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Florida school
district blocks gay Web sites, allows antigay ones

Florida school
district blocks gay Web sites, allows antigay ones

The Palm Beach County school district has blocked student access to Web sites that promote gay rights while allowing access to those that denounce homosexuality.

The Palm Beach County, Fla., school district has blocked student access to numerous Web sites that promote gay rights and support gay youths while allowing access to a host of sites that oppose equality and denounce homosexuality, the Palm Beach Post reports. Many Web sites are off-limits to Palm Beach County students because they promote violence, racism, and pornography, but some people are accusing the district of antigay bias.

Among the sites students are allowed to surf are those for the "ex-gay" group National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, the notoriously antigay Traditional Values Coalition, the American Family Association, and Focus on the Family. But when students or teachers try to log on to gay-positive sites such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; Parents,Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; or the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, they are greeted with a notice that says the site is blocked.

Bob LaRocca, who oversees computer security, told the Post the district's filtering software automatically blocks sites to comply with the Child Online Protection Act and the Children Internet Protection Act. He also pointed out that content is not the only factor. The district also blocks sites with chat rooms to avoid viruses.

LaRocca he said the sites may be fine for high school students, but concern about younger students accessing them keeps them off-limits for everyone. "Someday, when we can differentiate who is going through the sites, things may change," he told the Post. "But there is no technology out there to do that. When you have 200,000 users, how do you judge how old someone is? It's impossible, so we have to treat it so it's the youngest child."

Forest Hill High School teacher Michael Wood, who served as the sponsor for Boynton Beach High's gay-straight alliance last year, said blocking gay advocacy Web sites sends a negative message to students. "One of the things we tell kids is that when you hit the firewall, it's a bad thing," he told the Post. "I agree with filtering, but now they are going to see 'gay/lesbian' and associate that with something that is bad."

The censorship prompted the Palm Beach Human Rights Council--access to its site also is blocked--to reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a civil rights group, for help. James Green, an ACLU lawyer, plans to review the case this week. The ACLU has sued in the past over censorship on the Web. In 2002 the Georgia ACLU filed a free-speech lawsuit on behalf of the Gay Guardian newspaper, claiming that a public library banned the newspaper from the library's free literature area. (The Advocate)

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