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Anti-Gay Online Sweepstakes Ensnares
Microsoft, Yahoo!, US Airways, Travelocity,

Online Vacation Mall, and more

(this page has a number of images -
please be patient during the download)

This page details a scandal that enveloped a number of major American companies who chose to do business with Sandals Luxury Resorts - a destination that bans gay tourists.  Included are relevant articles, copies of the the anti-gay sweepstakes ads, and press releases. 

After you finish reading this page, ask yourself:

* Would an American company continue to do business with a resort that enforced a 'whites-only' policy? 
* Would they maintain a partnership or promotion with such a resort? 
* Would they sell travel packages to such a resort? 
* Would they advertise, or link to, the resort on their Web site? 
* Would they offer a sweepstakes to the resort, saying the winners must be white?

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Microsoft - Microsoft had a Sandals sweepstakes online (via Microsoft-partner Online Vacation Mall) that specifically excluded gay couples.  Within 24 hours of being contacted, Microsoft canceled the sweepstakes, took a prominent Sandals link off of their Web site (it was at http://expedia.msn.com/etn/packages/), promised that the Microsoft logo would never appear on the same page as a Sandals logo or promotion, said that they were immediately dropping Sandals as a member of Expedia (their travel site), and said they would review their entire relationship with Sandals.  If they keep their promises, and they have to date, then kudos to Microsoft!

US Airways - The contest on the Microsoft-partner Web site was "courtesy" of US Airways.  US Airways also heavily promotes Sandals on its US Airways Vacations Web site.  Wednesday February 3, 1999, after receiving a number of complaints for having not only sponsored an anti-gay sweepstakes, but for having actually included Sandal's straights-only policy on the airline's Web site (as though it were no big deal), US Airways decided to edit its site.   Did US Airways stop using its good name and popular Web site to promote a resort that discriminates against a class of American citizens?  No.  It chose instead to delete a sentence in its  Sandals promotion that would tip visitors off to the fact that US Airways was still promoting a resort that discriminates.  A true profile in courage.   US Airways contact: CAEMAIL@usairways.com


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Yahoo! - Yahoo! had been sponsoring a Valentine's Day sweepstakes for couples to win a trip to a Sandals resort in Jamaica that bans gay people (Sandals' representatives have told several caller that all of the Sandals-named resorts ban gay couples).  Yahoo! has now changed the sweepstakes and removed Sandals as a prize.  In addition, Yahoo! removed a number of references to Sandals from their Web, while retaining a number of other Sandals pages paid for by travel agents.  The sweepstakes can be found at (http://www.yahoo.com/promotions/fragrance3/).   Yahoo! contact information (via a Web form): http://www.yahoo.com/info/support/contacts/experience.html

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Travelocity - Web travel giant Travelocity has selected Sandals as their "partner spotlight".  On a site of Travelocity's importance and viewership, this is big.  Travelocity repeats the not-completely-forthcoming statement that Sandals is "for couples only" - when in reality Sandals is for "straight" couples only.  FYI: according to their own Web site, "Travelocity is a service mark of an affiliate of The SABRE Group, Inc".  SABRE is American Airlines reservation system.   Travelocity contact information: Travelocity@sabre.com

The following images are from the Travelocity site - http://www2.travelocity.com/vacations/?Service=TRAVELOCITY :

travelocity - first partner page.gif (3643 bytes)     Travelocity sandals page.gif (10513 bytes)       

Fodor's - Fodor's, the enormously popular travel guide, lists Sandals as a hotel "that we highly recommend".   Fodor's goes so far as to actually say "couples (heterosexual only)", yet at the same time still highly recommend the discriminating resort.  Fodor's contact: jkramer@randomhouse.com

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American Airlines - Site promotes Sandals and includes anti-gay discriminatory language.

AA Sandals page banner.gif (13118 bytes)

AA same sex prohibition.gif (2519 bytes)

Delta - Delta features Sandals on their home page at http:///www.deltavacations.com - contact them by email at info@deltavacations.com

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Online Vacation Mall - Online Vacation Mall (OVM) is the travel Web site that actually contained the Microsoft/US Airways sweepstakes mentioned above.  Microsoft says they asked OVM to cancel the sweepstakes (and they did) and to remove Microsoft's logo from any page that contains Sandals (and again, they did).  The Online Vacation Mall home page still prominently lists Sandals as the "Hot Deal of the Month" (http://www.onlinevacationmall.com/), and even lets you buy your reservations online (note the reference to US Airways at the bottom of the page below).  Online Vacation Mall contact: expedia@ovm.com

OVM small.gif (25037 bytes)ovm order form.gif (51802 bytes)



Febuary 5, 1999 - 2PM EST

Anti-Gay, Anti-Disabled Travel Packages May Violate Civil Rights

Contact: John Aravosis, Wired Strategies
202/328-5707, info@wiredstrategies.com

WASHINGTON, DC - Companies that offer discriminatory tour packages that exclude gays or the disabled (among others), could be sued for possible civil rights violations, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a leading Internet and anti-discrimination legal expert.

An ACLU attorney told CNet yesterday that a sweepstakes that excludes protected classes of American citizens could "constitute a violation" of US civil rights laws. And Christopher Wolf, an Internet and anti-discrimination specialist with Proskauer Rose LLP in Washington, Dc told Wired Strategies today that a company offering a package tour to such destinations "raises a serious and legitimate issue under anti-discrimination laws."

The possibility of civil rights lawsuits was the latest bombshell in a growing public relations, and now legal, nightmare involving Sandals Luxury Resorts and numerous American corporate giants, including Microsoft, Yahoo!, and US Airways.

The controversy exploded earlier this week when Kirby Frank, a gay Atlanta resident, discovered that Microsoft-partner Online Vacation Mall (OVM) http://www.onlinevacationmall.com was offering "couples" an online sweepstakes for a seven-day stay at Sandals Luxury Resort in Jamaica and the Bahamas. In the fine print, the OVM site made clear that: "* Sandals Luxury Resorts policies require male/female couples only". Archived images of the various sites mentioned in this release, and back press releases, are available at http://www.wiredstrategies.com/resort.html.

Public outrage widened when it became known that many of the resorts under the Sandals name do not appear to offer handicap-accessible rooms (according to detailed descriptions of the various resorts on the US Airways Web site - e.g., http://www.usairwaysvacations.com/dest/isla/mbjhot.htm). According to the US Airways site, this no-disabilities environment includes the Sandals Dunn's River resort featured in a Yahoo! sweepstakes discovered yesterday (Thursday).

According to CNet (February 4, 1999), once the resort's controversial policies towards gays and people with disabilities became public, "Microsoft and Yahoo immediately sought to distance themselves from Sandals' discriminatory practices" http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,31991,00.html.

While the public relations disaster of appearing anti-gay and anti-disabled sunk in quickly for the software and Internet giants, last night a second and larger shoe dropped. The ACLU, and today a top Internet and anti-discrimination lawyer, announced that gay Americans and people with disabilities could likely sue businesses that offer sweepstakes or tour packages to resorts that ban gays or are not reasonably handicap accessible.

Art Spitzer, an attorney with the ACLU, told CNet that companies offering such sweepstakes could be sued under anti-discrimination laws. "It seems to me that if a company doing business in a jurisdiction that prohibits discrimination offers a sweepstakes that could be collected by women but not men, or men but not women, or blacks but not whites--it seems to me that that would constitute a violation," Spitzer told CNet.

Attorney Wolf concurred in an interview today with Wired Strategies. When asked whether gays and lesbians could sue companies operating in the US that offer sweepstakes to discriminatory resorts, Wolf said: "Offering prize premiums only to heterosexual couples raises serious issus of discrimination under various state and local human rights statutes. It certainly appears that someone could have a legitimate cause of action."

Then Wolf issued a more dire warning. Even if no sweepstakes were involved, companies that offer tour packages to resorts that are not open to gays, or amenable to people with disabilities, could be sued - even if their only affiliation to the resort is simply having offered the discriminatory package. "I would think that offering products and services falls within the ambit of anti-discrimination statutes," Wolf said, "and if someone is excluded from taking advantage of tour packages because of their status then I think this raises a serious and legitimate issue under anti-discrimination laws."

Wolf said the laws likely governing such a suit would be the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and state and local human rights statues that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Ten US states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as do over 140 American cities. For a comprehensive list of those locales, see http://www.hrc.org/issues/workplac/nd/ndjuris.html.

Wolf is not new to high-profile discrimination cases - he successfully represented Master Chief Timothy McVeigh (no relation to the Oklahoma City bomber) in his online privacy case against AOL and the US Navy last year.

Wired Strategies http://www.wiredstrategies.com is a Washington, DC-based political Internet consulting firm specializing in using the Internet to influence and implement public policy.

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BBC Radio, February 5, 1999 - the BBC did a five-minute story on the Sandals controversy to their worldwide radio network (listership of 100,000).   A BBC reporter told me that he called Sandals on Friday and told them he wanted to book a room for himself and "his boyfriend" - Sandals refused to book the room.

