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“We’re not homophobic!” ICANN pleads as it throws out .gay appeal

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has refused dotgay LLC’s latest appeal against adverse .gay decisions, and has taken the unusual step of preemptively defending itself against probably inevitable accusations from gay rights groups.

On Monday, the Board Governance Committee threw out dotgay’s Request for Reconsideration, in which the company had asked for a third crack at the Community Priority Evaluation process that could have seen it win .gay without paying at auction.

Today, BGC chair Chris Disspain published a blog post that’s basically a defense against accusations that ICANN is somehow intolerant or ignorant of gay issues.

The post explains the RfR process, explains that the latest decision doesn’t mean there won’t be a .gay or that dotgay won’t win the contention set, winding up:

I want to make clear that the denial of the Request for Reconsideration is not a statement about the validity of dotgay LLC’s application or dotgay LLC’s supporters. The decision means that the BGC did not find that the CPE process for dotgay, LLC’s .GAY application violated any ICANN policies or procedures.

It is ICANN’s responsibility to support the community-developed process and provide equitable treatment to all impacted parties. We understand that this outcome will be disappointing to supporters of the dotgay LLC application. We appreciate the amount of interest that this topic has generated within the ICANN community, and we encourage all interested parties to participate in the multistakeholder process to help shape how future application rounds are defined.

dotgay’s two CPEs, which were evaluated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, failed because the company defined its “community” too broadly, to include people who aren’t gay.

The company says that it’s “common sense” that “gay” is an umbrella term not only for lesbian and bisexual people, but also for people with non-standard gender identities and straight people who support equal rights.

(As an aside, I recently learned that former boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, the UK’s poster girl for transgender issues, disagrees with same-sex couples raising kids and once called for gay pride marches to be banned. I wonder how she fits under this umbrella.)

But the second EIU panel “determined that the applied-for string does not sufficiently identify some members of the applicant’s defined community, in particular transgender, intersex, and ally individuals”.

The CPE application fell apart on that basis. It scored 10 of the available 16 points, four points shy of a winner.

Due to the sensitive nature of this kind of thing, and the fact that dotgay does have a truckload of genuine support from prominent campaigning members of its community, ICANN and the EIU have come in for criticism.

Some of that criticism has implied that ICANN, the EIU, the process or all three are in some way homophobic or at least ignorant.

An article on gay news website The Gayly this week said: “The EIU’s actions contradict all common sense and are being interpreted as the outcome of a hostile environment.”

dotgay encouraged supporters to tweet: “Say NO to unfair & unequal treatment of the gay community at the hands of @TheEIU #Yes2dotgay”.

I’ve seen some tweets from supporters that use stronger language, which I’m guessing is what the BGC is trying to preempt today.

Now that it has exhausted the RfR process without success, expect dotgay to file an Independent Review Process appeal with ICANN, delaying the .gay contention set resolution for a year or more.

UN group supports community .gay bid

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2016, Domain Registries

An organization representing staff members of the United Nations has come out in support of dotgay LLC’s struggling community application for the .gay gTLD.

UN-GLOBE comprises UN employees who identify as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and inter-sex”. Its primary goals are pushing for equal rights for these groups within the UN system.

In a letter to ICANN (pdf) earlier this month, the organization said it supports dotgay’s application, despite its Community Priority Evaluation being rejected twice.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s judging panel has kicked out both of dotgay’s CPEs on the grounds that the applicant’s definition of “gay” includes straight people, and straight people aren’t gay.

But UN-GLOBE, echoing dotgay’s own view, wrote:

We also express our disagreement over the results of the Community Priority Evaluation of October 8, 2015 that rejected dotgay LCC’s community application based on its narrow analysis of the term gay. The term gay should be understood globally instead, as it is generally understood by the internationally diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and ally (LGBTQIA) community represented in dotgay LLC’s application.

It might be worth noting that UN-GLOBE makes no mention of its own membership including “allies” — that is, people who are not LGBTQI but nevertheless support equal rights — in its letter or on its web site.

dotgay currently has an outstanding Request for Reconsideration against its latest CPE loss, which is expected to be decided by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee on Monday.

