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Activists Protest Katy ISD’s Ban on LGBTQ Resources

Candidate Ben Chou and student Cameron Samuels advocate for queer-affirming websites.

Ben Chou (l) and Cameron Samuels (courtesy photos)

One month after parents at Katy ISD demanded an audit of school libraries for books with pornographic content, LGBTQ resources have been blocked on the district’s internet server, including the suicide-prevention site The Trevor Project and other resources such as the Montrose Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and OutSmart magazine. Students and others are planning to protest at the upcoming December 13 school board meeting.

Ben Chou, an openly gay man who is running for County Commissioner Precinct 4, plans to attend the board meeting.

“One of the students at Seven Lakes High School—Cameron Samuels, who is the president of that high school’s Democratic club—sent my campaign a message on Instagram to ask if I’d be interested in learning more about the topic,” Chou explained. “I said yes immediately because this issue resonates with me personally. I grew up near Katy, in Fort Bend, among a conservative, diverse community. Out in the suburbs, it felt like there were no openly LGBTQ+ role models for me. The first time I said the words ‘I’m gay’ to someone, my friend told my then-high-school self that I should consider becoming a priest so I could remain celibate for life. Hearing those words crushed my hope of having an ally during an otherwise lonely journey, and pushed me back into the closet for three more long years. I’m running for Harris County Commissioner in part so that LGBTQ+ kids in Southwest Houston and the suburbs have a positive role model and won’t face that same lonely journey. In fact, a number of young LGBTQ+ activists are on my staff and volunteer team. If I win, I’ll break a glass ceiling by becoming the first openly gay person to serve on the Harris County Commissioners Court.” 

Chou plans to share his coming-out story with the board. “I’ll tell them about how resources like The Trevor Project, which are now banned, saved my life. I believe that everyday stories, [including] our coming-out stories, are a large part of how we were able to win support for LGBTQ+ equality in the hearts and minds of younger generations. I’m committed to doing everything I can to help create a more inclusive, welcoming community for all of our kids.” 

Cameron Samuels, the 17-year-old Katy ISD student who contacted Chou, has been fighting this access battle for years. “My freshman year, I attempted to visit advocate.com to conduct research for a school project in my Digital Art & Animation class,” Samuels, who uses they/them pronouns, explains. “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).” I was shocked and disturbed to see this LGBTQ+ news website blocked on the campus internet simply because it was labeled as alternative.”

Samuels notes that homophobic websites like Infowars are accessible. But there wasn’t much they could do at the time. Now, as a senior, they’re able to gather like-minded students to fight the issue. Samuels and some friends created an online petition that has more than 900 signatures, in addition to social-media accounts with more than 1,400 likes and several hundred shares.

“I was the only student who spoke at the last board meeting,” Samuels said. “In my statements, I made it clear that students have been directly impacted by this brazen decision-making. But the board of trustees did not seem to budge.”

Samuels will be back for the upcoming board meeting. “These policies are more than just for political discourse,” they said. “When the situation comes down to a student contemplating suicide and they do not have a supportive home environment, a district policy that blocks access to The Trevor Project is a matter of life or death for them. I hope the board and community can move past the political perspective of this issue and instead recognize the detrimental personal impact on students.”

As of now, Katy ISD board president Greg Schulte had not responded to a request for comment.

Those planning to attend the December 13 meeting should be aware of Katy ISD’s policies for speakers. Visit katyisd.org/dept/sb/Pages/AddressingTheBoard.aspx.  

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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