Imagine that you’re a young, somewhat culturally isolated teenager who has just begun to explore her sexuality. You’ve overheard terms like “LGBTQ” or “marriage equality” on the news, and so, naturally, you go online to find more information. But the moment you try to click through to an organization like HRC, the Trevor Project, or even a publication like Outward, you get blocked by your computer’s adult-content filters. You conclude, quite understandably, that there must be something wrong—or at least something embarrassing—about this stuff. A new feeling mixes in with your healthy curiosity: Guilt.
When we slap everything remotely LGBTQ-related with an “adult” label, we consign content as diverse as pornography and mental health services to the same difficult-to-access basket. That’s a bad situation for queer youth for whom support resources and positive media representations can be a matter of survival, and it’s insulting to the community at large—gays may make some X-rated things, but not everything gay is even close to X-rated. Filtering anything that falls under an “LGBTQ” label is clearly offensive, and, as my vignette demonstrates, it can also be damaging.
Internet security company Symantec made an important step toward ameliorating this nasty cultural default with the announcement this week that its products (including the popular Norton brand) would no longer offer “sexual orientation” as a content filter that users could block outright. The company took the step in partnership with LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD, which praised the move in a press release:
Symantec’s web content database is one of the largest of its kind, and maps the web across more than 100 categories and in dozens of languages. This update, which is in the process of being implemented at the product level, will mean that LGBT-related web content will be evaluated, categorized, and treated the same as other news, political and entertainment content.
This is good news, as non-explicit LGBTQ web content is, of course, in no way deserving of censorship, whether by schools, businesses, or parents. (Indeed, the ACLU has made a campaign in recent years of challenging similar practices in school districts.) Moreover, the inability to access such material contributes to shame on the part of LGBTQ people and ignorance in the public at large. Hopefully other Internet security companies will follow Symantec’s lead; true equality demands destigmatization on a range of fronts, and the Internet is a perfect place to start.