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Xbox Live changes policy on referencing gender, race

Previously, members of the popular gaming service were prohibited for making references to sexual orientation, race, or religion. Now, a new policy will allow them to express their identities.

Xbox Live members will for the first time be able to express their sexual orientation, race, or religion in their gamertags and profiles, Microsoft announced Friday.

The move comes as a result of what Xbox Live general manager Marc Whitten said was significant feedback from the service's community asking for the ability to be open about such personal details, as well as their nationalities.

"Since the beginning, Microsoft has made an investment in the security and safety of Xbox Live and created tools and monitoring practices to ensure it is a fun and welcoming entertainment experience for people of all races, nationalities, religions and sexual orientations," Whitten wrote in an open letter Friday. "With that in mind, I'd like to announce an update to the Xbox Live terms of use and code of conduct which will allow our members to more freely express their race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation in Gamertags and profiles. Under our previous policy, some of these expressions of self-identification were not allowed in Gamertags or profiles to prevent the use of these terms as insults or slurs."

Whitten also said that the new policy provides for "increased stringency and enforcement" to ensure that community members do not insult or throw slurs at others for the way they express their identities.

Last July, Stephen Toulouse, the head of policy and enforcement for Xbox Live, told CNET News that he felt that the previous policy regarding members expressing their sexual orientation was "inelegant" and that though he and his team were working on improving the situation, they had no timetable.

Up until now, Microsoft's policy has been to bar any discussion of sexuality in profiles or gamertags, which prevented those who wanted to publicly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender from doing so. Toulouse said at the time that 98 percent of Xbox Live members using the term "gay" did so in a derogatory manner, rather than as a way of self-identification.

"I truly believe that our diversity is what makes us strong," said Whitten of the 23-million member Xbox Live service, "diversity in gaming and entertainment options, and diversity in the people that make up this amazing community.