Unblocked Gay Web Sites Help Fight Bias In The Classroom

GayPALM BEACH, FLORIDA – Gay resource sites on the Internet now are just a click away for computer users at public schools.
The Palm Beach County School District recently unblocked student and teacher access to several so-called “gay-supportive” Web sites after months of appeals and legal pressure by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. Some sites remain blocked.
A message labeling the sites “Sexuality/Alternative Lifestyles” no longer pops up on School District computer screens when users visit Web sites run by the gay rights council, and the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
“It’s great that [students and faculty members] can get reliable researched information,” said Michael Woods, a teacher at Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach who is trying to start a Gay Straight Alliance club on campus.
Woods tried unsuccessfully Thursday to access the site for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Rand Hoch, president and founder of the nongovernmental Human Rights Council, complained it wasn’t fair the district banned the gay resource sites while allowing access to “anti-gay” Web sites run by organizations such as the American Family Association.
News of the problem surfaced in March, when the editor of the student newspaper at Inlet Grove High School in Riviera Beach published a story about the blocked Web sites.
Hoch cheered the change as a benefit for county students and educators in their efforts to battle homophobia and sexual harassment on campus.
“The school district was using an overbroad filtering system,” he said.
That device, which blocks millions of Web sites deemed inappropriate, is from Blue Coat Systems Inc., said Bob LaRocca, director of Information Technology Security.
“We’re trying to protect the kids,” he said of the restrictions on any Internet addresses that link to words and pictures associated with gambling, sex and racism, among others.
Popular Web sites featuring chat rooms and free e-mail also are not accessible on district computers.
During its appeal, the Human Rights Council enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a civil rights advocacy group for gays and lesbians.
Hoch credited School Board Chairman Bill Graham with helping to persuade district administrators to unblock the sites.
On Thursday, the district opened access to the Web headquarters of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, http://www.glsen.org. The New York City organization’s main objective is stopping anti-gay behavior and bias in schools across the country.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find anything on the site that would be inappropriate for any student to see,” said spokesman Daryl Presgraves. “This is a very valuable resource.”
from The Sun-Sentinel

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