Gmojiz, a new emoji-centric keyboard app developed by the Tel Aviv-based Kibo Mobile tech, markets itself as "the world's first gay keyboardever" meant to be an "all-in-one communication console created for and by the gay community."
Like most third-party keyboards, Gmojiz's designed to give users access to custom, third-party emoji that convey a broader range of thoughts and feelings than the standard-issue Unicode ones. While Unicode finally introduced a series of emoji depicting same sex couples in its most recent update, the good people at Gmojiz aimed to expand people' options for LGBTQ-themed pictograms.
All of that's well and good until you actually see the emoji Gmojiz designed. Can you spot the one thing that all of these cute little cartoon men have in common other than the fact that they're (ostensibly) gay?
They're all very, very white and categorized by reductive descriptions of their sexualities.
Gmojiz offers two sets of emoji: "Dating Stickers" and "Love Stickers." The dating stickers, one imagines, were designed with the idea that they might be used within the context of a hookup app like Grindr or Scruff where one might need a novel way to explain their sexual preferences.
Some of the icons, like the jackhammer top and yin-yang vers(atile) are perfectly race-neutral, but others like the golden shower and power bottom are styled in the likeness of white men.
As emoji have become more popular in recent years, there have been a number of discussions about the importance of giving people of various backgrounds the ability to use the symbols in a way that reflects who they are. Last year, after much demand from the public, the Unicode Consortium introduced a broader variety of skin tones that could be applied to human emoji.
While the lack of racial diversity in a set of digital stickers may not seem like the biggest problem facing the gay community right now (it isn't) the issue with Gmojiz is nonetheless one worth unpacking. In short, the emoji feed into the idea that being gay is synonymous with being white.
Even though people of color are more likely to identify as LGBTQ than their white counterparts here in the U.S., white men still account for the vast majority of queer representation in the media. What's more, queer, digital spaces like hookup apps have a well-documented history of being hotbeds for passive-aggressive discrimination that's couched in the language of "preference."
The last thing Grindr needs right now is a bunch of people substituting "No fats, no femmes, no Asians" with "Only looking for:" followed by a series of smiling white cartoons. We've reached out to Kibo Mobile for comment and will update if we hear back.
The most disappointing thing about Gmojiz, though, is the fact that they just aren't all that useful outside of sexually-charged exchanges compared to regular emoji. The stickers from the "Love" collection are marginally better and feature one man of color, RuPaul, and a racially nondescript couple. Still, though, the Gmojiz fall short of depicting the broad diversity seen within queer communities.
When artist Cathy Lo designed a pack of custom Pride-themed stickers for Facebook's Messenger platform in 2013, she took a lot of these issues into consideration and made a conscious effort to showcase the many different types of people who identify as LGBTQ including lesbians and the elderly.
Until Gmojiz opts to take a page out of her book, you're probably better off just sticking to old-fashioned texting.