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What’s in a Domain Name? For LGBTs, ‘dotGay’ Really Matters

A raft of new top level domain names have become available in the past few years, but for LGBT rights groups, securing the “.gay” domain name has extra importance, and that’s why a recent unsuccessful bid by LGBT rights groups to secure ownership of that top level domain is so disappointing.

 

In the past two years, ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has made available more than 1,400 new top level domain names. This means that rather than typing in the standard “.com” or even “.US” at the end of a web address, there are now many more options for people looking to establish a web presence.

 

Groups representing wider communities can petition to own these top level domain names. That doesn’t mean that they then can blanket refuse other people using them, but it does allow the community group with the ownership of that top level domain to set the tone for what kind of material will be found at such an address. So, for example, “.edu” is used for schools and education resources. This is an uncontroversial choice and allows a certain uniformity across the web. It also largely stops people accidentally stumbling on adult content as they navigate “.edu” resources. As another example, “.org” is often (though not exclusively) used for charities and nonprofit organizations.

 

In much the same way, a group of more than one hundred LGBT rights groups from around the world petitioned ICANN under its Community Priority Evaluation criteria that the coalition be allowed to own the top-level domain “.gay”. The so-called dotGay LLC has campaigned for over two years now to secure the domain name, one to keep it from being used by and then solely associated with pornography, but also to keep it from being secured by groups that might be anti-LGBT and so might use the domain name to push homophobic or transphobic websites higher up the search rankings.

 

The following video by dotGay LLC explains quite concisely their motivation for wanting ownership of the top level domain name, but essentially it’s about securing the domain so that it can house a safe, supportive and easy to find set of resources, culture and lifestyle sites for LGBTQA people around the world:

 

However, this week ICANN announced that dotGay had been unsuccessful in its bid. Critics contend that ICANN regularly favors commercial use of top level domains but, putting that wider criticism to one side, the reasons that ICANN has given for denying dotGay ownership are questionable.

 

Under ICANN’s rules, community groups can be given ownership but they must pass the Community Priority Evaluation that attempts to establish whether the group in question is an accurate reflection of the community which it says it represents.

 

ICANN has decided that dotGay does not represent all gay people, and therefore cannot be given the domain name — this is despite the fact that there has been little to no protestation from the LGBT community against dotGay’s campaign, and a lot of support for its desire to secure the top level domain name.

 

In addition, despite having a number of major LGBT organizations supporting the campaign, including the much respected ILGA, ICANN says that because no members of the gay community voted to make ILGA an official representative, its support isn’t enough.

 

The report states:

[dotGay's] application itself also indicates, the group of self-identified gay individuals globally is estimated to be 1.2% of the world population (more than 70 million), while the application states that the size of the community it has defined, based on membership with APs [Authenticating Partners], is 7 million. This difference is substantial and is indicative of the degree to which the applied-for string substantially over-reaches beyond the community defined by the application.

 

In addition, ICANN states that because dotGay wants to secure the name for LGBTQA people, the domain name “.gay” is not suitable because, essentially, it doesn’t represent trans people and other non-gay members of the community. Which would be fine, except ICANN has not made available for wider purchase more accurate top level domains, for instance “.lgbt” and thus this means ownership discussions must necessarily be confined to “.gay” and what to do with it.

 

This is doubly frustrating as diverse groups that fall under other political catch-alls, for instance the Republican party, had a relatively easy time of establishing ownership of “.gop” despite the fact that it could be argued that what the GOP means today is as least as nebulous, if not more so, than what we mean by the phrase ‘gay community.’

 

There are three other, much larger groups wanting control of the “.gay” domain name. Ultimately, the domain will likely go up for auction where it will cost millions to secure, probably out of dotGay’s price range. This incident, though, speaks to the chief critique of ICANN’s criteria, that it prioritizes business use by virtue of how it assesses community claims: for instance, boards voted on by businesses and therefore empowered to represent business interests seem suited for its measure of authenticity, and associations that through their membership can represent wider businesses, for instance major hotelier organizations, also seem to benefit.

 

Essentially, ICANN appears to have defined away not just dotGay’s potential ownership claim, but mostly any LGBT group’s claim to a domain that undeniably affects and represents them, at least in some respect — and not only is that not fair, it seems a missed opportunity to create a definable, safe and nurturing web presence for, in particular, young LGBTs and those living in countries that do not support LGBT human rights.