A Brief History Of EmptyClosets
EmptyClosets.com is owned by Empty Closets Community Services, a California nonprofit organization. We are recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) public charity established for educational and public charitable purposes.
The EmptyClosets.com domain has been a support forum for people dealing with issues of sexual orientation and coming out at least since 2000, according to the Internet Archive. Sinced September, 2011, EmptyClosets has been owned and operated by tne nonprofit Empty Closets Community Services. From 2004 until 2011, EC was owned by a media company that purchased the domain name in 2003. EC was purchased and established by the media company out of a desire to give back to the community, and help teens and young adults struggling with issues of sexual identity. The owners who originally established it donated the website and assets to ECCS, the nonprofit organization formed to take over operation of the site.
Today (as of early 2014), Empty Closets serves some 400,000 unique users each month. The vast majority of those are anonymous users who have never joined or posted, but nonetheless read and make use of the community's advice and resources. We have some 38,000 members (as of early 2014), some of whom post many times per day, some of whom post only once or twice a year, and everything in between.
Originally, many of the original EC members were posters on another online community, aimed at people 18 and older. In 2004, in response to changes in the law affecting online communities, the other community became more vigilant in detecting and banning underage members, and there was a large increase in the number of young people being banned from the forum.
At that time, Paul_UK, who served as the original administrator of EC from 2004 to 2009, was an ordinary member of the adult forum. He and a few other regulars became concerned that some of the people who had been receiving help and support were suddenly being banned.
The adult community was at the time referring underage members to other sites deemed more suitable to teens. However, when these sites were checked more carefully, they turned out to be far from suitable. In many cases, people’s serious concerns were being laughed at and not taken seriously. At worst, some site operators and many site members seemed to be preying on younger members, asking them to post nude photos etc. These were definitely not suitable sites to refer the underage banned members to.
So some of the regular members at the other community suggested, in late 2004, “Surely we can do something better?” The owners of that community, who already owned the EmptyClosets domain (which at the time was unused) agreed to reopen EC and dedicate its focus toward helping the underage members. Some of the members involved in the discussion were asked to help moderate it, including TriBi, who served as a moderator and Admin from 2004 until 2010, and continued to help out in an advisory capacity to the admin team and board of EmptyClosets until 2013. On 17th November 2004, the new EC launched.
Over the past 10 years, EC has seen substantial growth in staff, and many of the original staff have moved on to other pursuits. Our current staff consists of 25 people, a mix of Advisors, Experts, moderators, and administrators, all of whom volunteer their time.
In the early days, there were problems attracting and keeping members. Because the site was fairly inactive, new members tended to lose interest and move on quite quickly. Gradually though the membership grew, mostly from people banned from the adult site as they were now being referred just to EC.
In early 2007, there was a big boost when the then-owners agreed to pay for ongoing Google advertising for EC. This is the “Sponsored Links” you see on Google searches and on other sites owned by Google. Within the first month, the number of new members joining tripled. Many more new members posted messages and the site became much more active. We got another boost later in 2007 when the adult forum was updated and a link to EC was included on their age warning page. More recently (March 2011), EC began focusing on search engine optimization, to help the site to show up more often in search results in Google and other search engines, and as a result, as of early 2014, unique visitors have increased more than 800% over 2010 levels, and our membership has grown by over 300%.
EC has also continued to grow and offer additional services to members. Initially, it was simply a discussion forum, but in 2007 additional features (blogs, galleries, articles, and a chatroom) were added. We are currently preparing for the first major upgrade since 2004, planned for some time in 2015.
The site has also seen the introduction of Experts, who provide general advice and information in the medical and psychological fields. Alongside those are Advisors, who offer advice on a more informal level and act as a friend rather than a professional. Advisors are not licensed professionals and in most cases do not have any professional training, but each has been individually selected by the staff for his or her skill in listening, providing helpful advice, and having knowledge of resources helpful to the member.
One question remains though – why would a large media company, with dozens of properties and websites, have created a site such as EC, which brings in no revenue, and provides no traffic or other benefit to the company?
The main reason, and certainly the original reason, is that it is something the owners have always wanted to do and feel there is a real need for. One of the owners of the media company has said that he never had a resource such as EC when growing up, and that his life would have been much easier had such a resource been available, and his vision was to be able to provide a community to ensure that today's teens (and others struggling with their sexual identity) would have a safe place to explore, discuss, and understand themselves.
With the formation of the nonprofit organization in late 2011, EC has started the next phase of its growth and charitable purpose. Our Board of Directors and staff have started developing a Mission Statement and organizational goals, with the intent of continuing to grow the organization and expand the services that we provide. But ultimately, EC, as a nonprofit public charity, belongs to the members it serves, and it is the ongoing partnership between the Board of Directors, the staff, and the community members who utilize the community that will help to ensure that it continues to provide services and resources in coming years as the community expands and changes.
- The EC Staff and Board of Directors