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ACLU warns Virginia school district to stop blocking pro-LGBT rights websites

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
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The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Monday sent a warning to Prince William County Schools in suburban Washington D.C., advising the school district to stop censoring websites that advocate LGBT rights.

According to ACLU-Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg, the school district uses Blue Coat filter software, which is manually configured, and which currently blocks Prince William County students from accessing most LGBT websites, including: GSA Network, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Network (GLSEN), Day Of Silence, and the It Gets Better Project among others.

However, the school system permits access to several anti-LGBT websites, including: People Can Change, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), Exodus International, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays — which is currently undertaking concerted efforts this week to counter the national Day Of Silence on Friday, by asking students to distribute ex-gay literature to their friends in support of equality for the ex-gay community.

A spokesman for Dr. Steven L. Walts, the superintendent, refused to comment other than to acknowledge that the county uses the filter software to comply with a federal mandate under the Children’s Internet Protection Act or CIPA, and that officials would be reviewing the ACLU’s claims.

In a letter, the ACLU warned school administrators that the Blue Coat software, as currently configured under the school’s acceptable use policy, violates both the First Amendment rights of the students, and federal equal access statues.

Copy of the ACLU’s letter is here (PDF).

Glenberg warned school officials that blocking access to websites that express acceptance and promote tolerance, while allowing sites that urge LGBT persons to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through means of reparative therapy, was unconstitutional.

In a footnote, Glenberg wrote that “reparative therapy” is a practice denounced as dangerous and harmful to young people by professional groups such as the American Psychological Association and its counter part the American Psychiatric Association as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Glenberg advised Walts to disable Blue Coat’s LGBT filter before April 25 or face a lawsuit by the ACLU.

Ken Blackstone, Prince William County Public Schools Communications Director told WJLA-TV that the schools have “employed the filtering software for a number of years,” and did confirm that the schools do currently engage the blanket filter of all things “LGBT.”

Meanwhile, a New Jersey school board has agreed to discontinue blocking LGBT websites on high school and middle school computers, after two Vineland High School students complained to the ACLU that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and GLSEN websites were being blocked by their filtering software.

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