ACLU tells 3 more school districts — including 2 in N. Texas — to stop blocking LGBT web content

The ACLU of Texas reports that it has sent letters to three more school districts — including two in North Texas — demanding that they stop illegally blocking access to LGBT websites on district computers.

The letters were Tuesday to the Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD; the Northwest ISD, which covers parts of Northern Tarrant, Southwestern Denton and Southeastern Wise counties; and the Aldine ISD near Houston. This brings to five the total number of school districts in Texas that have received letters as part of the ACLU’s “Don’t Filter Me” initiative.

Earlier this month, the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD in Fort Worth and the Goose Creek School District in Baytown agreed to stop blocking LGBT content in response to demand letters from the ACLU. The organization says anti-LGBT filtering programs violate the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act.

“We are seeing a pattern across the country in which school districts have enabled anti-LGBT filters without understanding how they work,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “Software companies need to make schools understand that these products are programmed specifically to target LGBT-related content that would not otherwise be blocked as inappropriate, and that these types of filters are not required by law. There is no legitimate reason why any public school should be using an anti-LGBT filter.”

Watch the above video to determine whether your district is illegally filtering LGBT content. To report illegal filtering, go here.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Rally in support of Gay Straight Alliance outside Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi

As many as 150 people gathered outside Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi on Friday to protest the school district’s decision to deny a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance.

Flour Bluff High School student Bianca “Nikki” Peet, 17, has been trying to launch the GSA since November.

Last week, Flour Bluff Superintendent Julia Carbajal announced that the district would bar all non-curricular clubs from meeting on campus in order to avoid allowing the GSA.

The American Civil Liberties Union responded by threatening legal action against the district, saying officials are required to allow the GSA under the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act.

On Friday, supporters of the GSA rallied outside the school for eight hours and presented a petition with more than 28,000 signatures to a district spokesman. A handful of anti-gay counterprotesters, led by right-wing radio host Bob Jones, gathered across the street.

At one point, according to the video report below, a pro-GSA protester tried to give a couterprotester some water. The counterprotester responded by saying he wouldn’t touch anything a gay man had, telling him to “stay away from my grandson.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Sarah Palin, Westboro Baptist Church, The Advocate’s gayest cities

1. Sarah Palin released a video statement (above) this morning in response to the Tucson shooting, saying her decision to put rifle crosshairs on a map over Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ district had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the incident at all. How could it have, right? But why so defensive then? And what better way for Palin to address a shooting that targeted Giffords, who’s Jewish, than by using an anti-semitic metaphor? Palin says those who link the tragedy to her violent rhetoric are committing “blood libel” — which refers to an accusation from the Middle Ages that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh for Passover. Palin is right, this incident was more about mental illness than rhetoric — until you consider the fact that the ones spewing the rhetoric are mentally ill. (Politico)

2. The governor of Arizona signed emergency legislation to prohibit Westboro Baptist Church from picketing within 300 feet of the funeral for a 9-year-old girl who was killed in the Tucson shooting. The legislation was initiated by openly gay State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Tucson, who said this: “I’m a strong advocate of the First Amendment and the bottom line is this, Fred Phelps and his group of people can still spew their hate if they want. They just don’t get to do it close to the families that are grieving. They have to be farther away.” (ABC 15)

3. The Advocate lists Minneapolis as the gayest city in America, and Texas is shut out of the top 15. Have we mentioned that The Advocate sucks?

—  John Wright

Ft. Worth ordinance could affect Pride, AIDS walk

Council approves higher fees, new rules on outdoor events, but attorney says city plans to ‘phase in’ enforcement to lessen impact

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Tony Coronado and Allan Gould
Tony Coronado and Allan Gould

The Fort Worth City Council has enacted a new outdoor event ordinance that changes requirements and increases fees for some outdoor events.

The changes, which go into effect Oct. 1, could impact future Tarrant County Gay Pride parades and picnics held in October each year, and it could also affect the Tarrant County AIDS Outreach Center’s AIDS Walk, held each spring.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider acknowledged that fees for such events were increased, but the rest of the ordinance is primarily about codifying rules already in place.

“We took current policy and put it into an ordinance,” Fullenwider said.

She noted that the ordinance “doesn’t apply to First Amendment activity,” but that it does require organizers give the city at least 48 hours’ notice for an event that will close a street.

First Amendment activities refer to protests or other gatherings that are political in nature and involve exercising free speech rights.
The new Fort Worth requirements are for events that expect 500 or more participants and spectators. In Dallas, permits are required for 75 or more people.

The fee in Dallas is on a graduated scale based on number of expected attendees. For more than 20,000 expected attendees, such as the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, the city charges $500, plus a late fee for applications received less than 45 days before an event.

Fort Worth will now require event planners to attend a calendar committee meeting. To provide enough police protection, the city is trying to prevent overlapping scheduling.

Organizers must also attend a pre-event meeting and submit a traffic plan if streets are to be closed, Fullenwider said.

Special rules apply to downtown, the Stockyards and the Near South Side, which includes the area where Fort Worth’s annual Pride parade is held.

Fullenwider said there was no request from the Museum District for any special consideration,  probably because events there do not affect the surrounding neighborhoods to the same extent.

Walks, runs and races have some special rules. Normally, all business and homeowners in the affected area need to be notified that an event will take place in front of their property.

For longer routes, area property owners may be notified by e-mail, signs, mail or newspaper ads.

ROYALTY ON PARADE | The 2009 Tarrant County Gay Pride Week titleholders wave to their fans lining the route of the parade down South Jennings last October.

Fees, which are currently $150 will not rise immediately, and Fullenwider said officials have not yet determined what the new fees will be.

