Penn State student creates LGBTQ+ dating app with an inclusive mission

Mary Richardson sits at a table promoting Bindr at a Pride event.
Mary Richardson promoting Bindr at a Pride event. (Photo: Brandon Teller)

Mary Richardson, a senior at Penn State York, never really felt like she belonged when she used mainstream dating apps as a pansexual person, she said.

“I got banned from Tinder for the third time and was not feeling accepted,” she said. “I tried a few other LGBTQ dating apps and they didn’t really feel right; they felt very hookup-y, or a lot of them you needed to pay a high fee to talk to people or to see their photos.”

Although Richardson received no explanation regarding why she was removed from Tinder, she speculates that it had something to do with her sexual orientation. 

“I didn’t have anything against the rules on there — I didn’t have any bad photos or anything like that,” Richardson said. “I just had my preferences set to men and women.”

But Richardson found it difficult to find queer women in her area, she said. 

“Through customer discovery and customer research, talking to hundreds of people, we found that this is common between a lot of people that [dating apps] are more heterosexual-leaning.”

In early August 2022, Richardson and her friend Brandon Teller, who runs a software company in York, were brainstorming one day and asked themselves why there aren’t many free dating apps for bisexual or LGBTQ+ folks. They came up with the idea of Bindr, “the only free to use bisexual dating app,” according to the website. But the app “is actually label free, you don’t even have to pick your sexual orientation,” Richardson said. “You’re just you, meeting people for who you are.”

By the end of August 2022, Richardson and Teller released the first version of Bindr. Even though the app initially had its kinks, Richardson said, more than 300 people signed up in the first month of the app’s release. 

“We looked at each other, saw the people rolling in without us doing anything and thought, ‘people are finding it, people want it,’” Richardson said. “We worked harder and put our nose to the ground and started actually building this thing.”

As of early September 2023, Bindr hit 32,000 users, Richardson said. Teller, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, writes most of the code for the app.

Even though Bindr is all-inclusive and non-label-centric, combating bisexual erasure is something that Richardson aims to achieve through Bindr.  

“We went to a lot of Pride events over the summer and so many people were coming up [saying] ‘I’m so happy you have bi flags and pan flags, you have all of them,’” she said. “[They] told me their stories about how they don’t feel represented.”

Trans women also approached Richardson’s table at Pride events, telling her that they don’t feel safe using dating apps but that they would feel comfortable using Bindr because they know that she’s running it. Some of Richardson’s friends who are trans men have told her that they feel unsafe on the dating app Grindr, originally intended for gay and queer men. 

“They’re [finding] when people go to meet up with them, there’s violence,” Richardson said. “It felt predatory for them. So I just really want to fight that and make this a safe zone. One of the main ways we do that is meticulously looking at the profiles, all the support requests, taking them very seriously. Any nudity or sketchy profiles, we take down.”

“I honestly gave up on dating apps, they all failed or didn’t represent me,” Julia, a Bindr user, said in a quote on Bindr’s website. “I found myself banned or feeling excluded. This is the first time I’ve ever felt like I belong somewhere.”

Another user who was quoted anonymously on the website said, “living in a rural area it’s really hard to be a lesbian, my family doesn’t know, my college doesn’t know but what this represents, represents me. This makes me feel safe and included.”

Ultimately, Richardson’s goal for Bindr is to foster a space for “transgender, nonbinary, everybody in between, to have somewhere they can go and feel safe and not discriminated against,” she said.

The Bindr website also offers links and background information on LGBTQ+ resource organizations for adults and youth, even though the app requires users to be 18 or older. Some of those resources include the LGBTQ+ youth crisis prevention organization The Trevor Project, Anti-Violence Project, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and resources that help youth access gender-affirming care.  

Another of Richardson’s goals for Bindr is to be able to provide safe, free chest binders for trans folks — an idea she got when people at Pride events approached her table thinking that she was handing out chest binders. She’s aiming to get that resource available by 2024. 

Down the line, if the political climate around LGBTQ+ rights continues the way it has been, the Bindr team hopes to develop resources to help trans and nonbinary people access gender-affirming care in states with restrictions. With funding, Richardson hopes to be able to buy people bus tickets to travel to out-of-state doctors appointments or start a kind of online clinic to have medication sent to people.  

“We’re just making those connections for them, being that middleman, anything we can do to actually help the community and show that we’re not just a dating app, we’re not just looking to make ourselves rich with this,” Richardson said. “We’re trying to be the best ethical business to actually help the community.”

Richardson is nominated for the 2023 Women in Technology Award in the category of diversity and inclusion, presented by the Technology Council of Pennsylvania.

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