Microsoft Apologizes For Xbox Live Ban On Gay Gamertags

Official admits policy meant to prevent abusive language is 'inelegant.'

A recent complaint from a gamer has rankled thousands of people across the Internet who don’t feel someone should be suspended from Microsoft’s Xbox Live service just because she wrote in her profile that she is a lesbian.

The complaint hit the blog the Consumerist on Wednesday, sparking anger at Microsoft for a longstanding policy that suspends anyone who types into their Xbox Live Gamertag nickname or profile words related to sexual orientation like “gay” or “lesbian.”

A Microsoft rep explained to MTV News on Thursday (February 26) why the company has that policy and why it might be changing.

“It is true that as a matter of policy, the expression of relationship preference in Gamertag profiles and tags is not allowed across the board, whether that’s heterosexual or other,” Stephen Toulouse, program manager for policy and enforcement on Xbox Live, told MTV News in a phone interview. “But as we saw when we ran into an issue with this [last year,] we started looking into that policy.”

He acknowledged that the current policy could use improving: “It’s inelegant. And it’s inelegant because the text-box field is freeform.”

The latest incident that sparked this debate was the account of the gamer Teresa, who wrote to the Consumerist blog about how including her sexual orientation in her Xbox Live profile left her hounded by other Xbox Live users who harassed her and reported her to Microsoft authorities. Subsequently, according to her account, she was suspended. Her story added to the publicity of an incident in 2008, when a user who just had the word gay in his real name, Richard Gaywood, had his account suspended.

Some gamers commenting on Consumerist and elsewhere think that Microsoft should simply allow people to use words like “gay.” It’s not that simple. “On the face of that, we have no objection to that,” Toulouse said, “except for one simple problem.” That problem? When Toulouse’s team started combing through all of the complaints they were receiving last year regarding profiles and Gamertags using the word “gay,” between 95 and 98 percent were using the word pejoratively.

The stated intention of Microsoft’s policy is to prevent abusive language, something that Toulouse acknowledges isn’t the case with either the Gaywood or Teresa incidents. His team now understands, he said, that they need to find a way to at let people express things like sexual orientation in ways that can’t be abused.

“As social media has become more and more of a thing in the past six years, people are wanting to express more and more detail about themselves,” Toulouse said.

One solution would seemingly be to allow users to select symbols or check off boxes that denote one’s sexual orientation, gender or other defining qualities. “I think that’s a great idea,” Toulouse said. “That’s the type of thing we’re looking at as a solution. … I can’t talk about future plans, except to say we want to provide the capability for our users to express relationship preference or gender without a way for it to be misused.”

As for the Teresa incident, Toulouse said his team was aware of the Consumerist post within an hour of its posting but has been unable to take any action because of the lack of details provided. “Certainly, harassing someone, even if they have the expression of their relationship preference in their profile or their Gamertag, even if that may be against the current terms of use in the current policy — that does not give the right for anyone to harass another player,” he said. Those who do experience harassment like that should file a complaint via their Xbox 360 or post it on Xbox.com.

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