CNet's news.com, February 4, 1999 - an excellent article detailing how Yahoo! and Travelocity have now become ensnared in the Sandals scandal, and quoting the ACLU saying that American companies offering discriminatory sweepstakes could be breaking US law.

USA Today, February 4, 1999, p.1D.

Datalounge, February 3, 1999 - additional information on the long history of Sandal's anti-gay policies.


Resort Admits Other Hotels Allow Gays On Island

Editor's note
: In the CNet article above, an un-named Sandals employee defended the resort, saying that "The company doesn't have an antigay policy."   In addition, several reporters have told me that there is a rumor going around that Sandals' host countries have laws banning same-sex couples from staying in hotels, and that's why the resort bans gays.  Well, a gay tourist called Sandals the evening of Wednesday February 3, 1999 and was told that the resort does in fact ban same-sex couples, but even more importantly, the Sandals representative (Heidi) admitted that there are other non-Sandals resorts on the island that allow gays - if other resorts can allow gay couples, why can't Sandals?

Check out the following email detailing a conversation with a Sandals booking agent who refused to book a gay man a room:

To: john@wiredstrategies.com
Date: Wed, 3 Feb 1999 21:43:42 -0500
Subject: Sandals Resorts: No Gays Need Apply


After reading the disturbing press release regarding the Microsoft Expedia/Sandals discrimination against gays and lesbian, I thought I would call Sandals for myself as I am currently planning a vacation with my boyfriend. In talking with the Sandals Resorts agent, Heidi at 1-800-SANDALS, I was informed that Sandals "is only for female and male couples."

When I asked her why, her response was "because that's how the resorts were made, for female and male couples only."

She went onto to suggest "Well you can go to Beaches Negril where you can go with, um, another male. It's the same type of resort, but it's not just for couples. Beaches Negril is for everyone." "This resort here is only for female/male couples," she said referring to Sandals Negril Beach.

So just to be sure I was absolutely clear on this subject, I asked her if they would refuse my booking of the Sandals Negril Beach Resort. Heidi responded, "For our Sandals Resorts, yes."

Thought you would be interested in this information. Please feel free to give me a call if you have any further questions. Feel free to use this information as you see fit.


John F. DeLuca
Atlanta, Georgia
[Editor's note: I have Mr. DeLuca's phone number for press inquiries]


February 3, 1999

Contact: John Aravosis, Wired Strategies, 202/328-5707, info@wiredstrategies.com

US Airways Web Site Still Contains Straights-Only Policy

Washington, DC - Microsoft's Expedia Web site http://www.expedia.com is dropping its affiliation with a Caribbean resort that bans gay couples, and has canceled a no-gays-need-apply online sweepstakes, the software giant told Wired Strategies today.

The announcement came one day after Kirby Frank, an Atlanta resident, discovered that Microsoft-partner Online Vacation Mall (OVM) http://www.onlinevacationmall.com was offering "couples" an online sweepstakes for a seven-day stay at Sandals Luxury Resort in Jamaica and the Bahamas. In the fine print, the OVM site made clear that: "* Sandals Luxury Resorts policies require male/female couples only".

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Frank emailed the companies involved to complain, then enlisted Wired Strategies, a Washington, DC-based political Internet consulting firm http://www.wiredstrategies.com, in issuing a press release on Monday calling for the online community to complain to Microsoft, OVM, and US Airways (which is sponsoring the contest). Within twenty-four hours, Microsoft quickly backed away from the anti-gay resort.

"We were not aware of the [resort's anti-gay] policy nor of the language in the promotion," Microsoft Expedia spokesperson Suzi Levine told Wired Strategies. Levine explained that the straights-only sweepstakes has been pulled at Microsoft's request: "As soon as it was brought to our attention, we responded immediately to have the promotion removed."

Levine also said that Expedia is removing a prominent link to Sandals resorts from their Web site, would drop Sandals as a "member" of the Expedia site, and would not allow the Microsoft logo to appear on any Web page that also contained information about Sandals or any other discriminatory company. "As a company policy and with the products we develop for consumers, Microsoft supports and encourages cultural and ethnic diversity," Levine said.

Frank welcomed Microsoft's rapid response. "I'm very pleased that there was such a quick and appropriate response by Microsoft," he said.

