Hey presidential contenders, now's your chance to take a bolder stand than the old "don't ask, don't tell." Homobase.com is for sale. Five years after starting what he says is the nation's original site for gays in the military, founder George Perry is looking to move on. He's asking for at least $14,000 and said he would auction off the site on eBay beginning Saturday; since eBay is run much like a presidential campaign -- whoever spends the most money wins -- you, me and Steve Forbes are all potential owners.
That could spell trouble for the site's visitors -- servicemen and women of all sexual preferences, along with lawyers, soldier-lovers and students. Some have expressed concern that the site could be ruined if it were purchased by anyone not sympathetic to the community. Though Perry says he's received some e-mail questioning his sales strategy, he says he'll sell to the highest bidder, regardless of their reasons for buying the site.
"You can only fight for so long, and I've done my part," he says. At first, his part was personal. He started the site in 1995 as a tribute to his former lover, a gay Navy officer who died of AIDS.
"At that time, a search for 'gays in the military' produced no results," he says. "I thought there should be something there."
The legal advocacy group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) begs to differ. A spokesman says that SLDN launched its site, which calls itself "The sole national legal aid and watchdog organization that assists servicemembers hurt by the Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue policy" in 1994. But Perry insists that there is a difference between the SLDN, which is focused on legal aid, and Homobase, which is a community, a place where gays and others can ask, tell and act under the cover of Internet anonymity.
"If you're a young, enlisted person, you feel alone," says Chris McCourry, a gay, former Air Force sergeant and fan of Homobase.com. "So to have a resource is a wonderful thing. It gets lonely out there sometimes."
The site began as a place to post pictures of gay service members and their lovers, but it quickly became a portal for gays in the military; it now includes links to a host of military and gay sites, as well as health, career and entertainment sites, plus news and reports about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, chat rooms and more.
The design is haphazard -- a lengthy page with flickering icons -- but the emotion is palpable. And not always positive.
"Get aids and die," read a post that Perry took down. "We will never allow freaks in the military weirdo."
Despite such hate mail, Perry has also received gushes of appreciation.
"I stumbled on your page while searching around Yahoo, and I must say that I
am impressed," wrote a man named Anthony in late 1998. "I am currently engaged (as of Aug. 29, 1998) with a warrant officer in the U.S. Army (13 years). We've been together for a little over a year now, and he's been recently shipped off to South Korea for a one year tour of duty this past October. Saying the distance is painful would be a great understatement, and I try to find things that allow me to feel closer to him for the next 48 weeks while he's gone. Your site has helped me feel closer, and I would like to say thank you."
Though Perry says he appreciates such comments, and saves them, he isn't interested in putting any more of his time into maintaining the site. Besides, he hopes, someone else will be able to add more resources to the site. In the past few months, he hasn't had time to update the news section or answer all of the requests for more information.
So now the question is who will buy it. By holding an open auction, there is, of course, the possibility that an anti-gay group could buy it and kill the site or turn it into a haven for gay-bashers. Or that no one will step forward with the minimum bid.
"I wouldn't put it past someone to grab it and get rid of it," McCourry says.
That's where someone like Al Gore and Bill Bradley could come in. Both have pledged to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But we got that policy as a result of a pledge by President Clinton to end the ban against gays in the military. If these guys want to prove that they're a little more serious than the incumbent president, maybe they could just shell out the cash and buy Homobase.com. In the absence of action, purchasing power often speaks louder than rhetoric.