City of Pittsburgh: Stop Blocking a Political Lesbian Blog on the Grounds of "Pornography"
  • Petitioned Luke Ravenstahl

This petition was delivered to:

Luke Ravenstahl
Special Assistant to the Mayor
Jim Sheppard

City of Pittsburgh: Stop Blocking a Political Lesbian Blog on the Grounds of "Pornography"

    1. Sue Kerr
    2. