Microsoft Tries to Mend Rift With "Gaymers"

By Bryan Ochalla

Originally published on Advocate.com March 16 2009 11:00 PM ET

Even among American
corporations that proudly and publicly support the LGBT
community, Microsoft has long stood out for its stamina and
spirit. Case in point: In 1989 the software giant was among the
first companies in the country to include sexual orientation in
its employee nondiscrimination policy; in 1993, it
extended benefits to staffers' same-sex partners.

But Microsoft's rainbow
reputation took a hit last May, when word spread on the Web
that the division dealing with Xbox Live, the online service
for the company's popular Xbox 360 gaming system, had suspended
the account of "thegayergamer" because the username
"insinuate(d) content of a potentially sexual nature" -- a
big no-no according to the company's terms of use.

A few weeks later,
Richard Gaywood's account was suspended for the same
reason.

The story stayed under
the radar until late last month, when a gamer
complained online

that her Xbox Live account was suspended after she outed
herself as a lesbian in her profile. The incident not only
caught the attention of community sites like

GayGamer.net

and
Gaymer.org

but mainstream news sites like
MTV.com

and
Yahoo.com

.

The scrutiny has
prompted Microsoft to loosen its previously pursed lips (the
company refused to comment when it was contacted by
The Advocate

after last year's incidents), with Stephen Toulouse, program
manager for policy and enforcement on Xbox Live, stating last
week via e-mail that "we have heard clearly that
customers want the ability to self-identify [and] it's our
job to provide this in a way that cannot be misused."

Actually, Toulouse and
his team have been working on a solution that would allow
gamers of all orientations to do just that since early last
year. That's when Toulouse says he came to the realization
"that while the policy [of suspending the accounts of gamers
expressing their sexual orientation] was fair -- meaning [it
was] equally applied to all types of sexual orientation -- it
was viewed by the community as unjust."

Although Toulouse says
input from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation and Microsoft's LGBT employee group, GLEAM,
has been "extremely constructive," he can't say when his
work will be completed and Xbox Live users will be allowed to
come out of their virtual closets.

Transgender game
designer Jennifer Reitz hopes that day comes sooner rather than
later. After all, she said recently on GayGamer.net, as long as
Toulouse and his employer do nothing, they are "promoting a
de facto heteronormative agenda against LGBT people. If they
don't want the majority to rule, they need to make room, and
allowance, for minorities and support their right to exist
openly."