If ICANN closes the door on more appeals, the .gay contention set will go to auction where its rivals are Rightside, Top Level Design and Minds + Machines.

One way or another, there will be a .gay gTLD, the only question is whether it will be restricted to approved “gay community” members or open to all.

.gay applicant appeals community loss, again

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2015, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC has appealed its Community Priority Evaluation defeat again, filing a new Request for Reconsideration with ICANN this week.

It’s an unprecedented second use of the RfR process to appeal its CPE loss, in which the Economist Intelligence Unit panel decided the applicant’s definition of “gay” was far too broad to award dotgay enough points to pass the evaluation.

But dotgay wants ICANN to initiate a third CPE, to be carried out by anyone other than the EIU.

The EIU panel said earlier this month that it had “determined that the applied-for string does not sufficiently identify some members of the applicant’s defined community, in particular transgender, intersex, and ally individuals”.

Basically, EIU was pointing out, for the second time, that transgender people and straight “allies” aren’t “gay”.

It awarded dotgay 0 out of the possible 4 points available on “Nexus” criteria, meaning the applicant failed to hit the 14 points required to win.

While the RfR dodges the transgender issue altogether, dotgay has some interesting arguments in response to the “ally” question.

It’s now claiming that “ally” refers to companies and organizations that support the equal rights cause (because non-human legal entities don’t have a gender identity or sexual preference) and to proxy registrars:

Now, since an organization or company in itself can impossibly be “lesbian” or “gay”, Requester has been seeking for a way to also position these companies and organizations in this community definition. For this reason, Requester has referred to these organizations as “allies” in the context of the LGBTQIA definition.

Furthermore, as stated in the Application, LGBTQIAs are a vulnerable group in many countries and societies, and too often still the subject of prosecution for who they are. In order to put in place safeguards for those gay community members who do not wish to be directly associated with a domain name registration, organizations and companies who in essence cannot be “non-heterosexual” should have the possibility to act as a proxy service, which is common practice in the domain name industry.

In any case, any such “ally” must be approved by an Authentication Partner in order to be able to register a domain name in its own name or in the name or on behalf of a third party who meets the LGBTQI requirements.

It’s an interesting argument, but I can’t see anything in its original application that would support such a position.

dotgay may be on stronger ground with its claim that it unfairly lost one point on the “Opposition” criteria of the CPE.

Two points were available there. Applicants could lose one point immediately if there was a single letter of opposition from a relevant, non-negligible organization.

The EIU seems to have been in possession of such a letter, though its CPE ruling does not name the opponent.

dotgay thinks the opponent was the Q Center, a community center in Portland, Oregon, which opposed dotgay in writing in 2014 but, following a change in its board of directors, retracted that opposition (pdf).

So it may be the case that dotgay unfairly lost a point.

Regaining that point would not be enough to give the company a winning CPE score, but if the EIU screwed up that may be grounds for ICANN to initiate another rerun of the CPE.

However, it’s quite rare for ICANN’s board of directors to approve an RfR.

If dotgay loses, it will either have to go to auction against its rival applicants or file an Independent Review Process complaint, its final avenue of appeal.

Read its RfR here.

.gay flunks community review for second time

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2015, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC has failed in its bid to eliminate its competitors for the new gTLD .gay for the second time.

After an unprecedented re-run of its Community Priority Evaluation, the applicant scored just 10 out of the 16 available points.

That’s exactly the same as it scored the first time around, exactly one year ago, still four points short of success.

For the second time, dotgay scored zero from a possible four points on the “Nexus” criteria — the link between the string “gay” and the community dotgay wants to serve.

The CPE panel decision reads:

The Panel has determined that more than a small part of the applicant’s defined community is not identified by the applied-for string, as described below, and that it therefore does not meet the requirements for Nexus.

The Panel has determined that the applied-for string does not sufficiently identify some members of the applicant’s defined community, in particular transgender, intersex, and ally individuals

As I explained a year ago, when the first CPE panel flunked the applicant for exactly the same reason, dotgay’s proposed community included lots of people who would not necessarily describe themselves as “gay”.

