July 30, 2012
Alan L. Bounville
President F. Ann Millner
Weber State University
1001 University Circle
Ogden, UT 84408-1001
Dear President F. Ann Millner,
On July 27 & 28 I presented a series of workshops at the Northern Utah LGBTQ Youth Summit organized by OUTReach Resource Center and hosted by Weber State University. Upon arriving at the university, I was struck with the beauty of the campus and surrounding mountainous scenery. WSU is a modern-looking, technologically equipped setting that seemed perfect for this conference. Over these two days we were discussing the myriad needs and issues of Ogden and this nation’s transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer and questioning youth and their families and allies. And the hundreds of us who were gathered share a common purpose and mission – to save the lives of these young people and make the world a better, fairer, more equal place for them, their families, and us all.
After such a warm and inviting reception to your campus, you can imagine it came a quite a shock to me as an educator and a gay man to check into my lodging at Wildcat Village, open my computer to log on to WSU’s guest wireless internet network, and find that a great number of the websites I visit for news, entertainment, and personal pleasure were blocked by your highly restrictive and downright discriminatory internet censorship program. It started when I was going to the website www.towleroad.com, a world-renown website that presents competent and well-researched journalism that affects LGBTQ people. At first I thought this might be a fluke. So as an academic I did my job and searched further. I found that other mainstream, credible websites that cover LGBTQ news were also blocked, like www.joemygod.com and www.pamshouseblend.com.
At this point I started to feel uneasy. But I decided to move on to other websites I frequent like dating sites and sites designed for personal pleasure. They were blocked. I then went to www.wikipedia.org. It looked like a jumbled mess! I then said to myself, “I wonder if…” and went to the well-known farce of a regressive thinking, anti-progressive conspiracy and disinformation-generating site, www.corservapedia.org. It looked just fine. I continued to try and put growing discomfort aside and went to www.youtube.com to research the latest videos discussing ongoing political movements of which I am a part. You Tube was blocked.
With anger beginning to fume, I went to my own website, www.intothelightwalk.com. I am currently walking 6,000 miles across the United States of America to raise awareness for LGBTQ equality. While I walk I document the violence that befalls LGBTQ people because of the discrimination we face on a daily basis in our own country. Since I use You Tube to share video stories of many victims who are murdered or commit suicide due to hate against them based on their perceived or actual gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, I became enraged when these videos were not showing on my website. I no longer felt as if this beautifully manicured and modern-looking campus was a safe place for me as a queer person, as an educator, or as an American citizen. Weber State University, a public university, seemed to be more in the business of suppressing people’s free speech and expression than in upholding these precious American values. And if this is how WSU treats its guests, I can’t imagine how it suppresses its students, faculty and staff!
This belief became clearer as I continued to further test your website restrictions. www.occupywallst.org – blocked. Trying to sign a petition on www.change.org – blocked. www.blackpanthers.org – blocked. www.okcupid.com – blocked. www.huffingtonpost.com – blocked. I couldn’t even watch an educational documentary on www.netflix.com, because you guessed it – blocked.
Having seen this kind of cultural incompetence and social restriction many times before, I decided to go one step further:
www.kkk.org – not blocked.
www.knightspartyveteransleague.com – another Ku Klux Klan hate site – not blocked.
www.nationformarriage.com – the website for The National Organization for Marriage, a certified hate group, listed as such by the Southern Poverty Law Center – not blocked.
The messages I received as to why these sites were blocked seemed arbitrary and were varied. Some were listed as “Web Logs/Personal Pages” whereas others were listed as “Pornography/Adult Content.” www.youtube.com had a unique reason for its restriction. It was listed “R Rated.”
Even during my workshop, I was not able to pull up a video that discusses issues LGBTQ youth face today in our country because the video was blocked. I had to find someone with a smart phone to use as a wifi proxy so I could show this important video. (Link to video: http://vimeo.com/14017398#at=0)
The case became clear. Weber State University is comfortable censoring fair-minded and peer-reviewed content. The University is equally comfortable allowing access to disinformation and hate. The mission of Weber State University includes:
Encouraging freedom of expression and valuing diversity, the university provides excellent educational experiences for students through extensive personal contact among faculty, staff and students in and out of the classroom. Through academic programs, research, artistic expression, public service and community-based learning, the university serves as an educational, cultural and economic leader for the region.
As a gay man who is actively involved in the movement towards full equality for people based on their gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, I can say with some authority on this subject: Weber State University is discriminating against its constituents based on these criteria through its highly subjective internet censorship program. Universities are supposed to be places of open access to all information. Allowing hate speech that leads to murder or suicide, like that of the rhetoric of KKK websites or anti-LGBTQ equality websites while shunning sites that explore love, community, or fact-based analysis is in direct contradiction to your mission to value diversity, to serve the public, or to offer your institution to groups so they can engage in community-based learning. It sends a clear message to this community and to the nation that certain people and beliefs are welcomed here, while other people or points of view are not.
It is with this letter that I demand Weber State University allow all content on the internet to be available to all students, faculty, staff, and guests who are part of this campus culture. And I demand this to be done now. Every day that passes when this issue is not addressed is another day that Weber State University is discriminating and censoring free speech and academic rigor. And that discrimination is what leads to an unsafe and non-academic environment and campus culture for us all.
Alan L. Bounville
Educator, Activist, Equality Walker
PS This letter is being publicly published at www.intothelightwalk.com along with screen captures of some of the blocked sites. I will also be sharing this letter with websites that Weber State University censors among other community stakeholders.
Cc: Dr. Forrest C. Crawford – Assistant to the President for Diversity (email@example.com), Adrienne Gillespie – Coordinator of the Center for Diversity & Unity (firstname.lastname@example.org), Aaron Newman (email@example.com) – Assistant Director, Gay Straight Alliance at Weber State University (firstname.lastname@example.org).