ACLU: PA district is discriminating
by Jen Colletta
The American Civil Liberties Union and its local chapter sent a letter to a Pennsylvania school district this week demanding that it stop blocking LGBT content in its Internet filter.
The letter argues that Governor Mifflin School District in Berks County is violating students’ First Amendment rights with its “sexuality” filter.
The block was reported to ACLU by Governor Mifflin Senior High School junior Maison Fioravante, who was attempting to research LGBT issues for a school project.
She found that she could not access sites that offered pro-LGBT information and resources, yet sites that condemned homosexuality were accessible.
“It’s not only important for support for LGBT students and those questioning their sexual identities to be able to access these sites, but also for students who simply want information for school projects,” Fioravante said in a statement. “It’s wrong for my school to determine that this kind of information is too sensitive for the student body.”
Among the sites Fioravante was prevented from visiting were the organizational sites of Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, Safe Schools Coalition, Freedom to Marry, the Equality Federation and Lambda Legal.
“Being able to access information on the Internet at the school library is not only critical for academic purposes, it can also be a lifeline for LGBT students in crisis who don’t feel safe seeking support on their home computers,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Blocking these sites not only violates the First Amendment, but it does a disservice to students trying to learn about themselves and the world around them.”
Fioravante circulated a petition against the filter that has since generated more than 3,000 signatures.
The district also employs a filter against “intolerant” sites, which blocks political-advocacy pages that seemingly offer intolerant viewpoints. Among the blocked sites are those of the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, staunch opponents of the LGBT community.
“Regardless of whether you support or oppose legal protections for LGBT people, these sorts of viewpoint-based filters puts everyone’s First Amendment rights at risk,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “If you give school officials the power to censor viewpoints they don’t like, they may use that power to block your own viewpoint too.”
The ACLU has asked the district to respond by March 14 with information on how it will address the issue.
PA lawmakers introduce hate-crimes bills
by Angela Thomas
Two Pennsylvania legislators hope to get an LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes law passed in both the state Senate and House this year.
Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-38th Dist.) introduced Senate Bill 42 in early January, while State Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th Dist.) will take the lead from former Rep. Josh Shapiro on House Bill 177, also introduced in January.
The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the state’s hate-crimes law. LGBT people were previously protected by the law, but a 2007 court decision lifted that provision.
Boyle’s measure has 32 cosponsors, compared to 40 last session.
Boyle cosponsored Shapiro’s bill in 2011, and was eager to take up the leadership role when Shapiro left the state legislature.
“I was afraid that this could be something that could drop, so I wanted to pick up this fight to make sure we get this bill added to protect Pennsylvanians,” he said.
Boyle said the legislation is needed but that there could be a struggle to convince individuals on both sides of the aisle.
“It is just common sense. Unfortunately, it takes a fight on behalf of those of us who feel passionately that we need to protect all Pennsylvanians,” he said. “This should be something that conservative representatives should get behind.”
Boyle said the bill is vital to protect LGBTs.
“When someone commits such a heinous act, they are not just committing a crime against a victim, but they are victimizing the entire community. Folks who are a part of the LGBT community deserve protection.”
Ferlo, who led the measure for the past several sessions, said it remains a relevant piece of legislation.
“I think we have to continue to be strenuous advocates for this piece of legislation because it is very critically needed,” he said.
Ferlo said he thinks the bill has a chance to pass in the Senate.
“I think if there is any hope, it will be in the state Senate because of the greater number of Democratic leaders. We also hope to reach out to Republican colleagues,” he said. “We need to continue to work among colleagues and have confidence for Republicans to be sympathetic to the bill, at least in the Senate.”
Ferlo’s measure was introduced with 13 cosponsors, compared to last session’s 11.
Ferlo encouraged individuals to press their lawmakers to sign on.
“The problem is we do not have a lot of information out there,” Ferlo said. “We need to unite and work for this. Folks who want to communicate with their representatives should do so with phone calls, letters, setting up meetings, etc.”
Cosponsors for Ferlo’s bill include Sens. LeAnna Washington (D-Fourth Dist.), James Brewster (D-45th Dist.), Rob Teplitz (D-15th Dist.), Lawrence Farnese (D-First Dist.), Anthony Williams (D-Eighth Dist.), Shirley Kitchen (D-Third Dist.), Christine Tartaglione (D-Second Dist.), Judith Schwank (D-11th Dist.), Jay Costa (D-43rd Dist.), Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.), Wayne Fontana (D-42nd Dist.), Vincent Hughes (D-Seventh Dist.) and Patrick Browne (R-16th Dist.).
Cosponsors for Boyle’s bill include Reps. Kevin Boyle (D-172 Dist.), Adam Ravenstahl (D-20th Dist.), Don Costa (D-21st Dist.), Mike Fleck (R-81st Dist.), Tina M. Davis (D-141st Dist.), Michelle Brownlee (D-195th Dist.), Vanessa Brown (D-190th Dist.), William Kortz (D-38th Dist.), Michael O’Brien (D-175th Dist.), Michael Schlossberg (D-132nd Dist.), Louise Bishop (D-192nd Dist.), Scott Conklin (D-77th Dist.), Michael Sturla (D-96th Dist.), Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.), Steven Santarsiero (D-31st Dist.), Cherelle Parker (D-200th Dist.), Maria Donatucci (D-185th Dist.), Mark Cohen (D-202nd Dist.), Mike Carroll (D-118th Dist.), Curtis Thomas (D-181st Dist.), Mark Rozzi (D-126th Dist.), Stephen Kinsey (D-201st Dist.), Rosita Youngblood (D-198th Dist.), Mark Painter (D-146th Dist.), Robert Freeman (D-136th Dist.), Stephen McCarter (D-154th Dist.), Matthew Bradford (D-70th Dist.), Rep. Erin Molchany (D-22nd Dist.), Daniel McNeill (D-133rd Dist.), Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.), John Taylor (R-177th Dist.) and Thomas Murt (R-152nd Dist.).