ICANN inches closer
to dot-gay domain
by David-Elijah Nahmod
The agency that assigns new Internet domains could choose one for the gay community and there are several proposals vying for approval.
The technical name for the suffix at the end of a site, such as dot-com or dot-org, is called generic top-level domain, or gTLD. Two years ago, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, adopted new rules that could soon see a wave of new gTLDs.
"The idea is to personalize the web," said Andrew Merriam of Top Level Design, a web start up company. "There's no rhyme or reason as to why we have dot-com or dot-org. This will increase competition in the domain world."
Top Level Design currently has 10 pending web domain applications, including dot-gay. Some of its other proposed domains include dot-blog, dot-style, and dot-wiki. Top Level Design is not gay-owned, and Merriam is not gay.
Scott Seitz, founder and CEO of the venture Dot Gay LLC, launched his dot-gay proposal in 2011. In a Bay Area Reporter interview published that year, Seitz, who is gay, said that he wanted the dot-gay domain to be held by the gay community.
A spokesman for Dot Gay LLC, Jamie Baxter, said that the firm is still in the evaluation process with ICANN to determine who will be awarded the contract to run dot-gay. Seitz maintains that his effort is the only "community applicant," Baxter said in an email response to questions.
Adding to the confusion is a proposal for a dot-LGBT domain from Alilias Limited. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association, known as ILGA, supports the Dot Gay LLC proposal and, in a letter filed with ICANN, said it is not opposed to dot-LGBT, with caveats.
"We cannot stand behind a dot-gay or Dot-LGBT TLD that would not have either the capacity or the strength to oppose oppression, abuse, and mistreatment of any member of our community," ILGA's Renato Sabbadini said in a letter to ICANN.
"To be clear, ILGA has no objection to a community-centric dot-gay or dot-LGBT TLD: to say the opposite is simply false," Sabbadini wrote. "But there are standard applications for dot-gay and dot-LGBT presented to ICANN which are void of community input and oversight."
Sabbadini noted that ILGA prefers Dot Gay LLC's proposal because it has community input and oversight. Sabbadini also said that Top Level Design was attempting to "cast confusion into the community" around ILGA's objections to the dot-LGBT domain.
Top Level Design supports the dot-LGBT domain proposal.
"We support the dot-LGBT application, and choice in TLDs," Merriam said. "Individuals should be able to freely align with the TLDs on the market, and the market should continue to expand.
Baxter said that the other dot-gay proposals are not community applications like Dot Gay LLC's.
"To our knowledge the others have chosen not to engage with the community or share their business plans with the community," Baxter said.
Seitz's business plan calls for some of the profits to be donated to a foundation to benefit the LGBT Community.
Merriam is concerned about access under Dot Gay LLC's plan and said the company would restrict namespace "in such a way that only people that have the access and ability and desire to authenticate themselves with one of their partners, which are gay-centric organizations, will be able to purchase a dot-gay name."
"This will keep out youth, people in developing countries, and keep prices high and registrations low," Merriam said.
Merriam said that Top Level Design hoped to make the dot-gay domain available to people in developing countries where it might not be safe to be openly gay.
"We don't want to out people or make them participate in organizations they don't want to participate in," he said. "We're investigating ways to give identity protection to people within those areas."
Merriam also said that Top Level Design would not restrict content of dot-gay users, while Dot Gay LLC has said it would not allow for "objectionable" material.
"Banning slurs sounds good on the surface," said Merriam. "Queer is considered to be a slur, but many young people like it. Three applicants have applied for dot-gay to be 'open.' Affordable, accessible, no background checks or content restrictions other than national and international law. Anyone who wants to have access to it should."
Baxter disputed Merriam's characterization of Dot Gay LLC's potential user restrictions.
"If those claiming that we are limiting 'objectionable' material are referring to anti-gay hate speech, promotion of discrimination, or incitement of violence, then perhaps they don't understand that it is against the law in most places and included in the United Nations Declaration of Universal Rights," Baxter said. "This type of behavior is not tolerated in our community spaces, most corporations, or even our courts."
Applications for the dot-gay domain name can be viewed at www.icann.org.