ACLU asks Knox Co. schools to stop blocking gay Web sites

ACLU asks Knox Co. schools to stop blocking gay Web sites

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"Doing this isn't about me. It's about future students who want this information and who have the right to this information," Andrew Emitt says "Doing this isn't about me. It's about future students who want this information and who have the right to this information," Andrew Emitt says

NASHVILLE (WATE/AP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union has asked public school officials in Tennessee to stop blocking students' access to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Web sites on school computers.

The organization said in a press release Wednesday as many as 80 percent of public school districts, including Knox County and Metro Nashville schools, may be restricting access to non-sexual sites that offer educational and political information about issues such as gay marriage or groups such as the Human Rights Campaign.

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."

Emitt didn't understand why.

"It wasn't anything for entertainment value. It wasn't looking for games or for chat rooms or for emails or for dating. It was scholarships," he says.

Emitt says the sites blocked by the school's filtering software include PFLAG for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and HRC.

"This is Human Rights Campaign. There's nothing obscene about this. There's no pornography. There's no language. It's just information," Emitt says.

But he found out some sites that talk about homosexuality are allowed.

"This is a Web site called www.traditionalvalues.org. It has a lot of news articles that are anti-gay. Here's a Web site called www.peoplecanchange.com and it's a Web site that promotes going into ex-gay therapy," Emitt says.

Frustrated, Emitt wrote a letter to the ACLU.

"Doing this isn't about me. It's about future students who want this information and who have the right to this information," Emitt says.

The ACLU is giving school districts until April 29 to come up with a plan to restore access to the sites by the beginning of next school year or they'll file a lawsuit.

6 News asked Knox County Schools for a response. Spokesman Russ Oaks says, "We've received the information from the ACLU and we've referred it to the Knox County Law Director's office for review. We will provide additional information at a later time."

The ACLU is asking people in other school districts who find gay Web sites are blocked on their school computers to contact the union.  

The ACLU says the Internet filtering software used by Knox County and Metro Nashville school districts blocks student access to the Web sites of many well-known national LGBT organizations, including:

  • Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
  • The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
  • Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
  • Marriage Equality USA
  • Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry
  • The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
  • Dignity USA (an organization for LGBT Catholics) 

The letter asks the districts and schools who use filtering software provided by Education Networks of America to stop blocking sites designated as "LGBT" or the ACLU will file a lawsuit.

Tennessee state law only requires schools to use filtering software to restrict information that is obscene or harmful to minors.

6 News Anchor/Reporter Jill McNeal contributed to this report. Some portions of this report copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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