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Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites

Public high school students in Billings, Montana tell CounterPunch that as of Monday, January 14, they have been denied access to numerous sites, including those associated with pro-LGBTQ issues, as part of a new web filtering program initiated by the school administration. Anti-gay sites, however, appear to be accessible.

In an email to staff, Brandon Newpher, Chief Information/Executive Director of Technology for Billings Public Schools, explained that “stricter web/internet filtering will be implemented as a way to improve network security and help protect students and staff.”

Currently, Human Rights Watch and GLAAD are inaccessible to students for what the filer describes as being in the category of “AlternativeSexualLifestyles(GLBT)”. A list of blocked keywords and subjects have been leaked to CounterPunch, but the totality of sites affected is not clear. Students say they are still uncovering websites that have been impacted.

According to the ACLU, “blocking all LGBT content violates students’ First Amendment rights to free speech. They also violate the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs, including gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups.”

Vineland High School in New Jersey lifted their ban on gay advocacy sites last March following pressure from the ACLU. Additionally, the ACLU has pressured the Prince Williams schools in Washington D.C. to lift their ban on such sites. There are numerous school districts and schools across the country that block gay advocacy sites via school computers and WiFi. As a result of these filtering systems, the ACLU initiated a “Don’t Filter Me” campaign in 2011 which seeks to identify schools across the country that block student access to LGBTQ resources.

“The use of Internet filtering tools to censor websites that advocate for the fair treatment of LGBT people is wrong and illegal,” says Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project staff attorney. “Many of these websites provide much-needed support and resources for LGBT youth during a critical time of their lives. By blocking LGBT websites, schools are sending a terrible message to students that LGBT voices are to be ignored and silenced.”