Katy ISD has unblocked four LGBTQ-affirming websites, according to student Cameron Samuels.
Samuels, a high school senior who uses they/them pronouns, has been spearheading the fight against a policy that previously banned all LGBTQ resources from the district’s internet server.
“After the Montrose Center’s [website] was unblocked in December, they unblocked PLFAG, GLSEN, and HRC this month,” Samuels tells OutSmart.
All other LGBTQ websites, including The Advocate, OutSmart magazine, and the suicide-prevention site The Trevor Project remain blocked. Samuels plans to keep pushing for change by speaking out at Katy ISD’s January 24 board meeting.
“Katy ISD has unblocked three additional sites, but is continuing to block The Trevor Project,” they say. “I have signed up to speak at the school board meeting [tonight], where I will be sharing this update and calling on the board to unblock The Trevor Project and update their nondiscrimination policy.”
Samuels has had trouble accessing LGBTQ resources from the district’s internet server for years.
“My freshman year, I attempted to visit advocate.com to conduct research for a school project in my Digital Art & Animation class,” they remember. “The Advocate’s website redirected to a block page that 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 fighting back against the district policy by gathering like-minded students to launch an online petition titled Katy ISD: Protect Your LGBTQ+ Students. That petition has garnered over 1,000 signatures so far.
“The fact that this filter category even existed shows the deep prejudices within Katy ISD administration. To declare all LGBTQ+ content as inherently inappropriate is discriminatory, and this behavior is unacceptable,” the petition reads.
Samuels has also been making their voice heard at Katy ISD board meetings. On December 13, they called for the district to unblock LGBTQ “lifesaving resources.”
Suicide is the leading cause of death for children and adolescents 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 straight and cisgender counterparts to attempt suicide due to internalized stigma, discrimination, and rejection.
LGBTQ kids living in the South are at twice the risk of suicide compared to those living in the Northeast, the Trevor Project reports. The study attributes this to a lack of LGBTQ acceptance and access to affirming spaces. Almost half of Southern LGBTQ youth say that their school is not an affirming environment.
“When a student is on the verge of committing suicide, having access to resources and a suicide-prevention lifeline like The Trevor Project is a matter of life or death,” Samuels told the Katy ISD board. “The same applies to resources like the Montrose Center, and it is undoubtedly discriminatory that an internet filter category like this had existed in the first place.”
Samuels tells OutSmart they are now working with the district to resolve the issue. Just prior to the district’s winter break, Samuels received and filled out a “student support ticket” form that officials will use to evaluate a few of the blocked LGBTQ sites.
At press time, Samuels reported that the Montrose Center’s website was unblocked on the school’s server, while The Trevor Project and all other sites are still blocked.
While Katy ISD has not responded to questions about the origins of the filters or whether it plans to address the situation, the district did publish a statement on the controversy:
The District provides a variety of communications and technology resources that are consistent with its educational goals and align with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Because there are billions of websites housed on the world wide web, content that is made available to students during the instructional day is reviewed and filtered by a third-party school-based platform that ensures CIPA compliance. The filtering process accounts for all material that may be found on a website, including hyperlinks to external content such as electronic mail, chat rooms and other forms of direct electronic communication—spaces often occupied by both minors and adults, and discouraged by CIPA.
Moving forward, Samuels and other advocates hope to push Katy ISD to broaden its nondiscrimination policies.
“Katy ISD does not have a policy to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Samuels emphasizes. “The Katy ISD legacy should be one of compassion, not one of discrimination, whether it be 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.