However, Frank was still concerned about the ongoing role of US Airways in this affair. "While Microsoft has quickly done the right thing, I still haven't heard a word from US Airways," Frank said. Frank noted that US Airways still includes anti-gay language in its own Web site touting Sandals resorts: "If you look at US Airway's own Web site, it's there in black and white: 'Hotel is for couples only. A couple is defined as one female adult and one male adult' " http://www.usairwaysvacations.com/neg/sans^^^/sans^^^.HTM.

usairbad.jpg (61814 bytes)

Under a section ironically entitled "Family Policy", the US Airways site not only spells out Sandals' ban on gay couples, but also makes clear that "cribs are not available" and that the "Hotel does not offer handicap accessible rooms".

Frank also noted that Online Vacation Mall has yet to make amends. While the site dropped the offending sweepstakes, it still contains a prominent ad on its home page touting Sandals as its "Hot Deal of the Month".

omvbad.jpg (64492 bytes)

"Online Vacation Mall sent me an email basically saying they weren't to blame because US Airways was responsible for making the anti-gay arrangements with Sandals resorts," Frank said.

Frank thinks that excuse is a thinly veiled attempt to defend a discriminatory double-standard. "If US Airways had made arrangements with a resort that had a 'whites-only' policy, would Online Vacation Mall have that resort on their site? I doubt it," Frank said. "I think the continuing presence of Sandals on Online Vacation Mall's site, and the pass-the-buck response I received from them, shows a continued lack of respect for the gay and lesbian customer," Frank added.

Wired Strategies http://www.wiredstrategies.com is a Washington, DC-based political Internet consulting firm specializing in using the Internet to influence and implement public policy.

# # #


February 1, 1999

Contact: John Aravosis, Wired Strategies, 202/328-5707, info@wiredstrategies.com

Straight-Only Contest Linked to Microsoft and US Airways

Washington, DC - A popular Microsoft-partnered Web site is offering visitors a chance at a free trip to the Caribbean courtesy of US Airways. But there's a catch: no gays need apply.

The site, Online Vacation Mall http://expedia.onlinevacationmall.com, offers subscribers to its email list a chance to win a free seven-night stay at the Sandals resort in Jamaica and the Bahamas http://expedia.onlinevacationmall.com/giveaway/giveexp/index.shtml . It's only when visitors scroll down to the fine print that they find out: "* Sandals Luxury Resorts policies require male/female couples only".

The anti-gay trip was discovered by Kirby Frank, an Atlanta resident who was shopping online for a vacation for himself and his boyfriend. "Today I was in the Microsoft Expedia/Online Vacation Mall Web site and saw an offer to win a week-long trip for couples to the Sandals resort, with air travel provided by US Airways," Frank explained. "It looked really nice, but that's when I read the not-so-fine print," he said.

When Frank saw that the sweepstakes banned gay couples, he was angry. "I was appalled that Microsoft and US Airways would be parties to anti-gay discrimination," said Frank. "Microsoft is supposed to be a progressive company, and in the competitive travel industry US Airways needs every edge they can get," he added, "it astounds me that any company would partner with someone who basically says 'we don't want gay people's business.' "

The sweepstakes rules on the site make clear that the trip is "courtesy of US Airways Vacations and Sandals Resorts." Both Microsoft and US Airways logos are featured prominently on the site. In addition, the Online Vacation Mall Web address and email address both include the word "expedia" - the trademarked name of Microsoft's travel site - and a Vacation Mall representative told Wired Strategies today by phone that "we have a partnership with Microsoft."

This is not the first time Sandals resorts finds itself in anti-gay hot water. The Washington Post reported on January 18, 1998 that "Sandals, a Jamaican-based chain of resorts for couples, bars reservations from same-sex couples." This was part of a larger Post expose on Caribbean destinations that ban gay tourists.

In spite of this affront, Frank did not immediately fault the companies involved: "My hope is that Microsoft, US Airways and Online Vacation Mall don't realize their good names are being used to perpetuate hate against gay people," he said. "These companies are free to set whatever policies they want, but they're alienating a class of customers that includes me. I've emailed Microsoft, US Airways and Online Vacation Mall about this situation, and the response I get from them will determine whether I use their products and services in the future," Frank concluded.

Frank recommended the online community contact all the companies involved at:

Online Vacation Mall: expedia@ovm.com

US Airways Consumer Affairs: CAEMAIL@usairways.com

Microsoft online comment form: http://expedia.msn.com/pub/feedback.dll?Subj=4

Sandals Luxury Resorts: info@sandals.com

Wired Strategies http://www.wiredstrategies.com is a Washington, DC-based political Internet consulting firm specializing in using the Internet to influence and implement public policy.