Katy ISD filter blocks LGBTQ+ websites

Students at the Katy Independent School District have asked the school district to unblock several LGBTQ websites and organizations under the district’s internet filters.

After several complaints from the public and a student petition with over 1,300 supporters, the district finally decided to unblock some websites. But others like the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ suicide prevention hotline, remain inaccessible.

So Seven Lakes senior Cameron Samuels, who has been working on this ban since 2018, said he’s not only calling for the Trevor and others project to be canceled, but also for a non-discrimination policy to be adopted. which protects students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The attitude toward the LGBTQ community hasn’t been as strong in Katy ISD,” Samuels said. “To see something that can save a child’s life or affirm their identity and help them when they are struggling with mental health issues. They are unable to provide this, but they discourage and prevent this.

For context, in 2018, Samuels said he noticed banned browser filters after researching The Advocate, an LGBTQ+ magazine and campus news source. According to Samuels, the technology support filter cited “Alternative Sexual Lifestyle (GLBT)”. At the time, Samuels and other students tried to raise awareness about filters, but did nothing.

Upon returning from school after a global pandemic, Samuels said he noticed it again after researching sites like The Advocate, the Human Rights Campaign and Houston’s Montrose Center, an LGBTQ+ community center. But this time, the tech medium cited “human sexuality.”

Although the District has unblocked some websites on demand, the District stands by its decision to continue banning the Trevor Project.

Maria Corrales DiPetta, Katy ISD Media Manager, said the district uses a third-party platform that aligns with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

“The filtering process takes into account all material that can be found on a website, including hyperlinks to external content such as e-mail, chat rooms and other forms of direct electronic communication – spaces often occupied by both minors and adults, and discouraged by CIPA,” Dipetta wrote in an email to Signal.

Additionally, Dipetta also stated that the Trevor Project’s chat room, TrevorSpace, is a concern under their third-party platform.

“The Trevor Project website has a community space for ‘getting advice and support within an international community for young LGBTQ people aged 13-24,’ available to anyone who chooses to ‘join now,'” Dipetta added. “Minors communicating with adults, unsupervised, online are a concern for communication and chat rooms, as noted in the CIPA.”

But the TrevorSpace chat feature on the site not only downloads to a new browser, but connects to a separate URL link.

In an email to Signal, Casey Pick, the Trevor Project’s Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs, said barring resources to LGBTQ+ youth is not only wrong, but dangerous.

“TrevorSpace is just one of many program areas we offer, including 24/7 crisis services, original research, and educational materials,” Pick wrote. “While school districts may have different policies regarding access to social media sites, we encourage all schools to allow their students access to the wide range of resources available on TheTrevorProject.orgwhether for learning, research projects or for support in times of mental health crisis.

Samuels said changing district filters and adopting an inclusive non-discrimination policy is important for LGBTQ+ youth in the area who don’t feel supported.

“Students are directly impacted by these policies every day,” Samuels said. “Some students said they were trying to do research projects and couldn’t access the human rights campaign or they were considering suicide and didn’t feel supported by their advisors and they wanted to visit the Trevor project instead and couldn’t do that.”

One December 2021 to study by The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ+ youth in Texas and other southern states with less assertive spaces cite higher numbers of suicide attempts or fair/poor mental health. Specifically, LGBTQ youth of color cited even higher numbers than their white counterparts.

This all comes after Texas Governor Greg Abbott also removed LGBTQ+ resources from the state Department of Family and Protective Services website in August after leading opponent Don Huffines accused him of “ promote transgender ideology”.

And during the last legislative session, Republican lawmakers have continually targeted transgender youth in bills banning them from playing sports.

Regardless of the antics of Abbott, Huffines and other right-wing lawmakers, LGBTQ+ youth in Texas have said they just need support and the numbers show it.

“Keeping resources like the Trevor Project Crisis Services from students at the district level is harmful, perpetuates stigma against LGBTQ youth, and potentially puts lives at risk,” Pick wrote.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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