Advocacy groups face off over Gwinnett schools filtering LGBT websites

The ACLU of Georgia sent Wilbanks a letter on May 23 claiming that filtering LGBT websites, including the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, the It Gets Better Project, PFLAG and the Human Rights Campaign, was an infringement on students’ rights.

“Allowing students equal access to LGBT-related websites is not just a legal duty; it also makes sense from a safety perspective, particularly in light of the epidemic of LGBT youth suicides and bullying,” states the ACLU of Georgia letter.

“Prohibiting access to LGBT websites is especially problematic because many students do not have computers or internet access at home and can access the internet only at school. We wish to emphasize that unblocking individual LGBT-related websites upon request is not an appropriate solution to this problem,” the letter continues.

However, the ADF argues that if the LGBT filters are lifted, students would have access to pornographic websites such as “, where a woman’s naked torso is fondled by three hands;, which advertises a see-through boxer for men; and, where students would see an image of two naked men apparently engaged in a sex act.”

“The idea that Internet filters somehow result in student suicides is preposterous, and the ACLU should be ashamed for making such a connection,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco in a statement.

“The ACLU cannot mask its attempts to turn school computers into porn portals for children with a supposed concern for bullying and suicides.”

Gwinnett County School System spokesperson Sloan Roach said Aug. 2 that the system is still reviewing its filtering process and software.

“We do not want to restrict anyone to public websites but at the same time we have no intention of opening up inappropriate content to students,” she said.

Filters target LGBT students?

In a response to ADF’s letter, Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the websites ADF points out should be included in the filter for “adult or mature content.”

“Anyone can understand the difference between pornography and websites like the It Gets Better Project or PFLAG, which provide critical information and support for LGBT students,” Block said in a statement.

“The websites identified by ADF should have been placed in Blue Coat’s categories for adult or mature content, which are designed to block all sexual content regardless of whether it is straight or LGBT,” he said.

Block also took to task the ADF’s allegations that the “LGBT” category targeted by the filtering software specifically blocks only sexually explicit websites.

“The fact that these websites have been inadvertently placed in the non-sexual ‘LGBT’ category only underscores the problems that can occur when a company tries to create a special category for issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity in the first place,” Block said.

“The ultimate solution to the problem is for schools to use viewpoint-neutral filtering software that does not select websites out for special treatment simply because they support LGBT people,” he said.

The ACLU has undertaken a “Don’t Filter Me In Web Content In Schools” campaign across the country and provides tools and resources for students who say they are being blocked from educational LGBT websites. The website for the campaign is