Friday, August 26, 2011

PFLAG National and the ACLU - Don't Filter Me!

PFLAG National is the lead plaintiff – along with Campus Pride, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Dignity USA - in a suit against the Camdenton (Mo.) R-III School District. This district has been filtering LGBT-affirming sites, such as the PFLAG National website, in all schools with internet access. Given the access to negative materials on LGBT issues offered on the websites of organizations like Exodus International and the Family Research Council it is imperative that our Safe Schools materials and other educational and support tools are available whenever and wherever they are needed.

“We have made every effort to inform the school district that its filtering software illegally denies students access to important educational information and resources on discriminatory grounds,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Unfortunately, it will now be up to the courts to compel the district to grant its students viewpoint-neutral access to the Internet.”

The district’s custom-built filtering software relies on a database of websites compiled by URL Blacklist, which has a viewpoint-neutral category that allows schools to block all sexually explicit content. But it also has a viewpoint-discriminatory category called “sexuality,” which blocks all LGBT-related information, including hundreds of materials that are not sexually explicit. The filter does, however, allow students to view anti-LGBT sites.

“School districts cannot use filtering software that discriminates against websites based on their viewpoint,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “This filter was designed to block more than just adult content and is not viewpoint-neutral. There are many other filtering systems available that do not arbitrarily group websites like PFLAG in the same category as adult-oriented websites.”

The ACLU informed the district in May that the sexuality filter was unconstitutionally blocking access to four websites with anti-bullying information and other resources for student gay-straight alliances. The district unblocked those websites but refused to reconfigure its software to solve the broader problem. As a result, hundreds of other LGBT websites remain blocked. The lawsuit argues it is discriminatory and unreasonable to require students to ask for permission every time they want to access a new LGBT website when students can freely access anti-LGBT websites.

“Our Safe Schools program resources, coming-out guides and other support and education resources that we have been providing to LGBT young people nationwide for nearly 40 years are all blocked,” said Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National. “Many LGBT students either don’t have access to the Internet at home or, if they do, they don’t feel safe accessing this information on their home computers. In order to ensure the physical and mental well-being of LGBT youth – especially given the wide access to negative information on LGBT issues – these resources must be accessible.”

The press has been covering the case, of course, and we're seeing coverage from ALL angles:


More information on the case can be found here: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/pflag-v-camdenton-r-iii-school-district

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