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New service offers safer online dating for Toronto's gay community

Last Updated Mar 20, 2018 at 7:37 pm EDT

It’s a first for online dating for Toronto’s gay community — a new service launched Tuesday allows users to let others know they’re going out, and then check-in afterwards once they are home safe.

The initiative called the SAFE program is the brainchild of the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention (ASAAP).

Executive Director for ASAAP, Haran Vijayanathan says they launched the service after years of reports that South Asian and Middle Eastern gay men were going missing and in a most recent case, were alleged murder victims.

The email service allows users to send an email to ASAAP with information that includes the user’s name, email or phone number, and location of their meeting, along with any other details they may feel comfortable sharing about their date.

If the person doesn’t follow up to confirm they are safe within 72 hours, ASAAP will give their information to police.

Vijayanathan says when it comes to talking about going on same-sex dates, not all cultures are open or welcoming. The lack of acceptance can lead many to keep their dating life or plans to themselves, potentially putting themselves at risk.

“Even when I was coming out of the closet at 16 in Winnipeg, I had friends and my friends knew I was gay but I wasn’t always forthcoming with who I am meeting or if I was going on a date,” he says. “Certainly I put myself at risk and I’m sure many folks put themselves at risk.”

Vijayanathan also says that historically there hasn’t been a very positive relationship between the LGBTQ and racialized communities and the police. While the program isn’t meant to hold police accountable, it aims at building a stronger working relationship so that trust can be restored.

“Any proposal that has the potential to increase reporting and keep the community safe is valuable,” said Meaghan Gray with Toronto Police Services in an email to CityNews. “We will continue to work with them to see how we can collectively improve the relationship between police and all parts of the city’s LGBTQ community.”

SAFE will be open to anyone who feels uncertain about their safety, regardless of their sexual orientation or ethnicity.

You can find more information about the program here.

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