’re scared or they just don’t hang out with black people…even within the gay community in which we shouldn’t have that issue since we’re already marginalized as it is.”
That was the end of the exchange between the individuals and “TGIF,” who appears to have deleted his Facebook page.
But something remains online that sheds additional light on him: A Google search reveals a now deleted LinkedIn profile of someone with the same name who had an internship with Rep. Wilson, one of the most anti-LGBT lawmakers in Congress. The entry for the now deleted page indicates “TGIF” has been an intern for Wilson for more than a year.
A Wilson staffer reached by phone this week confirmed someone by the Grindr user’s name worked as an intern on Wilson’s 2016 reelection campaign, but said he had no role as a staff member or intern in Wilson’s congressional office. It’s unclear what role, if any, “TGIF” now has on Capitol Hill even though the Grindr messages from his profile were sent from that location.
The Human Rights Campaign has consistently awarded Wilson a score of “0” in its congressional scorecard assessing lawmakers’ positions on LGBT issues. Among the nine-term member’s votes were in favor of denying transition-related heath care for transgender service members as well as votes against hate crimes legislation, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
As a high-ranking member of the House Armed Service Committee, Wilson was a major opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and convened a congressional hearing in 2011 to assess whether the implementation of openly gay service was happening too quickly in the U.S. military. (Pentagon officials testified the change would happen by the middle of summer. It ended up being at the end of the year.)
The South Carolina lawmaker is better known for shouting “You lie!” at Obama during his first State of the Union address in 2009, which many observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, said amounted to racism.
A Wilson spokesperson didn’t respond to repeated requests from the Blade to comment on whether the lawmaker would repudiate the use of racist epithets used by “TGIF.”
The Blade has also tried to reach “TGIF” through the number he provided to Curtis, but he didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Humphries said Wilson’s apparent employment of “TGIF” is significant because it reflects the “political climate that we’re in today.”
“I can say I was here during Obama’s term, and I never had to deal with situations like that,” Humphries said. “I think not only the political climate today not only invites that kind of rhetoric, and it’s unfortunate.”
Garcia said the incident was a “microcosm” of the experience of people of color on gay social media apps and represents a “much larger issue.”
“How he acted when he thought we didn’t know who he was, those are kind of his true colors,” Garcia said. “And I think it happens generally. I come from a very conservative area in Maryland, and I think that that happens more often that people realize, especially in cities.”
Humphries said he “wrestled” with going public with the incident because he said the Grindr user “is young, and young people made bad decisions,” but nonetheless thought it was important to make a point.
“You’re actively going around calling — not just me, but other black gay men — through social media and fake profiles a nigger,” Humphries said. “So I think the reason why I wanted to go through with this is based on there has to be some consequences for people’s actions regardless of what sphere it’s in.”