by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
There are many reasons to take an Amtrak train in place of other modes of travel. Perhaps you have a fear of flying. Maybe you enjoy a scenic route while moving from point A to point B. Or, in some cases, it is economically practical. In any case, given today's digital age when everyone is 'connected' it would be safe to assume that ticket-holders will almost always have a laptop in tow. Much to the surprise of a writer for the blog Maryland Juice, Seattle Gay News and other LGBT newspapers were blocked - as pornographic - during the soft launch of Amtrak's expanded WiFi services this week.
'Amazingly, Maryland Juice is on an Amtrak train right now and was trying to verify that Seattle Gay News was not a porn site (it is not), and I stumbled across the following amazing development,' wrote the Maryland Juice blogger known as David in an Oct. 17 blog post. 'Amtrak appears to be blocking LGBT news sites from its WiFi connections. & The sgn.org site contains offensive articles, like this recent headline: 'Youth suicide prevention funds on WA state's chopping block.'
When David tried to access www.sgn.org the following message popped up: 'The website you are attempting to access has been blocked by an automatic content filter.'
A Maryland Juice Facebook reader also noted, 'I repeatedly got the same message when I tried to access The Guardian U.K. last month.' The Guardian is a mainstream liberal British newspaper.
Reports began to come in of a seniors' community website, Transgender news articles, and pro-LGBT political groups being blocked. In almost all instances, these websites had been labeled as pornographic - including the Leisure World seniors' events calendar.
I called Amtrak ready for a fight. Instead, I got total cooperation as the company thanked me (and others) for bringing the problem to their attention. The websites were unblocked within 24 hours.
The blocking of LGBT and other websites was a misunderstanding, say Amtrak officials. Christina Leeds, a spokesperson for Amtrak, told SGN, 'We have a content filter that scans websites for inappropriate content. We are not sure why LGBT news and websites were deemed 'inappropriate' but we can assure you that the problem has been fixed.'
In fact, because this was a soft launch of the expanded WiFi service, Leeds says Amtrak anticipated finding some problems and the company's leadership was standing by to fix them quickly before the system is updated on all trains.
'We have a system in place & [if] anything is incorrectly blocked you can submit a form that we will review and act accordingly,' Leeds said. 'This is a soft launch. A trial. There was a problem. We found it and fixed it.'
The company is LGBT-inclusive, Amtrak officials told SGN, and 'diversity is not just a corporate buzzword, it's a priority.'
'Often companies limit their diversity focus to traditional aspects, such as race, gender, age, disability, or religion. At Amtrak, we believe diversity is much more than this,' said officials. 'As a critical link to our philosophy, Amtrak instills an understanding that valuing diverse ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives can strengthen the service we provide.'
Amtrak officials say they promote a work environment that encourages employee input, teamwork, and development, while endorsing the skills, experience, and talent of all employees. 'Doing so is vital as it ensures all employees are given the opportunity to fully participate in the work effort using their unique sets of skills, experiences, and perspectives. This ultimately translates to improved productivity, job satisfaction, safety, and enhanced customer service.'
'The idea is to no longer separate diversity as an independent notion, but to live and breathe it as an intricate part of Amtrak's core business philosophy,' Leeds told SGN.
In addition to diversity in the workplace, Amtrak provides LGBT travelers with Gay-specific information on their Ride With Pride website (www.amtrakridewithpride.com). The site lists top Gay-friendly travel destinations, information on Pride events, and LGBT top news headlines, as well as a ticketing and reservations portal.
This story has a good ending. Amtrak did the right thing. Now, if only some other corporations would learn from their example &
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