Gamers banned for sexual orientation

A woman was recently harassed, chased and eventually banned from playing Xbox Live for self identifying as a lesbian. Teresa says:

…My account was suspended because I had said in my profile that I was a lesbian. I was harassed by several players, ‘chased’ to different maps/games to get away from their harassment. They followed me into the games and told all the other players to turn me in because they didn’t want to see that crap or their kids to see that crap.
My account was suspended and xbox live did nothing to solve this, but instead said others found it offensive.

I’m not a gamer, so I’m not familiar with how these communities operate, but this seems like a blatant example of homophobia. Apparently this has happened before, even to people who simply have the word “gay” in their tag.
See pow3rful’s take on the community blog.

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30 Comments

  1. AnUnfunnyFeminist
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Honestly, that sounds pretty tame compared to what could have happened. XBox Live allows you to talk to other players. I saw this one African American man on Dr. Phil a few years ago who was called the N word and other racist names while he was playing football on XBox Live. I think he even got death threats. XBox Live did nothing about it, even though he reported the abuse.
    It sucks because XBox Live should be an enjoyable experience. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty are fun to play on XBox Live because it makes the game more real. You can team up with people from all over the world. It’s supposed to be fun, not an extra place online where you can abuse people.

  2. KatieinNewYork
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Is there someone we can complain to about this? I mean, I know it was the behavior of individual players, but Xbox should support them.

  3. AnUnfunnyFeminist
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I haven’t been on XBox Live in a while. You can report players for abuse, stalking, cheating, and other game-ruining experiences (like killing members of your own team or purposely losing in sport games). Reporting players causes their rating to go down. If your rating goes down to low, then you get suspended or kicked off XBox Live. I don’t know if you have to give a legitimate reason for reporting a player. I don’t think you do. Or you can just lie in the report. I think the rating automatically goes down before any moderators at XBox Live read the reports. You can send XBox feedback through their website.

  4. feministavengers
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I can think of two things we can do…
    1) Set up somewhere online where people can report names of sexist/racist/classist/etc users who make offensive comments and when that happens, send out the word to supporters and everyone gets on XBox live and reports this users so their ratings go down and they get kicked off.
    2) We take it up with the people running XBox live and get them to change to a zero tolerance policy. As part of putting the pressure on these people to change, we can do number 1.
    Any other ideas or input on this?

  5. SodiumSkies
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    As this site has noted before, the cyberspace seems to be the last refuge of brazen bigotry and sexism. When someone is able to hide behind a screenname or gamertag, they can peddle hate without too much shame.
    I agree with feministavengers. It would be really cool if Microsoft used its muscle to beat the way for progressive ideals in cyberspace. There should be a way to brand and exclude these kinds of hateful users from one’s gaming experience. Like safe zones, but “safe servers.”

  6. Véronique
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    The behaviour of the gamers disgusts but doesn’t really surprise me. What’s more disgusting, though, is Microsoft’s response so far. How can they be so stupid? I hope they get so much bad publicity for this that they come to their senses. I wonder if they could even be sued.

  7. s.
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I have recently become a gamer and have only recently started playing games with people I don’t know because I didn’t want to deal with homophobes, racist and misogynists and I’ve (sadly) been surprised I haven’t heard hate speech…yet.
    I will be contacting xbox, but in the meantime I’m thankful that there is a history of women making a safe place for themselves and others in gaming, like the GamerchiX community and the PMS clan. Even as a newbie, their presence is strong enough that I found out about them with in days of creating an account.

  8. Kristen
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I think this may be a bureaucratic problem with Microsoft rather than a homophobia problem. A lot of people who are not LGBT put similar info in their profiles to be “ironic” or to identify their participation in a homophobic clan. I know I’ve complained (at least once a day when Halo or RB6 first came out) about info that I thought was sexist, racist or homophobic.
    I don’t doubt for a minute that Teresa experienced hateful assholes on Xbox live who reported her for no reason. When not playing with “friends” (other couples) I routinely hear shit to the point that if I play outside that group, I just mute everyone. Not to mention kicking a male host’s ass generally means you’ll get thrown out of a game session for “cheating”. The only way to “safely” be a woman on Xbox live is to (1) suck and (2) flirt. There are just a lot of hateful shits on Xbox live.
    In monitoring this morass of thousands of good people, millions of shitty people and children (who are sometimes good and sometimes shitty, but can’t really be held responsible for either IMO) the only system Microsoft has is self reporting offensive things. I’ve heard it described as “letting the inmates run the asylum”. But from Microsoft’s perspective, its difficult to tell whether including “Gay” in your gamertag or “lesbian” in your profile is a self-affirming or a form of hate speech. With so many players there just is not an effective monitoring system.
    That being said, we need to find a way for people who experience this sort of extreme attack to get their account back. Writing Microsoft probably won’t do a damn bit of good since they get a billion of these a day, BUT we might try the gamer magazines. People in the industry already know about the shitty people getting kicked off Xbox Live, but I’m not sure that there has been much press on good people being kicked because of a coordinated attack on a person for being a member of a discriminated against group.

