Nedbank’s blocking of an email because it contained the word ‘bisexual’ shows that LGBTI identities continue to be associated with ‘unsuitable’ sexualised adult content.
The incident was brought to light by the Pretoria-based LGBTI human rights group, Access Chapter 2 (AC2).
The organisation’s Executive Director, Steve Letsike wrote to the bank after an email from UN Human Rights Officer Fabrice Houdart was rejected by Nedbank’s firewall on 12 December.
Houdart received an auto response to his email, titled “[quarantine]… unacceptable language”. The message explained that his email had been blocked because it contained “unacceptable language not permitted by Nedbank’s email policy.” The message added: “The word/s that triggered the block: bisexual.”
Ironically, Houdart is co-author of the UN’s Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business which aims to support the business community in tackling discrimination against LGBTI people.
The blocking of the email is not surprising. MambaOnline has often experienced its content being blocked by corporate firewalls because of the inclusion of “banned” words such as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’. These terms are often associated with hyper-sexualised behaviour and adult content, perpetuating the idea that LGBTI identities are inappropriate in the context of business and daily life.
Letsike pointed out to Nedbank that its policy was unconstitutional and against the UN Standards of Conduct as well as the bank’s own standards of inclusion.
“Once a bank policy is exclusive in its approach, then the bank is no longer deserving of business from the people it excludes,” said Letsike. “For many LGBTI+ people, the workplace should be a place of safety and diversity… however, levels of discrimination and prejudice still exist. Nedbank’s response demonstrated that and seeks to undermine members of the LGBTI community. LGBTI persons cannot be erased, and as such we raise our concerns with you.”
Letsike called on the bank to urgently review its security and communication policies, to publicly apologise to the LGBTI community and to engage with LGBTI organisations for assistance.
Should it not do this, she said, AC2 would remove its accounts from Nedbank and would urge LGBTI organisations, individuals and allies to also move their accounts. It would further call for a boycott of the bank.
Nedbank responded in a letter to Letsike that it values “a culture of diversity and does not discriminate against anyone based on race, colour, creed, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“The incident referred to in your letter of 14 December 2018, where an email was blocked, was due to the word ‘bisexual’ having been identified by our firewall,” said Annaleigh Vallie Head: Corporate Communication.
“Our firewall is programmed to guard against unauthorised sexual content,” she explained. “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have since reviewed the criteria used in our firewall process so as to avoid such incidents in future.”
Vallie added: “We apologise for the incident.”