UPDATE: If you want to take action, please sign my petition via change.org.
I just reviewed the official minutes from the March 4, 2013 meeting of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations. Commissioner Beth Pittinger expressed concern that this blog was blocked by the City web filters based on the word “lesbian” in the URL, not content.
Commissioner Sheppard explained that he has checked into this matter and has learned that filtering was outsourced to a third party. In 2008, the LGBT website referenced was identified as having contained pornographic materials and/or information. He suggested that the blogger appeal to that service providers to have the block lifted. It can be done as long as the website does not contain pornographic material.
Even more troubling:
Chairperson (Leah) Williams-Duncan noted that the blocked site may have been valid in 2008, and apparently that designation has not been appealed. She stated that the site is banned based on pornographic content, not lifestyle. (emphasis mine)
Woah – setting aside the issue of porn, am I alone in thinking that the CHAIR of the Human Relations Commission should not be describing the LGBTQ community as a “lifestyle?” The Chair? Williams-Duncan is a hearing officer with Family Court and a former candidate for Court of Common Pleas. She’s a quasi-JUDGE and she describes our identity as a lifestyle. Considering how nuanced the approval process is for these minutes, I’d be hard pressed to believe it was a misstatement – especially given the context. That’s unacceptable in 2013.
Getting back to the context, I have several questions
First, why was my website investigated in 2008? Who conducted the investigation? What content was deemed pornographic? Why didn’t anyone mention this to me over the past six months of my challenging this? Were other websites investigated?
Second, why didn’t Jim Sheppard – a staffer in the Mayor’s office and board member of Steel City Stonewall Democrats and the Delta Foundation – tell me he was investigating this? Or share the results of his investigation? Or not dig for more information on the alleged porn? Surely, Sheppard – who gave a rousing speech just a week ago about equality and fairness – would insist on a high level of scrunity over these sorts of allegations.
Third, is it really my responsibility to challenge homophobia by a City contractor? How is it that the Citizens Police Review Board and the office of Councilman Bill Peduto have been able to “open” their office to my site without taking this step? Isn’t the City responsible for vetting their contractors?
Assuming this is standard procedure, how would I know this? No one told me. No one has provided me with the contact information for this company. ???
I’m concerned about the runaround about my blog, but the issue of the Commission using “lifestyle” to describe the LGBTQ community is far more troubling – especially given that she works in family court with LGBTQ families. If no one challenged her on this (or caught it), what exactly is going on in this Commission?
UPDATE: I just heard from Jim Sheppard who states the following:
The City uses OpenDNS to control our content blocks. It functions a lot like wikipedia in that a community contributes to the labeling of websites. According to this page http://domain.opendns.
com/pghlesbian.com a Yamin El Rust reported the domain pghlesbian.com as pornographic twice in 2008. If you appeal the label with OpenDNS and it is approved it will life(sic) the block on city computers and anyone else that uses OpenDNS for filtering purposes.
I investigated and there’s no information on what exactly was deemed pornographic. And several questions remain.
- My site has been “open” since 2008 – it was open as recently as February and then closed again. What is the explanation for that?
- Guess whom I criticized a few days before May 24 2008?
- It took six months for Jim Sheppard to provide this information to me?
- Even though *he found no evidence* of pornographic content, I am the one obligated to correct this. My site is not pornographic. So what other sites are blocked?
I’d throw my hands up, but I’m curious how deep the homophobia goes – what do you think?
This is either the purplish homophobia that leads to electing socially conservative Democrats OR it is personal and someone is covering the trail “Oh Sue you silly lesbian.” Or it is incompetence.
So I’m waiting to hear if I have standing to file a complaint with the Human Relations Commission, looking into the OpenDNS issue AND trying to get more information on the gaps. Good luck to me?
I must say that I’m disappointed in the Mayor’s office and the Human Relations Commission. We *just* had an intense week challenging the notion that our civil rights are open to popular vote – Jim spoke about that topic at a rally. How on earth can they just shrug their shoulders about ONE person voting that my site was pornographic based on no visible evidence and tell me I need to fix the mess? Regardless of the price City employees pay? Or residents?