Sexuality, surfing and McDonald's

20:23, Jan 10 2011

It may surprise you to hear that I don't think McDonald's did anything wrong in its censorship of certain websites with sexuality-related content.

A Stuff article yesterday said members of the gay community had been "outraged" by the decision to block some websites featuring LGBT-related content. But more vital information such as sexual health and a website for gay youth was readily available through McDonald's free wi-fi service. Some of the blocked websites contain links to explicit or sexually provocative material and the reasons for some being blocked are perhaps a little more confusing.

GayNZ.com might contain a lot of valuable and innocent content on the site, but the advertisements on the web pages are more explicit than the content and feature links to gay saunas and some even have pictures of half-naked men. Personally, I consider reading the website "not suitable for work" and when I want to read it I wait until I'm at home. It doesn't seem unreasonable that McDonald's would think the same way when there are ads on their site that read things like "Nude/nearly nude super safe sex Sunday afternoons".

GayNZ.com is a great website featuring informative discussion forums and other resources for young gay people, but is McDonald's really the only place to read a website like that? How on Earth did anyone cope before this free Wi-Fi service was available there? I don't personally have a problem with seeing it but I certainly think it's okay if McDonald's don't feel comfortable with parents and their kids potentially seeing any imagery or content that might mean they have to provide an explanation in a public place like McDonald's.

McDonald's is a family restaurant and it has a responsibility to uphold that image. It only takes one person's kid to look around and see someone surfing a slightly questionable site and have them ask "mummy, what's sex?" or "why are those men in bed together?" Of course, it would be nice if parents just explained that kind of thing, but to put that pressure or expectation on parents would not be fair - McDonald's is just trying to protect itself from resulting lawsuits. Apparently there is also a problem with the blocking of websites such as family planning, but how many people are really thinking about sex or reproduction while they eat?

There was a comment made that it somehow stops gay people from being able to connect with their gay friends and gay issues. However, if the only place you can go to do that is McDonald's, then you probably have some much bigger problems to deal with. Remember, there is always a visit to the library if you get stuck. There are plenty of ways to keep in touch with friends that you can still access there still too like email, or perhaps that wonderful contraption called a telephone might prove useful in this instance? I'm pretty sure Facebook isn't blocked and isn't that the way a lot of us keep in touch with our friends these days anyway?

I'm all for calling people or companies out when they have seriously and unfairly excluded or discriminated against people for their sexuality or something else, but this feels like a case of Air NZ/Kahui deja vu. They haven't only put this block in place for gay websites and nothing else, it's all adult/mature content. First it was Air New Zealand's turn, now McDonald's - who's going to be next, Starbucks? You know that mermaid in the new Starbucks logo is female, right? Well, I think that is just SO sexist, let's start a protest! *please note the thick layers of sarcasm*

Don't forget that McDonald's offer this Wi-Fi service in their restaurants free, yes that's right, FREE. Just like I have a right to ask people not to smoke in my house or take their shoes off before they walk in the door, McDonald's should also have the right to say "no sex please, this is a family show". Before you say it, I am well aware that not all LGBT content is about sex or pornography, but a lot of the sites do have links to such material which is probably one of the reasons for some of them being blocked.

It smacks of a sense of entitlement to take offence to this kind of censorship when McDonald's is just trying to ensure its customers don't get any unwanted surprises when they visit their restaurants. Whether that be gay, straight or whatever; it is a blanket block on all mature adult content and websites. This apparently includes AskMen.com, which is a male magazine website that is seemingly innocent, but does feature some fairly adult subject matter.

I don't really understand why helplines or groups like Rainbow Youth, who do amazing work, are blocked. Again though - if they don't want the website available, it really is up to them. They pay for the connection and there are plenty of other places to access the internet besides McDonald's if you really need such information; the library is the first place my brain would tell me to go for it, not my local burger joint. That doesn't mean they're being homophobic though, does it? If a gay couple were thrown out of a McDonald's for holding hands or an employee was fired for being gay, then we might have an issue - somebody call me if that happens.

Just like the Kahui incident, this is an example of picking on an issue and taking offence at it just because it can be spun to make it sound like people in the gay community are being picked on, discriminated against or excluded. Are there not any bigger battles or causes that the gay community needs to be giving attention to right now? I'm pretty sure there are. To my mind, this kind of protesting actually reverses a lot of the progress made in years gone by and makes the general public think the gay community are just a bunch of uptight militant jerks.

On Monday afternoon someone added me, not invited me, to a Facebook group called McDiscrimination and since I didn't quite agree that any wrongdoing had occurred, I decided to air my point of view on the subject. After all, I'd been added to a group by someone else so I took that as an invitation for discussion and figured that through that, someone would probably be able to help me see their point of view. Silly me.

Alas, what I considered a fairly level-headed and reasoned post on the subject, essentially a shorter and less acerbic version of the above, was not welcome. The post was removed and I was then told I was no longer a member of the group and got sent on my way with a "sorry to have disturbed you".

But wait a second, wasn't this an issue of protest against censorship? And yet, had they not just censored me and my own views on the subject? You want to know what really disturbs me? I didn't feel marginalised by McDonald's, but by the very minority group that I am, by default, a part of.

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