Xbox Live allows LGBT Identity expression

Today, March 5th, Microsoft’s Xbox Live team announced a change in their terms of service.  This new change allows, among other things, LGBT members to express their "relationship recognition" in their Xbox Live profile information.  A set of approved words has been set for each language the service operates in.

From today’s release:

With that in mind, I’d like to announce an update to the Xbox LIVE Terms of Use and Code of Conduct which will allow our members to more freely express their race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation in Gamertags and profiles. Under our previous policy, some of these expressions of self-identification were not allowed in Gamertags or profiles to prevent the use of these terms as insults or slurs. However we have since heard feedback from our customers that while the spirit of this approach was genuine, it inadvertently excluded a part of our Xbox LIVE community

From the new Terms of Use for the English service:

You may use the following terms to express your relationship orientation in your profile or Gamertag:

    • Lesbian
    • Gay
    • Bi
    • Transgender
    • Straight

Other terms regarding relationship orientation are not allowed. In addition you may not use these terms or any other terms regarding relationship orientation to insult, harass, or any other pejorative use against other users.

It’s great to see Microsoft moving forward on this and honoring their promise to address this.  Initially, there was discussion around the best way to solve this problem.  The key requirement was how to minimize the potential use of words like these, or the expression of them, to increase harassment.   Various options were explored over time, including changes to the service.  However, as is often the case, the simplest solution wins out.  KISS principle at work.

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Boies: Good to have on our side

With the start of the Prop 8 case in California, I’m finding that my optimism is elevated by the choice of our counsel.  David Boies and Ted Olson are leading the cause.  The pairing of the two is a pretty interesting occurrence.  These two were formerly opponents in the Bush v Gore case after the 2000 elections.

in the public discussion, with all the bitterness and acrimony during that case, you would think that the folks on either side would never be able to cooperate with each other in the future.  Instead, two leaders, from opposing sides, have united to pursue a goal.  Of all things, that goal is to overturn Prop 8 and restore the ability of gays and lesbians in California to marry.

The idea that such former adversaries can unite and cooperate provides an example of reconciliation that gives me hope that people can cooperate for the good of the country.  Ultimately, if we are ever to make progress in our democracy all sides need to help.

Aside from this somewhat mushy "lets all work together" stuff, Boies has been involved in some interesting cases.  The one that is closest to me is his role representing the US Government against Microsoft.  Among Microsoft employees, Boies is often regarded as a bitter enemy.  Bill Gates famously said that Boies was "out to destroy the company."  So in the Microsoft LGBT friendly community it’s an example of switching from a deep dislike, to rooting for him to succeed.

Also interesting in that case was the fact that the democratic administrations such as Clinton’s were viewed as more of a danger to the company than a republican one.  When Bush took office, there was a sense of optimism that the government would be more friendly.  

Boies was very successful in his work on that case.  He succeeded in getting a judgment against Microsoft and a the relief ordered was a breakup of the company.  That scenario was such an unthinkably catastrophic situation, that people were in disbelief.

Ultimately that relief was appealed and the company remains a single entity today.  However, a huge chunk of the company now operates with fairly oppressive compliance regulation.  Windows and certain related teams must perform much additional work to document interfaces, protocols and other things to the satisfaction of some pretty picky people.  The later trials in the EU have added to that workload.

As a result, Microsoft’s ability to keep pace with innovation is hampered.   Of course, for those who were hoping for a judgment against Microsoft, this is a good thing.  Now there is less chance that the behavior which was judged to be improper can happen.

Years prior, Boies was part of the team that represented IBM in it’s defense against a similar anti-trust suit brought by the DOJ.  In that case he was working from the opposite position as the Microsoft case.

Having someone who has experience in seeing an issue from both sides is a huge benefit.  As far as the Prop 8 case goes, the lesson is that Boies is serious business, and the other side should be appropriately worried.

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2009 and Hate Crimes: Old Video of Matt

The year 2009 is almost over, which is totally freaky because it still feels new to write “2009” in a date field.  No matter what happens now, 2009 will be a milestone on the historical timeline for LGBT rights.   With the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act and signing into law by President Obama, 2009 will be notable.  Thanks to this law, LGBT people, like racial minorities and other protected classes now have additional tools in preventing hate crimes.

I was looking through some videos I found for a research project and found an interview with Matthew and then boyfriend from the mid nineties.  I remember when I first saw that video, thinking that I’d never seen anything but a picture of him.  Watching the video gives a much bigger picture of him, his voice, animations and, friendliness.

