AOL AND THE DEATH OF QUEERSIGHTED
- Richard RothsteinKenny
Almost a year ago I fell in love with Kenneth Hill (Pictured above), one of AOL's top queers. Unlike many of his peers in the mainstream media world, Mr. Hill was out, proud and an assertive and compassionate champion and crusader for gay rights and the magnificence and wonder of human diversity.
Our relationship was based on mutual admiration as writers and crusaders and our love was as pure as pure can be. In fact, during the QueerSighted days, as much as Kenny and I came to share on so many levels, we actually never met in person. Yes, Kenny and I were the ultimate in cyber lovers and mind mates. (We've since met in person while sitting shiva for QueerSighted.)
After almost seven years at AOL, Kenny was to realize a dream. He was offered the opportunity to take the on-line media giant's commitment to the queer community to a remarkable new level that would set AOL apart from all other mainstream media giants: an edgy, uncensored, honest voice in support of the GLBT world, a sort of queer New Yorker. This was to be QueerSighted, an innovative new generation blog supported by the power and reach of AOL Time Warner.
Many were skeptical, including myself. Would AOL actually support a candid and authentic queer blog that would provide diverse and candid queer voices access to its vast audience?
The answer was yes.
Personally, I proceeded with a nervous mix of cautious optimism and profound excitement. For me, a writer and a relatively newly out gay man, the notion of having a voice and an opportunity to speak to millions of my fellow Americans, queer and straight, via a platform provided by as mainstream a media giant and American corporation as one could imagine represented a new age, a golden age. As a young closeted gay man I grew up in a world of secrecy and constant fear, a world where homosexuals were subjected to electro shock therapy and two men could be arrested for sharing love and affection. Suddenly, I found myself as out as the noon day sun; it was exhilarating.
So in February of 2007, I found myself not only OUT but part of a dedicated team of queers and corporate crusaders who would play a significant role in moving queer rights, queer culture and queer visibility forward--positively, powerfully and on a scale not before seen. My God, this was AOL!
Among queer-friendly corporations, I thought, HRC would have to create an entirely new category for the world's largest ISP.
And so QueerSighted was born, a diverse community of queer writers that would evolve and grow and within six short months draw more than 3.5 million page views per month. QueerSighted would pull in serious advertising revenue, and just before it's demise--yes demise--QueerSighted would find itself within weeks of being able to lay claim to the honor of largest non-porn gay website in the world. In fact, weeks before AOL killed QueerSighted, the blog was already in a photo finish race with Gay.com and Logo On Line for the number one spot.
For many of us at QueerSighted and within the queer community, AOL's spectacular commitment to the GLBT community represented a major step forward. This wasn't a LOGO or a Here!, this was mainstream America on our side and the wind beneath our wings (couldn't help myself.)
AOL made a tremendous noise about its commitment to the GLBT community and to its queer readers in particular. AOL trades on the important and valuable role it plays in the various communities it serves through its many pages and themes. Partly, I walked away from my original blog, PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK because AOL convinced me that I would be able to share my voice with a huge audience, gay and straight. But after six months of pouring our hearts and souls into this venture and creating an important and influential--even leadership--role in the queer community--AOL looked at 3.5 million page monthly views, 500,000 monthly unique site visits and the commensurate ad revenues, good will for the AOL brand throughout the blogosphere, the print media and the electronic media and within hours shut it all down.
QueerSighted was by any standard a runaway success and a shining example of commitment to queer America by a major corporate brand. And with the strength of the AOL brand behind us, QueerSighted "authorities" were able to deliver important and even critical messages to many other on-line, print and broadcast media outlets. But at the end of the day, this hugely and almost instantly successful venture that had quickly established its brand-building and financial worth to the corporation was abruptly canceled. No warning and no reason other than we "were just one of the causalities of a corporate cost-cutting process."
Is this true? Perhaps, which would mean that AOL's stated vision and commitment to the Queer community was a pack of corporate lies. Was there some other reason? And was the deletion of QueerSighted bundled into a general "layoff" to hide some ugly truth? Were our politics too far to the left of certain senior officers at AOL? Was AOL receiving threats from it's large Evangelical and Right wing readership that used to entertain itself by flaming our site? I guess we'll never know and the worst thing we can say about AOL is that they lied about their commitment to the GLBT community and Kenny Hill and just swept us and him away as part of some mindless, heartless corporate housecleaning exercise.
Just a few weeks after Kenny Hill and his team of queer bloggers launched QueerSighted, another major queer blog called us the "cold corporate giant." The QueerSighted bloggers were hurt and challenged. We poured everything we had into disproving that blogger's rude accusation. Over the next few months, we would push every limit and deliver a powerful and uncensored voice to millions of queer and straight AOL readers--and beyond.
We would prove that rude blogger wrong. But as it turns out, he was right. And the next time you read or hear someone from AOL trade on commitment to the community, dedication to it readers and standing for quality and open and free communication, remember the sudden and wholesale slaughter of QueerSighted and it's bloggers.
I cannot and do not speak for Kenneth Hill, a passionate crusader for gay rights, diversity and good will, but after seven years of service to AOL, he returned from a family funeral, rightfully proud of his career success, with brilliant strategic plans to take us to a million unique site visits within another couple of months and found an office full of empty cardboard boxes. Within a couple of hours his hard and indisputably successful work (and ass) was booted out of AOL's Virginia headquarters.
Death AOL has tried to convince us, the QueerSighted bloggers, to remain silent on this travesty. They offered us the opportunity to post farewell blogs that would be screened and pre-approved according to the needs of their corporate strategy. After six months of free speech, we were now to be censored. We declined.
They've also offered to post links to our individual blogs on AOL pages. As attractive as that may have been to this blogger--we all love numbers--the truth was more attractive--and, in any case once they realized that I'm using naughty four
letters without the obligatory asterisks in place of the uck and the otherfuc and that I'm also posting pictures of men that aren't cut off at the waist, they would have dropped my PAYOR link as fast and as abruptly as they dropped Kenny Hill and QueerSighted.
And, at the end of the day, I suppose we can't accuse AOL of homophobia or politics. After all, Mary Cheney remains a vice president at AOL and she, as we all know, is a staunch supporter of the queer community, our rights and our voice. And just because a number of AOL's openly homophobic and conservative right wing bloggers remain employed and blogging doesn't mean that the termination of large numbers of senior gay employees means anything.
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