dotgay Seizes the Future of Internet LGBT Domain Names

by Angela Giampolo
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Saturday Aug 18, 2012
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Rainbow flags. Gay cruises. Logo TV. And now, domain names? If the company dotgay LLC is successful in their bid, they will become the owner of the first Internet domain to provide an online space exclusively for gays that gives back two-thirds of its take to LGBT non-profits. But before they can do so, they must also win the approval of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- including the Arab nations, which have just launched a protest against what they view as Western cultural appropriation of the web.

"We realized an incredible opportunity and resource to link and support the global LGBT community would slip through our hands, so we made the investment in .gay, to develop it as a valuable resource verses just a piece of real estate," SPI Marketing/dotgay LLC President and Founder Scott Seitz told EDGE. Although many organizations were approached about the domain name, few saw the potential, and even fewer were able to move quickly to secure domain outside of their mission, or to pony up the $185,000 fee.

Although the Internet has played a central role in the community for many years by providing a space to share information, meet other community members and grow LGBT-owned businesses, creating a gay domain had never been conceived of until recently. This is exactly what dotgay LLC hopes to accomplish.

Seitz, CEO and 90 percent owner of dotgay LLC, is the founder of SPI Marketing, a leading LGBT agency with more than 16 years of service on behalf of corporate and nonprofit clients. While dotgay LLC is in the lead as the only "community" application, there are four other "standard" applications, who hope dotgay LLC does not pass the stringent criteria to win "community" status. They seek to create a namespace purely as a profitable business venture for themselves, with no obligation to the community.

So while SPI Marketing is not the only bidder for .gay, they are the only applicant that has put into writing their commitment to use .gay explicitly for the benefit of the LGBT global community, and to give back to that community. The application has the support of more than 140 LGBT organizations representing over 230,000 businesses and seven million consumers.

"By requiring gay community authentication, enacting policies to protect existing community names and building hubs to grow networking and business, we are creating real value," said Seitz. "Equality for the LGBT community is based on visibility to our governments and businesses. Creating a namespace with our own rules and a safer environment allowing more organizations and individuals to be visible and still safe will make it more likely for inclusion."

Seitz said that because they recognize the increasing importance of Internet governance, dotgay LLC is actively involved globally as voting members of several stakeholder groups participating in governance organizations, and advises community organizations as to their impact.

The company’s dedication to providing space for the service and non-profit community, alongside businesses, advertisers, the media and diverse groups of individual users, separates it from its competitor’s purely profit-making agenda.

But what really makes dotgay LLC’s business model different is that non-profit LGBT organizations will receive 67 percent of profits generated from the sale of all .gay domain names. These funds will be distributed by way of a tax-exempt foundation outside of dotgay LLC, with the help of an independent board of directors comprised of diverse LGBT leaders weighing the worthiness of each cause.

"The gay community has been mostly a self-funded community. We alone reach into our pockets to support our needs, organizations and businesses. Creating a foundation to help support the global community, along with programming to activate networking and growth of our businesses and nonprofits leverages the Internet for the gay community," Seitz told EDGE.


Business Plan Contingent on ICANN Approval

Although creating a clearinghouse for LGBT organizations to have an online presence, and supporting nonprofits through the proceeds sounds like a wonderful idea, it will exist as nothing more unless dotgay LLC can win the approval of ICANN, the small, non-profit corporation that runs the Internet’s namespace under contract with the U.S. government. With the recent announcement by Arab nations that they will protest .gay and other applications that they believe represent a negative Western cultural influence, securing ICANN’s approval has gotten more difficult.

"ICANN is like the United Nations married the Tokyo Stock Exchange; it’s really a new kind of challenge," said Seitz, who acknowledged that receiving a ’Community’ designation is a higher bar even than the ’Standard’ applicant, because cohesive, community groups interested in operating their own TLD (Top Level Domain) registry must have strong written support from that group.

Why is ICANN’s approval so important? Simply put, in order to reach another person on the Internet, a user must type a name or a unique number address into the computer. ICANN coordinates these unique identifiers around the entire globe.

More specifically, ICANN is the organization responsible for coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS), Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, generic Top-Level Domain names (gTLDs), and much more. Since .gay is considered a generic TLD name, much like the commonly used .com, it is in high demand. This is because domain names affect how search engines will find a site, as well as how users will remember it.

Therefore, TLDs are seen as financially valuable assets because they are believed to be superior to other domain names with respect to both of these elements. ICANN’s recent opening for the acceptance of new bids on TLDs illustrates the point -- it received a whopping 2,000 bids.

"We have surprised ICANN at every turn; dotgay LLC is lobbying supporting countries to assure their votes and have received a great deal of support," said Seitz. "While other countries seek to block us, we still have a strong lead, at least in part because only dotgay LLC is taking proactive visible actions to develop advocacy for the community in advance of the application."

This groundwork is necessary, as those countries that have criminalized being gay, like Arab nations, have already begun to protest the creation of a .gay domain. Their impact on the application will be in the Government Advisory Committee, where 107 countries have a vote on the domains they recommend to ICANN, which makes the final call.

"We are lobbying the GAC members who are pro-gay, or on the fence regarding a vote," said Seitz. "It’s based on consensus, so we must be sure that the nations in favor -- those who have gay legislation like marriage equality in place -- stand up and vote yes, rather than not voting and/or leveraging the .gay non-vote for another political favor from Iran."

Although Seitz acknowledges the political quid pro quo behind the votes, he believes that continuing visibility and pressure on them from the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association and Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerces will make these nations think twice before throwing dotgay LLC under the bus.

There is no guarantee that dotgay LLC will succeed in its bid. Although it was assisted in writing its application by LGBT non-governmental organizations from eight different countries as well as LGBT leaders in commerce and Internet policy, the bid for a new TLD is a multi-year process. And the competition is stiff.

Hopefully, ICANN will appreciate the inclusivity of the business model and the opportunities dotgay LLC would create for the LGBT community. Regardless of the outcome, the LGBT community has found yet another place where it can flourish, create and innovate.

"If we don’t have a place at the table, we are on the menu," said Seitz. "We believe dotgay LLC is a bold global step for equality, visibility and economic strength."


To show support for dotgay LLC, "like" them on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/dotgaycom, suggest key word community domains, nominate Advisory Board members, or prepare a letter of endorsement. Learn more about how to get involved at www.dotgay.com.

Angela D. Giampolo is an attorney, avid entrepreneur, and advocate for the LGBT community. Her column informs readers about changes affecting the LGBT community and provides expert advice on varying topics. As Founder and Principal of Giampolo Law Group, her goal is to provide a safe place for the LGBT community to service their legal needs and have their business and entrepreneurial questions answered. To learn more about Giampolo Law Group visit www.giampololaw.com and to read more articles, you can visit the firm’s two blogs at www.phillygaylawyer.com and www.lifeinhouse.com. To contact Angela directly with your business and legal related questions email her at: angela@giampololaw.com.

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