ACLU tells school districts to stop blocking LGBT websites in filterting programs

The ACLU is telling schools in Michigan and Missouri to stop blocking LGBT-oriented websites with filtering software. Among the sites being blocked is GLSEN, which just launched a program to combat homophobia in sports in schools, and the It Gets Better project. Making matters worse is that sites that promote "cures" for homosexuality are not blocked, the ACLU alleges.

Some schools have improperly configured their web filters to block access to websites for LGBT rights organizations such as the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and websites pertaining to the National Day of Silence to protest anti-LGBT bullying. However, the filters sometimes allow access to sites that condemn homosexuality or urge LGBT people to try to change their sexual orientation, such as People Can Change.

The ACLU does not contest the legality of websites blocked by parents or by private schools, but says that public schools must provide equal access.

One filter provider has a warning that pops up on students' screens when they go to off-limits websites, telling them their search is being blocked because it's LGBT and that their Internet usage is being monitored and logged. ACLU staff attorney Joshua Block said that for a LGBT student without a supportive home environment "that's not very helpful to say the least."

Internet service providers the produce the filters for some of the school districts say any blocking of LGBT sites is not deliberate and that the filters need to be fine-tuned. In at one case, a previously blocked website has been restored. Filters have long been controversial for being too sweeping; in some cases, breast cancer sites have been blocked because the filter assumed that "breast" meant it was a porn site.

The ACLU has teamed up with a Yale program so public school students and teachers can determine if their schools block LGBT sites. Anyone can use this survey to check their school's Internet filter. I would appreciate anyone checking a public school site to comment on whether any of the sites was blocked, and to also check to see if Outsports is blocked.

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