Friday, December 5, 2008

(No More) Call for Boycott - Sheraton and all Starwood Hotels

OTE: Since I first posted this article, there has been big news as to this situation. NO BOYCOTT is needed any longer. See here for details.


Robyn Ochs is a tireless, well-known activist for the rights of bisexuals, and she recently posted to Facebook the story of how a Sheraton hotel blocked access to her non-adult not-porn website because a blunt instrument, conservative-agenda-focused software blocking program blocks words like lesbian and bisexual as inappropriate content. Based on what Robyn has written, I'm joining with her in boycotting Sheraton and all Starwood Hotels until Robyn tells us the problem has been satisfactorily resolved. Note that the blocking in question is in place in the hotel's lobby internet facilities, not its in-room service.

Robyn wrote compellingly in response to the Sheraton hotel manager's BS response - the entire story is below. The current status of the matter is that the hotel manager has forwarded her email to the Consumer Affairs Executive Division of Starwood Hotels and Resorts for further consideration.

As a self-identified bisexual female, I say BOO SHERATON! BOO STARWOOD! In intend for none of it to have the pleasure of my company until this is resolved. Specific hotel brands to avoid are

- Meridien

- Four Points

- Westin

- The Luxury Collection

- Loft

- Sheraton

- Element

- St. Regis

- W Hotels


Robyn writes:

Dear All,

Here is my email to Starwood/Sheraton, the response I received from the hotel in Milwaukee that uses SiteCoach to block content in their hotel lobby Internet, and my own response to them:

MY FIRST EMAIL: I stayed in one of your hotels on October 7-8, 2008. When I went to my own website,, I was denied access, with the following message: The requested site could not be loaded. 451 The access to the address above is restricted. According to our harmful content database SiteCoach does not allow you to visit this page! An error has occurred while trying to open the page ." From what I now understand, SiteCoach is a right wing company that considers words like "lesbian" inappropriate content. Please tell me that you will stop using this service so that I can continue staying at Sheraton Hotels.

Robyn Ochs
Boston, MA


Dear Ms. Ochs,

Thank you for feedback regarding the Sheraton Link. This program has been met with much success since its launch by Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

I have fully reviewed your concerns over having your site and the Sheraton Link in the lobby. The company that installs and maintains the systems have promoted these systems to a kid friendly, family friendly environment. I am sure you can understand that there are several sites on the internet that are viewed as offensive by the general public and for that reason, programs have been developed to ensure that the majority of viewers are met with non-offensive material. Your site in particular isn’t what I would call “offensive” but certain words must have been picked up within the filter that restricted public access to your site; I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.

Regrettably the system will not allow us to change the filters to allow your site to be viewed at the Sheraton Link. I appreciate your efforts to educate the public on your views and wish you continued success in doing so. We appreciate your loyalty to Starwood and hope this unfortunate scenario has not altered your opinion of an award winning company and hope to see you in our hotels in the near future.



Dear Peter,

I appreciate your attempt to "put lipstick on this pig" as well as your personal support of my work, but unfortunately there is a false logic underlying the use of a block that considers words like "lesbian" and "bisexual" offensive to the "general public." These words connote identities. There is nothing inherently offensive about them. And the "general public" that you seek not to offend includes many people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, including many youth. In fact, much of my own work involves work with youth aged 14-21. When you add our families and friends to our numbers, we ARE the "general public" to which you refer. If someone else finds the words with which I describe my own identity offensive, that is their business. No one is being forced to visit sites that contain these words. Finally, your letter makes me wonder by what measurement has this program "met with much success"? I'm afraid that your company's use of SiteCoach IS sufficient reason for me to stop doing business with your hotel chain. I should also forewarn you that I will be publicizing this incident on Facebook and encouraging others to boycott Starwood/Sheraton hotels as well. I hope that your company will come to its senses and cease acting as censors.

Robyn Ochs (a.k.a. Jane Q. Public)


dandellion said...

The only thing offensive here is their censorship, fascism and hypocrisy. SiteCoach HAS allow list that can be populated by admin.

Anita Wagner said...

Yeah, I know that is usually an option - my employer's software does it, though it isn't SiteCoach. I was thinking that at minimum Starwood could offer people like Robyn an exception. A placard next to the restricted computers with info on who to contact if you believe a website is being unfairly banned might be a reasonable compromise.

I get that access to porn sites isn't appropriate for a computer in a hotel lobby or business center and that software can't tell the difference between someone surfing porn sites for gay/lesbian/bisexual sex and the personal websites of individuals who *are* gay/lesbian/bisexual and identify themselves there as such. And the hotel does not put such restrictions on in-room internet access. Restricting in-room access is rightfully the job of parents to configure their laptop accordingly.

It's also rather telling that this huge chain of hotels has no problem offering in-room porn on TV - it's too big a profit center to cave so easily to religious zealots - restricting public access computers is maybe their compromise with the complainers.

Sweet Heart of the Song Tra Bong said...

I agree that the offensive thing here is the censorship. It's also personally infuriating that they're using stereotypes about sexuality to accomplish the censorship.