An Open Letter to the Lesbian Community About Funding Projects

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Dear lesbians and bisexual women: we need to talk. There’s a problem for our community on the horizon that we need to address. The problem is this: we’re not doing enough to put money into lesbian projects. I’ve written in the past about the need for greater monetization, but the situation is starting to get really critical.

Time and again, we say that we want more representation: more movies, more TV characters, more web series, more books, more graphic novels, more lesbian-only spaces, etc. If we want these things, we have to pay for them. And right now, we’re not doing a good enough job to save the things that we want. If we don’t step up, we’re going to lose some of what we have, or if not lose, then stagnate and stop growing.

To be fair, when it comes to blogs, specifically, this problem isn’t just limited to our community; it’s a society-wide problem. From approximately the mid-2000s until the mid 2010s, the Internet was experiencing a golden age. There were no ads on YouTube or Facebook. Advertisers assumed that advertising on websites would get them clicks, so the money rolled in to websites. These sites were then able to pass this bounty on to users in the form of free content. In the last few years, however, that era has ended as advertisers have realized that they’re not getting the revenue they expected and have lowered what they’re willing to pay host sites.

But everyone got so used to free content on the Internet that now they expect it and will refuse to pay for content. As a result, professional websites (that is to say, not personal blogs) are struggling, trapped between the need to make money in order to continue running their business and the unwillingness of their users to chip in and make up for lost ad revenue. Reflecting this new reality, dozens of pop culture websites shuttered in 2015 and 2016 – sites like the Toast and Grantland. Lesbian websites, too, are constantly under the gun to maintain, if not increase ad revenue, and are forever on the brink of shutting down. If we don’t find a way to subsidize them, they’ll disappear, too.

The closure of lesbian spaces has been remarked on by straight media and attributed to the fact that lesbians have less disposable income than heterosexuals and significantly less than gay men, but that can’t be the full story.

Outside of websites, however, our failure to monetize is unique to the lesbian community. In the last decade and a half, the last of the lesbian spaces have been disappearing at a rapid pace. In 2016, Phase 1, the oldest continually operating lesbian bar in the U.S., closed down. San Francisco’s The Lexington Club, the city’s last lesbian club, shuttered in 2014. Other closed lesbian clubs include the Egyptian Room in Portland, Tink’s Pub in Louisville, Sisters Nightclub in Philadelphia, T’s in Chicago, Chances Bar in Houston, Hartigan’s Irish Pub in Charlotte, and Bullfishes in Cincinnati. The closure of lesbian spaces has been remarked on by straight media and attributed to the fact that lesbians have less disposable income than heterosexuals and significantly less than gay men, but that can’t be the full story.

The truth is, lesbians and bisexual women will contribute financially to things on an ad hoc basis. In late 2017, Clexa fans raised over $25,000 to fund part one of the ten-part “Lightning Only Strikes Once” graphic novel series, of which over $6,000 was donated to Koh Tao International Primary School, a non-profit school that Eliza Taylor (Clarke, “The 100”) and her friend Claire Wyndham started in Thailand in 2015.

Fans of the now off-air “General Hospital” pairing “Pristina” raised $1,200 in 2017 for the Step Up Women’s Network for the birthday of Ashley Jones (Parker Forsyth). “Wynonna Earp” fans are particularly giving. In June 2016, 124 people ordered 161 Peace Maker shirts and stickers as part of a Fangirl Shirts fundraiser for “Everytown For Gun Safety,” while in 2017, fans raised over $12,000 for “Sprit Day,” which was donated to GLAAD. Lesbians might not have much money compared to other demographics, but they can be very generous with what little they do have.

So let’s talk numbers. To film season 4, the funding goal for the Brazilian web series “RED” was $10,000, which it met. The $6,180 raised through Indiegogo came from 54 backers, which means an average of $114.44 per backer (shout out to @HappyRealist3, who donated $1,300 to the cause!). In economics, there’s a term called a “positive externality.” This is a positive effect or benefit realized by a third party resulting from a transaction in which they had no direct involvement, or what we might call a “spillover effect.”

In the case of “RED,” the 230 people who actually paid for season 4 through Indiegogo and Catarse created a positive externality for the approximately 44,500 viewers who watched the season. But consider this: what if everyone who watched “RED” season 1 had paid just $1 on viewing the first episode? There were approximately 369,000 views for that episode, meaning that at $10k per season, “RED” would have been financed for 37 YEARS’ worth of seasons and no one would have had to have paid a dime more for any of it.

Nothing is free. Someone else is paying for it, whether it’s with actual money or whether it’s with their time. Most of us enjoy reading fanfiction, for example, which is free and easily accessible, but what if we did better about helping subsidize those authors?

It is these positive externalities that are quietly undermining our ability to fund content, because our community has come to expect free content. But nothing is free. Someone else is paying for it, whether it’s with actual money or whether it’s with their time. Most of us enjoy reading fanfiction, for example, which is free and easily accessible, but what if we did better about helping subsidize those authors?

In “Archive of Our Own,” the most viewed F/F fic, “The Girls We Wanna Kiss,” by queercapwriting, has 473,862 views. If readers gave fifty cents per view, that would be $236,931 in order to subsidize content that readers obviously like (or you can “buy a coffee” for them here). Yes, we write fanfic out of love and not profit, but wouldn’t it be nice to show our appreciation for these authors as well? Speaking of time, did you know that the excellent website LezWatchTV is run by just two women? Drafting only their wives and coworkers in for help, they have managed to document 2,931 lesbian, bi, and otherwise LGBTQ characters and 964 shows. I don’t even want to think about how much of their personal lives are taken up with this side hobby of theirs, but this compendium of information is absolutely essential to our community.

Because if we’re not careful, one day we could see the number of lesbian-focused websites, webseries, etc. drop to almost nothing because while we were so busy funding other projects, we forgot to fund our own.

Overall, I’m not asking readers to not donate to Koh Tao or Everytown For Gun Safety, but I’m asking readers to think about whether they view it as also important to give back to the content creators in our community. Because if we’re not careful, one day we could see the number of lesbian-focused websites, webseries, etc. drop to almost nothing because while we were so busy funding other projects, we forgot to fund our own.

We can’t freeload on positive externalities forever. For “Venice: The Series” season 5 crowdfunding on Indiegogo, 2,451 backers gave $239,306, for an average of $97.63 per backer. Tello film’s “Riley Parra” season 2 raised $21,280 from 192 backers, or an average of $110.83 per backer. This suggests that the average amount people are willing to donate is about $100. That $100 could go a long way toward content creation, to whomever it’s given. So whether you’re willing to give $5 or $1,000, please consider spaces like tello Films, Comic Girl Coffee & Books, or basically any lesbian content project on Indiegogo, etc.

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