Tired of hook-up sites? Alphey.com offers a real alternative
Since a federal judge overturned Prop 8 in 2010 and a federal appellate court punted that historic ruling in early 2011, LGBT relationships-and more specifically, the forms they can take-have become hot topics of public debate.
No one knows this better than Mark Lawrence, president and founder of Alphey.com, a new website for LGBT people looking for serious partnerships.
Conservative members of the heterosexual mainstream rant endlessly about the "biblical impropriety" of gay, lesbian and transgender pairings, an argument that is as old and tired as it is hateful. Perhaps more damningly, though, they also criticize LGBT people-and in particular, queer men-for their apparent inability to form committed unions.
"Alphey shows [conservative heterosexuals] that we are serious about developing meaningful relationships," says Lawrence.
Breaking the stereotype
Working against stereotypes of gay love as all about one-night hook-ups is far from easy. The LGBT community is still in the process of creating models of strong, meaningful relationships that members can transmit to future generations. In the meantime, established websites like Gay.com continue to offer access to databases full of ads for quick and easy sex.
Before Alphey.com, queer men and women searching the Net for companionship had to settle for sites like Match.com, Chemistry.com or the 2009 eHarmony spin-off, Compatible Partners.com, all of which match gay couples using non-LGBT derived criteria.
"[Compatible Partners.com has] a big disclaimer on the front page that says, ’eHarmony’s patented Compatibility Matching System was developed on the basis of research involving married heterosexual couples,’" Lawrence remarks. "[For homosexuals], this translates into ’we have no interest in providing you a real service and we don’t really consider your needs, but we’re happy to take your money."
Prior to launching Alphey, Lawrence spent two years researching and consulting with two sociologists who specialize in queer sociology and relationships. Both experts assisted him in creating the 155-question compatibility analyses that all prospective members must submit before they can be matched.
"We all have levels of identifying ourselves in terms of our gender roles and our preferred types of partners, and these sites would never thing of addressing these," explains Lawrence. "[For example,] Alphey has nine levels of how gay men can identify their gender, from bears to bdsm, to mainstream to totally over the top."
Foster serious gay relationships
Lawrence’s own impetus for starting the site came after he returned to Salt Lake City-where Alphey.com is based-from San Francisco in September of 2000.
"I was gobstopped at what I saw happening in terms of the fight for equality and LGBT issues," he recalls. "I became so impressed with the energy and progress here that I [decided] to crawl out of my complacency closet and get involved."
That the Mormon Church also contributed half of all donations to Project Marriage, the official proponent of Prop 8, and 80 to 90% of all grassroots volunteers who went door-to-door "spreading the word" also fueled Lawrence’s desire to help the gay community.
"Salt Lake City is quite liberal, but it’s kind of like a tiny island surrounded by sharks wearing really tacky underwear," he says. "I am committed to turning the toxic political climate in Utah around, and I see Alphey as the perfect mechanism for this."
Alphey.com currently exists to foster serious gay relationships. However, Lawrence hopes that it will also become a funding source for Alphey’s House, a shelter for homeless LGBT teens as well as a Facebook-like social media site for the LGBT community. For now, however, Alphey is still growing into its role as the antidote to queer hook-up sites.
A major challenge it currently faces is to maintain member interest and retrain expectations where what’s right is what’s right now. Unlike other sites, the matching process can take up to a few weeks. This is because the search engine pairs members together based on 270 different variables.
Other challenges include maintaining a steady flow of clients for a service that measures success by a lack-rather than an abundance-of repeat business and keeping up with rapidly changing technologies. But the Alphey CEO remains true to his vision.
"Unfortunately, gay and lesbian people have not come forward and demanded anything better," he says. "But this is wrong. It’s time to offer a real alternative."