EXCLUSIVE: Big News for Lesbians Only
A new online community for lesbians by lesbians is about to change the way you view the Internet.
Imagine a global online community by lesbians and for lesbians. Imagine being able to meet and talk with other lesbians from all over the country—and all over the world. Imagine a hub to connect all the different elements of lesbian life in one place, linking lesbians and a vast range of interests together—from dating to being lesbian moms to health and legal issues for lesbians to aging as lesbians. Imagine being able to find lesbian businesses and other resources in one place. Imagine the possibilities.
Kathy Wolfe imagined the possibilities, but then Wolfe knows how to make things happen for lesbians. In 1985, she founded Wolfe Video—initially a video outlet for films by, for and about lesbians and now the world’s largest purveyor of LGBT films.
Seven years ago Wolfe first approached Sue Beckwith, owner of the URL Lesbian.com. Wolfe’s entrepreneurial spirit told her that combining the online traffic Beckwith was getting with her own vision for a global lesbian connection definitely could work. But Beckwith wasn’t yet ready to divest herself of the URL, which had been her own dream. According to Wolfe, Beckwith had concerns about what would happen to the site in the future. She wanted it to remain a site by and for lesbians with lesbian empowerment as its foundation. "Sue wanted to be sure it stayed lesbian and for lesbians for generations to come," Wolfe explained. "She wanted to be sure it didn’t go off in another direction." Wolfe added that initially Beckwith had wanted to remain a partner in the venture, to have some control over it, but Wolfe wanted to be able to direct the project herself.
So Wolfe waited. And when Beckwith was ready, they made the deal.
Terms of their agreement disallow Wolfe from saying how the plan came to fruition or exactly how much was spent to purchase the domain, but Wolfe did tell Curve that the amount was in the six figures."We didn’t have that money in our pockets, you know," she explains with a small laugh, but noted that the three co-founders of the new site have a host of supporters who believe in the promise of the project. Eventually the site will head to IPO status, but for now, it’s a three-person operation with a grand plan for expansion.
Wolfe’s partners in the venture are Maria Lynn, current president of Wolfe Video, who will serve as chief operating officer and Shannon Wentworth, who will be the technology expert. Wentworth has a broad online resume, having been previously associated with Care2, PlanetOut and gay.com. Wentworth is also CEO and co-founder of Sweet, a lesbian travel company.
"What we want to do," Wolfe says, "is empower lesbians by bringing them together. We want to find a way to have everyone have a place at the table." Wolfe notes that she wants to coalesce lesbian businesses under one umbrella. "Lesbians can be very competitive," she noted. "But we don’t want to take anything away from anyone—we want to build it. We can support the many smaller blog and media sites by making it possible for them to connect to our over 200,0000 visitors each month."
Wolfe asserts that she and her partners want to "Make everyone stronger, bigger, better. We’re only limited by our ability to do it." Part of doing it means finding out what women want from such a site. Wolfe was adamant that she wants lesbians to create the site that they want. "Let’s talk lesbian health issues," she says. "Our issues are different from everyone else’s. So maybe we have lesbian doctors who want to speak to that, have a forum for that. Or lesbian mothers—maybe they want a forum. We’re going to do what works best for lesbians. And we think there’s a lot that women want and that we can give them."
Wolfe would like to see Lesbian.com as a hub that links lesbians together on myriad levels. She mentions the vast array of small blogs available that could be under the Lesbian.com umbrella as well as creating an events calendar, entertainment links, resources for lesbians. The possibilities truly are limitless.
To that end, Lesbian.com has posted an in-depth survey asking lesbians what they want. For example, Curve asked Wolfe how she would make the site global and she said, "Access." Adding, "I’d like to see people waiting for a bus in South Africa and streaming [a Wolfe video] on their phone while they wait," she said. Wolfe noted that in anticipation of the global nature of the project, Wolfe videos were being subtitled and translated into other languages.
"We don’t want anyone left out," she asserts. Wolfe noted that most online sites are run and operated by men, and as a consequence don’t really value women or focus on their interests and needs. Lesbian.com will be different. "This will be run by and for lesbians. It will be a space for our needs and interests. It’s a place for lesbian companies to converge and reach out to women as well. It’s a terrific platform for global activism as there’s still much work to be done."
In addition, Wolfe explains that the technological advances of the past three decades while she’s been building her global video business make it easy to access an audience and for that audience to access what she and her partners have to offer. And Lesbian.com could offer almost anything. "Of course with the changes in technology it makes everything different," she says. "There are technological tools that you can use. You don’t have to write software for everything you do—there are things already in place that you can tap into."
Wolfe has already experienced that in the course of building Wolfe video. As she notes, the expansion of queers into the mainstream has meant a much larger out audience and also a politicization of issues in the mainstream as well as online, whether it’s discrimination or bullying. "As activists, we have spent the past 20 years working to make lesbians visible in the mainstream. Coming out, same-sex marriage, anti-bullying, discrimination and you name it," Wolfe asserts, "we have worked to be less marginalized and victimized as a community."
She adds that her experiences with Wolfe Video make her uniquely suited to expanding Lesbian.com. "Activism has been an important part of Wolfe Video’s endeavors to make positive images of ourselves visible through film. My company spent many years bringing these films into mainstream venues, like Barnes & Noble. Now, it’s commonplace to find our films on Comcast, Google, Hulu and iTunes. We’re everywhere—that was the point.
"Obviously we want to bring entertainment in," says the video entrepreneur, "but we also want to address the serious concerns lesbians have and there are a lot of those."
Ventures require venture capital, however, and that is an awesome struggle for many businesses in a time of global recession. But Wolfe feels strongly that Lesbian.com will draw advertisers as it draws hits to the site. The site already has the support of two businesses, Kimpton Hotels and Orbitz, but Wolfe believes that there will be easy expansion based on the 200,000 people Wolfe says are already visiting the site. She is certain that lesbian-owned and operated businesses will want to be involved, as well, because the potential market is huge. "The vision we have is that we are going to stay in the hands of lesbians, be a resource for lesbians, continue to grow and thrive," she says. "We’re a hub, and that’s just going to expand and expand. We want to pull in anyone who wants to be there." Wolfe urges lesbians to go to Lesbian.com, fill out the survey and become participants in the process of building that hub that has the potential to link lesbians all across the planet.
Wolfe’s enthusiasm for the project is palpable. "It’s incredibly exciting what we are doing this," she said. "We want the whole community to believe that this is a great opportunity–because it is. Lesbian.com is going to be the best of the lesbian world in one place. Our aim is to showcase the best of the lesbian world, empower our visitors with knowledge and unite our community."
And that sounds like a business model every lesbian can support.