ACLU Sues To Stop Tennessee Schools From Censoring Gay Educational Web Sites

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Rachel Myers, ACLU National, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of TN, (615) 320-7142 or 480-5572

ACLU Sues To Stop Tennessee Schools From Censoring Gay Educational Web Sites

Filtering Software Allows Anti-Gay Sites

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The
American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Tennessee sued two
Tennessee school districts in federal court today, charging the schools
are unconstitutionally blocking students from accessing online
information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Knox County Schools and as many
as 105 other school districts in Tennessee use Internet filtering
software to block Web sites containing pro-LGBT speech, but not Web
sites touting so-called "reparative therapy" and "ex-gay" ministries.
The "LGBT" filter is not used to block sites containing pornography,
which are filtered under a different category, but it does block the
sites of many well-known LGBT organizations including Parents,
Families, And Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Gay Lesbian
Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

"Allowing access to Web sites that
present one side of an issue while blocking sites that present the
other side is illegal viewpoint discrimination," said Catherine Crump,
a staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group and lead
attorney on the case. "This discriminatory censorship does nothing to
make students safe from material that may actually be harmful, but only
hurts them by making it impossible to access important educational
material." 

The school districts block the
Internet filtering category designated "LGBT," which includes sites
that "provide information regarding, support, promote, or cater to
one's sexual orientation or gender identity." They do not, however,
block sites that condemn homosexuality or promote "reparative therapy,"
a practice purporting to "cure" LGBT people that is denounced as
dangerous and harmful to young people by such groups as the American
Psychological Association and the American Medical Association.

The ACLU filed the case in the U.S.
District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Knox County Schools on behalf
of two high school students in Nashville, one student in Knoxville and
a high school librarian in Knoxville who is also the advisor of the
school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). 

"Students need to be able to access
information about their legal rights or what to do if they're being
harassed at school," said Keila Franks, a 17-year-old student at
Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville and a plaintiff on the case. "It's
completely unfair for schools to keep students in the dark about such
important issues and treat Web sites that just offer information like
they're something dirty." 

The lawsuit charges that blocking
LGBT sites violates students' First Amendment rights by only allowing
access to sites that present an anti-gay point of view on the rights of
LGBT persons on issues such as anti-gay harassment, marriage,
employment discrimination and the military's "don't ask, don't tell"
policy while blocking access to sites that support LGBT rights.
Further, the filtering hinders the ability of GSAs and their members to
facilitate club activities and keeps students from accessing important
information about scholarships for LGBT students or doing research for
school-related assignments.

The ACLU first learned about the
discriminatory filtering from Andrew Emitt, a Knoxville high school
student who discovered the problem while trying to search for LGBT
scholarships. Internet filtering software is mandated in public schools
by Tennessee law, which requires schools to implement software to
restrict information that is obscene or harmful to minors. However, the
"LGBT" filter category does not include material which is sexually
gratuitous and already included in the "pornography" filtering
category.

"While schools may have an interest
in using filters to block material that could be harmful to minors,
blocking access to information about LGBT issues while allowing
anti-gay information is unlawful and potentially dangerous," said
Tricia Herzfeld, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Tennessee. "There is
no place for this kind of unconstitutional censorship in our public
schools."

In addition to Crump and Herzfeld,
attorneys on the case are Chris Hansen of the ACLU First Amendment
Working Group and Christine Sun of the ACLU LGBT Project.

The plaintiffs are Nashville
students Keila Franks and Emily Logan, Knoxville student Bryanna
Shelton, and Karyn Storts-Brinks, a Knoxville high school librarian and
faculty sponsor for her school's GSA.

More information about the case,
including the ACLU's complaint and a video featuring one of the student
plaintiffs, is available online at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/39346res20090413.html

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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