ACLU Wins Fight Over Your Right to Learn Other Gays Exist Via Internet

It would appear that our decade’s as-of-now trend of “high schools treating gay students terribly, and refusing to clean up their act until the ACLU gets involved” is still going strong! But that’s not actually that bad, because God bless the ACLU, they are pretty willing to get involved. As you may remember, the ACLU created a checklist survey for high school students to report whether their schools blocked access to sites that may have provided necessary support and information for gay students, like GLSEN or PFLAG, because they were “inappropriate.”

Now we’re seeing the first tangible result of their campaign – a major California web filtering company is dropping a filtering category that allowed schools in Missouri and elsewhere to block educational gay, lesbian and transgender sites. The ACLU has so far sent letters to at least 15 districts asking them to stop filtering educational LGBT sites. Many of them seem to be claiming that the blocking is unintentional, and it may be true; the web filtering company, Lightspeed Systems, says that when they’ve contacted customers about the upcoming change the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“Many of these school districts had either activated the filter without realizing what it does or had activated it by accident,” [Joshua Block, the staff attorney for the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project], said. “I think that the vast majority of school districts are trying in good faith to protect their students and didn’t have any desire to discriminate against gay content. I think this really shows that these filters don’t really serve the needs of the clients and if anything they work against the needs of the client.”

The North Kansas City School District has blamed technical problems for the blocking of LGBT sites. After learning of the issue it unblocked the entire category and said in a statement the changes to Lightspeed would have made it easier to manage the system. Northfield Public Schools Superintendent Chris Richardson said a technician turned on the filter because he thought it blocked sexually explicit material. After a staff member pointed out that educational LGBT sites were being blocked, the district tried to fix the problem but wound up only giving access to staff.


So, it seems there may well be a second story here – something about how under-staffed, under-trained and generally poorly resourced many public schools are? And how this hurts all kids, but perhaps ones that are already marginalized in some way the most? Still, though, regardless of the intentions of the school districts, it seems unfortunate that they had to be essentially threatened with legal action before looking into this problem – shouldn’t the needs of the student body have been enough?

It may seem like a trivial point, but in the real world of high school, access to information and support may be even more important in terms of keeping gay kids alive than videos of celebrities telling you how it gets better. Feeling completely alone in the world and not being able to get any answers about what it means to be gay, especially if you live in a home where these aren’t acceptable topics to bring up, is incredibly isolating. The phase of obsessively Googling “am I a lesbian??” is a nearly universal one, and if every time a student tries it they get a page saying “blocked for inappropriate content,” why wouldn’t it make their shame and self-loathing even worse? Kudos to the ACLU for making high school more survivable, and to these high schools for allowing them to.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 743 articles for us.

11 Comments

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      school tech departments are pretty sad. they have no money and put in no effort. the websites they block or don’t it pretty arbitrary and they don’t even know what it is, as proved here and by talking to the people who work at my school.

      sidenote: autostraddle isn’t blocked at my school, just checked. this makes me happy.

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          if fanfiction.net was blocked, then there would be a savage revolt at my school. with screaming and pitchforks and torches and catchy slogans. like worse than that part in mean girls. oh, and youtube was blocked for a bit. but personally i think that might have been some kids hacking to see if they could.

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    Yeah, I had a feeling that this was the result of those companies blocking too much stuff, not the school districts intentionally trying to restrict access to LGBT sites. I can’t imagine most areas of the U.S. blocking that info; even if they aren’t very pro-gay, there’s bound to be some kid doing a research project about the issue of same-sex marriage, right? And that kid needs access to both sides to do a good project.

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