Bars with overpriced drinks and too many sweaty people, and a seemingly endless buffet of dating apps; Today, these are practically the only watering holes through which queer women can meet (romantically or platonically). Jessica Duveen and her wife Laura Mitchell were tired of that reality. So, they created The LO, an app enabling queer women to network and build a community.
“Bars and dating apps are really important; I’ve enjoyed both,” says Duveen, sitting beside her wife in their home in Atlanta, on a Friday morning Zoom call. “But there’s just room for something else.”
The women see a need for a queer ladies meeting space that doesn’t revolve around drinking or romance, because that’s not what all queer women want or need. Enter The LO, which Duveen jokes stands for Lesbian Operatives (really the name was chosen simply because it sounded right).
The co-founders say The LO is not necessarily an alternative to bars and dating apps, but rather, an expansion of queer women’s “existing cultural infrastructure.” The platform is designed to enable queer women to find and build friendships with people with whom they have more in common than simply queerness – e.g., hobbies or life goals. It also features a guide to LGBTQ-friendly businesses in a given area, and there’s a professional development element, with a job directory, networking functions, and plans for a mentor-mentee matching program. At the heart of the app is a focus on positivity and peer empowerment. The co-founders want The LO to have a comprehensive culture around these values.
The LO operates by vetted membership. People must apply to join, link their social media accounts for identity verification, and provide a sense of who they are and why they’re interested in The LO. As part of the process, users can recommend friends. Membership costs $8 a month, but the co-founders plan to offer some scholarships so the fee is not a barrier to entry. They add that the fee pairs with a promise not to sell users’ data to advertisers for revenue, as many apps do. The LO also has an age minimum of 24, partly because early market research revealed younger people don’t share the same perceived need for The LO.
However, beyond the age limit, The LO’s co-founders intend to build a diverse community. That starts with what “woman” means.
“We want people to self-define whether or not it’s a space for them,” says Mitchell, noting their commitment to inclusivity. “Non-binary folks [and] trans women are absolutely welcome if they identify with the space.”
Mitchell and Duveen, South Carolina and London natives, respectively, are also working mindfully to ensure their space isn’t dominated by white queer women. They acknowledge that as two white cis-gender women, their personal network is limited, but they sought people for their beta program who align with their mission of an intentional, supportive queer community, and they are asking beta users to consider diversity when they make referrals of potential other users. They’ll also leverage strategic partnerships to attract a variety of people to The LO.
Duveen and Mitchell have been developing The LO for nearly a year, and apart from some help including participation in Atlanta Tech Village’s incubator Start It Up Georgia, it has primarily been a bootstrap effort. Mitchell applied existing (and learned new) coding skills to build the app and Duveen applied skills from her career as an impact investment consultant to handle the business aspect.
Duveen says though the development process was challenging, the hardest part is behind them. They’re excited to dive into building their envisioned intimate, intentional, empowering community. While it’s currently largely comprised of people in Atlanta and New York, they hope to reach a global audience – in cities, small towns, and rural areas alike. On October 5, they’ll take the next step by opening up membership to women already on the waitlist. Others are free to join the waitlist now.
Mitchell eagerly invites people to “become part of building out the infrastructure for queer women to empower one another.”
“If The LO becomes a space where members can log on when they’re on vacation, or a work trip, visiting any city,” adds Duveen, “and find [a positive] queer community they can connect with, our job will be done.”