ACLU Demands that Wayne-Westland Schools Stop Unconstitutional Web Filtering of LGBT Content

April 11, 2011

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan demanded that school officials at John Glenn High School stop viewpoint-based censorship of web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

The ACLU sent similar letters to schools in 3 other states today as part of the organization’s national “Don’t Filter Me” initiative, which seeks to combat illegal censorship of pro-LGBT information on public school computer systems.

“I’m the vice president of the gay-straight alliance club at my school, but when I tried to go to GSANetwork.org to get ideas for club activities, I found it’s blocked for being ‘gay or lesbian or bisexual interest,’” said Brandon Bleau, an 18-year-old senior at John Glenn High School in Westland, Michigan, who submitted a complaint through the initiative. “None of the other clubs I know of at school have these kind of roadblocks thrown in their way when they’re trying to plan meaningful things for their clubs to do.”

The campaign asks students to check to see if web content geared toward LGBT communities – a frequent target of censorship in schools – is blocked by their schools’ web browsers, and then report instances of censorship to the ACLU LGBT Project.

The use of internet filtering tools to censor websites that advocate for the fair treatment of LGBT people is wrong and illegal,” said Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project staff attorney. “Many of these websites provide much needed support and resources for LGBT youth during a critical time in their lives. By blocking LGBT websites, schools are sending a terrible message to students that LGBT voices are to be ignored and silenced.”

When used by a public school, programs that block all LGBT content violate First Amendment rights to free speech, as well as the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs. This means that gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups must the same access to national organizational websites that help them to function, just as other groups such as the Key Club and the chess club are able to access their national websites.

By blocking access to LGBT websites, schools deny helpful information to gay-straight alliances and other support groups that could be vital for troubled LGBT youth who either don’t have access to the Internet at home or do not feel safe accessing such information on their home computers.

“There is no legitimate reason why any public school should be using an anti-LGBT filter,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “This is not a case where overbroad filters are accidentally filtering out LGBT websites. These filters are designed to discriminate and are programmed specifically to target LGBT-related content that would not otherwise be blocked as sexually explicit or inappropriate. Public schools have a duty to provide students with viewpoint-neutral access to the Internet.”

This is the second letter sent to a Michigan school. Last month, the organization sent a letter to Rochester High School on behalf of Nick Rinehart, who was blocked from looking up information on gay-straight alliances with a message that said his search violated the school’s “acceptable use” policy.

Key News and Documents
Read the ACLU's letter to Wayne-Westland School Superintenent Gregory Baracy
ACLU Demands that Schools Stop Unconstitutional Web Filtering of LGBT Content March 29, 2011
Learn how to see if your school is illegally filtering content and how to report censorship
Report unconstitutional web filtering at your schools
Learn more about ACLU work on LGBT school issues

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