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Taking On Web Censorship in Tennessee Schools

Chris Hampton,
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May 19, 2009

You may recall last month when the ACLU First Amendment Working Group, the ACLU LGBT Project, and the ACLU of Tennessee first started schooling some school districts in Tennessee for using web filtering software that illegally blocked dozens of LGBT rights nonprofits and other informational sites — while so-called “reparative therapy” (pray away the gay!) websites were wide open to student surfing.

We first found out about the web filtering software mess from Andrew Emitt, a student in Knoxville who discovered the problem while trying to search for something so horrifying, so filthy, so shocking — no, actually, it wasn’t at all like that. He was looking for scholarship information for LGBT students.

Well, the schools never fixed the problem, so today we’re taking them to court on behalf of four people (three students and a school librarian) in Knoxville and Nashville. Here’s one of our plaintiffs, Bryanna Shelton, and her mom, Angie Wright, explaining why:


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About 80 percent of Tennessee public schools, including those in the Knox County and Metro Nashville districts, use filtering software that blocks sites it categorizes as LGBT. Tennessee law requires that schools use Internet filtering software, but that law is meant to protect students from information that is obscene or harmful to minors. However, the LGBT filter category does not include material that is sexually gratuitous. That kind of content is filtered through the “pornography” category.

Meantime, students aren’t blocked from websites about so-called “reparative therapy,” a practice that purports to “cure” LGBT people — something that the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the National Association of Social Workers all say can be VERY harmful to students.

Take a moment to look at these sites like GLSEN, PFLAG, GSA Network, Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, HRC — all sites that are blocked in as many as 107 school districts in Tennessee. Now you tell me: Does that look like porn to you?

Didn’t think so.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated there were five plaintiffs in this case. That was incorrect. There are four.

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