The World Wide Web will soon be responsible for more than 10 percent or even 15 percent of gross domestic product in G20 countries, yet gay people continue to be denied opportunity to fully participate in its operation. Despite clear plans and global support to create community benefit from the new .GAY namespace, the top brass of the internet continue to deny LGBTQIA efforts to operate it. What does this say about equality of opportunity and nondiscrimination for the gay community when it comes to operations of the world’s most important means of communication and enterprise?
Years of fighting for equality and human rights have brought the LGBTQIA community together. Allies and advocates fought collectively to create organizations and policy improvements within government, institutions, and corporations so that safe spaces and equal footing could exist for employees and citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Despite these advancements, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has ignored its own commitments to human rights and nondiscrimination by disadvantaging the gay community over big money interests.
ICANN is a California nonprofit organization responsible for keeping the Internet “safe, secure and interoperable.” Since 1998, it has also been responsible for contracting with those operating Internet namespaces. Some legacy namespaces include .COM and .ORG, but hundreds more have recently been released into the market such as .BANK, .YOGA, and .NYC.
Each operator is responsible for managing and developing policies for their respective namespace. With four companies applying for the .GAY namespace, ICANN has found itself in the middle of a controversy involving the transparency and fairness afforded to dotgay LLC, the only community-based applicant for .GAY competing against strict business applications.
In 2009, dotgay LLC realized the value and importance of prioritizing LGBTQIA interests in future operations of namespaces like .GAY. It applied to manage the namespace as a steward of the community effort and initiated outreach on every continent, engaging with the global gay community in order to develop an inclusive .GAY value proposition that could ultimately produce benefits around the world.
Dotgay LLC was required to identify the namespace mission, detail specific community benefits, and demonstrate community support in order to secure “priority” to the .GAY namespace. The company received over 250 endorsements from LGBTQIA organizations around the world, including the Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Lesbian Rights, InterPride, National LGBTQ Task Force, International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans & Intersex Association, COC Nederlands, and PFLAG South Africa.
There were three additional applicants for .GAY — each represents business interests outside the community seeking to merely monetize the most well-known and lucrative umbrella term the community has.
If current efforts are unsuccessful at challenging pending decisions and securing “priority” for .GAY then ICANN will use an auction as a last resort, forcing dotgay LLC to bid against non-LGBTQIA associated business interests for the right to operate .GAY.
In early 2014, dotgay LLC entered into a Community Priority Evaluation — a unique test scored by ICANN’s third-party contractors, the Economist Intelligence Unit, to make decisions on community applications. At year end, the unit rejected the application on the incorrect basis that members of the LGBTQIA alliance (trans, intersex, allies, and allied groups) could not be considered stakeholders of the gay community. Community outrage ensued because the evaluation was conducted with no transparency or quality control to ensure ICANN’s nondiscrimination policies were upheld. ICANN went to great length defending the evaluation, claiming its policies are not applicable to third-party vendors like the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Pressure from stakeholders resulted in ICANN calling for a second evaluation, which commenced in early 2015. As expected, the Economist Intelligence Unit produced a similar result, and ICANN insisted that the process was properly handled. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see discriminatory practices unfolding at ICANN. When .HOTEL and .SPA were approved for community priority and .GAY was not, LGBTQIA interests started organizing and amplifying their voices to express concerns. ICANN denied that dotgay LLC had been treated any differently than other community applicants.
ICANN’s ombudsman concluded that he had seen the unfair treatment and disregard for human rights that dotgay LLC’s application was receiving from ICANN and submitted a report recommending “that the board look at the bigger picture” and “grant the community application status to the applicant and put an end to this long and difficult issue.” The ombudsman report also takes clear aim at ICANN practices, stating that “by doing so the board will take a major step in recognising the role of ICANN in complying with its own policies and well established human rights principles.”
In the recent decision Dot Registry v ICANN, the previous claims by ICANN of consistent treatment among community applicants finally started to unravel. An independent review panel secured information ICANN held from the public and found that ICANN had violated it own bylaws and articles of incorporation around transparency, fairness, and nondiscrimination by conspiring with the Economist Intelligence Unit on Community Priority Evaluation decisions for .LLP, .INC and .LLC. The panel scolded ICANN publically for this behavior and called on ICANN’s board to clean up its act.
Whether ICANN will take responsibility for its failures and do right by the LGBTQIA community remains a mystery, but a heightened sensitivity to public perception of ICANN’s feelings towards the community and its .GAY application has been observed. Despite never responding directly to the concerns raised by dotgay LLC and LGBTQIA organizations during the evaluation, ICANN continues to push a message focused on process errors.
In a blog post, ICANN states that it “supports and encourages diversity and inclusion.” Perhaps an appropriate qualifier would read “but not at the expense of a lucrative auction or threat of litigation from the three other applicants who will be eliminated if community priority is granted for .GAY?”
Community outreach over ICANN’s handling of dogay LLC’s application highlights and echoes the recommendations of ICANN’s ombudsman — reminding the ICANN board that it has the authority to address issues of unfairness and is bound to act according to international principles of human rights.
For the ICANN board to further delay or ultimately deny its responsibilities would show that the Internet overseers are simply not ready to extend equal opportunity to the gay community and that ICANN’s policy of transparency, fairness, and nondiscrimination is just lip service.