"Community Spirit" - You can't Even Get It For A Buck!




“Community Spirit: - You Can’t Even Get it For a Buck!
Editorial by Rick Wagner 06/21/00



It was a hot summer day in 1982 when I fetched the mail and found a CompuServe bill for $400. As a gay man seeking the company of other gay men I learned just how expensive it was to use online services paying by the minute to take part in such a simple act. Not for sex, but companionship, friendship and the realization that I wasn't alone in the world.

What did CompuServe care? They gave me online time, and I used it to make new friends but for a cost. This really made me angry as I thought of the heterosexual men and women and their public displays of affection. Why did I have to go to such lengths to find the company of men in a small suburban town while it was so easy for straights? And why was it so wrong in their eyes?

My motivational force of anger made me realize that gay men and women were being exploited and monopolized simply because of the lifestyle they were born into. I decided to use my computer and programming skills to prove them all wrong and by 1985 wrote a bulletin board system which ran on a Commodore 64. I created a safe place where gay people could gather, date, and talk about things important to them. Far and beyond just finding a sex partner for the night. Best of all, they could do it all for free.

At the same time there were others in the community who learned the income potential of such a business and the war of "to pay" or "not to pay" was born. Although several donations were received, I was determined to never charge users for resource-related information that I felt was critical to them. Entertainment was a different story, but you could just as easily get entertainment from a porn magazine. Unfortunately in a small town, getting access to community news was entirely different.

My first system was crude, but it had bar listings, message boards, and daily news articles that I frantically typed up myself each night. There were erotic j/o stories and even helpful tips for the health conscious. All of this was free and in the name of "Community Spirit." Monthly, get-togethers, cook-outs at my home, movie nights, organized day trips to nearby amusement parks, added the missing human touch to so many people's lives.

As the years passed this little community had grown into one of the largest multi-user, free, gay and lesbian online services of its kind winning awards, kudos, and accolades from the local east-coast press. Later, it was relocated to Dallas, Texas and eventually transformed from BBS to internet as "Man's Country of Dallas". ( www.mansco.com ) All single-handedly, by myself, and still free to anyone who used it.

Since its move to the Net, over 2 million visits were recorded in the first year alone and it seemed to be a useful tool filled with news, information, resources, and entertainment that the gay community relied upon on a regular basis.

Of course, as the years went by, more and more visitors seemed predominantly interested in the system's erotica than participation in online message threads, chat, or even dating. I began to wonder whether Man's Country was still a resource or just a porn distribution site for closeted heterosexuals.

In June of 2000 I reviewed my state of affairs, I had spent nearly $40,000 in equipment, time, connectivity, and credit card debt I realized that the time had come for me to ask my "Community" to help me in return. I posted a tasteful opening page on the system asking all users to contribute a single dollar. No more, no less... just one single dollar in hopes that it would prove to me that my long hours of work and time were appreciated and not without merit. The announcement ran for four weeks and during that time the site recorded over 15,000 visits to the main opening page. Not a single dollar was ever recieved. Not one...

Disappointed and somewhat depressed, I realized that it was time to say goodbye to an old friend that had occupied nearly 17 years of my life. The spirit of the gay and lesbian community had given me my answer and I realized that although I was doing what I did for legitimate reasons in the name of love for my brothers and sisters, the same people turned their back on me when I needed help and reassurance the most.

After making a final announcement I pulled all content (over 100 megabytes, and 15,000 files) off the internet servers. I was amazed at the email received from a dozen or so "well wishers" who said that they had never seen my plea for the infamous MANSCO buck. They explained that because they entered a bookmarked page, they never saw the pop-up window requesting a donation. A few of these people had asked for my mailing address to send donations anyway. But, another two weeks went by and never a single dollar received.


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Even more shocking, where the hateful and threatening messages. The fact that they had lost their daily Gay news feed (QueerNews) was treated like some kind of free obligation on my part. In one, I was even told "not to let the door hit me in the ass on the way out." All because some "son-of-a-bitch" asked for a buck and spitefully pulled the plug.

Moi?, "son-of-a-bitch?", "spiteful?" after seventeen years? After my ACT-UP activism? After my March On Washington?

Giving the benifit of the doubt for the dozen or so who missed the message. What about the other 14,998 who didn't? According to web server statistics, the page (not the site, but the page itself) was read this many times. Did one single person sit with their mouse clicking the refresh button in excess of 14K times? Hey, you be the judge.... the numbers just don't jive with the end result.

So, the moral of this 17 year old story makes you wonder. Especially when "Community Spirit" isn't even worth a lousy buck in the third largest Gay and Lesbian mecca of the nation.

Remember this the next time you're sucking your swizzle stick wondering why there's no place left to hang out but the bars.

Remember this, when all of the gay and lesbian related internet sites require you to pay for membership regardless of content.

Remember this, when the HIV drug assistance programs are canceled and your boyfriend dies in front of you because you were more interested in spending money on tablets of ecstasy, dinner parties, and circuit parties instead of AIDS charities.

Remember the words: "Sorry! the funding ran out...." and before you point the finger in anger at the government, or anyone else you want to blame, accept your share of responsibility and start blaming yourselves!

Today, with little pride left, I fly my rainbow flag at half-mast. My friend of 17 years has died because the "funding ran out..." Left with 40K of debt, I will recover. But I'll always remember the selfishness of fifteen thousand nameless people from my own community that stood silently.

SHAME ON YOU GAY AMERICA!

This is truly a time when actions speak louder than words. Consider this, the next time you use the words "Community Spirit" in a sentence and always be prepared to stand alone when the chips are down.

Rick Wagner