Today, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is observing its 13th annual National Day of Silence to “bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.” Unfortunately, many public school students in Tennessee may never learn about this important public education campaign.
On Wednesday, the ACLU sent a letter to Tennessee school officials over reports that many of their public schools were using software that was blocking student access to LGBT websites including, GLAAD, HRC, and GLSEN. From their site:
As many as 107 Tennessee public school districts could be illegally preventing students from accessing online information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, according to a letter to sent to school officials by the American Civil Liberties Union. The letter demands that Knox County Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the Tennessee Schools Cooperative unblock the Internet filtering category designated “LGBT” so that students can access political and educational information about LGBT issues on school computers.
In its letter, the ACLU gives the districts and the Tennessee Schools Cooperative until April 29 to come up with a plan to restore access to the LGBT sites or any other category that blocks non-sexual websites advocating the fair treatment of LGBT people by the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. If that deadline is not met, the ACLU will file a lawsuit.
Kathleen Bergin noted over at the First Amendment Law Prof Blog that while pro-gay sites are being blocked, anti-gay sites are not:
According to reports here and here, the filtering software installed on school computers blocks access to sites like the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay, Straight Education Network, The [Gay &] Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and other civil rights groups, but allows access to websites like Exodus, Americans for Truth Against Homosexuality and other groups that promote "conversion therapy" and initiatives against gay marriage and equality. So far the school districts are passing the buck, claiming that the software company, Education Associates of America, decides which websites to filter. The company says otherwise.
WATE Channel 6 in Tennessee aired a segment about this controversy on its 11pm news broadcast, which it posted to its website:
It all started with a Central High School senior looking for college scholarships in Knoxville and now it's affecting the entire state.
"I just want people to have access to information," says Andrew Emitt, 17.
He says that's what he was trying to do when he logged onto a Central High School library computer in December. "I googled LGBT scholarships. It said all gay sites were blocked."
The ACLU is asking Metro and Knox County to unblock the websites by the beginning of the next school year.
It wants a response by the end of April, and if not, it plans to sue as a last resort.
Metro officials say they have not seen the letter from the ACLU yet.
There are 135 school districts in Tennessee. According to the ACLU, more than 100 of them use the filtering software that blocks gay and lesbian websites by default.
Today, on this 13th annual National Day of Silence, students across the country are choosing to be silent in order to give a voice to LGBT people affected by name-calling, bullying and harassment. Today, we need to be the voice of students in Tennessee.
Tennessee school officials need to hear from you today.
Below you’ll find contact information for the school officials that the ACLU has sent their letter to. Please, reach out to them today:
Dr. James P. McIntyre, Jr.
Knox County Schools Superintendent
Dr. Jesse Register
Metro Nashville Public Schools, Director
(615) 259-INFO (4636), press 5 and ask to be transferred.
Dr. Lyle C. Ailshie
Tennessee Schools Cooperative
Change.org also has an online form that allows you to send a letter to Tennessee officials.
You can learn more about the Day of Silence here: http://www.dayofsilence.org.