A group of young people at exactly the right age to grasp and exploit the power of the Internet, youth.org seemed like a chance to change the playing field for gay youth. From smart passionate geeks to conscientious activists, we had the bases covered. And I pitched in by doing interviews with celebrities like Wilson Cruz and writers such as Leroy Aarons and Michelangelo Signorile to draw traffic to the site as it ramped up.
Because the stuff I did on the site was the most dynamic, my content was getting the most eyeballs at the time, and we got a lot of requests for people to share their content on the site, which led me to come up with a way to turn all of these requests into more of a magazine format that we could use.
The other important bit was to capture a name that would brand it all. So, the plan was to launch the new magazine on December 1, 1995 with the name Oasis, and the tagline “…because it’s a desert out there.” The name worked, and at that time, it was way more accurate than today. Although, even today, it is still appropriate for the people who use Oasis, now called Oasis Journals.
Right before I was about to launch the site, there was an issue within youth.org that made me not want to be associated with that site, involving someone in their early 20s, someone under 18, and you can figure out the rest. It was probably far less a big deal than it seemed at the time, but it wasn’t something I wanted Oasis associated with, just in case anything happened.
So, on December 1, Oasis launched as a standalone site, rather than be the editorial wing of a larger resource site. The cover story was on Pansy Division, and we also featured something called Profiles in Courage, which is notable for how poorly it has aged, thankfully. When we launched, we would profile openly gay teens in high school and college.
You might think I left something out of that sentence, but I didn’t. I would interview, and write long profile stories about people who were not in the closet. Some kept an online diary, one went on a TV show, but most of the time, being out was enough. This feature aged so poorly, I was glad to kill it a few years later, but I do think the Internet was responsible for how interesting those stories were when they first appeared and how quickly they became irrelevant.
When Oasis launched, it was published monthly, and was hand-coded each month by the guy who designed it. Every month, people would submit their monthly journal by around the 15th of the month, I would edit them all, and then send them off to be hand coded. I think we eventually switched over to Claris Home Page.
This was very early in the Internet, since it is also the year Amazon started, so most people didn’t have digital cameras (if they were even available yet). At the time, you usually had one or two scanned photos of yourself, so when Oasis first launched, and almost all of our columns had pictures of the actual youth who wrote them, a few of them sent me their nude as their author photo. So, right out of the gate, one of my first tasks was to immediately crop the head off of what was a file that shouldn’t be on my computer, because of their age, and then have our designer draw T-shirt collars onto their naked shoulders and sternums. So, there was some behind-the-scenes wrangling to make the site classy.
At the time, AOL was still a huge site, and there was talk of my creating a version of Oasis native to AOL through PlanetOut. But that never materialized. Oasis did end up hosted for many years on the PlanetOut web servers for free, but when it came to AOL, Oasis was never their priority (and they had to train me on how to do it). The only upside was the free hosting for years, and them switching my AOL account over to being a site author meant I stopped paying any membership fees.
So, to walk you through what the site was like when it launched in December 1995. It would have a cover story (Pansy Division), the aforementioned Profiles in Courage, Letters and Opinion (usually a letter from me and some opinion pieces either submitted or found elsewhere online and reprinted with permission), Feature Columns (the best part of the site, where the youth wrote about their lives), a News and Events section, and a Story and Poetry section.
The strange part of the site back then, which was pretty much in line with the current Internet, was that we didn’t have comments, message boards, or anything that sort of united the staff as one unit. I know many of them contacted each other, as many people put their personal e-mail address at the bottom of their columns, but it always did lack a sense of community. To this day, I don’t have contact with the vast majority of the people who wrote for the site back then, and it’s not like we stopped talking over the years. They just e-mailed me their content, I thanked them, and then it got published.
A quick word on Oasis is that it is still going after 17 years now. Despite a brief period where I ran the tech side of the site, which led to a corrupt database, and a crash that lost us about two years of content, the site is still up and running. While it hasn’t been as technology-forward as I would have liked, the basic functions are there, and people still seem to get something out of it.
Over the years, there is always the question of: Should I keep Oasis running? There are less people on the site, and things like Facebook, Tumblr, and tons of other services have come in to replace a good chunk of what we provide, but it is still there for now.