In a situation eerily similar to one I experienced while a student at R.J. Reynolds High School in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County (NC) School System, LGBT websites have been blocked and censored in Cabarrus County Schools, according to an article published in the April 8, 2006 issue of Q-Notes, the leading LGBT newspaper of the Carolinas.
Jay M. Robinson High School student Savannah Seithel discovered that a firewall existed to block websites with “gay or lesbian or bisexual interest.” This EXACT same firewall existed in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System, although I do not know if it exists now seeing as though I am now at UNCG.
Here is the article (original source), with emphasis added by me:
School system blocks net sites
CABARRUS COUNTY — Savannah Seithel, a student at Jay M. Robinson High School in Cabarrus County has announced that the internet firewall in her school was blocking access to, at the very least, the following websites of particular interest to the LGBT community: www.out.com, www.advocate.com and www.timeoutyouth.org.
The reason these sites were denied is that they contain content of gay, lesbian or bisexual interest. After some initial research into the situation, Chelsea [last name removed per request], a student at Central Cabarrus High School, said that the situation effects her school as well, which implies that this may be district-wide. Changes to the school system’s internet access appeared to take place between March 15 and March 20. However, the change does not affect other websites such as www.operationsaveamerica.org. (See past posts regarding Operation Save America)
Organizers fear and are conscious of the implications of what appears to have happened, but are as of yet uncertain of the entire story. For now, they are simply involved in a discovery process to determine what is going on. They are well aware of the impassioned reaction that many may feel, but ask that until they really do have full knowledge of the situation, that they assume that this was simply a mistake.
Presently Seithel and Nathan Hammond are trying to resolve the issue through normal channels by talking with people involved in the school district. They have yet to receive any response. They ask that unless attempts through these normal channels have failed, that interested parties withhold reactions toward the press and government.
For now organizers feel that the best way to get involved is to test to see what websites are available to browse on local school’s networks. They are particularly interested in seeing if the same situation exists in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as it does in Cabarrus County.
For those who find a website which is blocked, send that website address to the organizers at email@example.com.
To any person reading this and who goes to a school in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County or works there… will you please do me a favor? Will you please get on to a school computer and try going to some websites for LGBT organizations such as GLSEN (www.glsen.org), Lambda Legal (www.lambdalegal.org), PFLAG (www.pflag.org), The Advocate (www.advocate.com), Out (www.out.com) and any others who can possibly think of. After that try going to Operation Save America (www.operationsaveamerica.org) and Westboro Baptist Church (www.godhatesfags.com), Called2Action (www.called2action.org) and other anti-LGBT sites you know of or find through a Google search or something. Hopefully my site here isn’t blocked.
Email me the results of your “study” to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Thanks a bunch!!!
Oh… and just for some information regarding the same problem with censoring at Reynolds High School. Here is a letter to the editor I wrote to our student paper at Reynolds:
The Pine Whispers R.J. Reynolds High School, Winston-Salem, NC
October 10, 2003
Letter to the Editors
Last spring a new category in the school system’s Internet filtering software appeared. The category, “Lesbian or Gay of Bisexual Interest,” blocks websites concerning homosexuality, websites such as www.glsen.org , which is the website for the national offices of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Is it any coincidence that the new filtering category and the blocking of the GLSEN website came into being right after last year’s controversy with the School Board and the addition of questions concerning anti-gay harassment into the school system’s school climate surveys?
The addition of the questions was spearheaded by Winston-Salem’s local chapter of GLSEN. I believe that the blocking of the national GLSEN website and the addition of the new filtering category is being used as a form or retaliation against the local gay communities by members of the School Board or by staff of the WS/FC Schools.
I find it very disturbing that anti-gay websites, as well as other websites like the KKK’s website, can still be accessed by students, but pro-gay websites like GLSEN’s cannot. This type of censorship will only hurt students in the long run. Without access to various types of information and viewpoints, students will not be able to freely form their own opinions and beliefs — another form of bullying.
I hope that during the next election for school board members, our city and county citizens will have enough pride and integrity to elect those who will stand up for ALL students, regardless of their beliefs. It is time for our leaders to stand up and make the right decisions in order to create safe and positive learning environments for the students entrusted to their care.
Please be aware that when I submitted this letter back when I was at Reynolds, it was edited by the Opinions editors. They took out another site I had included in it as a site that could still be accessed. That site was none other than www.godhatesfags.com.