Friday, June 12, 2009

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Did Not "Willingly Block LGBT Internet Sites"

I just finished a very cordial conference call with Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and discussed what has now become the hot topic of their complimentary wi-fi service blocking some LGBT news blogs, such as Towleroad and Pam's House Blend.

In a statement to Unite the Fight, Coffee Bean said:

First and foremost I want to thank you for bringing the issue of the two blocked LGBT websites to our attention. Let me be 100% clear from the onset. It is not, and has never been, the policy of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to willingly block or prevent access to LGBT Internet sites.

After you brought this to our attention yesterday we took immediate steps to resolve the issue and investigate exactly what happened. We found the OpenDNS Web content filtering system had miscategorized these two web sites as having sexual content, and thus prevented customers from accessing those sites. With the help of OpenDNS, we were able to override the filter immediately when it was brought to our attention.

No web content filter is perfect, but we are able to change misclassifications when they are brought to our attention. To be clear, the words “gay” or “lesbian” are not flagged in the OpenDNS Filter. We believe that censorship of any site that offers news and opinions is wrong and goes against everything we stand for as a company and a member of the communities in which we operate.
To those who came to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf's defense - you were spot on. And I want to thank the coffee and tea chain for their fast action on correcting the situation.

I personally want to state that my frustration wasn't with Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, but with OpenDNS' flagging method, the content filter provider for Coffee Bean's wi-fi. As I've stated already, these faulty but many times purposeful flagging methods usually lead to "technical discrimination," which we LGBT face at work, libraries and other public places offering internet services. And in the case of OpenDNS, it took just a view homophobic viewers to flag these LGBT sites and effectively block them for all.

When OpenDNS responded to my first email claiming it was Coffee Bean who was responsible, it immediately stirred a lot of people up against Coffee Bean, but inaccurately. I then wrote Coffee Bean. They responded immediately to me.

In the interim, the Founder of OpenDNS' clarified his company's original statement, stating that all of this was a "technical mistake" on their end.

In this case, it was a mistake. But in other cases, it isn't. Under Towleroad's story on this issue, many commentators have mentioned all the other places where they found the site to have been blocked. Other's have mentioned the same for Pam's House Blend, a site purely news and editorial.

What this boils down to is our continued need to change hearts and minds about the LGBT population. What needs to change is the automatic correlation between who we are and what is deemed offensive, hence the need for many to block any site that deals with our issues and, unfortunately, our labels.

And it was this frustration that I experienced which launched all of this in the first place. Hopefully, the good that will come out of this isn't just a stronger relationship between Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and the LGBT population. What can come out of it is a message, first to us, that if we speak up, things can change. But secondly, a message to the public that we simply will not, cannot take, not only "technical discrimination," but all discrimination.


  1. Happy to read the positive news on the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf front, since I've given up Starbucks completely due to their company being anti-Employee Free Choice Act, among other problems they have in how employees are treated. (Besides, a gal just HAS to have her large Black Forest, no whipped cream. ;))

    Kudos to UTF for making sure to get all sides of this blocked content situation, and to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for immediately fixing the problem. Perhaps this "glitch" might end up actually having a silver lining in forging a stronger bond between the company and the LGBT community. If nothing else, at least it shows them (and other companies) that they are being watched, and there are repercussions to their actions/choices.

  2. Great job getting them to take quick action.