CHICAGO – Centralia High School in downstate Illinois has removed a web filter that blocked lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) related websites after the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois questioned the district about its use of Internet filters. The inquiry is part of a national “Don’t Filter Me” campaign by the ACLU to combat illegal censorship of pro-LGBT information on public school computer systems. Centralia High School Superintendent Chuck Lane confirmed that the school district ended the filtering practice in an e-mail to the ACLU on Tuesday June 11th.
Centralia High School uses filtering software that includes a database of website categories provided by the company “URL Blacklist” -- a database widely used in connection with filtering software. The ACLU did not challenge the district’s decision to block websites categorized by the URL Blacklist database as “adult” or “porn.” But the ACLU did object to the district’s decision to block non-pornographic websites categorized by the URL Blacklist database under the label of “sexuality.”
The ACLU discovered that the “sexuality” filter blocks a number of educational LGBT-related websites, including websites for the Day of Silence, the Trevor Project, GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) Network, and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The filter also blocks the websites from LGBT support and advocacy organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and Parents Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays. At the same time, the “sexuality” filter does not block websites that condemn homosexuality or oppose legal protections for LGBT people. The ACLU notified the school district that this viewpoint-based censorship violated of the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act.
“We are pleased that the leadership at Centralia High School acted so swiftly to address the problems created by this anti-LGBT filter,” said John Knight, Director of the ACLU of Illinois Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Project. “Students at Centralia High School now have greater access to more educational information -- without the bias built in to this particular filter. It is important that all school districts in Illinois check their filtering software to make sure they have not activated similar anti-LGBT filters that needlessly block access to age-appropriate websites that provide educational materials and support to LGBT students.”
The ACLU of Illinois has been examining school district contracts with Internet filtering software providers, policies about the use of software, and any communication with software vendors that mention filters related to LGBT-related content.
A online petition asking filter companies to stop selling products with anti-LGBT filters is available here: www.aclu.org/filterpetition
More information on the ACLU’s work on LGBT school issues can be found here: www.aclu.org/safeschools
You can learn more about the rights of LGBT students and allies in Illinois here: beyourself.aclu-il.org