A number of US high schools have been criticised for unconstitutionally blocking students from accessing LGBT websites.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sent letters to schools in Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey demanding they stop censorship of web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.
The letters were sent as part of the “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, in which the ACLU has teamed with Yale Law School to combat illegal censorship of pro-LGBT information on public school computer systems. The campaign asks students to check to see if LGBT web content is blocked by their schools’ web browsers.
“There is no legitimate reason why any public school should be using an anti-LGBT filter,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Project.
“This is not a case where overbroad filters are accidentally filtering out LGBT websites. These filters are designed to discriminate and are programmed specifically to target LGBT-related content that would not otherwise be blocked as sexually explicit or inappropriate.”
Last month, the ACLU sent demand letters to schools in Rochester, Michigan and Kansas City, Missouri after students there reported that the web content at their schools was being censored.
The North Kansas City School District immediately unblocked the websites identified by the ACLU, and the Rochester Community School District has undertaken a review of its filtering procedures.
“I’m the vice president of the gay-straight alliance club at my school, but when I tried to go to GSANetwork.org to get ideas for club activities, I found it’s blocked for being ‘gay or lesbian or bisexual interest,’” said Brandon Bleau, an 18-year-old senior at John Glenn High School in Westland, Michigan.
“None of the other clubs I know of at school have these kinds of roadblocks thrown in their way when they’re trying to plan meaningful things for their clubs to do,” noted Bleau.
According to the ACLU, when used by a public school, 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.