  9. https://me.yahoo.com/a/y8ogcJwDv4Momq3SumYHdg3NpZh_0gYcamZOHQ--#c59dc
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    The biggest crime a gamer can commit is being a woman or being “gay.”
    My boyfriend is a big World of Warcraft player and I play with him once in a while when I have the time. The world chats are rife with misogyny, racism and homophobia because most players are young white men.
    Another user did/said something silly or incorrect? Must be a woman.
    A user told off a spammer, called bullshit on something or disagreed with the opinion of the majority? He’s a fag.
    These chats can be turned off and users can be blocked, but it’s not the point.

  10. nightingale
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Augh. And here the gay gaming community had been really pleased with Microsoft for their attitude towards homophobia in the game (IE that it’s unacceptable and they’re going to do their best to cut down on it). As far as I know they’ve been good about going through harassment complaints.
    Although I was surfing around the Twitter one of the guys who is in charge of enforcing things on XBL and he said:
    “re: the consumerist story. Expression of any sexual orientation (straight or gay or otherswise) is not allowed in gamertags (cont)”
    “However we’ve heard from the user base they want that capability, so I am examining how we can provide it in a way that wont get misused”
    http://twitter.com/stepto
    Shitty, but they’re following their own rules. A lot of things that a gay person might do to identify themselves also ends up being something a homophobe might do to spread hate. (Or close enough to it that an overburdened system might have trouble discerning.)
    On a happier note, I reported someone in the World of Warcraft for saying some hateful, homophobic things, and a GM whispered me to thank me.

  11. https://me.yahoo.com/a/y8ogcJwDv4Momq3SumYHdg3NpZh_0gYcamZOHQ--#c59dc
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    The biggest crime a gamer can commit is being a woman or being “gay.”
    My boyfriend is a big World of Warcraft player and I play with him once in a while when I have the time. The world chats are rife with misogyny, racism and homophobia because most players are young white men.
    Another user did/said something silly or incorrect? Must be a woman.
    A user told off a spammer, called bullshit on something or disagreed with the opinion of the majority? He’s a fag.
    These chats can be turned off and users can be blocked, but it’s not the point.

  12. Kristen
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Re: Magazines
    The EIC of the Official Xbox Mag is Francesca Reyes. Her email is francesca (at) officialxboxmagazine (dot) com.
    Letters to the editor for OXM is letters (at) officialxboxmagazine (dot) com.
    For Gamer Pro can be sent to:
    letters (at) gamepro (dot) com.
    For Game Informer: deargi (at) gameinformer (dot) com.

  13. nightingale
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Ah, some more context:
    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2009/02/25/getting_gay_on_xbox_live
    [Referring to the content of my previous comment]
    “Here, Toulouse is referring to someone making up a username like “AllNightCarpetMunch” or “CantGetEnoughDick,” rather than someone going by “Cindy459″ who states in her profile, “Hi, I’m 33, and I love my partner Jill.” MS has filters in place to auto-block words in an Xbox username like “Jew” and “gay,” assumedly to prevent assholes from coming up with abusive usernames.”
    I don’t know where MS is coming from, but I know it’s hard for them, because while they want to keep the community gay friendly, (They had a good relationship with Gaygamer.net last I checked) there’s only so much they can do.

  14. nightingale
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    IMO your boyfriend needs a new guild. That would never fly in my guild. (Which is also mostly filled by white frat boys, but they’re cool!)
    If someone says something offensive, you are more than welcome to report them and get them temporarily banned!

