Berlin public and corporate Wi-Fi block LGBT-friendly websites | News | DW | 10.11.2016
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Berlin public and corporate Wi-Fi block LGBT-friendly websites

A Berlin Ikea blocking the website for an LGBT advocacy group was just the tip of the iceberg. This is symptomatic of a government unconcerned with gay rights, a prominent activist told DW.

On a recent family shopping trip to the Ikea outlet in Berlin's Schöneberg district, one father noticed something strange. As he went to look up the schedule for an upcoming family picnic hosted by the German Association for Lesbians and Gays (LSVD), he noticed the website was blocked.

Out of curiosity, he tried several other portals for LGBT resources; articles about homophobia, advice columns on coming out. None of them worked., a website that advocates for homosexuals' rights, was similarly blank.

Apparently, the websites were "labeled as pornography and disabled under Germany's child protection laws," said LSVD Director for Berlin and Brandenburg, Jörg Steinert, in an interview with DW.

"Unfortunately, this is nothing new for us," said Steinert.

The censorship of gay and lesbian websites usually draws a connection to authoritarian or ideological regimes, but this is likely just the beginning in Germany, Steinert said. Earlier this year, the public Wi-Fi for Berlin's transport system, the BVG, was accused of similar discrimination when users found they could not access LGBT-related websites. In that case, the problem was solved relatively quickly - the blocked sites were available within just one day of customers making a complaint.

An unenviable task

The Schöneberg Ikea, however, didn't seem very concerned that for its gay customers, content as innocent as family get-togethers were being lumped in with erotica.

"They didn't respond to our inquiries at first," Steinert told DW. "It took weeks to get a reaction, although they did eventually promise to correct the issue."

The source of the issue, however, is likely not an anti-LGBT agenda on the part of the Swedish furniture giant, which itself has taken flak for putting gay families in its ads for decades. The problem is a truly German one: bureaucracy. Certain keywords are automatically blocked by Wi-Fi providers in public places, and unfortunately, the word homosexual has "sex" right there in the middle of it.

Then the business or public office that hosts the Hotspot has the unenviable task of clearing every individual website one by one. It could also mean that reports about themes that have nothing to with pornography, like assault or medical issues, could also be blocked.

Activist: Merkel has no right to lecture Trump on diversity

For Steinert, this side issue is emblematic of a bigger reluctance in Germany to embrace the LGBT community as part of the nation. "We are not treated as equals, even in comparison to more religious countries," the activist said.

Deutschland Reaktion US-Wahl - Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel (Reuters/A. Schmidt)

The Merkel government has refused to make any move on gay marriage, even as Spain, France, and Italy make strides

In point of fact, despite its reputation as a progressive haven, Germany lags behind many of its Western counterparts in expanding equal rights to gays and lesbians. The federal parliament, the Bundestag, has repeatedly refused to debate a long-standing draft law on the subject.

"While we do have the right to enter into civil partnerships, gay men and lesbians in Germany cannot marry, cannot adopt as a couple," Steinert added. He then took Chancellor Angela Merkel to task for what he saw as shameless hypocrisy, "we were all very surprised to hear her lecture Donald Trump on embracing diversity. She even mentioned sexual orientation! Her administration is dead set against protecting LGBT individuals."

Indeed, while some state constitutions have added civil rights protections for gays and lesbians, Berlin has continued to eschew the matter. Steinert, however, had hope that a few suits soon to be up before the Federal Constitutional Court, including one on adoption, could bring Germany closer to some of its fellow European Union members in guaranteeing equal rights for all citizens.

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