“In college, I wanted someone to talk to about being gay and found someone through Craigslist. Clearly a poor decision in retrospect, despite the fact that I did end up finding a mentor who helped me come out.
“However, I don’t want other naive youngsters to be forced to make the same decision and find an unsatisfactory or unsavory result.”
These are the words of Aaron Moy, co-founder of AnonyMouse.
AnonyMouse is a web-based network of vetted mentors who are available to coach young, closeted, or struggling LGBT folks through the tough times.
AnonyMouse is more than just Q&A and more than just crisis intervention, said Moy. It is focused on long-lasting relationships between gay youth and mentors with a range of experiences, from kids and marriage to conservative families and careers in athletics.
We first ran into the AnonyMouse team at a hackathon in San Francisco last year. The Hack for Change event brought together many bright engineers who also wanted to have some positive social impact through their work. AnonyMouse ended up being a runner-up in the hackathon, but the team kept building the concept and website long after the hackers had gone home.
“The version we have now is actually a from-scratch rewrite versus the hackathon version,” said Moy in an email conversation with VentureBeat. “We learned a lot (especially technically) from implementing our ideas but ultimately decided to rethink the entire experience.”
Aashay Desai is the technical mind behind the app. He built a quick SMS-based interface using the Twilio API; the app would allow mentees to talk to mentors simply and confidentially. His stack also includes Node.js with socket.io (via Now.js) and the Express framework. You can read the full run-down on Desai’s blog.
“What started as a pet programming project quickly became a true passion,” he told us. “I began to develop a true empathy for the cause.”
Soon enough, AnonyMouse will include a mobile app, as well, Moy revealed. Also, the co-founder told us the team sees uses for the concept far beyond the gay community.
“I think an anonymity-based platform could effect a plethora of demographics,” said Moy, “from recovering drug addicts and alcoholics to battered women — pretty much any group of people who are too afraid or ashamed to speak to their friends and family and want to speak to others who have gone through a similar experience. An anonymous online app could serve as a stepping stone before you gather the courage to physically attend a meeting.”
Moy told us the story of a young man that he had mentored who had tried many times in the past to find guidance only to be taken advantage of.
“He was also pertubed by the fact that there weren’t any sites that focused on the everyday, closeted gay man. He wasn’t in a crisis mode and didn’t have any particular questions he wanted answered; he just wanted someone to talk to where he could vent and blow off steam. He wanted to talk about things he’d never voiced before, like his attraction to guys in his class.
“Though I was able to help him, the experience was very clunky and took too long to develop,” Moy concluded. “With AnonyMouse, I hope to speed up this process and give anyone in the closet the helping hand they need.”
Image courtesy of prodkov, Shutterstock