Tennessee Schools End Censorship Of Gay Educational Web Sites After ACLU Lawsuit

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

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

Tennessee Schools End Censorship Of Gay Educational Web Sites After ACLU Lawsuit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Dozens
of Tennessee schools have restored access to online information about
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, just over two weeks
after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two
Tennessee school districts for unconstitutionally blocking student
access to such sites. The company that provides Internet filtering
software to as many as 107 Tennessee schools has adjusted the software
to allow access to a variety of educational and political LGBT Web
sites that were blocked before the lawsuit was filed.

"All we ever wanted was to be able
to get information out about LGBT issues, like what our legal rights
are or what scholarships are available for LGBT students, so I'm really
happy that the schools are finally making our Web access fair and
balanced," said Bryanna Shelton, a 16-year-old student at Fulton High
School in Knoxville and a plaintiff in the case. "These Web sites were
never something dirty or inappropriate in any way and shouldn't ever
have been treated like they were."

On May 19, 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). 

About 80 percent of Tennessee public
schools, including those in the two districts being sued, use filtering
software provided by Education Networks of America (ENA). Until
yesterday, the software's default setting blocked sites categorized as
LGBT, including the sites of many well-known LGBT organizations.
However, the filter did not block access to Web sites that urge LGBT
persons to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through
so-called "reparative therapy" or "ex-gay" ministries – a practice
denounced as dangerous and harmful to young people by such groups as
the American Psychological Association and the American Medical
Association.

Last night, Knox County Schools
Superintendent Jim McIntyre released a statement saying that ENA was no
longer blocking the LGBT category. The ACLU believes this change is in
effect in all Tennessee districts that use the ENA software.
Additionally, ENA's Web site shows that it has made a similar change
for schools throughout the state of Indiana.

"Up until now, these schools were
practicing unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, plain and simple.
It was keeping students from accessing information about everything
from their legal rights to statistics they needed for current events
assignments," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU First
Amendment Working Group and lead attorney on the case. "We're pleased
that these schools are finally living up to their legal obligation to
allow the free and open exchange of ideas and information."

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.

"Schools that censor educational
information out of some misguided assumption that anything about LGBT
people is automatically sexual or inappropriate are doing a disservice
to their students," said Tricia Herzfeld, staff attorney with the ACLU
of Tennessee. "We aren't dropping the lawsuit right away, but we
certainly look forward to getting assurances from both school boards in
this case that they will respect students' rights and refrain from this
sort of censorship in the future."

Due to the change in policy,
students in Tennessee can now access the Web sites of many well-known
national LGBT organizations which were previously blocked, including:

•    Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
•    The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
•    Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
•    Marriage Equality USA
•    The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
•    Dignity USA (an organization for LGBT Catholics)

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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