In this episode of OutBüro Voices featuring LGBTQ professionals, entrepreneurs, and community leaders worldwide, host Dennis Velco chats with Andy Cramer, retail entrepreneur, founder of the gay.com network, ROIgenius™, and his newest venture with his husband, Al. It’s called ExtendaTouch.com.
As always, we’ll strive to capture the heart of the interview, but this is not a transcript. Be sure to listen/watch this interview with an LGBTQ community pioneer and serial entrepreneur.
Growing up in the 1950’s he was closeted in an era where Allan Turing, arguably the father of computers, was castrated for being homosexual. Andy attended the University of Pennsylvania at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. After college, Andy headed out West and opened his first retail store in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Andy remained there for 4 years before moving to San Francisco, where he opened the first stores in 1977 in the heart of Polk Street and the Castro District. Over the following 20 years, he grew to 10 stores and became a local attraction with great music, LGBTQ products, clothing, and home furnishings. The stores were an icon in the LGBTQ community.
As the HIV/AIDS epidemic began in 1981, the stores became a refuge and provided services to those in need. Working with numerous HIV/AIDS organizations, they took care of thousands of individuals during the epidemic. It was a difficult time for all. Andy explains that there was practically no outside help until the AIDS quilt was displayed on the National Mall, Rock Hudson became sick, and Elizabeth Taylor got involved – all bringing awareness to this epidemic. 40 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, scientists still have not developed a vaccine.
Andy and I chat a bit about LGBTQ seniors who have spent their lives authentically, and due to most senior care centers not having policies and staff training, those LGBTQ fear abuse and neglect. They must all too often go back into the closet. In the past few years, several LGBTQ-focused senior care centers have opened, but they may be out of reach for the vast majority due to location or finances. The LGBTQ community needs to focus on senior care centers as we have in the employment area. Check out SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older people at https://www.sageusa.org/lei/.
From Andy’s experience in retail with customers from all over the world and his experience in the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, he realized the need for the LGBTQ community to connect. Before the World Wide Web was public, Andy launched gay.net. Serving members with dial-up modems., Andy and his team built the first LGBTQ bulletin board. Members would dial in directly using long-distance calls to this bank of modems. He partnered with 10 of the largest LGBTQ newspapers to publish their news. They started with 8 modems, then 16. In the first year, they grew to 10,000 monthly subscribers. It was a huge hit.
He was contacted by one of their first customers, Al Farmer, who complained that he couldn’t access the services in over a month. Andy being a good retailer, offered a month for free. That customer became a great resource to learn how to improve the system. Over 2 years, they spoke often, and a spark of love grew. Al became Andy’s life partners, and 24 years later, they are still happily together – both as life partners/husbands and business partners.
By 1999 they merged Gay.com and Gay.net merged with over 4-million members. In 2004 the company went public – the first LGBTQ business to do so. Several years later, it merged with Here Media. Those internet properties combined with other sites and now those URLs redirect to the Los Angeles LGBTQ Community Center.
In 2020 Andy and his team launched ExtendaTouch.com. It is an anonymous online platform for caregivers to seek advice and support. A person may sign up seeking help or sign up offering assistance – or both. It’s an opportunity to connect with others who have experienced similar situations. There are over 30 categories topically focused, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Veterans, PTSD, and many more. It’s 100% free to use. It is not a medical or social platform. It’s a network to get help and access over 10,000 non-profits in 250 cities to provide ongoing support. They are building a foundation in the United States and plan to roll out the network globally to a caregiver community ever more in need of help.
To connect with Andy, find him on LinkedIn here. https://www.linkedin.com/in/andycramer100/
Join Andy and me on OutBüro, the LGBTQ professional and entrepreneur online community network for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, allies, and our employers who support LGBTQ welcoming workplace equality-focused benefits, policies, and business practices. https://OutBuro.com