ACLU Marks Banned Websites Awareness Day with Report on LGBT Censorship in Schools

September 28, 2011 1:16 pm

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NEW YORK – Public schools across the country are largely receptive to removing web filters that block educational content related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, according to a new report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project.

The report is being released on Banned Websites Awareness Day and summarizes the results of the ACLU’s “Don’t Filter Me” initiative to combat censorship of LGBT web content in public schools.

“Just as schools cannot remove books from the library that support LGBT people and their legal rights, schools also cannot use discriminatory web filtering software that prevents students from accessing supportive websites,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “But, thankfully, once schools are alerted to the fact that their filters may be blocking LGBT-supportive content, the overwhelming majority have voluntarily changed their policies to provide their students with viewpoint-neutral Internet access.”

The “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, in which students contacted the ACLU when they encountered LGBT censorship on school browsers, resulted in 96 schools across the country changing their filter configurations and improving access for 144,670 students. Five out of six software companies targeted by the initiative have changed their settings to distinguish educational LGBT content from adult content.

The initiative was launched after complaints from students like Andrew Emitt, who attended high school in Knoxville, Tenn. “I wasn’t looking for anything sexual or inappropriate,” said Emitt. “I wasn’t looking for games or chat rooms or dating sites. I was just looking for information about scholarships for LGBT students, and I couldn’t get to it because of this software. And I just thought this couldn’t possibly be okay.”

Schools install filters to block out pornographic material, in accordance with federal law. However, in some cases these filters were also blocking access to news reports on LGBT issues and LGBT websites and resources such as the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays. Software filters 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.

In August, the ACLU and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit against a school district in Camdenton, Mo. after the district refused to change the settings on a filter labeled “Sexuality,” which illegally blocks access to non-sexual LGBT content as well as general adult content.

The full report can be viewed here:

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