While the domain name of the popular lesbian website AfterEllen will remain active, the heart and soul of "the pop culture site that plays for your team" has been eviscerated, said former editor in chief Trish Bendix, who spoke with The Advocate Wednesday.
Bendix, who worked for the site for 10 years, was fired due to budget issues, then denied severance and asked to leave immediately after mourning the loss of the site as she knew it in a commentary republished by The Advocate. She wrote that she was not permitted to post a goodbye message on AfterEllen, and after her commentary went viral, she was chastised and locked out of her work email.
Emrah Kovacoglu, the man who now manages TotallyHer Media and publishes AfterEllen, wrote a post Wednesday aimed at dispelling what he called the "false rumor" the site was shutting down. He explained Bendix had been fired for financial reasons and that the site would continue to publish freelance articles. He did not explain who would edit or commission those articles.
What Bendix had written was not that AfterEllen would cease to exist but that it would no longer exist as it had. "I share the feelings of the community at large that contributing to a site that is run by a cisgender, heterosexual male is not what we are looking for in a virtual home," Bendix told The Advocate via Facebook message.
"They have not said anything about hiring any kind of editors or any part-time or full-time writers," Bendix wrote.
In an email, Brian Fitzgerald, president and cofounder of Evolve Media, TotallyHer's parent company, called Bendix's commentary "an inaccurate representation of the facts."
"The site is not shutting down," he wrote. "Her absence is not 'effectively shutting down.'"
Fitzgerald wrote that the company's decision had "nothing to do with being a company owned by men, or any lack of sensitivity for the LGBTQ community. We have valued our time with Trish and she has been great for the site. This decision is one that we regretfully had to make based on the financial performance of the site. I hope Trish and the AfterEllen readers understand why we made the decision we made."
In her commentary, Bendix (pictured above) noted that AfterEllen is just one of many queer women's spaces to be diminished. A New York City art installation "Eulogy for the Dyke Bar" focused on the numerous lesbian establishments that have closed in recent years.
Thanks in part to the wage gap, female members of the LGBT community may have less disposable income than their male counterparts, potentially leading to diminished ad revenue, as advertisers seeking to reach the LGBT market may opt to reach gay male couples apt to earn more. However, studies show lesbians do earn more than straight women, though straight women are more likely to be targeted by advertisers.
The owners of AfterEllen seem to have dealt with this issue firsthand. "Evolve Media acquired AfterEllen.com from Viacom in October 2014 and proceeded to up the investment in the site by creating new features, franchises, and content to grow the site and its advertiser base," Kovacoglu wrote in his post on AfterEllen. "Unfortunately, those efforts did not result in increased audience or enough advertiser support to justify continuing to invest at the same levels."
The Advocate's sibling site SheWired, which also served a lesbian audience, stopped publishing its stand-alone site in February for similar reasons, according to a post published by former editor Tracy Gilchrist on Facebook. "While the world we live in changed, an ongoing challenge we faced from the beginning was how to turn SheWired into a successful stand-alone business. Sadly, we were never able to turn the corner," Gilchrist wrote. SheWired moved to PRIDE, where Gilchrist is now deputy editor. Cherry Grrl, a lesbian-focused site run by another company, has also closed in recent years.
In Bendix's commentary, originally titled "Eulogy for the Living," she suggested those who enjoy work created by and for women vote with their feet. "The last thing I will leave you with is that we need to support one another, because support from anywhere else is not guaranteed," she wrote. "Support queer women, women of color, trans women — give other deserving women your money, your eyeballs, your attention."