LGBT Center “Filters” the Internet

by Tommi Avicolli Mecca on October 31, 2006

How well I remember going to the dictionary to look up “Homosexual.” I was in my early teens. “Homosexual” was a word that haunted me day and night. I was terrified that it applied to me. What I found in the dictionary was all that I would know for years. It wasn’t much.

Lack of information was our greatest enemy in the dark ages of the 50s and 60s, a time in America when kids learned about sex from the streets and safe sex was doing it in the car in an out-of-the-way spot. Queer existence was reduced to a handful of words, most of them negative. In no classroom in America was it ever mentioned that Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, or even Oscar Wilde was queer. All that talk about comrades in Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was just about friendship, we were told, not things that go groping in the night.

One of the truly revolutionary things gay liberation did was to make queers and queer issues household words. Suddenly, kids didn’t have to go scrounging around in dusty libraries with some bespectacled librarian breathing down their necks to find out what they needed to know about their own budding sexuality. That’s not to say that it was all peachy to be queer. But at least Maria could find information and even books about why she felt all gushy around Judy.

Given this history, the queer community is the last place you’d expect to find censorship. Unfortunately, as always, it’s a case of how soon we forget. The San Francisco LGBT community center is restricting certain sites from its public access computers. According to one guy who frequently uses those computers, it even blocks access to medical marijuana information. The guy wrote a letter to one of the local queer papers, which prompted a response this week from the center. It seems that the center has received complaints about people using the computers to surf porn sites. It’s not surprising: Queer parents complain about dildoes in the windows of shops along Castro Street.

The center spokesperson explained in his reply that the filter is temporary, an experiment. It’s an optional part of software installed to keep people from messing with settings that affect the computers’ hardware. I can understand stopping people from changing settings. But a filter to block certain sites? That’s too scary coming from an LGBT community center. While porn is filtered out of the center’s computers, is homophobic right-wing Christian propaganda? Can one can go to any of those sites without problems?

The center is currently seeking comment on the censoring tool. The community needs to tell the center in no uncertain terms: No filters! Porno is not the issue. Freedom of information is. Complete access to all that the internet has to offer–the good and the bad–is our right. Don’t restrict internet access to those who can’t afford their own computers. That sort of classism doesn’t belong in a queer community center in San Francisco.

The center needs to remove the filter.

(Make your opinions known by going to the center’s website, www.sfcenter.org, and click on “cyber center.” You can also attend a special meeting at the center, 1800 Market St./Octavia, Monday, Nov. 6th, 6:30-7:30pm.)

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical southern Italian working-class queer performer, activist and writer.

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