News Updates by Shannon Ralph
With all of the news coverage in recent months about anti-gay bullying and suicide by LGBT youth, you would think our public schools would be at the forefront of combating these issues. Ummmm…not so much. As a matter of fact, many school districts have restrictive web blocking software that prevents school staff and students alike from accessing websites that include gay or lesbian content or have anything at all to do with LGBT “interests”. Web sites such as GLSEN (Gay and Lesbian School Education Network), The Trevor Project (an LGBT youth suicide prevention organization), and the It Gets Better Project (a LGBT youth support project) are being blocked my many schools. This means that students who are struggling with coming out, being bullied at school, are contemplating suicide due to their sexual orientation—or students who are simply looking for positive representations of LGBT people—do not have access to this information in schools.
The ACLU has recently instituted a “Don’t Filter Me” campaign aimed at compelling companies that make and supply filtering software to schools to remove anti-LGTB filtering. Specifically, the ACLU has targeted five companies that filter gay and lesbian content in school districts across the country:
• Blue Coat—has a filter called “LGBT”
• M86—has a filter called “Lifestyle”
• Fortiguard—has a filter called “Homosexuality”
• Websense—has a filter called “Gay or Lesbian or Bisexual Interest”
• URL Blacklist—has a filter called “Sexuality”
No one would argue the appropriateness of limiting children’s access to sexually explicit web sites in schools. However, what the ACLU has labeled “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination” specifically and intentionally targeting LGBT-related content that is both beneficial and educational to students is wrong. And illegal. When used by a public school, programs that block all LGBT content violate First Amendment rights to free speech, as well as the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs. This includes gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups. By law, these groups must have the same access to national organizational websites that help them function, just as other groups (chess club, Key Club, Boy Scouts, etc.) are able to access their national websites. The ACLU has a form
on its web site that gives high school students instructions on how to test their schools’ computers for software that filters LGBT web sites. It also informs students how to check if their school alternately allows access to anti-gay “pray away the gay” websites, such as Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays. Shockingly, many school filtering programs allow access to anti-gay websites, while at the same time blocking access to websites that promote positive information regarding the LGBT community. All without our knowledge—until now.
More information on the ACLU’s work on LGBT school issues can be found here: www.aclu.org/safeschools
[Photo Credit: lukasbenc]
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