Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lamba Legal Goes After World of Warcraft

(Link) Game company Blizzard Entertainment gets a warning from Lambda Legal after trying to squelch a female gamer's attempt to start an LGBT-friendly guild. The warning letter is here -- along with a slew of rants from ignorant fanboys who think "fag" isn't a homophobic slur.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:

Dear Mr. Mohaime and Mr. Rigole,

Lambda Legal is the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to achieving full civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender persons, and people living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. We recently have been in contact with Greg Wu and Sara Andrews, who are customers of Blizzard Entertainment, regarding their concern that certain employees of Blizzard Entertainment have discriminated against World of Warcraft (“W.O.W.”) players based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

As we understand it, on January 12, 2006 “Tirauka,” a senior account administrator with Blizzard, issued Ms. Andrews a warning claiming that Ms. Andrews’ public announcement of an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) friendly gaming guild for W.O.W. players violated the W.O.W Harassment Policy. When Ms. Andrews asked how the mere mention of an LGBT-friendly guild could violate the W.O.W. Harassment Policy, Blizzard’s account administrator “Gorido” followed up with correspondence seeming to argue that because other players may choose to harass LGBT players, the mere mention of an LGBT-friendly guild violates the World of Warcraft terms of service.

Subsequent statements to the media made by Blizzard’s representatives seem to confirm that Blizzard’s official position is that LGBT gamers may not mention their sexual orientation or gender identity using the game’s chat functions. Blizzard’s online message boards include a post apparently issued by Blizzard stating, in pertinent part,

To promote a positive game environment for everyone and help prevent such harassment from taking place as best we can, we prohibit mention of topics related to sensitive real-world subjects in open chat within the game, and we do our best to take action whenever we see such topics being broadcast. This includes openly advertising a guild friendly to players based on a particular political, sexual, or religious preference, to list a few examples.

We are very concerned that Blizzard’s policy, as expressed in the foregoing statement, discriminates against LGBT gamers. Although preventing harassment is an admirable goal, a requirement that LGBT people remain invisible and silent is not an acceptable means of reaching that goal.

Mr. Wu is the guild leader of “Stonewall Champions,” the largest LGBT-friendly guild in W.O.W. Ms. Andrews is the guild leader of “Oz,” an LGBT-friendly guild on the Shadow Moon Server. As leaders of LGBT-friendly guilds, Mr. Wu and Ms. Andrews are both very concerned that Blizzard’s policy will hamper the guilds’ ability to provide a safe and supportive gaming environment.

We agree that World of Warcraft’s Harassment Policy, which clearly states that players may not refer to the sexual orientation of others in an “insulting manner,” is laudable and legal. Indeed, we applaud Blizzard’s efforts to create a congenial gaming atmosphere where people of all sexual orientations and gender identities can interact without fear of harassment or insult.

Although Blizzard is well within its rights to insist that players avoid referring to other gamers in an “insulting manner,” Blizzard cannot issue a blanket ban on any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity. There is nothing “insulting” about identifying oneself as gay, lesbian or transgender, nor does the announcement of a guild for LGBT gamers constitute “harassment” in any sense of the word. If other players react insultingly to the mere presence of LGBT gamers, then Blizzard should discipline the harassers, not attempt preemptively to silence the potential victims of harassment.

Online environments are public accommodations, subject to regulation as such. Butler v. Adoption Media, L.L.C., 2005 WL 1513142 (N.D.Cal.). Discrimination against LGBT individuals in the provision of public accommodations is clearly prohibited by California law. Id., see also, Cal. Civ. Code § 51 et seq. It has been so for more than fifty years. Stouman v. Reilly, 234 P.2d 969 (Cal. 1951). Insisting that LGBT persons not discuss their sexual orientation or gender identity can constitute discrimination under California law. Erdmann v. Tranquility Inc., 155 F.Supp.2d 1152 (N.D.Cal. 2001) (in which an employee who experienced a hostile environment at his workplace, including being instructed by a supervisor to “keep [his homosexuality] in the closet while he [was] at work,” stated a cause of action for employment discrimination); see also Gay Law Students v. Pacific Telephone & Telegraph, 595 P.2d 592 (1978) (same); Henkle v. Gregory, 150 F.Supp.2d 1067 (D.Nev.2001) (discussing students’ right to discuss their sexual orientation at school); Colin v. Orange Unified School District, 83 F.Supp.2d 1135 (C.D.Cal.2000) (addressing students’ right to use the word “gay” in the name of their school club).

In the few short years since the advent of multi-user dungeons, the world of online gaming has grown from a niche hobby enjoyed by a small community of enthusiasts to a phenomenon shared by millions. We understand that the rapid growth of the online environment has created challenges for companies like Blizzard, who are striving to ensure a civil and enjoyable experience for a large and diverse body of gamers. We hope that you will realize that silencing LGBT gamers, and requiring that they remain invisible to their fellows within the online gaming world, is not an acceptable means of advancing that end.

We understand that Blizzard has recently withdrawn its citation of Ms. Andrews for allegedly violating World of Warcraft’s harassment policy. An e-mail from “Thor Biafore,” the head of Blizzard’s customer service worldwide, acknowledges that the action taken against Ms. Andrews was based on an “unfortunate interpretation” of Blizzard’s current policies.

In order to avoid any similar incidents in the future, we ask that you inform all of Blizzard’s system administrators that they are not to discipline any players for mentioning or discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in a non-insulting fashion. We also ask that Blizzard confirm that LGBT-friendly guilds are allowed to announce their existence in the same manner as any other guilds. Of course, Lambda Legal would be more than happy to offer any advice we can to assist Blizzard in crafting a nondiscriminatory clarification of the terms of service for W.O.W., or in providing guidance to the administrators enforcing Blizzard’s anti-harassment guidelines. We ask that you respond within thirty days of the date of this letter to avoid the need for further action.

Very truly yours,

Brian Chase
Staff Attorney*

Jennifer C. Pizer
Senior Counsel