She did note, however, that the city is aware of the effect increased costs can have on organizations.

She said that officials are talking about phasing in any eventual increase.

Tony Coronado of the Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association said his organization isn’t sure yet how the new ordinance might affect the Pride Week events. But so far, he added, he hasn’t seen any big changes

In the past, Fort Worth’s annual Pride Picnic was considered a private event that was permitted through the parks department. Because of its size, it would now be considered a public event and require a city permit as well, Coronado said.

Coronado said that a large expense for the parade is hiring extra off-duty police officers.While the number of streets to be closed has not changed, he said the number of entries could affect the number of officers needed.

The parade this year will be held on Oct. 3, after the ordinance takes effect. But permits are already in place and Coronado said he has already met with the police department.

One change in this year’s parade will be a block party that will be held at Pennsylvania and South Jennings streets. A block in each direction from the intersection will be closed all day.

That required extra coordination with the city, Coronado said, but the new ordinance presented no obstacles.

However, by next year, higher fees may be in place.  If that happens, Coronado said, “We’ll just have to bump it up.”

AIDS Outreach Center Executive Director Allan Gould said the new ordinance will affect several events benefiting his organization, including the annual AOC AIDS Walk next spring and the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS next month.

“We’ll have new due diligence on our part” to make sure the proper permits are in place, Gould said.

While this year’s Lone Star Ride happens before the new ordinance goes into the effect, if the bike ride follows the same route next year, fees will be higher and organizers will have to follow new rules about notifying everyone along the course.

The AIDS walk would also be subject to higher fees, which Gould said he hoped the city would consider waiving for fundraising events for local nonprofit organizations.

Gould said a bigger factor was that the walk is in the museum district, as is Artists Against AIDS, and the free lot outside the Community Arts Center has recently become paid parking.

Gould said hoped that wouldn’t have a negative impact on participation.

But he said AOC has been considering several solutions, including moving events out of the city or to a large, private downtown venue such as the Tandy Center.

Fort Worth Councilmember Joel Burns said that a mandatory insurance ordinance was passed last year that goes into effect at the same time. He said the new rules, however, shouldn’t materially impact neighborhood or LGBT groups.

“My hope is they’d be even better,” Burns said.

He said he thought the new ordinance would help police and city staff coordinate with groups and help make events safer.

“We held five public meetings,” Fullenwider said. “We’re hoping we did a good job. In a year, we plan to meet with event holders and see how it’s working.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Supreme Court votes 8-1 to allow animal cruelty … and you'll never guess who dissented

Cat holdup

I would expect Antonin Scalia to buy kitty snuff films. But where was the wise Latina? Hmmm … not so wise today, in my opinion.

OK, slap me. For the first time in … well, ever, I’m agreeing with Justice Samuel Alito.

In an 8-1 vote today, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that made selling videos with depictions of animal cruelty illegal. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that the law infringed on free speech rights.

Roberts wrote that the government’s case for limiting First Amendment coverage of free speech was “startling and dangerous.” We agree.

But the 1999 law was written in response to “crush videos” in which women dig their high heels into kittens and other small animals.

“There are myriad federal and state law concerning the proper treatment of animals, but many of them are not designed to guard against animal cruelty,” Roberts wrote. “Protections of endangered species, for example, restrict even the humane wounding or killing of living animals.”

So the opinion doesn’t actually say that intentional animal cruelty is OK. It says that the person selling videos of it is not doing something unconstitutional.

In his minority opinion, Alito wrote that the law banning depictions of animals being mutilated, tortured or killed was intended “to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty — in particular, the creation and commercial exploitation of ‘crush videos,’ a form of depraved entertainment that has no social value.”

One objection the majority had to the law was its overly broad nature. The Humane Society, which had filed a friend of the court brief, said they hoped Congress would write a new, narrower version.

This case does not bode well for the father of a soldier killed in Iraq. In that case, the father sued Fred Phelps for inflicting harm to him and his family during his son’s funeral. A jury awarded him $3 million but an appeals court vacated the judgment and charged the father with court costs. The Supreme Court is due to hear the case pitting free speech against inflicting harm during a period of grieving.

If the Supreme Court finds that free speech trumps killing animals, then surely free speech trumps one man’s right to grieve without hearing protests.

—  David Taffet

Father of fallen Marine ordered to pay Phelps court costs

god-hates-signsAlbert Snyder, the father of a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006, sued Fred Phelps after Westboro Baptist “Church” picketed his son’s funeral. A jury awarded the father a $3 million judgment.

Phelps appealed the ruling and on Friday, an appeals court overturned the judgment based on free speech rights. Snyder was ordered to pay Phelps’ court costs of $16,500.

Snyder has said he has no intention of paying Phelps any money and the Supreme Court agreed today to hear this first amendment case. The competing argument that the court will consider is the privacy and religious rights of mourners.

—  David Taffet

Supreme Court to hear Fred Phelps case

Phelps

The Supreme Court agreed today to hear a freedom of speech case involving Fred Phelps.

Phelps holds anti-gay protests at military funerals of soldiers killed in war with signs that read “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

The father of one soldier sued after Phelps protested at his son’s funeral. He was awarded $10 million. On appeal, the damages were cut in half and then vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The three-member court ruled that the signs could not be easily read by people attending the funeral and Phelps free-speech rights gave him the right to protest, no matter how distasteful his message.

Phelps protested here last month because a former Canadian minister responsible for appointing two of the judges who ruled that Canada must legalize same-sex marriage was speaking to the Jewish Federation of Dallas. In the past, they have protested at Cathedral of Hope and Congregation Beth El Binah.

—  David Taffet