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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

McDonald's New Zealand: Where Gay Websites Aren't Considered Family Friendly?

By Michael A. Jones -

McDonald's in New Zealand made a big splash last month, when it announced that every restaurant in the country would have complimentary WiFi service for patrons. As the company's Managing Director, Mark Hawthorne, noted in a press release (pdf) announcing the move: "No matter where you are in New Zealand, there will be a McDonald’s nearby, which makes us the perfect place to offer this kind of internet service ... you will now have a place where you can stop, grab a bite to eat or coffee and access free WiFi internet."
There's just one problem: if you're trying to access a website dedicated to the LGBT community, chances are it'll be blocked. And that's apparently because McDonald's doesn't view these resources -- which include websites for LGBT youth, for gay news, and for information on health and HIV/AIDS -- as family friendly.
And that has a number of LGBT activists and publications in New Zealand saying that McDonald's should figure out a way to make sure their WiFi service isn't filtering essential material for LGBT folks.
Among the websites blocked by McDonald's is, which is a leading LGBT news publication in the country (think The Advocate for New Zealand). issued a statement this week, taking the restaurant chain to task for censoring websites that provide informative, and at times life-saving, information for LGBT folks.
"After so many years of the internet being an integral part of most people's daily lives, an organization such as McDonald's must by now be able to find a more sophisticated way of judging the suitability of actual content for your restaurants rather than just blocking out wholesale an entire site which provides much valuable and family-friendly lifestyle information and service," writes in an editorial. And they're not alone.
Rainbow Youth, a web site dedicated to providing support and information for LGBT youth, is also blocked. They issued a statement calling on McDonald's to find a better way of filtering web content. "All young people have a right to information about their personal identity and access to being informed about other cultures such as the queer and trans community," wrote the group's director, Tom Hamilton. "In no way would the Rainbow Youth website be inappropriate for a young person to access at any McDonald's restaurant."
Other sites blocked by the restaurant's WiFi service? PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Agender (a support network for transgender New Zealand residents), and Family Planning (a site that gives critical and important information on reproductive and sexual health).
McDonald's, for their part, has told that they're willing to review web sites on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps that's a good first step, but like writes, "we ask for fairness, even-handedness and a more sophisticated and net-savvy approach rather than the heavy handed and blunt instrument" that the restaurant is currently using to filter web access. And that's got to be the goal, because blocking harmless yet important LGBT content only reinforces a dangerous misnomer that gay content can't be family friendly or suitable for all audiences. Send the chain a message urging them to work with sites like, Rainbow Youth, Agender and more to make sure LGBT content is accessible at all restaurants.

petition text -
Please don't ban gay websites from your restaurant

Dear Mr. Hawthorne and Ms. Ryan,

I recently became aware that McDonald's restaurants in New Zealand are barring certain gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender websites over free WiFi networks, because your company doesn't view these websites as family friendly. I am deeply disappointed in this decision, and urge you to come up with a more sophisticated process for filtering web content.

Indeed, some of the websites blocked include gay news sites (, websites for LGBT youth (Rainbow Youth), Web sites for gay people and their straight friends and families (PFLAG), web sites for transgender New Zealand citizens (Agender), and websites with critical information on reproductive and sexual health (Family Planning). There is nothing inappropriate about these sites. In fact, in many respects they offer critical and life-saving information, and a valuable social network for LGBT New Zealand citizens.

I urge you to work with these sites, and come up with a process for making sure that gay content can be viewed over McDonald's WiFi service. Barring these sites only reinforces the dangerous message that gay content can't be seen as family friendly or appropriate for public consumption. That couldn't be farther from the truth, and I expect McDonald's, as a leading multinational corporation, to avoid wanting to send that message to customers.

Thanks for your time.

[Your name here] 


1 comment:

  1. reply came as follows-

    Dear xxxxxx,

    Thank you for contacting McDonald’s New Zealand regarding our Free WiFi service and access to some websites being blocked.

    We have had a number of customers contact us directly, including yourself, regarding specific websites that they believe should be unblocked. I can tell you that as of yesterday (11 January) we committed to unblocking the following websites: NZ Family Planning, Rainbow Youth, The Word, PFLAG and Agender.

    We are currently still working through our review of, as there is some content on this site that we are not entirely comfortable with, particularly with regard to third party advertising which we believe is sexually explicit. We have contacted in order to help find a mutually acceptable solution, if possible.

    McDonald’s would like to stress that we will actively discriminate against access to all sexually explicit and pornographic material in our restaurants. It was never our intention to discriminate against the gay community, and if we have caused any offence, we sincerely apologise.

    McDonald’s is a family restaurant chain, and as part of offering our new Free WiFi service, our policy is that viewed website content must be of a family friendly nature. This means it must be suitable for a child to view, and that a child cannot access a website where they can click on any content, link or third party advertisement and access sexually explicit content and images.

    In order to help protect children in our restaurants, McDonald’s has an external content filtering software programme in place where certain types of online content, including gambling websites, tobacco websites and adult mature content websites are blocked.

    Because we are in the early stages of offering this new Free WiFi service, we may encounter some issues with the filtering system. We have asked customers to contact us if they believe a site has been unjustifiably blocked. We will then review the content on a case by case basis and decide whether all information on that site, including advertisements and links to third party sites, is family friendly. If it meets this criteria, then we will commit to unblocking that particular site.

    We thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

    Yours sincerely,

    Kelly Gunn