service changed and then Gwen worked with GLCF (still a forum on AOL) to create the
Transgender Community Forum (TCF). Less than six months prior, using the word
“transgender” in a chatroom title would have gotten you kicked off AOL. Now, a trans person
could easily find a place to connect with people in her community. No more innocuously named
“TV chats.” Gwen named the new TCF chatroom, Gazebo. I asked about the meaning behind the
name and Gwen said:
“I've always liked the nostalgic sense of the old-timer town square. A little park where
everyone from the city can gather on a Sunday and enjoy the fresh air. It's a quaint and
outdated notion, but it still appeals. Often, in the center of such would be a structure.
Say, a bandshell or a gazebo. That's at the heart where it comes from. This notion of a
place where everyone can come together and gather, and relax, and enjoy each other’s
company on an endless summer's day.”
Gwen built a community center—it just happened to be online. It was a long year to reach this
gazebo for the trans community, and it overlapped with a great year of change in Gwen’s own
life. As she personally embraced her gender identity, she invested much of her own time in
advocating for people who were alone and seeking solidarity.
Before we talked, I had mistakenly assumed that her formal activist work had begun with
Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1998. Instead, it began six years earlier when she took on
AOL, and, in doing so, she helped to build the community she had longed for. It is ironic that,
despite her unfamiliarity with social media, Gwen became one of the first activists to use it as an
important tool for equal rights. Now, there are outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and
Snapchat, and because of Gwen’s work eliminating AOL’s transgender bias, these newer
platforms followed AOL’s lead. Her work did not garner publicity, but it had a precedent-setting
effect in the
century’s internet and social media activism that is still felt today.
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