Editor's Note: Guest blogger Raymond King is the CEO of Top Level Design LLC - an applicant for ten new top-level domains - and has founded or been involved in a number of other tech start-ups. Originally from New York, he now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughter.
ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the policy body in charge of Internet naming protocols, will soon make a procedural decision that will have a long-lasting impact on the worldwide LGBT community: whether to approve one applicant's proposal to create a "closed" registration system for the ".gay" top-level domain (TLD).
One of the four applicants for .gay, dotgay LLC, has identified itself as the representative organization of all LGBTQ+ individuals. If ICANN grants its request for "community" status, it would require all people, companies or organizations to "verify" that they are an official member of the "gay community" in order to secure a domain name ending in ".gay." It would also be in a position to censor what information or material would be allowed on .gay websites.
There are currently 22 top-level domains, or TLDs, including some most of us are familiar with, such as .com, .net, .org, and .edu, as well as others that are not as well-known, such as .info, .biz, .jobs, and .xxx.
In January 2012, ICANN opened up a three-month window during which anyone could apply to run a new TLD registry. Although there were 1,930 applications for new TLDs, there were only five applications for LGBT-related TLDs: four applications for the proposed ".gay" TLD and one application for the proposed ".lgbt" TLD.
When more than one application contends for a new TLD, ICANN encourages the parties to either make a deal amongst themselves, presumably in the form of a partnership or buyout. If the parties can't agree, then ICANN will auction it off amongst the applicants.
However, ICANN also has created rules for a "community priority evaluation" program, which allows an applicant representing a narrowly-defined "community" to shortcut the standard system and be appointed as the official representative of that community world-wide. Think the Vatican for ".catholic" and the Cherokee Nation for ".cherokee."
Of course, in order for a community applicant to be granted this special status, there must be a way to determine whether that community exists and whether that applicant truly represents all of it. However, ICANN has created a stringent definition of "community": there must be a clear way of knowing if someone is within the community or not and there must be an official organizational structure.
Because all community TLDs are restricted, only verifiable community members can register domain names and all websites must pertain to their common interest. The bar is intentionally set very high to make sure that applicants don't claim to be the sole representative of a community where in fact the group is too broad to qualify as such.
How does this affect the LGBTQ+ community? Find out, after the jump.
Who Gets to Run .Gay?
For the .gay TLD, there is one "community" application and three "open" applications:
- SPI Marketing/dotgay LLC (community)
- Demand Media (open)
- Minds + Machines (open)
- Top Level Design, LLC (our application, open)
Most TLDs - such as .com - use an open registration system, which does not require restrictions to access a specific TLD and encourages more online participation.
Although we presume dotgay LLC's application was prepared with the best of intentions, the restrictions required to comply with the ICANN's "community" process mandates that a "community" be restricted in both access and content, and sacrifices three basic freedoms for a huge and diverse group of individuals, not all of whom are gay.
- Freedom of Choice: dotgay LLC asserts that "gay" is an appropriate umbrella term for all LGBTQ (and even intersex) folks. Enforcing "gay" as the overall term for anyone who may prefer other words to describe gender identity or sexual orientation erases the work many have dedicated their lives to. Words are meaningful and to co-opt all trans, queer, and intersex folks as "gay" is simply wrong.
Its neglect of the nuances of personal identification and a lack of sensitivity to umbrella terms is further pronounced in its antagonism to the .lgbt application. Through its most active partner, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), they have also filed a formal objection to the application for .lgbt. If successful, ILGA's opposition would stop the .lgbt TLD from reaching the Internet - further evidence that they believe that "gay" is good enough for everyone.
We believe that choice is empowering and strongly support the creation of the .lgbt TLD alongside .gay and hundreds of other TLDs.
- Freedom of Speech: For years, LGBTQ+ individuals fought hard against external censorship of their language and actions, including the term "gay" in both writing and speech. And now dotgay LLC wishes to censor the language that appears on .gay websites? Its application calls for significant restrictions on the use of "sensitive words." While this may sound like a good way to keep "hate speech" at bay, censorship is a very slippery slope and there is no shortage of controversy over what language is appropriate in the space. Speech is a freedom worth fighting for.
- Freedom to Register: If dotgay LLC prevails, anyone that wants to register a .gay domain would first need to become a member of a dotgay LLC "Authentication Partner," which are gay-centric organizations that would need to put in place usernames and passwords for all of their members. This means higher costs, disenfranchising many potential registrants such as youth and people in developing countries and also, forced identification, which to some may be anywhere from distasteful to outright dangerous. Further, there are many LGBTQ folks who simply do not wish to participate in formal organizations.
Dotgay LLC's bid for a community application should not be granted. Remember, the open applicants will still be allowed to enforce common-sense restrictions pursuant to state, federal and/or international laws. So, although an open system may allow the registration of some "bad" sites, end users vote with their attention and the market ultimately decides which sites succeed.
This is how it should be. With dotgay LLC's plan, many will miss out on the opportunity to participate in this new namespace and so much diversity will be lost.
As the CEO of one of the three open applicants, I have a strong passion to serve the LGBTQ+ population and am supported by my LGBTQ+ family members, co-workers, and friends who have encouraged me to apply for .gay. I am not gay myself, but I have assembled a diverse team with a shared interest in advocacy and equality. Our personal beliefs, coupled with our business, technical, and domain industry background puts us in a great position to be competent stewards of this exciting new TLD.
I respect the diversity of views on this issue, which I believe speaks to the fact that no one company should be able to define who is and isn't "gay enough" to register a .gay domain name. Perhaps the most important thing that can happen in these last weeks before dotgay LLC's community evaluation is that an open conversation is started.
How Can Your Voice Be Heard?
An external panel, contracted by ICANN, will decide whether or not dotgay LLC is in fact representative of all LGBTQ+ individuals for the purposes of the .gay TLD. If you want to keep the .gay TLD open and available to all users, then I encourage you to share your opinion with ICANN at the applicants' public forum. The evaluation panel will be reviewing all letters in the coming weeks, both in support and in opposition, and every letter matters.