The Scoop: Tammy Shaklee, founder and lead matchmaker for LGBTQ+ matchmaking service H4M, talked to us about how LGBTQ+ singles have been adapting to the quickly changing online dating scene. The prevalence of AI and other kinds of dating and romance scams has left many queer singles vulnerable. Tammy told us about these scams, how the gay daters she works with feel about it, and how LGBTQ+ singles can stay safe.
LGBTQ+ people have been using the internet to form communities since the internet has been around. January 1, 1983, is considered the birthday of the internet, and it was in that same year that Net.motss, a webpage created to connect gay and lesbian individuals online, was created.
Net.motss was similar to many early online webpages and provided a place for LGBTQ individuals to share uplifting messages and engage with each other without fear of being outed or discriminated against.
For many LGBTQ+ folks, the early internet had corners of respite in the ways of webpages like Net.motss, where they could find connection and community across geographical boundaries. The internet has long been an important place for LGBTQ+ community building, and, like other areas online, LGBTQ+ spaces are vulnerable to nefarious actors perpetrating dating and romance scams.
Tammy Shaklee is the founder and certified matchmaker for H4M, a U.S.-based national matchmaking service designed for LGBTQ+ singles. Known as the Gay & Lesbian Matchmaker™, Tammy has made thousands of offline introductions for LGBTQ+ singles across the country.
Tammy talked to us about the current landscape of online LGBTQ+ dating, including the emergence of AI and a ramp-up in the prevalence of dating scams. She gave tips for queer daters to stay safe online and show up authentically while dating and shared some reflections on the growth of AI in the sphere of digital dating.
“I interview LGBTQ+ singles every day, and in that time, I’ve heard stories becoming more and more severe of how they were taken advantage of while online dating, and they didn’t even know,” Tammy said.
Dating for the LGBTQ+ Community
H4M, which is a shortened version of the phrase “He’s For Me,” was launched in 2012. Initially based out of Austin, Texas, it was specifically designed to offer matchmaking services for gay and lesbian singles but now matches the entire LGBTQ+ community. As a straight ally, Tammy was inspired to create an offline dating service for LGBTQ+ folks after meeting her own spouse through a matchmaking service.
Tammy realized there were few options for gay and lesbian singles to be connected through a matchmaker. She also realized that many of the LGBTQ+ singles she knew were attracted to the idea of matchmaking. It provided privacy, confidentiality, and an alternative to online dating.
The founding principle for H4M was to provide ethical matchmaking of the highest standard for gay and lesbian singles. Tammy became a Certified Matchmaker and began building a team for a full-service approach with certified staff. Over the last decade, H4M has expanded its services across the country and now serves LGBTQ+ singles in nearly every state.
Tammy speaks with queer daters of diverse backgrounds and all ages every day as part of her job. She often hears their most intimate dating stories and, like the rest of H4M’s team, strives to get to know her clients and learn exactly what they’re looking for. Over years of getting to know different daters, she realized that online dating has presented a few specific obstacles for the LGBTQ+ community.
“When online dating was still an introductory service over 20 years ago, with sites like match.com, it was designed to bring people together, allow them a simple way to get to know each other, and then meet in person and see where things go,” Tammy said.
“But it’s just not what the online dating scene has become,” she continued. “More and more clients seem to be telling me they’ve been taken advantage of while online dating. At this point, it’s a real concern for the emotional and mental wellness of all singles.”
Tammy Talks Safety Concerns in Digital Dating
Tammy and her team at H4M follow the LGBTQ+ dating world closely, and part of that work in recent years has been tracking experiences with online dating. The most notable trend to Tammy has been the surge in online dating scams.
Tammy told us many of these scams specifically target LGBTQ+ identifying people and are increasingly equipping AI in these cons. She said that while these scams also target heterosexual singles, it appears they disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ individuals, specifically individuals who came out later in life, in their 40s, 50s, or later.
“As a straight ally, I’ve been in tune with things gay people deal with, from the potential shame they’ve dealt with as coming out, to the feeling that they have to hide their authentic selves. When they come out and present their full genuine self, there’s increased vulnerability,” Tammy said.
“I see the exact same thing happening to straight people, but it seems they’re able to brush it off more easily or just bury it and don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “A lot of my LGBTQ clients think they should have been smarter, that they should have known better, and the embarrassment compounds.”
To Tammy, online dating isn’t the best choice for all daters. She said algorithms aren’t always perfect and can even push single people down a rabbit hole where they’re constantly interacting with fake, fradulent profiles.
While many sites and apps have verification features, AI makes bypassing or tricking this verification easier than ever. AI also enables ultra-realistic fake profiles, and its language models allow for believable chat responses.
“Across the board, daters from their late 20s to early 70s, are maybe hesitant about online dating,” Tammy said. “I would interpret the feelings of the people I interview to be anxiety, distrust, and fear. Many of them have been deceived and are left feeling embarrassed and anxious after the experience.”
LGBTQ+ Singles Seek Community & Support
Tammy isn’t saying that all LGBTQ+ singles need to seek the advice of a matchmaker, but she is urging people to pursue in-person dating. There are so many ways to meet people and get involved in communities, specifically LGBTQ+ communities, that daters are interested in.
“I tell my clients to get involved and try a lot of things before they pick one,” Tammy told us. “Try a few gyms, try a few classes, get involved with LGBTQ+ sports leagues and social groups. You don’t join these to date, necessarily, but you’ll definitely meet new people who are compatible with you, whether it be for friendship or something more.”
H4M is committed to philanthropy and has donated to LGBTQ+ charities for nearly a dozen years. Since its inception in 2012, H4M has donated thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours of volunteer time, ally advocacy leadership, and supported countless charitable endeavors of nationwide organizations.
Tammy told us she also urges her clients to get involved in advocacy. “You know, annual Pride celebrations may only be a day or a month, but there’s so much stuff happening all the time. Get involved in your local LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and volunteer for them. You’ll meet great like-minded people.”
There are wonderful and fulfilling dating experiences waiting to be had for LGBTQ+ daters. They simply need the resources and support to navigate the current dating landscape. As one last piece of advice, Tammy urged daters to involve a third party in their dating experience, whether it be a matchmaker, friend, or family member.
“Your friends and family want you to be safe, and they’ll be better able to sniff out something suspicious because their feelings aren’t involved,” Tammy said. “They want you to find love, and involving someone else in your dating plans keeps you safer and more protected. It also helps you stay positive and avoid burnout.”