District’s internet filter blocks LGBTQIA+ resources for students

MTHS community comes together against website filtering

Districts+internet+filter+blocks+LGBTQIA%2B+resources+for+students

© HAWKEYE Nico Francois

By Ritika Khanal, Co-Editor-In-Chief

As senior Emma Kerani was preparing for a current events discussion in their ethnic studies class, they began looking up the safest schools for LGBTQIA+ students in the nation. Pacific University, they’d heard, had come out with such a list, and they had thought that would enrich the current event discussion for the week.

However, as they began to conduct further research, an issue arose. The district issued computers, which run a filtering system to ensure that students do not access inappropriate websites, had blocked many of the most reliable resources LGBTQIA+.

Initially Kerani thought it was just an inconsistency, and continued to search for resources they knew were reliable. It was only after intense research that they began to realize there was a serious issue when, trying to get onto the Campus Pride website, they found it to be blocked, too. Campus Pride is a nonprofit educational foundation centered around providing support and services for LGBTQIA+ students in colleges as well as their allies. For high school students, this website was a great way to explore which university campuses were the most accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Frustrated, Kerani turned to their table mate and fellow senior Cassius Petkovits to compare notes.

Petkovits found that while Campus Pride was blocked on his computer as well, the Westboro Baptist Church website was not.

“The Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for hating lots of people, but especially lgbt people,” Kerani said. “They literally have god hates fags in their URL, and they’re designated as anti-LGBT by the southern poverty law center.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) monitors hate groups across the United States, and informs law enforcement, media and the general public about them. After finding the   Westboro Baptist Church website to be unblocked on both their computers, Kerani and Petkovits began to wonder; What other websites clearly designated as hate groups could students access from their district issued chromebooks?

One simple google search later, Petkovits and Kerani had a list of antiLGBT websites that were completely unblocked, along with other hate groups.

“At first, I kind of had to laugh about it, because I had no idea what to think,” Kerani said. “But then, I was like, this is seriously so messed up.”

Later that day, Kerani and Petkovits began to wonder what other websites were unblocked. They had found an extensive list of blocked resources when it came to the LGBTQIA+ community, but what about other communities?

So, they began actively looking for other hate groups to see if their websites were blocked or not. After a few simple searches on Google, they found multiple white supremacy websites left unblocked, and a few Nazi ones, too.

“The most shocking part was the sites that had Nazi flags, or displays of black face, anti-Semitic drawings. Many of the sites even outwardly saying that gay people deserve the death penalty,” Petkovits said.

Both Kerani and Petkovits were appalled at what they had found, and they knew something needed to be done.

“I was really upset,” Petkovits said. “This district seems to pride itself on being inclusive and accepting to everyone, but when they show this many displays of letting all these hateful sites being accessible through seemingly any chromebook, whilst blocking resources for LGBT students, it’s disgusting.

Petkovits identifies as queer and transgender, and said he has seen hateful messages like those on the websites he and Kerani found to be unblocked all his life. It was these hateful messages and lack of acceptance in society that discouraged him from coming out sooner, and pushed him further into the closet.   

“Now, I’m a senior in high school, and I’m comfortable with my identity and how it changes. But I know there’s people that aren’t. People younger than me are trying to find themselves,” he said. “So, what’s going to happen to them when they get on their chromebook trying to find information but most of it is blocked? What’s going to happen to them when they see hateful sites that aren’t blocked? They won’t feel safe. I know I didn’t.”

After talking to ethnic studies teacher Erin Grambush, Petkovits and Kerani compiled a list of LGBTQIA+ resources that were blocked, as well as a list of hate groups that were not. Among the websites on the list of LGBTQIA+ resources that were blocked were the International Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, and Intersex Law Association, True Colors Inc, Keshet, Pride at Work and Sage.

All of these websites are designed to advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, with each having their own focus. For example, “Keshet’’ is a website with the goal of helping people who identify as LGBTQIA+ within the Jewish community. “Sage’’ primarily focuses on providing services for and advocating for LGBTQIA+ elders. True Colors Inc. focuses on advocating for and educating LGBTQIA+ youth to ensure that they feel safe and valued. Many other resources are out there that have their own focus.   

After compiling these lists,  Karani wrote an open letter to the Edmonds School District. In the letter, they asked that the district re-examine the filtering system, block hate groups and unblock LGBTQIA+ resources.

“You can’t claim to have inclusive schools and do this stuff. This is why LGBT students feel devalued or unsafe at schools a lot of the time, and I feel like this oversight is a glaring example of where the priorities lie,” Kerani  said. “I talked to Grambush, and she suggested we compile a list so we can get some of these websites unblocked, so while I was doing that, I just decided to write a letter about it as well.”

Once the letter was written, Petkovits, Kerani and others worked together to spread the word about the filter. Flyers were put up in classrooms, and the letter has gained over 100 signatures from MTHS students and staff alike.

Moving forward, Kerani and Petkovits hope that the district will truly take the letter into consideration, and work harder to make LGBTQIA+ students feel safe in schools.

“I’m hoping the district will see that we have a voice, that we will speak up and take action for these unjust things,” Petkovits said. “I’m hoping they’ll consider their LGBT students more carefully, they’ll consider how these things affect us and that they need to be aware of us.”

