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Net worth.

In the burgeoning world of Internet millionaires, gay men and lesbians are holding their own--and giving back to the community

The Internet has been very good to gay men and lesbians. Ever since the late 1980s this virtual wonderland has created a very real town hall--providing lesbians and gays with a stronger voice and a wider network.

And while the social benefits are good, the financial ones can be terrific. Lesbians and gay men--among the industry's brightest "digirati"--not only are reaping the cultural rewards but are at the forefront of what has become the cyber gold rush.

"The Internet has lowered barriers to entry--decidedly in favor of gays and lesbians, who are pioneers by nature and have always been attracted to new frontiers," says David Bohnett, founder of GeoCities, which quickly tapped into the collaborative nature of the Web by providing free home pages. Bohnett sold GeoCities to Yahoo! last May through a stock swap worth $5 billion.

Bohnett also points to Tim Gill, who launched Quark Inc. in 1981 with a $2,000 loan from his parents. The half-billion-dollar enterprise now dominates desktop publishing. Numerous other lesbians and gays have struck gold or have been placed at the interactive helm of well-heeled firms.

"The Internet has no established old boys' network, and it probably never will," says Mark Pesce, the openly gay chairman of the interactive media program at the University of Southern California, who brought virtual reality to the Web with his invention of VRLM 3-D programming. "There's a level of acceptance for our community even among the older generation. The fact that much of the Internet has come out of San Francisco, also New York, and, to a lesser degree, Los Angeles has a lot to do with that. It's where we congregate."

Entire spheres of corporate influence have shifted, says Seth Radwell, president and chief executive officer of Doubleday Interactive Inc.

"The Internet economy is a watershed that creates personal wealth for a lot of folks, a good proportion lesbian and gay," notes Radwell, who plans to launch a Doubleday gay and lesbian online book club within the year. "It's a very gay-friendly industry, partly because it's new and innovative but also because of its built-in anonymity that attracts large numbers of us."

In fact, the number of gay and lesbian Internet users will continue to rise, from a current 9.2 million worldwide to a predicted 17.1 million in 2005, according to the analyst firm Computer Economics.

Some of the wealth Radwell speaks of has come full circle, fueling gay and AIDS causes because lesbian and gay Internet entrepreneurs, he notes, "happen to be charitable to their own." Bohnett donated $300,000 to the campaign against California's Proposition 22, an anti-gay-marriage initiative on the March 7 ballot. Kathy Levinson, the president and chief operating officer of E*TRADE, and her life partner, Jennifer, contributed $300,000 to the campaign. Levinson also is working with Bohnett to fight the initiative with funds raised from the high-tech and entertainment industries.

Tim Gill, who donated $250,000 to fight Proposition 22 even though he lives in Denver, has put his wealth behind other causes as well. In 1992 he threw $1 million in the face of Colorado's Amendment 2, which would have repealed existing laws protecting gays from discrimination--and prohibited new ones--if the U.S. Supreme Court had not found it unconstitutional. The Gill Foundation, endowed with $80 million, awards about 40% of its $4 million in annual donations to AIDS-related causes, with the remainder distributed among both gay and nongay social and political causes.

The Bohnett Foundation, endowed with $32 million, contributes to AIDS service organizations and gave the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation a $125,000 shot in the arm last year. In 1998 Bohnett gave the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center $100,000 to build and operate a cyber center for those without access to the Internet. In addition, Bohnett's foundation supports antihandgun groups, the development of mass transit, and voter registration activities.

"I grew up with a sense of responsibility to give back some of the abundance that I've received," Bohnett says. "As an openly gay person, I find that that need is most compelling within my own community. Putting out a sustained level of effort can make a tremendous difference. And so instead of making one particularly significant contribution, I hope to make a contribution for the rest of my life."

The gold rush is not only far from over; Bohnett, Pesce, Radwell, and others say it's barely begun. "Every day I see something and I think, `Why didn't I think of that?'" Pesce says. "What's around the bend? Immediacy. A trend toward live performance. Be here now. Watch it now.

"It's like the Super Bowl. You would never watch it on tape; you have to see it live. So rather than having one event with 100 million people watching, we're going to see 100 events that draw a million people."

Bohnett envisions a future with more auctions, including businesses pricing services at the last minute to sell such unused goods as restaurant meals and theater seats. "Education will also be transformed by the Internet," he says. "The way we learn, attend class, and get access to material will go through radical change." Radwell says we will see increased involvement among economically disadvantaged groups and older people.

Pesce, meanwhile, offers a simple premise for burgeoning entrepreneurs: "The Internet is open to anyone who's creative. The dawn of the 21st century is all about innovation and creativity. Of course, there's this association with gay people as being hyper-creative, so in some sense, maybe our turn is due. What great timing."

Foster is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has written for the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Details, and National Public Radio.
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Title Annotation:gays and the internet economy
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 14, 2000
Previous Article:Rigoletto in La-La Land.
Next Article:Cyber mecca.

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