Have a look:

Update: h/t InterstateQ for pointing out the source of this interview.
There’s very little video of Matthew Shepard, this is the only one I’ve ever seen. It comes from a documentary called “Dear Jesse”, which is about Jesse Helms. This is such a case of chance; just by coincidence, when Tim Kirkman, the director, was interviewing students, Matthew happened to be one of them. At the time, he was just an average guy, and there was no way to know how significant he would become posthumously in our movement.
Check out the documentary:

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"You Aren't Lying Effectively" says Senator Cardinale (NJ-R-39) to a Bar Association Trustee

Thomas Prol, a trustee of the NJ Bar Association, testified during the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Marriage Equality on 12/6/09.  Prol gave excellent testimony on why Civil Unions don’t work.  He gives a great overview of some key problems and how they manifest themselves.  He covers ERISA, the federal law that creates exceptions allowing employers to ignore state equality laws.  Then he explains how NJ Civil Union law invites discrimination because without equality in name, equality in rights does not exist.

After he finished his statement, Senators were permitted to ask questions.  The first one is Gerald Cardinale, a republican from District 34 in NJ.  He certainly sounds cranky enough to be a republican.  The agitation in his voice shows how well Prol made the case.  In his testimony, Prol, cites the body of evidence produced by the Civil Unions commission set up to examine the efficacy of the Civil Unions law.  During questioning, Cardinale has nowhere to go except make accusations that the commission was biased.  I guess that must be true if they disagreed with you, Cardy.

Cardinale asks if Prol, "with a straight face", can say that the commission was unbiased.  You know there must have been giggling in the room over "with a straight face", don’t these republicans keep up with humor?   Prol keeps it together and gives a straight up "Yes" that they were unbiased. 

Once again, Cardy stoops to the only low ground he can and accuses Prol of lying.  "You aren’t lying effectively", he says, noting that he knows it takes 3 years of learning to be a good liar.  Well, Cardinale is a republican, so I guess he’s qualified to judge lying skill. I’ll give him that. 

If your blood pressure needs a boost, listen to the exchange yourself. 

  • Cardinale starts yakking at 5:00
  • Sen. Nia Gill (D-34) speaks up to apologize for Cardy’s unprofessionalism at 7:20

Then visit Garden State Equality to find out how to help. If you can, click here to Donate.

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See our side's first commercial!

My contribution: $

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New Poll: Don’t be complacent, we must vote Approve on Referendum 71

In 2008, the University of Washington released its poll on support for same sex domestic partnerships reporting that 66% of the general electorate support full domestic partnership.  Today, on the Approve Referendum 71 campaign’s blogger briefing call, Josh Friedes, the campaign manager, revealed the results of their new poll concludes that 51% would vote “approve” while  44% would vote “reject” on referendum 71.   The difference in numbers is due to the new poll’s focus on off year election voters. In an off-year election, voter are typically more conservative and older.   

The new poll is a much more accurate representation of what this years turnout will be and just how slim the margin in our favor.  It is likely that in the coming weeks there will be a lot of noise coming from the other side with mischaracterizations and deceptive arguments.  While may will see these for what they are, some may be swayed by them resulting in less support for “approve”.

The outcome will be determined by those who show up.  In order to preserve our rights, we need to get up and take action.  Please make sure that your friends and allies vote “approve” on Referendum 71 and don’t forget to mail their ballots!


Share this video:


Phone bank at a call center to spread the word. If you live outside the Seattle/Tacoma Metropolitan area, sign up here to phone bank from home.

Donate online to support the Approve 71 campaign

Change your Facebook photo to the Approve 71 icon and talk about Approving 71 in your status messages. If you run a website or blog, please link to Approve71.orgwith both a text and graphic link. This will be a big help to the campaign to create awareness for the site.

Show your support with Ref71 Gear such as yardsigns, buttons, T-shirts and bumperstickers at the online Approve 71 Cafe Press store.

For more great things you can do check out:

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Moral Hazard or simply the Pursuit of Democracy?

Disclaimer:  I’m not a political scientist. I’m a technologist who participates in LGBT activism.   My day job is at Microsoft,  and I am on the Board of GLEAM.  I participate in and lead democratic technical policy bodies. Because of my corporate association, I am periodically called a tool of hegemony by self appointed Jedis. I hate that.  I am however, aware of the existence of the reality distortion field that surrounds Redmond in a bubble.  I am not a fan of the National Equality March. I would rather people in Washington State stay here and help Approve Referendum 71.

Plug:   Please help protect Washington State Domestic Partnerships.  Contribute to Approve Referendum 71.

Adam Bink, in You Made the Bed, Now Sleep In it (Alone)?, raises the question:

"Is it right that Cleve made what many consider a mistake, soaked up people and money and other resources that need to go to Maine and Washington State and the Corzine race and Kalamazoo and possibly California and elsewhere, and now others have to rescue it?" Is this Moral Hazard?

This is an interesting and thought provoking question.  Whether or not how we react to the organizing of the march is Moral Hazard or not, there is something else to consider first.