You, possibly, for example.

If you’re an “ally” of gay people, by for example supporting equal rights, then you would qualify as “gay” under dotgay’s definition.

If you’re transgender or intersex, you would similarly captured by this definition. The panel said:

Despite the applicant’s assertions to the contrary, its own evidence here shows that “gay” is most commonly used to refer to both men and women who identify as homosexual, and not necessarily to others. The applicant’s “umbrella term” argument does not accurately describe, for example, the many similar transgender stories in the mass media where “gay” is not used to identify the subject. In these cases, “transgender” is used because “gay” does not identify those individuals.

The panel concluded that .gay “does not identify or match” the target community, and scored it zero.

dotgay had a second roll of the dice because the first CPE panel was found to have committed a process error by not sufficiently verifying the company’s many dozens of letters of support from gay advocacy organizations.

However, this error did not relate to the Nexus criteria, so a victory was always going to be a long shot.

The .gay gTLD is now heading to auction, where Minds + Machines, Rightside and Top Level Design are the other bidders.

You can read the new decision in PDF format here.

.gay is gay enough after all? ICANN overturns community panel decision

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2015, Domain Registries

One of the applicants for .gay has won a significant battle in the fight for the controversial new gTLD.

In a shock move, a committee of ICANN’s board of directors has overturned the rejection of dotgay LLC’s Community Priority Evaluation, ordering that the case should be re-examined by a new panel of experts.

As you may recall, dotgay’s CPE was kicked out in October after the Economist Intelligence Unit panel decided that the company’s defined community was too broad to be described by “gay” as it included a lot of people who aren’t gay, such as straight people.

The decision — which I thought was probably correct — caused an uproar from dotgay’s myriad supporters, which include dozens of international equal rights and gay community organizations.

dotgay filed a Request for Reconsideration, ICANN’s cheapest but least reliable form of appeal, and today found out it actually won.

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee, which handles the RfR process, this week ruled (pdf):

The BGC concludes that, upon investigation of Requester’s claims, the CPE Panel inadvertently failed to verify 54 letters of support for the Application and that this failure contradicts an established procedure. The BGC further concludes that the CPE Panel’s failure to comply with this established CPE procedure warrants reconsideration. Accordingly, the BGC determines that the CPE Panel Report shall be set aside, and that the EIU shall identify two different evaluators to perform a new CPE for the Application

The successful RfR appears to be based on a technicality, and may have no lasting impact on the .gay contention set.

Under the EIU’s process rules: “With few exceptions, verification emails are sent to every entity that has sent a letter(s) of support or opposition to validate their identity and authority”.

It seems that the EIU was sent a bundle of 54 letters of support for dotgay, but did not email the senders to verify they were legit. The BCG wrote:

Over the course of investigating the claims made in Request 14-44, ICANN learned that the CPE Panel inadvertently did not verify 54 of the letters of support it reviewed. All 54 letters were sent by the Requester in one correspondence bundle, and they are publicly posted on ICANN’s correspondence page.36 The 54 letters were deemed to be relevant by the EIU, but the EIU inadvertently failed to verify them.

If an applicant wins a CPE it means all the other applicants are automatically excluded, and the door is now open for the EIU to rethink its earlier decision.

So do competing applicants Rightside, Minds + Machines and Top Level Design now have genuine cause for concern? Not necessarily.

CPE applicants need to score at least 14 out of 16 available points in order to win, and dotgay only scored 10 points in its original evaluation.

Crucially, the EIU panel said that because the “community” as defined by dotgay included transgender, intersex, asexual and straight “allies” of equal rights, it was too broad to score any of the available four points on the “Nexus” criteria.

The BCG could find no fault with the EIU’s determination on Nexus, so even if dotgay’s letters of support are verified according to procedure, it would not necessarily lead to dotgay picking up any more Nexus points.

The BCG wrote on Nexus: “Requester’s substantive disagreement with the CPE Panel’s conclusion does not support reconsideration”.

However, given that the EIU is going to do the entire CPE all over again with new panelists, it seems entirely possible that dotgay could win this time.