The ACLU, in putting out a call for students to check to see if LGBT websites are blocked by their schools, found a lot more violations of free speech and equal access than one would think. And they didn’t just find schools that accidentally blocked LGBT websites with overzealous child-safety software; they found intentional viewpoint discrimination:
Since launching the “Don’t Filter Me” initiative, the ACLU has identified several web-filter companies whose products are designed to filter out LGBT websites. Some of these include:
- The Bluecoat software used by the Vineland School District in New Jersey and the Prince William County Schools in Virginia has a specialized filter called “LGBT.”
- The Websense software used by Columbus City Schools in Ohio, Wayne-Westland Community Schools in Michigan and the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District in Texas has a filter called “Gay or Lesbian or Bisexual Issues.”
- The Lightspeed software used by the Northfield School District in Minnesota, the North Kansas City School District in Missouri and the Downingtown School District in PA include LGBT sites in a filter called “education.lifestyles,” which is defined as “Education about lifestyles — gay, lesbian, alternate.”
That means someone, or a group of someones, decided that pro-LGBT content should not be viewed by students in those schools, probably because of a paternalistic desire to control other people’s sexual behavior, or at least make them feel bad about their sexual orientation since often these schools allow access to anti-gay information online.
What’s interesting is that the ACLU has been sending letters out to schools citing both the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act. The latter says that schools can’t discriminate in non-curricular activities when it comes to viewpoint, and it passed by Congress in the 80’s after lobbying from conservative Christian groups that wanted to keep schools from shutting down Bible clubs.
Since the act requires secondary schools to give equal access to non-curricular activities, we’ll sometimes hear about schools shutting down all clubs to prevent a GSA. The most famous such case happened in Utah at East High School in Salt Lake City in the late-90’s, but several schools have attempted the same move since then. I don’t know of any school that shut down all clubs to prevent a Bible club from meeting.
The people who wrote and lobbied for the bill probably weren’t thinking that they could create “Freedom of speech for me, not for thee” in the law; instead, they probably thought that only Christian students are oppressed, are in fact the most oppressed people the Western world has seen in the last five centuries, so someone has to protect them. Since that’s not how the world works, the law has come in handy for queer youth.