It’s been two years since New Yorker Nicole Breedlove hit the launch button of OurSistaCircle, billed as the first social networking site for lesbians of colour worldwide.
In that time, she’s attracted more than 5,100 members, hailing from Spain, Germany, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and most of the Caribbean islands, plus the US and Canada. The youngest is 17, the oldest 66.
The site was born out of Breedlove’s frustration with other online forums. There were sites specific to black or Asian lesbians, for instance, but they weren’t very interactive, she says. “It wasn’t comparable to Facebook, where you could post, send pictures and share thoughts and stuff like that.”
Moreover, many of the sites were straight, with only a section set aside for gay people or lesbians. She cites BlackPlanet as an example. “After much hemming and hawing, they finally added a gay section — finally. They kinda realized that not all black people are straight,” Breedlove quips with a big laugh.
Then again, she adds, there weren’t very many lesbians of colour on straight sites. “If there were, they hadn’t logged in for three months, five months, six months. So they were there, but they weren’t there,” Breedlove notes. “You would never get a message back from them.”
She was also interested in finding and networking with lesbians of colour in different countries and bridging the gaps among them. “So I was like, ‘You know what, dammit, I wanna create my own site,’ and that’s what I did.
“I love to get online and find that I have a friend now who lives in South Africa. I would never have had a friend like that, and it’s safe,” Breedlove assures. “It’s still the worldwide web, but because it’s so close-knit, I can monitor it better than Facebook or MySpace.”
Since going live in October 2009, Breedlove says she’s received many notes along the lines of “Oh my God, I’m so glad this exists,” or “I can’t really come out in my country,” or “I always wanted to know what it was like in the city,” or “I’m glad there’s something just for us.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing from the get-go, Breedlove admits. She’s been questioned, even assertively challenged, about her claim that OurSistaCircle is the first site of its kind.
“When I first tried to get the word out, I always had black women tell me, ‘It’s not the first site, you’re not the first one, you’re not a pioneer,'” she recalls with a laugh. She first had to disabuse them of the idea that it was “just” a website.
“It’s a social networking site, that’s the first thing. Secondly, this is not just for black lesbians, this is for lesbians of colour — so it’s black, it’s Asian, it’s Latina, it’s Native American, it’s biracial and it’s worldwide, it’s not just in the US. In essence, it is the first site.”
But good luck trying to explain that to those who don’t want to hear it, says Breedlove, who got an earful from an intransigent few in the sisterhood.
“It was like, ‘What, you never heard of… you never heard…’ I was like, ‘Oh God, here we go. That’s not what I said, sister.’ You know how we get, now?”
There’s no disrespect intended to those who’ve created other portals before hers, she says. “Absolutely not. But I just want to make it clear that my site is, in fact, unique and that’s why I make that statement.”
She describes OurSistaCircle’s growth rate as steady, not rapid. “I try my best not to target sites with a lot of men on them, because then it draws unwanted attention to my site, so I really do try to target exactly the women that I want on my site, and thank God, I think I’ve only had to delete two men in two years.”
It’s very much a membership-driven endeavour, she adds, noting that she changed the site’s design about eight times before women were happy with its current look. Ditto when members broached relationship or dating issues, causing Breedlove to add advice and dating sections to the site’s mix.
And then there are the discussion streams. Nothing gets the membership going like the issue of labelling. “Labels meaning stud, femme, lipstick lesbian,” Breedlove elaborates. It’s a guaranteed dialogue-starter, with those who are married to them, those who question the need for them and those on the fence, who are not really into them but support their use.”
Quite a few SistaCircle members have hooked up on the site, Breedlove boasts.
“Of course they meet each other and they don’t come back,” she laughs. “You know, they just happy and leave. I’m like, ‘Come on now, where’s the support, where’s the love?'”
Breedlove says nurturing the site is a labour of love and something she funds completely out of her own pocket.
“Listen, some days I’m living on Ramen noodles. People don’t know,” she says with another hearty laugh. “But I think it’s important, if that’s the sacrifice I have to make. I hope at some point I can get ads on the site and I can recoup some of the money, but realistically, even if I don’t, what I’m providing for women is priceless.”