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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. Since September, 2011, EmptyClosets has been owned and operated by the nonprofit Empty Closets Community Services. From 2004 until 2011, EC was owned by a media company. 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 2021), 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 90,000 members (as of early 2021), 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 a regular 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 (unused) EmptyClosets domain 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 17 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 12 people, a mix of Advisors, Experts, moderators, administrators, and board members, 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. In 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,  unique visitors have increased more than 800% over 2010 levels, and our membership has grown by over 1000%.

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. Since becoming a nonprofit organzation in 2011, the site has been upgraded several times, and we are (in 2021) beginning to plan the next phase of EC's web and online presence.

EC has a team of Advisors, who offer informal peer counseling and act as a supportive mentor 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. The Advisors and other staff are supported by two licensed social workers and a certified drug/alcohol counselor who serve in an advisory capacity to the rest of the team.

One question that came up in the early days is: 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 had 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 opened a new phase. Our Board of Directors and staff  developed a Mission Statement and organizational goals, with the intent of continuing to grow the organization and expand the services that we provide, oversaw the growth of the membership and developing more formalized policies and procedures to further protect members and provide a source for accurate, scientifically validated information to those who need it. The site has evolved over the years, adding new features and more modern forum software, and is currently preparing for the next phase of online activity, recognizing the increasing demand for mobile device support, interaction with the greater social web, and other evolutions of online activity.

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

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The Empty Closets name and logo are registered trademarks of Empty Closets Community Services