Katy Independent School District has finally restored access to LGBTQ+ affirming websites to its nine high schools after a complaint filed in April by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU of Texas) and Lambda Legal on behalf of Cameron Samuels, then a senior at Seven Lakes High School.
Samuels told OutSmart magazine last year that they had been fighting the so-called Human Sexuality filter 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 said, who uses gender-neutral pronouns.
“Advocate’s website redirected to a blocked 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-campus internet simply because it was labeled as an Alternative.
“These policies are more than just for political discourse,” Samuels added. “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.”
Last week, after two grievance hearings, Katy ISD agreed to remove the Human Sexuality filter at the high school level and create a process for students and parents to request to unblock sites individually at the elementary and middle school levels.
“Katy ISD’s decision was a step in the right direction; all students should have access to resources that affirm who they are and who they can be, rather than erasing their existence,” said Shelly L. Skeen, senior attorney for Lambda Legal.
Some twenty sites have been restored, including OutSmart, the Human Rights Campaign, the Montrose Center, Equality Texas, and PFLAG.
“This discriminatory internet filter erases our queer identities and demonstrates the refusal that many school districts, and the state of Texas, have in affirming our most marginalized and vulnerable students,” Samuels said. “I am pleased to see critical, life-saving websites become available to many students in Katy ISD, but I am disheartened that younger, possibly more vulnerable students may still have to out their queer identity in requesting access to resources that could save their life. It’s gravely irresponsible to uphold policies like this.”
Samuels, now studying politics at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, has been named the first-ever youth honorary chair of Banned Books Weeks, which runs September 18 to 24. Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information.
“This year, Banned Books Week is all about how censorship divides us, but books unite us,” Samuels said in an interview with the School Library Journal. “That message, that motto, will bring people together through books. We will have a united front of librarians, educators, teachers, and students to stand up against this large-scale attack on our queer identities, our BIPOC identities. It will be a week-long effort to show that we are here, and this is what we believe; books unite us.”
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