The times, they are a-changin'. In an open letter to Xbox Live members, Microsoft's Marc Whitten has announced that the Xbox Live Code of Conduct has been altered to allow members to "more freely express their race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation in Gamertags and profiles." Looking over the updated code, it appears that the major change directly affects references to sexual orientation. Specifically, the terms "lesbian," "gay," "bi," "transgender" and "straight" are now allowed in both Gamertags and user profiles. According to Whitten, the change has been made as the result of customer feedback.

Early last year, something of a controversy erupted when an Xbox Live user was allegedly banned from Xbox Live for identifying herself as a lesbian in her Xbox Live profile. The report brought to light an ongoing conversation on the matter between the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Microsoft. At the time, Microsoft claimed that it didn't allow users to express any form of sexual orientation -- including heterosexuality -- in an effort to prevent player harassment.

Obviously, Microsoft's stance on the matter has changed, though the company is still wary of possible harassment. Whitten states as much in his letter, noting that the new Code of Conduct also includes "increased stringency and enforcement to prevent misuse" of the newly allowed terms. Whitten concludes his letter by stating, "I truly believe that our diversity is what makes us strong: diversity in gaming and entertainment options, and diversity in the people that make up this amazing community."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.