Friday, August 14, 2009

Access to LGBT Sites No Longer Blocked in Some TN Schools

Two Tennessee school boards, Metropolitan Nashville and Knox County (Knoxville), are now allowing access to LGBT websites (and those containing information on LGBT issues) that were previously blocked through the schools' web filters.

The decision to unblock the sites came from Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit on behalf of two high school students in Nashville, one student in Knoxville and a high school librarian in Knoxville who is also the advisor of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

The ACLU first learned about the discriminatory filtering from Andrew Emitt, a Knoxville high school student who discovered the problem while trying to search for LGBT scholarships. Internet filtering software is mandated in public schools by Tennessee law, which requires schools to implement software to restrict information that is obscene or harmful to minors. However, the "LGBT" filter category does not include material which is sexually gratuitous and already included in the "pornography" filtering category.

Until recently, the software's default setting blocked sites categorized as LGBT, including the sites of many well-known LGBT organizations, PFLAG among them. However, the filter did not block access to websites that urge LGBT persons to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called "reparative therapy" or "ex-gay" ministries.

"All we ever wanted was to be able to get information out about LGBT issues, like what our legal rights are or what scholarships are available for LGBT students, so I'm really happy that the schools are finally making our Web access fair and balanced," said Bryanna Shelton, a 16-year-old student at Fulton High School in Knoxville and a plaintiff in the case. "These Web sites were never something dirty or inappropriate in any way and shouldn't ever have been treated like they were."

The filtering software, used by 80% of Tennessee public schools, was provided by Education Networks of America (ENA), and the ban is believed to be lifted on all of the approximately 107 school districts in TN that use ENA's software.

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