  15. Lisa
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    We need some more context to this story because honestly, it doesn’t quite add up. The initial banning has nothing to do with Xbox or Microsoft as a player is automatically banned after a certain number of reports. That part is all on the other players that decided to form an Xbox live lynch mob. But refusal to lift the ban because her info referenced her sexuality goes against anything I’ve seen on xbox live or heard about Microsoft’s handling of these sorts of issues. I think there is more to this story. Microsoft does not allow references to sexuality in gamer tags, but that’s unfortunately due to the fact that the vast majority of names with the word “gay” in them would be extremely homophobic. If she’s saying it was strictly due to a comment about being a lesbian in her info, either she talked to one customer support person who is a homophobe and decided to go against company policy, or she’s not telling us the whole story.

  16. Femgineer
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    The yahoo commenter said the “world chats” which im assuming means general and (mostly) trade chats. And of course, everyone knows the trade channel is a cesspool of misogyny and hatred and just general asshattery.
    But I also agree with your statement about gettting people banned for their offensive words.

  17. poster.anon
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    If hold my identify in say a specific sexuality, say bdsm, gay, hetero, etc.. should i feel persecuted if a gaming site/network/company won’t let me make that known to all people I play with?
    Maybe i should complain that they won’t let me register the handle “Iliketomy[part]getting[action]“.
    You are more than what part you like rubbed and by who.
    Get over yourself.

  18. Julandran
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s just a bit confusing is all. My housemate can’t use her favorite avatar in Rock Band on XBL because it’s named after Riddick — as in Chronicles of, also the name of their cat — and therefore contains the letter string d-i-c-k, but the XBL admins won’t do anything about repeated reports of verbal abuse? I realize that Microsoft probably doesn’t have enough staff on hand to vet both issues on a case-by-case basis, but it sounds like they’re not doing much of anything to curb hateful speech being used on their service beyond what has already been coded into the system.

  19. Julandran
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    anon: Very brave of you to post anonymously, by the way.
    The concern in this situation isn’t that XBox Live won’t let users state their gender preference. The problem is that they aren’t enforcing their own rules about acceptable behavior within their own service. If XBL has a policy against mobbing other players for no good reason, they should deny access to users who repeatedly harass other players for no good reason. Simple as that.

  20. dawn_of_the_bread
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I play on xbox live most days, and I’d say in 80%-90% of all games people use homophobic language. In maybe 20% of games I hear racist chit chat through my heaphone. Some clan tags are overtly racist with names life PAKI, SS, BNP etc.
    Of course, it depends what you play. CoD4, Halo etc have a demographic of teenage boys and men in their early 20s, but I know some other games have more civil atmospheres.
    There’s a really easy way to report hate speech, you literally just click on the person’s name and file a complaint to Microsoft, but tbh if they banned everyone who said “fag” or “nigger” they wouldn’t have many subscribers left.

  21. moonfall
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    My friends are also forbidden from taking their band to Xbox Live…because the band name has “shit” in the title.

  22. moonfall
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Playing a female character is a good way to get random “wanna cyber?” private messages…and a lot of the time, they’re from other female characters (likely being played by men).
    There are probably a lot of men cybering with other men pretending to be lesbians.

  23. meeneecat
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t banned from a gaming website, but I was forced to leave because I was harassed by some of the other users who also included some of the administrators of the community. My orientation was fairly apparent due to my avatar (a lavender triangle), so because of this, I was stalked around the forum by people who would leave homophobic rants after I posted literally anything. These same people also left these rants as comments on my profile page…using all the stereotypical homo-hating language. I reported this to the site management, and they told me that “there’s nothing wrong with being homophobic, you’re just being too sensitive…some people just have this type of opinion of gay people, it’s just an opinion, get over it”
    …So obviously I was forced to leave because apparently hate speech is “just a matter of opinion” and I was the one who was “being too sensitive”. I was so shocked that hate speech, literally seems to be encouraged in these communities (granted not all of them) but a good deal of them…and yes, all of the members who were harassing me were male, and probably fairly young as well.
    I just don’t understand why a company/website would tolerate this type of behavior/harassment of other members. Why would they defend these racists, sexists and homophobes?

  24. Jovan1984
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    If you ever wanted to know why I am a big fan of Goldeneye and the Nintendo 64, this is why. The sexism and homophobia runs rampant on online consoles. Maybe that is the reason why Nintendo was unwilling to have online gaming for its Wii system for so long (until last year, I believe).
    If my two little brothers ever acted like that to a lesbian on Xbox Live, I most likely would have chewed them out.

