Stop Banning Gay Content in Public Schools

The ACLU is criticizing schools across the country for filtering out LGBT content - and rightly so

Most people can probably agree that pornographic material should not be accessible online in elementary and high schools. That’s a given. But what about gay content? Turns out even educational material found online that mentions homosexuality is being blocked on public school computers. And that has inspired a new campaign to combat gay discrimination throughout the U.S.

The ACLU recently reached out to several major public school districts around the country – including those in Pennsylvania – to discuss why LGBT content is being blocked from students.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the content in question is anything but sexual. Instead, students are being prevented from accessing any material that even mentions the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” in a positive light thanks to filters many of these districts have adopted to ban “questionable” material. Gay content is essentially being lumped into X-rated porn sites and other adult material. But why?

Like the ACLU, we’d also like to know what’s so questionable about a link to The Trevor Project, a non-profit that helps save LGBT youth from suicide and violence? Or what about the Attic Youth Center here in Philly – a safe haven for underage teens?

The filtering systems in question at many public schools warn students that they’re prohibited from viewing material with pop ups that let them know the content they are searching for is being blocked, and that their Internet usage is being monitored and logged. Hello, Big Brother.

The worst part is that blocking these sites could do damage to any young person who may be questioning his or her sexuality. It’s especially problematic if a someone isn’t able to access the educational material at home or elsewhere. For many gay kids, the school computer is the only way to find out the information they need to seek help and support in local communities.

That’s why the ACLU is working with the Yale Law School on a campaign called “Don’t Filter Me,” which asks students to find out if LGBT content is being banned in their schools. The students are asked to search for eight different LGBT sites online (five of which provide educational support – like The Trevor Project, the “It Gets Better” Project, National Day of Silence, GLSEN and the GSA Network – and three are anti-gay sites that champion reparative therapy for people to “go straight,” like the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Parents and Friends of Gays and Ex-Gays and People Can Change).

In several cases, students were unable to view the educational sites but were able to access the anti-gay ones. And that’s illegal, says the ACLU.

When confronted with the discrepancy, at least one school district responded saying that the situation could be blamed on a technical glitch. But ever since the ACLU first addressed this issue is 2009, the waters are being tested – and the technology blocking gay content is also being called into question – and rightly so.

According to the Associated Press, the ACLU filed a lawsuit over access to LGBT websites in the Knoxville and Nashville school districts in Tennessee. As a result, the districts agreed to stop using filtering technology that would ban this type of gay material or face legal penalties.

But not everyone has reconsidered what’s being filtered. And that’s worrisome, especially at a time when LGBT youth are being bullied and committing suicide at alarming rates. It’s up to both families and schools to create safe havens for all students – not just heterosexual ones. Stopping the unnecessary (and discriminatory) filtering of online content – simply because it has the word “gay” in it – may be a small step, but it’s certainly an important one. If lifting one of these bans saves just one life, isn’t it worth it?

A young intern at the ACLU created a video about this campaign. Learn more about “Don’t Filter Me” here: