A group of congressional Democrats has joined with a group of activist organizations in asking the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that online filtering software at schools doesn’t block “access to important LGBT resources for library patrons and high school students.”
By law, libraries and schools must block online content that is “obscene; child pornography; or harmful to minors.”
“It has been reported to me that filtering software also can be used to block much more,” said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus. “Regrettably, Internet content filtering software can — intentionally or unintentionally — be used to block access to particular viewpoints in a discriminatory manner.”
The congressional letter cites the 2011 PFLAG v. Camdenton R-III School District case, brought by the ACLU because the school’s filtering software blocked the websites of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Campus Pride, and DignityUSA. The school district unblocked those sites but the lawsuit continued because of its “sexuality” filter that blocked “all LGBT-supportive information, including many websites that are not sexually explicit in any way.”
The ACLU won in federal court in 2012 and the school district had to stop blocking LGBT sites, submit to 18 months of compliance monitoring and pay $125,000 in legal fees.
“We know from Camdenton that this problem exists, yet there are few institutional resources to guide public schools and libraries to ensure LGBT content is not intentionally or unintentionally blocked,” the letter states.
“The Internet has the potential to help LGBT people cope with discrimination, isolation and stigma they may face in their everyday lives. A 2013 Pew Research Center report and a national survey of LGBT adults found: 39% have been rejected by friends or family because of their sexual or gender identity; 30% have been physically attacked or threatened; 21% have been treated unfairly by an employer; and, only 56% have told their mother about their sexual or gender identity,” it continues.
“A 2014 report by the LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute ‘Vision for Inclusion: An LGBT Broadband Future’ concluded that LGBT people are dependent on the Internet to meet a range of individual and social needs, which also makes them especially vulnerable to discriminatory Internet policies enacted by schools and libraries.”
Commission regulations, they argued, “could make clear that LGBT educational content should not be filtered in a discriminatory manner.”
Organizations backing the congressional effort include the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD.