ACLU Continues Push Against Anti-Gay Filters on School Computers
The ACLU has intervened at a California school where students were blocked from accessing sites addressing GLBT issues, while filters continued to allow access to sites opposing GLBTs, reported local newspaper the Oroville Mercury-Register on May 26.
"It’s a problem we’re hearing about all around the country," Elizabeth Gill, a lawyer with the San Francisco branch of the ACLU, told the newspaper. "For that reason, the ACLU set up a Don’t Filter Me initiative, seeking to combat illegal censorship of LGBT information at schools."
A Feb. 15 ACLU press release describes the initiative, which the ACLU undertook in partnership with Yale university earlier this year.
"The campaign asks students to check to see if web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities--a frequent target of censorship in schools--is blocked by their schools’ web browsers. Students can report instances of censorship to the ACLU LGBT Project," the release says.
"Students may not realize that it actually is illegal for their schools to block educational and political content geared toward the LGBT community," ACLU staff attorney Joshua Block said. "With this initiative, we hope to inform students of their rights, and let them know there is something they can do if their school is engaging in censorship."
"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, including gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups," the release noted. "Some schools have improperly configured their web filters to block access to websites for LGBT rights organizations such as the GSA Network and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, but allow access to sites that condemn homosexuality or urge LGBT people to try to change their sexual orientation, such as People Can Change.
"Some schools have also improperly configured their web filters to block news items pertaining to issues like ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and deny access to support groups that could be vital for troubled LGBT youth who either don’t have access to the Internet at home, or do not feel safe accessing such information on their home computers," continued the release.
"Schools harm students by denying them vital information," said Block, who is with the ACLU’s LGBT Project. "Schools not only have a legal duty to allow students access to these sites, it is also imperative that LGBT youth who are experiencing discrimination and bullying be able to access this information for their own safety."
The ACLU has an online form where students can report illegal denial of access to appropriate online resources. The new program is part of the ACLU’s work to promote safer schools and counter LGBT harassment and bullying.
In the current case, the Bay Area’s Oroville High School reportedly had filters in place that prevented students from accessing fact-based, age-appropriate information and other GLBT-related content, though other sites containing "opposing viewpoints" about gays were not similarly blocked.
A 16-year-old student at the school, Melina Zancanella, discovered the filter when she attempted to access information pertinent to the gay-straight alliance she established at the school, the newspaper reported.
"I wasn’t able to see helpful, pro-gay stuff for kids to be able to see, but could see sites that said ’God hates gays,’ and another one that said ’people can change,’ " the student told the media.