While many organizations use the Net to congregate and communicate, the gay and lesbian community in particular has found a refuge in the online world since the Internet's inception.
Besides allowing people who live long distances from one another to Communicate quickly and cheaply, the online world offers another feature that is particularly attractive to gays and lesbians who haven't come "out" to their families, coworkers, and neighbors--relative anonymity.
For gay and lesbian groups, that advantage has become crucial. Dozens of businesses--from Web sites such as PlanetOut to Gay.com and the Gay Financial Network--have been established solely to serve the growing numbers of gays and lesbians going online.
GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, increasingly has focused on the Net as a means of communicating with the gay community. It also has gotten involved in Net-centric free-speech cases, such as that of a sailor whom the U.S. Navy ordered discharged after investigators found evidence on America Online that led them to believe he was gay (See related story).
Digital Queers, on the other hand, has been involved in Net issues since before the dawn of the Web, focusing for years on gays and lesbians working in the high-tech industry, as well as gay and lesbian organizations, that need help becoming more tech-savvy.
The merging of the two groups was a natural next step, said Joan Garry, executive director of GLAAD. Once that process is complete, Digital Queers (DQ) officially will become a program of GLAAD.
"It's kind of a natural and organic extension of work that GLAAD has already been doing," Garry said. "We've really been playing in the cyber sandbox for quite a few years in a sophisticated way.
"GLAAD'S work is about recognizing the cultural influences around us," she added. "Media is very much at the top of the list, and the Internet is new media. I think it is part of our culture. How we are represented is critical. If filtering software renders us invisible to people who need us, that's something we need to work on.
"If the past year has really taught me anything," she said, "it's that we need more people standing with us--engaged with us in our work. We need more voices. We need more people. I think the Internet is one of the key ways we can engage new voices. It's an extremely powerful way to mobilize members and, more importantly, to bring new members to us."
Garry added that, along with making Digital Queers a part of GLAAD, GLAAD is expanding its own use of technology by creating its own intranet.