Personal Statements of Teens Affected by the CDA
Teens Affected By Online Censorship Speak Out
Rheana Parrenas, who describes herself as “a 16-year old, Filipina bisexual,” publishes her poetry through YouthArts, a project of WildCat Press (a plaintiff in ACLU v. Reno). YouthArts publishes two online youth magazines by and for teenagers that contain poetry, fiction, essays, fine art, and photography. Some of the material is sexually explicit, including works by Rheana Parrenas.
In Her Words
I write and perform original poetry and prose under the pseudonym of Juno Salazar Parrenas. My literary career began at age 11, when I was published in the Spring 1991 edition of Maganda Magazine of theUniversity of California at Berkeley.
I am constantly looking for places to express myself, since there is minuscule information proliferated by non-heterosexuals, particularly non-heterosexual, underage women of color. The Teen Conferences and People of Color Conferences of the Gay and Lesbian Community Forum of America Online have given me the opportunity to chat with other similar people. Through the Teen Conference, I’ve formed friendships with other teens. The most valuable friendship I’ve had was created on America Online.
My section within YouthArts is a series of poems and a short story titled “:::GASP!:::. In my poetry, I deal with such issues as sexuality and ethnicity. “6 Minutes,” an original poem concerning rape, contains profanities written in the context of a rapist. Due to the controversy related to the subject matter of my work, I am apprehensive of its “indecency.”
With the CDA, my self-expression is a crime. I feel it to be important that my work is available for other teenagers, especially those who can identify with its subject matter. I feel that a quantity of my poems, particularly those published in YouthArts, reinforce the fundamental idea of not being alone, of not being “the only one.”
My parents fully support my ventures within art and have given me their permission to express my thinking about this issue.
Christopher “Kit” O’Connell, a New Hampshire resident who will turn 18 on April 29th, has been an active participant in a variety of online communities for the past seven years, including “furry.MUCK,” a unique online environment.
In His Words
Being part of an online community is a unique experience. I meet people of all different backgrounds, ages, and occupations, from countries all over the world. In these communities, I am treated as an equal and my thoughts, ideas and writing are judged purely on their merit.
I am considering being a writer or computer programmer, and MUCKs have given me considerable writing and programming experience. I have also improved my ability to work with other people. I believe that these skills will help me in college and my future career.
The MUCKs are entirely text-based, each section or “room,” is described much as the setting of a scene in a novel would be. The actual playing of the games has more in common with theater and acting than with computer or Dungeons & Dragons-type games. On furry.MUCKS each user’s character is a “furry,” an anthropomorphized animal. These animals walk and talk like humans but retain animal characteristics in appearance and personality. Examples of furry “worlds” in literature would be Watership Down, The Wind in the Willows, or the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis.
I have played an important role in the upkeep and improvement of one of the largest furry.MUCKS, FurToonia. On FurToonia, I have created and programmed several sections, including a forest and a spaceport, that are actively used by many other participants. I have also contributed to the creation of many other areas.
Shortly after the CDA was signed into law, FurToonia imposed new policies that attempt to restrict minor’s access. This policy is ineffective at actually keeping minors from the rooms because anyone can simply lie about their age and therefore be registered by the administrator as an adult. Adults are faced with the choice of abandoning their anonymity or getting treated like a minor. Many users, minors and adults, have left in protest of this abridgement of their rights.
Ironically, though the sponsors of this law want to protect kids, the inability for minors to interact online anonymously might actually put them at greater risk of harassment because now other online users will know they are minors.
My mother, who is also active on the Internet, discusses my online activities with me at length. She also believes that the CDA will infringe upon the free speech rights of both adults and minors, and she supported my decision to file an affidavit in this case.
Hunter Allen, a 17-year-old California resident, attends the EAGLES Center high school for gay youth in Hollywood. His writing has appeared in YouthArts, a project of WildCat Press (a plaintiff in ACLU v. Reno). YouthArts publishes two online youth magazines by and for teenagers that contain poetry, fiction, essays, fine art, and photography.
In His Words
Growing up in a small town in the Bay Area was difficult for me because I was different, and at a very young age I knew it. As far back as I can remember, I remember having crushes on my friends. I think my father always knew in the back of his head that I was gay, but being a prominent figure and a bishop for five years in the Mormon Church (which condemns homosexuality), he could never accept that it was true until he heard it out of my own mouth. Coming out to my parents was just too much for them to handle. So at the age of sixteen I found myself moving to Los Angeles to live with my lesbian aunt. When I could support myself I moved into my own apartment. Since then my mother and I have re-established contact and become very close again.
There are very few places where gay youth can interacted with each other besides on the streets or in clubs. YouthArts is a safe place for gay teens to have positive and creative interaction with each other. Also through YouthArts I have met many gay adults who have had successful lives.
This is very important because it is nice to know people who have gone through what you are going through and have survived. People like Patricia Nell Warren are positive role models to gay kids, and an inspiration not to give up. Because of the negative outlook mainstream society has on gay people, gay teens desperately need good role models.
YouthArts is the only real opportunity I have to publish my work. I cannot believe that my friends and I could be arrested simply for expressing ourselves. But the reality is that, under the CDA, that is a real possibility. All it would take is for some small-town conservative to be offended by a poem or mine, and they could file a complaint and have me arrested. This is a very scary thing to consider, but I will not allow that possibility to interfere with my freedom of expression.
Christine Soto, an 18-year-old graduate of the EAGLES Center high school for gay youth in Hollywood, California, is also a poet and active contributor to YouthArts, a project of WildCat Press (a plaintiff in ACLU v. Reno). YouthArts publishes two online youth magazines by and for teenagers that contain poetry, fiction, essays, fine art, and photography.
In Her Words
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender youth struggle a lot in society, partly because of ridicule they experience at school, home, and/or on the street, and partly because of their struggle to accept themselves. The sad part is that some teens cannot handle the stress, and commit suicide. I feel if they are aware of ‘zines like YouthArts, then they will see other teens that are just like them and communicate their feelings with others. If YouthArts reaches out to at least one teen and makes a difference, then my involvement with YouthArts is worthwhile.
The Communications Decency Act would really restrict my form of expression. I write what I feel, and I use no boundaries. I like writing about fantasies, dreams, gangs, death, family issues, and experiences such as growing up without a permanent father figure, the wrong path I took and its consequences. Most importantly I write about the struggles of minorities in the U.S.
I really don’t use language that I think is “indecent.” But I use references to the human body, such as breast in a poem. My writing also makes reference to intimate contact with my girlfriend, for instance, “Our bodies wrapped together as one/Our bodies moving softly under the light from the moon.” To me that line is merely expressive, but under the CDA it might be considered indecent.
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.