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Why kicking out the .gay “community” was right

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2014, Domain Policy

Since Dotgay’s application for a Community Priority Evaluation on .gay failed last week, there’s been some unrest among its supporters and in the media.

An effort to get #ICANNisBroken trending hasn’t exactly set the Twittersphere alight, but there have been a handful of news stories that attack the CPE decision for failing to represent the gay community.

I think the criticisms are misplaced.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, which conducts the CPEs for ICANN, got it right in this case, in my view.

Dotgay scored 10 points out of 16 on the CPE. It needed 14 to pass. A pass would have given it exclusive rights to .gay, forcing the three other applicants to withdraw.

It could have scored 14 had it managed to get 4 points out of the available 4 on the “Nexus” criteria — the strength of the relationship between the string “gay” and the community Dotgay said it wanted to represent.

The EIU scored Dotgay zero.

The reason was that Dotgay, in its application, defined its community like this:

The Gay Community includes individuals who identify themselves as male or female homosexuals, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, ally and many other terminology – in a variety of languages – that has been used at various points to refer most simply to those individuals who do not participate in mainstream cultural practices pertaining to gender identity, expression and adult consensual sexual relationships. The Gay Community has also been referred to using the acronym LGBT, and sometimes the more inclusive LGBTQIA. The most common and globally understood term – used both by members of the Gay Community and in the world at large – is however “Gay”.

Dotgay lost the 4 points it needed to pass the CPE almost entirely because of this paragraph.

It overstretched, and it doing so it failed to play by the ICANN rules.

Remember, the EIU was asked to determine the “nexus”, or correlation, between the gTLD string — the word “gay” — and the people Dotgay said it was trying to represent.

By trying to be as inclusive as possible to as many different sexuality/gender identities as it could, Dotgay lost sight of the fact that the gTLD string it wants only describes a subsection of those people.

LGBTQIA isn’t even a particularly well-understood acronym. The “A” could mean “Ally”, as Dotgay said in its application, or “Asexual”, as it is often (but not in Dotgay’s application) interpreted.

Dotgay tried to define “intersex” people — humans whose genitalia or other sexual characteristics do not conform to the standard male/female norms — as “gay”. Are they “gay”?

It tried to define “allies” of gay rights as “gay”. Are we?

The majority of the straight people reading this post, myself included, would characterize themselves as an “ally” of the gay community — we’re supporters of equal rights — but we would not call ourselves “gay”.

The fact that we wouldn’t is an important part of the EIU’s logic, the reason it found Dotgay had overstretched in its community definition, and as hard as I try I can’t figure out why that logic is faulty.

“Membership in the Gay Community is not restricted by any geographical boundaries and is united by a common interest in human rights,” the Dotgay application reads.

Is that not an implicit admission that the “gay community” defined in the application actually includes the majority of the populations of most right-thinking democracies?

Regardless of the EIU’s logic, there has been a moderate amount of outrage online about its decision.

The article getting the most link love appears to be this one at Slate, written by “LGBTQ activist” Marc Naimark.

First, note the acronym Naimark uses in his bio at the bottom of the piece. There are two letters missing when compared to the Dotgay application — “I” and “A”, for “Intersex” and “Ally” or “Asexual”.

Would Dotgay have won its CPE if it had limited itself to the same five letters? Maybe, maybe not. GLAAD defines “gay” as only those people attracted to the same gender. Transsexuals may not count. I and A almost certainly don’t.

Is this just nit-picking?

Not really. The point of the CPE, taken as a whole, was to allow genuine communities to avoid expensive auctions whilst preventing gaming by unscrupulous registries that would seek to claim a valuable string without a genuine community behind them.

In a previous new gTLD round, ICM Registry defined its .xxx “community” as essentially ‘anyone who wants to be a member of the community’. The .mobi registry defined its community as basically ‘anyone with a mobile phone’.

These were both attempts, in my view, to game the rules ICANN had put in place for that particularly new gTLD application round. They were both successful.

What Dotgay tried to do with its .gay application was to define its community as basically everyone. I don’t think I would call it gaming, but I might call it a failure to follow the community rules closely enough.

So is it a bad thing that Dotgay’s CPE got rejected?

I don’t think so.

Remember, Dotgay has not been ruled out of the process. It can still compete at auction with the other applicants.

If that’s too rich for it, there may even be an opportunity for the company to combine in another way with a rival applicant, rather like DotGreen did with Afilias for .green.

In Salon, Naimark wrote that a non-Community .gay — one manged by Top Level Design, Minds + Machines or Rightside, the other three applicants — will likely be awash with pornography or homophobia:

Now, instead, .gay is up for auction, with dotgay LLC facing off against three much larger rivals whose sole aim is to make as much money as possible from .gay names. That means no oversight over who gets a name or what it’s used for. Gay bashers will be able to buy .gay domains. More significantly, the largest market is likely to be among porn sites. Any legitimate use of the name by individuals, businesses, and organizations associated with the LGBTQ community will likely be drowned in a sea of sex: On the Internet, everyone will be .gay for pay.

On the face of it, that seems like a compelling argument. Wouldn’t it be nicer if .gay was devoted to worthy causes rather than gay porn? I would probably agree with that argument.

But none of the four applicants for .gay — not even Dotgay — have any prohibitions or restrictions on porn in their applications.

There’s no reason on the new gTLD program record to believe Dotgay won’t sell .gay domains to porn sites too.

Where Dotgay does have a moral advantage against its competitors is in its explicit prohibitions against homophobic speech in the domain names it sells.

One of the policies it proposes in its application is that domain names should not be “words or phrases that incite or promote discrimination or violent behavior, including anti-gay hate speech.”

The other three applicants don’t have anything nearly as specific in their applications.

