The queer women’s dating site and event organization, LezLink, has nowhere to go but up, especially since the founder Ashlee Keown recently sold the company.
Keown describes LezLink as a safe space where, “If you can’t find your boo, then you can find your crew.”
When Keown started LezLink, she says she wanted to avoid the dating app algorithms that were based in hook-up culture and on judging people solely on their appearances. Instead, she focused on planning events where people could gather face-to-face.
“We’re all afraid of rejection,” says Keown. “It was about providing more options for our [LGBTQ] community, which we really needed.”
By December 2017, a LezLink happy hour event hit triple digits in attendance.
During mid-summer in 2020, Keown published a Facebook post that announced her search for new LezLink owners. This post captured the attention of three women, Ashley Burks, a data and IT specialist, Nichelle Johnson, also known as DJ Honey, an events specialist, and Monique Walker, a marriage and family therapist.
Though Johnson hadn’t met Burks and Walker, Keown did some matchmaking to team them together.
“There’s so much diversity in the lesbian community,” says Walker. “We make a good blend together to bring so many different kinds of people to the table.”
LezLink Happy Hour at ALOHO DC, 2019
Walker’s background in couple’s therapy and queer-affirming therapy, led her to take ownership of LezLink. She says the company will continue to be a space where people can learn about themselves so they are able to start healthier partnerships.
Johnson says she was interested in LezLink because she wanted to build the company’s workshops and events to open channels of communication.
“The fact that we are three queer, Black women, who acquired this from another…queer, Black woman, it’s amazing. It’s dope,” says Walker.
Keown and Johnson both hope that LezLink will curate more private events that are safer for queer and trans women and women of color.
“More can be done to protect women, especially LGBTQ people,” Keown says. “Bar owners are trying to make things safer, but I want there to be more curators for dry spaces, for different communities. We need to hold the people who own these spaces accountable.”
“It’s hard enough to secure a space for events for LGBTQ people,” Johnson explains. “Most places won’t give us space unless they’re desperate, and sometimes you can feel it. You can feel it, how the bartenders or bouncers or owners look at you. But with LezLink, with those events, you would never feel that judgement.”
For now, Burk, Johnson, and Walker are still working with Keown to understand the company and establish their teamwork. All three say they’ve been working well despite virtual distance.
Keown says she’s excited for when LezLink can bring people together again: “I’m pretty optimistic that when COVID ends, it’ll be the Roaring ’20s.”
Keown herself has begun writing screenplays, some inspired by stories from people at LezLink events, and she hopes to keep working on films and working with small businesses. She’s also started another company, Lush Vibes, an event planning organization “creating luxurious experiences for Black queer folks.”
Johnson says she hopes this new team of ownership can expand LezLink’s potential. “I would like for it to be known that there is a dating app for queer women, and it’s Black-owned, and that it’s not just a localized thing, but it can be everywhere,” she says.