Several public high schools on March 28 received letters from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as well as local ACLU arms from Michigan, Kansas, and western Missouri, demanding that those schools stop using web filters to eliminate access to websites that support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.
The ACLU says it learned that the schools were censoring material after teaming with Yale Law School to launch the “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, which asks students to check to see if their schools are blocking content.
“Under the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools are already required to filter out adult-oriented or sexually explicit materials,” said Joshua Block, an ACLU staff attorney for the LGBT and AIDS Project. “What’s happening at these schools is that in addition to filtering out [those sites], they have an additional filter they’re using and that filter is designed to filter out LGBT content.”
Block said that the filters remove sites that act as positive backing for LGBT students, such as Gay-Straight Alliance websites or other support groups.
“At the same time, they’re letting in content that’s very harmful to LGBT students, like reparative therapy and ex-gay sites, and what’s happening is that because of these viewpoints [and] discriminatory filters, the school is perfectly fine letting kids see material about homosexuality that is anti-gay, but at the same time they’re blocking the students from seeing supportive websites,” he said.
The ACLU asserts that programs blocking all LGBT content violate the First Amendment right to free speech, as well as the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs. This means that gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups must have the same access to national organizational websites as other groups, such as the Key Club and the chess club.