Students in Katy Independent School District have asked the school district to unblock several LGBTQ websites and organizations under the district’s internet filters.
After several public complaints and a student petition with over 1,300 supporters, the district eventually decided to unblock certain websites. But others like the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ suicide prevention hotline remains inaccessible.
So Seven Lakes senior Cameron Samuels, who has been working on this ban since 2018, said they’re petitioning to not only unban the Trevor Project and others, but also to adopt a non-discrimination policy that protects students based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The attitude toward the LGBTQ community hasn’t been as supported in Katy ISD,” Samuels said. “To see something that can save a child’s life or affirms their identity and help them when they’re struggling with mental health. They are not able to provide that, but are discouraging and preventing that.”
For context, in 2018, Samuels said they noticed the banned browser filters after researching The Advocate, an LGBTQ+ magazine and news source on campus. According to Samuels, the technology support filter cited “Alternative Sexual Lifestyle (GLBT).” At the time, Samuels and other students tried to bring awareness to the filters but fell short on any action.
Upon returning from school after a global pandemic, Samuels said they noticed it again after searching sites like The Advocate, the Human Rights Campaign, and Houston’s Montrose Center, an LGBTQ+ community center. But this time, technology support cited “Human Sexuality.”
Although the district has unbanned some web sites by request, the district stands by their decision to continue prohibiting the Trevor Project.
Maria Corrales DiPetta, Katy ISD Media Manager, said the district uses a third-party platform that corresponds with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
“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,” Dipetta wrote in an email to the Signal.
Moreover, Dipetta also said that the Trevor Project’s chat room, TrevorSpace, is a concern under their third-party platform.
“The Trevor Project website has a community space to ‘get advice and support within an international community for LGBTQ young people ages 13-24’ which is available to anyone who chooses to ‘join now’,” Dipetta added. “Minors communicating with adults, unmonitored, online is an area of concern for communication and chat rooms as outlined in CIPA.”
But the TrevorSpace chat feature on the site not only uploads on a new browser, but connects to a separate URL link.
In an email to the Signal, The Trevor Project’s Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs Casey Pick said banning resources from LGBTQ+ youth is not only wrong, but dangerous.
“TrevorSpace is just one of several program areas we offer, including 24/7 crisis services, original research, and educational materials,” Pick wrote. “While school districts may have different policies about accessing social media sites, we encourage all schools to allow their students to access the wide range of resources available on TheTrevorProject.org, whether it be for learning, research projects, or for support in times of mental health crisis.”
Samuels said changing the district’s filters and adopting an inclusive non-discrimination policy is important for LGBTQ+ youth in the area who don’t feel supported.
“The students are directly impacted by these policies each and every single day,” Samuels said. “Some students have said they are trying to do research projects and they can’t access the Human Rights Campaign or they’re contemplating suicide and they don’t feel supported by their counselors and they instead want to visit the Trevor Project and are unable to do so.”
A December 2021 study by the Trevor Project found that LGBTQ+ youth in Texas and other southern states with less affirming spaces cited a higher number of suicide attempts or fair/poor mental health. More specifically, LGBTQ youth of color cited even higher numbers than their white counterparts.
All of this comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also removed LGBTQ+ resources from the state department of Family and Protective Services website in August after primary opponent Don Huffines accused him of “promoting transgender ideology.”
And in this past legislative session, Republican legislators continually targeted transgender youth in bills banning them from playing sports.
No matter the antics of Abbott, Huffines, and other right-wing legislators, Texas LGBTQ+ youth said they just need support and the numbers show it.
“Keeping resources like The Trevor Project’s crisis services from students at a district level is harmful, perpetuates stigma against LGBTQ young people, and potentially puts lives at risk,” Pick wrote.