Kerani’s letter:

Hello,

My name is Emma Kerani. I’m a senior at MTHS, and I send this letter with the support of many other students across the school as well as several teachers.

There is a problem with the district’s filtering system. I recently tried to look up Campus Pride, an organization that aims to protect LGBT students on college campuses, only to find out that it was blocked. However, as a tablemate pointed out to me, what wasn’t blocked was the Westboro Baptist Church. The church’s web address is godhatesfags.com. I initially laughed about it; even as I started to compile a list of other LGBT-related organizations that were blocked, I could joke about it with friends. Yet the list grew and grew, encompassing community centers, worker’s unions, and educational sites. When I saw the scope of the problem, I also started looking for hate groups (designated as such by the Southern Poverty Law Center). When I found that barely any hate groups were blocked, it was no longer a joke. And when I easily accessed a website for a Nazi organization during my search, I felt sick.

I think it’s incredibly important to note that I found most of the hate group websites with a simple Google search. I want to emphasize how little effort I put into this search; literal Nazi organizations are available for any student willing to put in the two minutes to look them up. I hope the district looks into this, even outside of simply blocking these sites. Knowing which sites are blocked and unblocked, I as an LGBT student don’t feel safe. I think that many of my peers would agree if they knew that websites with slurs in the addresses, open declarations of Nazi-ism, and advocation for the death penalty for queer people were open to anyone at an Edmonds School District high school. I am shaken after looking at some of these websites. I also want to point out that the burden of making the effort to unblock LGBT websites and block hate groups, many of which espouse absolutely abhorrent beliefs, should not have fallen on a high schooler’s shoulders.

Currently, I and my LGBT classmates can’t look at bisexual resources, find safe college campuses, or access organizations such as the International Foundation for Gender Education. But with a few clicks, a student could easily access homophic, nationalist, anti-semetic, and white supremacist content. This concept horrifies me—it should horrify you too.

Signed,

Emma Kerani

With the support of Cassius Petkovits, Jasmyn Wacker, Jaimee Wacker, Erin Grambush, Sam Dilling, Anabelle Sumera-Decoret, Damaris Ibrahim, Aleigha Evans, Mollie Sullivan, Grace Olson, Ainsley Ward, Abigail Swanson, Cami Owen, Kylie Prescott, Christopher Kelly, Kyle Lai, Rain Wood, Matthew Wood, Natalee Oostra, Georgiana Estes, Shady Mayer, Adalynn Parshall, Reyna Rodriguez, Cleo Garfield, Darioush Mansourzadeh, Jackson Siebert, Adrian Subaykan, Sophina Chen, Alice Low, Juliette Escalona, Theresa Van, Miguel Vazquez, Ronan Sweeney,Clarisse Sandvik, Tiffany Nguyen, Elijah Facklam, Ricky Tu, Tatyana Drew, Lizzie Barnes, Connor Lovelace, Jeslyn Vuong, Lazarus Claus, Kim Banh, Tegan Spaulding, Benjamin Marx, Evette Fackrell, Danny Vega, Madison Studley, Beth Cohn, Evelynn Miles, Sydney Prokopovich, Hannah Fisker-Andersen, Audrey Sledge, Makaela Black, Jasper Rhodes, Jade Lewis, Bee Parrish, Rowan Rhoads, Elliot averill, Gwyneth Balite, Minh Pham, Tristan Harmon, Katie Redenbaugh, Sydney Sandstrom, Alexis Ballard, Collin Fahey, Maile Armstrong, Jenna Kuffel, Luna Tewolde, Nina Dodgin, Talon Evans, Damaris Torres, Elena Cram, Shyanne Travis, Camryn Thornton, Katie Lario,Timothy Cho, Elliott Orange, Casey Kramer, Quinn Harmon, Dylan Newman, Davis Gonzaga, Dakoda Jensen, Jack Williams, Dayton Nickolson, Ahna Elsberry, Melissa Rouse, Trynity Lundblade, Amaya Brazil, Josh Gurney, Karissa Johnson, Chloe Fallesen, Taylor Dugan, Ilse van Drunen Batani, Comet/Mia Lovelace, Jennifer Castaneda Alvarez(Samantha), Wyatt Everett, Casey Diaz Herrera, Rahel Gujo, Skyler MacKay, Blake, Audree Waters,+Alessandra Serena-Takahashi, Teya Caldwell, Savanah Coco-Barrett(Cupid), Kate McCarthy, Abigail Min, Shalom Abi, Marylyne Obare, Macayla Donovan, Sean Brouwer, Kaelynn Bagley, Olivia Schulze, Joshua Williams, Koen Dau, Lucas Barquin, Madilynn Beam, Jazlyn Keopraseurt, Sicily Weitz,Lorelai Baumann, Hayden Studley, Isabella Dreitzler, David Cardwell,Ruby Gilbert, Camden Curtis ,Madilynn Preuss, Gunnar Willson, Taylor Dean, Taylor Kang, Javeria Ali, Robyn Juhlin, Ryan Yasuda, Halle Connell, Maddox/Marlow Gravender, Magnolia Ungerleider.