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9 November 2010, 2:00 pm 27 Comments

Commentary: Fuck You, Amtrak, For Making Gays “Dirty”

This post was submitted by Zack Rosen

After a long (though ultimately wonderful) family weekend in New York over Halloween, my boyfriend and I decided to splurge by taking the Amtrak back to DC instead of the DC2NY Bus that once announced they had a “liquid only” bathroom. The first ten minutes I was on the train I was able to pick up wifi from an neighboring Acela and immediately tried to check out The New Gay to see what I had missed while I was away. Amtrak, however, had other plans.

Trying to access TNG just lead to a popup screen telling me that the website had been blocked for adult content. Adult content? Granted we are hardly Dora The Explorer (‘Clitora the Explora’ might even be more accurate) but TNG takes pains to be accessible everywhere so that our readers can find us. Hence no porn, no sex ads and most of our graphic content comes in the form of words and not images. However, the dirty words are still there so I checked a comparable website to determine if we were being pigeonholed for being gay.

Turns out, we were! I was able to access Jezebel with no problems. Jezebel, the site that has the word “sex” in its tagline, and writes about the subject even more than I do. (Yes, it’s possible.) So Amtrak is able to allow the aforementioend Jezebel, a site that discusses sex and bodies without edging into porn. So why not allow us?

I’m going to guess, as I always do, that it’s because we’re gay. I am very vocal about the fact that we can’t drop the “sex” from “homosexual” without suffering serious repercussions to our freedom, but gay is an identity as well as an act. That is to say, discussions of sexuality aren’t automatically about sex. Modern Bride is all about heterosexual coupling, and the “heterosexual lifestyle” and the prelude to what I’m sure will be the couple’s very first time having intercourse. However, I highly doubt it would be blocked by Amtrak. In fact, there is a good chance your grandmother has read that filth. And enjoyed it!

This is made all the more ironic by the fact that Amtrak recently unveiled an ad campaign targeted expressly towards the LGBT market. I’ve long felt that so-called “checkbook activism,” (that is, demanding your rights by revoking your money to those who hate you) is an effective means of spreading equality but it seems that Amtrak is trying to have it both ways by taking our cash, but still qualifying our very existence is inappropriate.

So next time I take Amtrak I’m going to touch myself in the dining car, or have sex with a man in first class. If I can’t read information gay opinions on their wifi network, then I’ll just have to give everyone else on the train something to talk about.

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  • thoughts... said:

    Hey Zack,

    Why don’t we just call them and tell them that they should let TNG on their list of accepted stuff… they probably did a search for everything with ‘gay’ on it, considered it was all gaypr0n and said ‘bedonewithit’…

    A friendly email to their consumer affairs dept. should fix it, don’t you think?


  • zack (author) said:

    It could, but the problem here is that they can’t distinguish between gay people and gay sex. Gay porn and gay everything else should not just be thoughtlessly lumped together.

  • Jash said:

    i think matt might be right… you should try contacting them with your concerns/experience. if that doesn’t work, i’ll gladly take up a pitchfork with you. -xoxo

  • Will said:

    I had the same experience with Hilton, using a Doubletree ‘business center’ in Tampa. I was trying to pull up an article I’d written about LGBT seniors to show my mother. Too scandalous, because it was on the Metro Weekly site! I took the Matt-suggested path. I called Hilton corporate. Their press office promised to find out what was up. I e-mailed the company that made the filter employed on the Doubletree computer. That company put the responsibility squarely on Hilton, saying Hilton could choose to filter by whatever parameters they chose. A week’s worth of communication with Hilton, nonetheless, never even got an acknowledgement of responsibility.

  • chrisafer said:

    You do know what’s on thenewgay.com, don’t you? They probably have a blanket ban on variations of that domain name. Did you try looking at any other gay sites to verify that it was about all gay sites and not just yours?

  • Adam said:

    Think you’re over reacting a bit. The html of this site is a .com away from an actual porn site, and from your story there’s no concrete evidence that Amtrak’s being homophobic. Perhaps overzealous on their “adult” censorship, but no actual systemic bigotry. I’d follow Matt’s advice and write an official letter. This whole thing could simply be a programming error. Don’t be George W. and declare war without verifying your facts and only going by assumptions.

  • thoughts... said:

    My suggestion would be, again, contact the company…and if they don’t do something about it, make a ‘United breaks guitars’ Video.

  • jar said:

    i don’t think it’s overreacting; the point is, they SHOULDN’T just cast everything with the word “gay” in it as offensive. And even if newgay.com (or whatever) is a porn site, that’s a totally different site (aren’t people in washington all lawyers? .com isn’t the same as .net…)

    the point is we shouldn’t have to email them with every instance of “gay” being used in non-porn way. it shouldn’t be assumed that the word “gay” is “offensive material”.

  • Adam said:

    RE Jar’s comment: My point is we DON’T KNOW that Amtrak cast everything with the word gay as being offensive. You’re making a huge assumption based on incomplete information. Most porn firewalls block any variation of a domain name that’s considered suspect, which includes endings with a .com, .net, .org, etc. My bigger point is that before we call people out as being homophobic we need to verify that such homophobia actually exists. It’s about fact checking and not just making assumptions. Give Amtrak a chance to defend and correct their mistake. If they don’t then we can proceed in calling them out and prescribing necessary action.

  • zack (author) said:

    WOrking on that followup. Will keep everybody posted.

  • JimLoomis said:

    I absolutely agree with those who are counseling against over-reacting. Amtrak, in fact, has recently become a target of the right for advertising in gay and lesbian publications. So cool it … Amtrak is very much OK.

  • Mark said:

    Dear Zack,

    I was notified of your recent blog regarding your experience on Acela Express and your attempts to access The New Gay. Normally, all communications to passengers come through our Customer Relations Department; however, in your case I have asked that I be able to contact you directly.

    I am actually one of the team members directly responsible for the launch of AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi in-station and on-board Acela Express. I am responsible for not only the marketing you see, but also for the continued development of on-board content provided through our Wi-Fi.

    As a company, we absolutely agree with you that The New Gay does not fall under the category of “adult content”. I can tell you with absolute conviction this is not a site we set out to censor. Unfortunately, something is occurring with the automatic content filtering system we are using and we are attempting to determine why it is randomly blocking sites such as this. I can assure you many gay sites are not blocked, but regrettably some have fallen victim to the filter. When made aware of these situations, we have taken immediate action to unblock them, as has been done in the case of The New Gay. As of today, this site is now accessible. I will be going down to a trainset later this afternoon to confirm that my remote whitelisting has taken effect. To help resolve the problem longer term, we are in discussions with the outside company who supplied our content filter to see how they can help us to reduce the number of these occurrences as we move ahead.

    You may find it reassuring that, as one of the main people responsible for onboard content filtering, I am myself a gay man who agrees we should not be unnecessarily censoring legitimate sites such as The New Gay. We appreciate your feedback, as it helps call attention to problems such as this so we can rectify the situation.

    Regarding censorship, while in-station or on-board Acela Express we will continue to block access to true pornographic sites, whether heterosexual or homosexual, as this is a public network. I’m sure you can understand our need to block this level of content so that we can provide the best environment for all passengers. Many public Wi-Fi networks typically will do the same.

    I sincerely hope with this further explanation, you will travel with Amtrak again. The issue you experienced is due to a technical glitch and not due to any social policies adopted by the company. The accepting environment and social policies adopted within Amtrak allow me to be 100% open about my sexuality without any fears of repercussions. We hope to have the problem rectified soon, and although there will always be the occasional site that slips through our fingers, we promise to be vigilant in continuing to monitor the situation.


    Mark Mastro

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