Katy ISD has unblocked four LGBTQ-affirming websites, according to student Cameron Samuels.
Samuels, a high school student who uses the pronouns they/them, spearheaded the fight against a policy that previously banned all LGBTQ resources from the district’s internet server.
“After the Montrose Center [website] was unblocked in December, they unblocked PLFAG, GLSEN and HRC this month,” Samuels told OutSmart.
All other LGBTQ websites, including the lawyer, OutSmart magazine and suicide prevention site The Trevor Project remain blocked. Samuels plans to continue pushing for change by speaking at the Katy ISD board meeting on January 24.
“Katy ISD has unblocked three more sites, but continues to block the Trevor project,” they say. “I signed up to speak at the school board meeting [tonight], where I will share this update and call on the board to unblock the Trevor project and update its non-discrimination policy.
Samuels has struggled to access LGBTQ resources from the district’s Internet server for years.
“During my freshman year, I tried to visit the lawyer.com site to conduct research for a school project in my digital art and animation class,” they recall. “the Attorney‘s was redirected to a blocked page which told me it was not accessible because the content fit the category of ‘alternative sexual lifestyles (GLBT)’.
Samuels was shocked to see the LGBTQ news website blocked and labeled as “alternative” by the school’s filtering technology. Meanwhile, anti-LGBTQ sites such as InfoWars were still accessible.
Samuels began to fight district politics by bringing together like-minded students to start an online petition titled Katy ISD: Protect your LGBTQ+ students. This petition has already collected more than 1,000 signatures.
“The fact that this category of filters even existed shows the deep-seated bias within the Katy ISD administration. Declaring all LGBTQ+ content as inherently inappropriate is discriminatory, and this behavior is unacceptable,” the petition reads.
Samuels has also made her voice heard at Katy ISD board meetings. On December 13, they called on the district to unlock LGBTQ “vital resources.”
Suicide is the leading cause of death among children and teens ages 13 to 19, according to a 2019 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies also show that LGBTQ youth are four times more likely than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts to attempt suicide due to internalized stigma, discrimination and rejection.
LGBTQ children living in the South are twice as likely to commit suicide as those living in the Northeast, reports the Trevor Project. The study attributes this to a lack of LGBTQ acceptance and access to affirmation spaces. Nearly half of LGBTQ youth in the South say their school is not a nurturing environment.
“When a student is on the verge of suicide, having access to resources and a lifeline for suicide prevention like The Trevor Project is a matter of life and death,” Samuels told the board. by Katy ISD. “The same goes for resources like the Montrose Center, and it’s definitely discriminatory that a category of internet filters like this existed in the first place.”
Samuels tells OutSmart that they are now working with the district to resolve the issue. Just before the district’s winter break, Samuels received and completed a “student support ticket” form that officials will use to assess a few of the blocked LGBTQ sites.
At press time, Samuels reported that the Montrose Center website had been unblocked on the school’s server, while The Trevor Project and all other sites were still blocked.
Although Katy ISD did not respond to questions about the origins of the filters or its intention to remedy the situation, the district released a statement on the controversy:
The district provides a variety of communication and technology resources that are consistent with its educational goals and compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Since there are billions of websites hosted on the World Wide Web, content made available to students during the instructional day is reviewed and filtered by a third-party school platform that ensures CIPA compliance. The filtering process takes into account all material that can be found on a website, including hyperlinks to external content such as e-mail, discussion forums and other forms of direct electronic communication – spaces often occupied both by minors and adults, and discouraged by the CIPA.
Going forward, Samuels and other advocates hope to push Katy ISD to expand its non-discrimination policies.
“Katy ISD does not have a policy protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Samuels points out. “Katy ISD’s legacy should be one of compassion, not discrimination, whether intentionally or even unintentionally.”
Those planning to attend the January 24 meeting should be aware of Katy ISD’s policies for speakers. Visit katyisd.org/dept/sb/Pages/AddressingTheBoard.aspx.