I laughed pretty hard at the outlandish accusation labeling Adam as an "Uncle Tom".  Nonsense.  However, there is an implicit assumption in Adam’s post that because "many" folks in his circle believe that the march is a bad idea that the marchers are the cause of the potential Moral Hazard.

Cleve and his partners could look at the situation in a reciprocal way.   The current leaders are pursing a strategy which is not as effective as we would like, or worse.  Are we, the LGBT "people" following them down a course and as a result, falling into the same Moral Hazard trap?  Instead, why not avoid  that trap by pursing a different, and we believe, more successful strategy like a National March on Washington?

As Mr. Bink states, the real issue here is orthogonal to an opinion on the march itself.

The key issue, in my opinion, is the lack of a voice that your everyday LGBT person, lets call him Chris Cocktail, has in our leadership’s decision-making process.  Efforts like the March, and the post prop 8 rallies are a rebellious quest for democracy in the face of a perceived oligarchy.

Why are  "the many" Mr. Bink refers to entitled to make decisions on our behalf any more so than Cleve and his partners?  I don’t recall voting.

Are we living the values we demand from others?

I attended a few of Mike Lux’s talks in support of his book, The Progressive Revolution.  There’s something he said which nags at me relating to our mission regarding equality.  When the founders (who were elites) of our country sought equality, one thing that concerned them was that this equality might go too far and result in uneducated, non-property owning men, or *gasp* women being allowed to vote too.

As a minority seeking equality in the form of equal treatment and representation by our leaders in government, we hold their feet to the fire on the principle of "all people being created equal".

Those statements beg the same question of accountability to our movement.  Are we really representing the needs of our entire community, or just a subset?  Are we really governing with full consideration for segments of our community like the Transgendered?  Or people who live in Arkansas? Or people who live in Washington State? Or people who live in Indiana?  Or Bill’s who have tragically lost  an "l"?

Other communities do it

My day job is to participate in technical policy setting bodies.  These bodies operate under democratic processes where representatives from various constituencies participate and vote on the issues of the day.  The output of this work is usually called something like Industry Internet Standards.  Examples most people have heard of are HTTP, HTML, or CSS.   Just like in real life, there are 3 main levels of this policy setting.  There are industry standard generating bodies where representation is by company (states), national (federal) standard generating bodies such as ANSI, and international (like U.N.) standard setting bodies such as ISO.  What this means is that at least in theory, technical policy is set democratically by a congress.

truth to power

Q: How many Microsoft employees does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: None, they just declare darkness the new standard(tm)

When a small set of large companies, let’s call them Tech, Inc., who are deep-pocketed and very powerful, unilaterally set a policy that the whole industry will have to abide by, people get uncomfortable.  If those policies are adequate, fair and or generally beneficial to moving the industry forward, people accept it.  However, when they are not, there are problems.

Eventually people decide that if everyone has to live with these decisions, they should be made democratically.  Policy decisions should be decided by a vote.  Where issues need to be decided by a committee of experts, or congress, those experts should be elected.

When a single or small set of organizations decides whether or not to include Transgender in an ENDA policy, not everyone is going to be happy.

two guys and a dog

In my circles of standards wonks, there are many snarky opinions on the different policy bodies and how they operate.  Some require that a large cross section of the industry participate in order to label the output a Standard policy. Others do not.  There are a few, which I wont mention by name, which simply require a small number, say 2, companies, a small fee, and successful execution of the process to produce something called a Standard.  So two guys, a dog, and $25 can turn the crank on the process and then claim to be the arbiter of Industry Standard policy and demand that others follow.

Watching Milk was the first time I became aware of Cleve Jones.   Reading up on him, and watching Bilerico’s interviews with him was educational.  aside from being deeply involved in the Harvey Milk story, which is a pivotal event in our history, he’s done some other amazing things.  Cleve conceived the idea of the AIDS Quilt.  He started the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.  He’s been deeply involved in HIV/AIDS activism to a level most of us could only dream of.

Having said that, it does seem like he just stepped out of the woods and onto the public stage and declares, metaphorically with only a friend and a dog, a new LGBT national organization, agenda, with the first duty for all of us being to attend a March on Washington.

Personally, I share in the frustration that our policy agenda is achieving as much as we would like it to.  More importantly, I’m beginning to wonder whose priorities are driving that policy agenda.  Do they represent me?  Does the March?  No.  These also are not the droids I am looking for.

technology == empowerment.

It’s pretty clear that today’s world, technology elements like the blogosphere, facebook, twitter, and others empower individuals to take action.  Like the bloggers have done to mainstream media, and digital music has done to music and movie labels, dis-intermediate the system.  This middle-man is so last millennium.  Direct action is supreme.   If you’re reading this post and you haven’t been living under a rock, I’m not saying anything new here.

