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Why kicking out the .gay “community” was right

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2014, 16:36:17 (UTC), 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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Comments (11)

  1. Which takes us to the important question: is .wine a community ?

    🙂

  2. Fred Nor says:

    In general, I tend to agree with the commentary provided on Domain Wire, but on this subject, I do have to disagree openly. First, EIU was hired by ICANN to conduct the evaluations. That doesn’t provide ICANN with the convenience of denying responsibility for, or distancing themselves from the decision. EIU acted as agent for ICANN. If not, then ICANN could conceivably use that same “distancing” to vacate the findings of the EIU, state that they were wrong and that .gay is a community. Second, you state, that dotGay LLC could survive an auction. While that may well be true, the purpose of the Community application was to provide recognition of a community. To argue, “well they can always go to auction” is rather disingenuous. It basically means, “well you were poorly evaluated but you always have a back up plan”. Third, going back to the comment regarding the Economist and its support of the gay community, while this is true and is commendable, it is flawed in relation to the community application. First, EIU in fact redefined what the gay community is for the purposes of this application. Their new definition is contrary to their own inclusive definition of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in the articles of the Economist as a publication. So for their readership, they use one definition of the inclusive term “gay” and for their application review, they used another which was much more myopic in its view and disenfranchised a grouping which commonly includes itself under the term “gay” for equal rights, marriage equality, protection from discrimination and employment protection where in many U.S. states and many countries, it is still legal (yes even in the US) simply to terminate an employee for being a sexual minority.

    Finally, and what many fail to acknowledge is that while having 100’s of endorsements from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations who suppported the term as an inclusive term for representing sexual minorities, the EIU caused the .gay applicant to lose points because of one (singular) objection. Interestingly, despite requests to do so the EIU and ICANN never investigated the validity of the singular objection. As a matter of fact, they went through great pains to avoid responding to requests for an investigation of the objection. Had either done so, they would likely have found evidence (vis-a-vis a document trail) that the objection was financed by a competing applicant. This was an applicant that needed the community application to be denied so that the applicant would have the opportunity to obtain the TLD at auction.

    With these facts, I hope that you can see that your premise and logic in support of ICANN is seriously undermined and that indeed, #ICANNisBroken when it comes to the community application process.

    Perhaps the greatest flaw in regards to this particular community is societal tendency to believe that they need to grant permission to minorities to allow them to define themselves on their own. It is tantamount to asking ICANN, for their permission before an individual can self identify as a member of this grouping. In fact it is insulting. It is analogous to those non-Native Americans who claim that the term “Redskin” is not an insult. If you are a Native American, and you are offended by the term then it is indeed an insult. A non-Native American does not get a “veto” and is not authentically empowered to claim it is not offensive. Unless, the EIU review team can demonstrate that they had a cross section of reviewers who were members of sexual minorities (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) then they lack sufficient emotional, ideological and experiential understanding to understand or redefine a community that has worked for generations to bravely form their own identity and community.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Thanks for your detailed, considered comments, Fred.

      I’d just like to respond to your final paragraph.

      Remember, there WILL be a .gay gTLD. It definitely will get delegated to one of the applicants.

      The only question is which applicant gets it.

      If Dotgay gets it, LGBTQIA people with have to apply for credentials proving they are LGBTQIA before they register.

      If any of the other applicants gets it, nobody will need to apply for credentials to prove their membership or support of the gay community.

      Nobody at EIU or ICANN is trying to stop gay or LGBTQIA people getting .gay domains. The only entity with a proposal that could potentially disenfranchise some gay or LGBTQIA people is Dotgay.

      • Rubens Kuhl says:

        BTW, .lgbt is already delegated, despite a failed objection from the Dotgay backers that can also be seen as anti-competitive, so the LGBT part of the LGBTQIA community already has one option to express themselves.

  3. Captain Mann says:

    .whocares

    .alloftheGTLDSaregonnafailsoonanyways

  4. Dan Rodgers says:

    Unfortunately, I have to agree that DotGay LLC overstepped, they got ahead of themselves and that’s why it failed. There’s no denying that in my view.

    I must admit, it does also seem also laughable that you’d have to go to an authentication provider and go “I’m gay! Please confirm this”.

    What I do think is a great shame that DotGay failed is the commercial aspect, these will be sold to whoever, and I can’t imagine the bigger registries will get into the compliance nightmare of ensuring the sites aren’t being homophobic.

    The better route in my mind would be if the .GAY (and .LGBT for that matter) be run by a registry which has a focus on ensuring it’s a safe friendly domain which represents the “community”.

    Authenticating an applicants “gay status” is silly, having strong, firm policies about what content is permitted under it is not.

    I’d see no issue with simply taking a very hard stance -you register .gay and use it for hate speech or homophobia, and it’s reported knowing the registry WILL take it down and registrants which repeatedly do this will be blocked from all registrations under it.

    Fair but firm is what’s needed, not unnecessary bureaucracy and not selling to the highest bidder.

  5. Thomas Schneider says:

    Hi
    thank you all for this interesting debate.
    I think that on “both sides”, there are valid arguments.
    So what this shows to me is that, because the new gTLDs are not just addressing elements like numbers or frequencies but do actually entail a “content” component, ICANN has moved away from being just a “technical” body and has become also a “regulator for content matters” and hence should take into account human rights and other considerations much more systematically than it has done so far.

    Looking forward to a continued constructive debate.
    t.

    • Rubens Kuhl says:

      Identifiers are not content. They are indeed more than numbers or frequencies because they can have meaning, but let’s take an example: if donuts are declared the largest health hazard humanity is facing, due to causing Diabetes, that’s no reason to prevent a domain name registry to use donuts.co as its domain name, as there is no reason to prevent someone from registering a company called Donuts, or a Donuts brand for use in domain registration business.

      ICANN is not just a technical body, but its policy mandate is very narrow and does not include regulating content.

  6. Dylan Barr says:

    :/ Althought i don’t have a problem with gays, i don’t see why this is right, however we all have an opinion on something :/

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