High school students in Camdenton, Missouri, can access Exodus International and People Can Change from their school computers. These websites are published by anti-gay organizations that offer advice for men and women who do not want to be gay. Essentially, they are telling people how to deny their natural feelings and pretend to be heterosexual.
The fact that students can access these controversial websites from a school computer is one thing, but when you take into consideration the websites that the school blocks, this becomes much more disturbing. Although students at Camdenton High School can access anti-gay websites, they cannot access websites that are supportive of LGBT people due to a Web filter that the school has been using.
Since 2000 when the Children’s Internet Protection Act was passed, all public schools have had to have some sort of Internet filter to prevent students from seeing pornographic or obscene content. Some companies, such as URLBlacklist, develop and distribute these Internet filters to schools across the country. Sadly, many of these filters have different definitions of what is considered pornographic or obscene and this can lead to cases like the one in Camdenton, where anti-gay websites are considered safe and gay-supportive websites are not.
“These filters are a new version of book-banning or pulling books off the shelf,” said Pat Scales, a member of the American Library Association. “The difference is, this is much more subtle and harder to identify.”
Camdenton High School isn’t the only school in the country to have Internet filters that operate in this manner. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began asking these schools to take down their filters so that they would not be discriminating against LGTB students. The hundreds of other schools did as the ACLU asked, but Camdenton High School did not, and so the ACLU sued them.
The school district claims that they are not discriminating against LGTB students and have even unblocked the four pro-LGBT websites that the ACLU originally pointed out to them.
“We do not discriminate against gay people or anyone else,” said the school’s superintendent, Tim Hadfield.
The case went to court in the summer of 2011, and last month, Nanette Laughrey, a United States district judge, made a ruling in the case. Laughrey said that the school had to discontinue “its Internet filter system as currently configured… [and that] any new system selected must not discriminate against Web sites expressing a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals.”