The Gay Web: Looking at the .gay Generic Top Level Domain

In an increasingly dystopian world, it's hard—but not impossible—to look at this without cynicism.

Found out this morning that the .gay TLD will be available this month, with 20% of revenue from new registrations going to GLAAD and CenterLink.

First thought? Great to hear and I started making a list of domains I wanted to get.

But a little later, that 20% became a question: why weren't all profits going? Granted, I am entirely unfamiliar with a registrar's operating costs, so I don't know if 20% off the top is necessarily better or worse than 100% of profits.

Then reading the marketing content on the operator's site, I noticed a section promoting "Protection" as a reason to buy a .gay domain. It speaks specifically to groups that do not self-align with the "social and political movements tied to LGBTQ+ equality," suggesting that they "[registering] their marks in order to prevent them from being involved on others’ terms."

I'd seen enough.

In an email that I hoped found them well, I posed three questions, like a sphinx but less mysterious:

  1. Why 20% of revenue vs 100% profits?
  2. The general marketing content says that the 20% will come from all registrations, but the content on Top Level Design's site only discusses the sunrise phases. Can you confirm that the donation is made from all registrations and not just sunrise phase registrations?
  3. Your site mentions brand protection as a reason to take advantage of the sunrise phase, and specifically calls out mikepence.gay as an example. I completely understand and appreciate buying domains to hinder trolls, but this example gives me pause. Specifically, whether or not the revenue donation can be skipped if a buyer asks, or in the case of the notoriously homophobic Vice-President, if a buyer demands it. Regardless of your answer to (2), will Top Level Design provide open reports on donations made from each domain registration? So, rather than saying that Top Level Design donated x-dollars to GLAAD, it would show that x-dollars came a specific list of purchased domains?

Their response was fast, but typical PR.

20% Revenue vs 100% profit and time limits on donations

No clear answer other than "20% of all new registration revenue -- not just profit -- meaning continual donations over time," and that it was not limited to just the sunrise phase, but all new registrations. So renewals don't count, they'll keep that 20%. If you're not familiar with domain registration, you might think that's not that big of a deal because, hey, renewals are either the same or lower totals than the initial purchase.

That isn't true, especially if a registrar runs a discount for registration. I have a few domains that renew at 2-3x what I paid at registration. I would think this is especially true for premium domain names.

Moreover, without understanding a registrar's business model, I still don't quite know if that 20% revenue is significant next to 100% of profits.

Brand Protection for Bigots

One thing that Top Level Design is doing with the .gay domain is enforcing a policy that "[bars] the use of .gay by recognized hate groups and [prohibits] hateful or harassing content." The policy even goes so far as to require .gay sites that host forums must also moderate user content.

And it specifies a right to refuse abuse claims made in bad faith, which is neat.

This policy is pretty interesting, as I've only seen hosting and adjacent providers enforce content moderation, not registrars. When white supremacist groups have de-platformed in the past, they've had to point their DNS to a different host, they've not had their domain names cancelled. If Cloudflare terminating their hosting for Daily Stormer was an eviction, this policy feels like a straight-up burn notice.

Granted, I'm assuming it's a no-notice deal. You break the policy, your site disappears. It's entirely possible I'm wrong here. But what if...

But my question was about allowing registrants to decline the 20% donation, especially because they are marketing directly to bigots who have sense to think about digital strategy. I'll just copy their reply.

And no. We are not allowing any of those people -- or anyone, for that matter -- to opt out of that donation. Whatever the .gay name registered, 20% of that goes to the community, across the board, even with premium names. As for publicizing names, we are proudly sharing .gay sites as they come online and will continue to do that as we grow.

I still wish they'd itemize, but as long as they do what they say they'll do, I understand.

So why does this matter?

I realize that I'm asking a commercial venture to act like an activist group, that I'm asking a business to think more about community than their bottom line. And in this age, that is unrealistic. My view of the web as an open means of communicating and connecting is secondary-at-best to the rest of the world's view of it being a means to make money. I get it.

How dare I ask a private business to give up all of its profits. How very dare I.

As Top Level Design points out, this TLD is new territory. It is designed to let brands show their support for LGBTQ+ people1, and its easy to say that the beneficiaries of its giving model should be grateful to receive any money from this venture.

But because it is new territory, and because it is capitalizing on a community of people who have faced and continue to face bigotry and oppression around the world which overlaps and intertwines with other forms of bigotry and oppression in horrifying ways, I'd like to think that maybe a commercial entity could also explore new territories in its profit models.

Footnotes

  1. I don't think it crosses the line into the line of pinkwashing, but this absolutely brushes up against it.