  25. Bleatmop
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    I’m also an avid gamer, and it is the foul language in general (most of it being anti-women, anti-gay and anti-anythingbutwhite)that really turns me off. What really surprises me is how some of the people involved in the tech industry are getting behind Microsoft on this one. I called this guy out at:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikn1KSNoiaM
    on his own channel until my comments limit was all used up. I would have liked to do more, but I guess I’d need to get a camera and start uploading youtube videos to do more :)

  26. GGdrive
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately,
    I hear all kinds of things that offend me on xbox live. I actually wouldn’t let any kids of my own onto the service or any similar service because of the things I get exposed to. It’s tough because I spend my time on live in silence because I don’t want to get into any conversations with any people I come across. They are homophobic and sexist and racist and immature and “male”. It really can bring down any gaming experience. What frustrates me the most is that these online cultures should be the most accepting. We should be the example of tolerance because we are all coming together online with similar interests, it shouldn’t matter what we look like, what we believe in and any other personal things about us a people. What should matter is what we are there to do and to have fun free of judgment. I don’t like using live sometimes but I don’t want to rob myself of the potential fun I have because of some of the people on the service. I shouldn’t have to sit in silence and that woman shouldn’t have had to suffer the abuse she suffered. She SHOULD NOT have been banned. Her abusers should be banned and I would suspect that they were. Even if we don’t hear that side of the story. If she complained as soon as it happened to her those users would have been banned from the service.
    Xbox’s official policy is that they do not discriminate. If people are complaining about a user the account can be deleted. I think they made the wrong call on this one. It sounds like she was unaware (and I think many users of the service are) that if any user is abusing you, you can block them and they will basically not exist on your live experience. Also xbox urges users to never divulge any personal information about yourself that can be used by any other users to harm you. I know that doesn’t help much and people are going to do it anyway but that’s why I remain silent when I play. It sucks, but how do you police everybody and remain objective? I am going to write a complaint to live about this and demand to know that the abusers were also banned from live.

  27. imdrinkincoffeern
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Other games like World of Warcraft do not allow you to talk about your sexual orientation either. The reason behind this is that they do not want players being harassed on their servers, so this person was not banned for their sexual orientation as the article suggests. Instead, they were banned for violation of the code of conduct for xbox live which says you should not:
    Create a Gamertag , avatar or use text in other profile fields that may offend other members. This includes comments that look, sound like, stand for, hint at, abbreviate, or insinuate or relate to any of the following: profane words/phrases, topics or content of a sexual nature, hate speech (including but not limited to racial, ethnic, or religious slurs), illegal drugs/controlled substances, or illegal activities;
    If someone had put “100% straight dude” in their profile it would have been just as much a bannable offense as putting “lesbian” there. When people publish their sexual orientation in online games, it doesnt seem to end very well usually. Unfortunately, it is much better business for xbox live to just outright ban people for talking about their sexual orientation, whether it is gay or straight, because all it does is make people harass eachother on the internet which, if nothing was being done about that, would be just as complained about. As hate speech and harassing other players is also a bannable offense, the other people violating the ToS for Xbox Live were more than likely penalized as well.

  28. mydishonestheart
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    As a feminist who plays not only Xbox live but Playstation network and World of Warcraft, I wanted to look into this.
    Microsoft has a “no sexuality” type policy for user information. Their goal was to keep everything as neutral as possible. Had she stated she were heterosexual, she would have been banned as well.
    Here’s a link to the short article on Kotaku (a gamer blog) regarding Microsoft’s response to including sexual orientations, in case anyone’s curious:
    http://kotaku.com/5160677/microsoft-looking-to-change-xbox-live-sexual-discrimination
    As a female in games constantly, the harassment that surrounds us is really disgusting to me. I must admit I was relieved when Microsoft has a blanket policy regarding orientation, not because I agree with it, but because so far its been an alright way to keep 12 year olds and assholes (not that all 12 year olds are, but as someone who tried to play D&D with boys when she was 14, a lot of them are, haha) from using words like gay and lesbian in negative ways. Of course, it also prevents the positive use, too.

  29. mydishonestheart
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I should also add that many of the comments on the Kotaku blog I linked are hardly supportive, which just emphasizes the bigotry and bullshit the gaming industry is filled with.

  30. Natasha
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Thankfully, this has been rectified. Read it about it here: http://www.geekologie.com/2009/02/xbox_lives_dont_ask_dont_tell.php

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