Politics, as most arenas eventually will, is being dis-intermediated.  People can achieve direct results without going through "official channels".  If I don’t like what a campaign is doing, I can do my own thing.  If I play my cards right, I might even be able to change, or even take away, the public discussion from what the "official channels" want.  However, since I am a technologists with good instincts rather than a political scientist with 20 years experience, it could be a unhelpful to the battle I am fighting. For an example of a potential moral hazard situation, see and how it has affected Referendum 71.

Many examples of this are playing out today and the National Equality March is just the latest.     If one has the power to effectively run their own campaign, but is told to sit back and defer to others, its appropriate to ask for a voice in the decision making process.  If one doesn’t get a say in the policies they need to live by independent rebellious action follows.

power to the people, viva la revolucion!

Who gets to make the decisions?

The questions I would pose back to Mr. Bink are:

If an intensely diverse and competitive industry composed of bitter corporate enemies can agree to a democratic policy setting process then why can’t our community?

Can we insert some transparency in the decision making process and some structural changes to it to allow the Chris Cocktails to have more of a say?

Is it possible for us to have a unified federal policy platform defined by democratic means?

If it is possible, then how would we even begin to create such a structure?

Can we have an "LGBT Congress" composed of qualified, educated, and experienced, elected representatives of the various constituencies and existing organizations that make decisions by vote?

Can major decisions like "Trans-inclusive ENDA or not?" be put to a vote with existing internet technologies?   If LGBT folks registered to vote with the LGBT Congress could they vote online?

Democracy is a messy business.  There are many risks to making some changes to our community’s decision making structure, even incremental ones, to make them more of a democracy.  Often it seems that the participants would rather play with voodoo dolls of their fellow committee members than agree on anything.     We’ve all heard:

Democracy is, the worst possible system of government… except for everything else.

At the end of the day, after the long speeches and debates, a vote is taken which represents a joint decision.  Even if one doesn’t agree with every decision, you win some you lose some, but its our decision and we need to support it.

If we’re not willing to commit to working together and share both power and responsibility, then uncoordinated independent action will become  the common case rather than the exception.  This is where we are headed unless we change course.

Right now people like Cleve and other grassroots efforts don’t have much of a say in our national policy strategy.

To tie this back to Mr. Bink’s post, though not answering his question:

If the march proves to be a disaster, and is a setback for the movement, no matter what we all do, to some extent we all share a degree of responsibility for not having a more inclusive and democratic decision making process.

The only real way we can align on any strategy is if we all get a say.  How to we do it?

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HRC Donates $10K to Approve 71 (nice flower)

HRC has donated $10K to Washington State’s Approve Referendum 71 campaign.


It’s great to see HRC contributing to state efforts like ours.  The cutest part is the “starter check” from their newly created PAC.  I love the sunflower and hand typed “HRC Approve Ref. 71 PAC” name on top.  Oh!  So Cute!

Thank you HRC!

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Ref 71 Qualifies by the skin of its teeth

Today the Washington Secretary of State released its verification information.  With a super slim margin, the referendum has enough signatures to appear on the Nov 3 ballot.  

The next step is that the secretary of state will certify (or not).  There is currently a lawsuit pending which could prevent its certification.

The secretary of state’s office said Monday that sponsors of Referendum 71 had 121,486 valid petition signatures – enough to put the newly expanded domestic partnership law to a public vote.

APNewsBreak: Gay partnership foes make ballot

The referendum requires 120,577 valid signatures. They got 121,486. Thats a margin of only 909 signatures

Additional re-checking will be done of the rejected signatures, so that margin could rise. Talk about the skin of your teeth..

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Law & Order: WVU Washington Victims Unit, Dept R71

Some news updates on Ref71. They’ve checked 130k signatures, only 8 to go. We should know very soon whether enough signatures will be verified to put r71 on the ballot.  The campaign has filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent certification.  Each signature petition sheet is supposed to be signed by the signature gatherer.  Many (approx 30k i’ve heard informally) were either not signed or were stamped by the organizers.   The lawsuit argues that unsigned or stamped petition sheets should be disqualified.  Expect major news this week.

Washington Referendum 71 Signature Check to Finish Today
State election officials have now checked just under 130000 Referendum 71 signatures, the measure aimed at overturning Washington’s new "everything but

Washington Marriage Equality Group Seeks TRO on Referendum 71
Tips-Q GLBT News
WFST seeks to prevent Proposition 71 from being verified for the ballot until signature irregularities can be addressed. Among the group’s claims are:

Pro-Gay Group Sues To Keep Referendum From Washington State Ballot
Referendum 71 should only be on the ballot if it has qualified based on legally valid signatures. In order to ensure that it is not put on the ballot in

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