But by applying as a formal, big-C “Community” applicant, Dotgay also had to promise to restrict its gTLD to a limited number of people who were members of its self-defined “community”.

This is where I struggle.

Dotgay proposes to restrict .gay to people who obtain a special code via a number of as-yet unspecified, approved “Authentication Providers” — organizations that represent sections of the LGBTQIA community.

This process has clearly been created by the applicant, in my opinion, in order to get the required number of points in the CPE’s “Registration Policies” criteria, where you have to be restrictive to win.

What Dotgay is proposing is a system whereby in order to express your homosexuality (or membership of another LGBTQIA community, including “ally”) you need to apply to an approved gay-related organization for a special code.

That just seems wrong to me.

Whatever happened to the “self-identified” gay person? I thought that “self-identification”, in the sexual and gender identity world, was a bit of a big deal.

You need a password to “come out” online? Really?

I don’t want to be accused of “straightsplaining”, so it’s a genuine question: is it okay for a registry to need to authenticate your sexual/gender identity before you can register a .gay domain?

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Afilias set for $100m London IPO

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2014, Domain Registries

London’s Alternative Investment Market is fast becoming the stock market of choice for new gTLD registries, with .info mainstay Afilias today announcing an upcoming IPO.

The Ireland-based company hopes to raise $100 million by selling off about 30% of the company, giving it a growth war-chest and giving its investors a shot at getting some of their money back.

Afilias earmarked part of the expected windfall for new gTLD auctions, as well as acquisitions of new gTLD “assets” and operational registries and expansion of its registrar business.

Executive chairman Jonathan Robinson said in a statement:

The Placing will bring significant benefits – by providing further capital to fund our organic and acquisitive growth plans, and raising our corporate profile with existing and new customers.

In addition to .info, .mobi and .pro, Afilias is associated with 254 new gTLD applications either as applicant or back-end provider. As registry, it already has about a dozen 2012-round gTLDs in the root.

The company’s revenue for 2013 was $77.6 million, up from $74.5 million in 2012. Earnings before deductions were $38.6 million in 2013, up from $32.1 million in 2012.

Fellow gTLD registries CentralNic and Minds + Machines are also listed on AIM.

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Cowley, one foot out of the industry, joins Architelos

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2014, Gossip

Former Nominet CEO Lesley Cowley has become a consultant for Architelos, as part of a raft of domain and non-domain industry positions she’s taken on.

Primarily, Cowley has become chair of the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency — a public-sector role with a vague conceptual relationship with domain names (ie, managing lots of unique identifiers).

At Architelos, a provider of registry management software and services, she will be a “executive coach and consultant”, Cowley wrote in a blog post.

She will also remain a volunteer with ICANN, where she’s the former chair and current councilor of the ccNSO.

Cowley has also been named a non-executive director of aql, a data center in Leeds, UK.

She announced her resignation in May, after 12 years as Nominet CEO. Her replacement has not yet been named.

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Two-letter domains to be released in new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2014, Domain Registries

New gTLD registries will be able to release all two-character strings in their zones, following an ICANN decision last week.

The ICANN board of directors voted on Thursday to instruct ICANN’s executive to

develop and implement an efficient procedure for the release of two-character domains currently required to be reserved in the New gTLD Registry Agreement

The procedure will have to take into account the advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee issued at the end of last week’s ICANN 51 meeting in Los Angeles.

But that advice merely asks that governments are informed when a registry requests the release of two-character names.

All two-character strings were initially reserved due to the potential for confusion with two-letter ccTLDs.

But the GAC decided in LA that it doesn’t really have a problem with such strings being released, with some governments noting that ccTLD second-levels such as us.com and uk.com haven’t caused a problem to date.

The board’s decision is particularly good news for dot-brand applicants that may want to run domains such as uk.google or de.bmw to service specific regions where they operate.

Registries representing over 200 new gTLDs have already filed Registry Service Evaluation Process requests for the release of some two-character strings (some including ccTLD matches, some not).

It’s not yet clear how ICANN will go about removing the two-character restriction.

It may be more efficient to offer all registries a blanket amendment to the RA rather than process each RSEP request individually as it is today.

However, because the GAC has asked for notification on a case-by-case basis, ICANN may be forced to stick to the something along the lines of the existing procedure.

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Another ICANN director mysteriously quits

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN director Olga Madruga-Forti unexpectedly quit the board last week.

ICANN did not give an explanation for her sudden departure, which came toward the end of the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles.

The Argentinian telco lawyer’s resignation means she will miss the third and final year of her appointed three-year term.

Her decision comes almost exactly a year after Filipino entrepreneur Judith Vazquez also quit, again with no reason given, two years into her own three-year term.

This possible coincidence has led to speculation that the ICANN board has an “aggressively male culture”, whatever that means.

Both Madruga-Forti and Vazquez were selected by the Nominating Committee, which has guidelines obliging it to try to maintain a healthy gender balance on the ICANN board.

I’m not sure whether Madruga-Forti’s resignation supports or challenges my previously stated view that pro-female gender discrimination by NomCom is of questionable value.

On the one hand, NomCom has for two years in a row selected candidates — partly on the basis of their gender and geographic origins — that didn’t make it through a full term.

On the other hand, if the male-heavy gender balance on the board is to blame for these resignations, perhaps a bit of enforced balancing may help maintain a stable board in future.

It’s a tricky one.

Currently, only four of the (currently) 20-member board are female. Three have voting rights. Of those three, two were selected by NomCom. The third was elected by the At-Large.

Two of them have been on the board for less than a week, having been selected or elected for terms beginning last Thursday.

It seems likely that Madruga-Forti’s permanent replacement will turn out to be female. Just a hunch.

What do you think? Is ICANN too blokey? How important should gender balance be on the ICANN board?

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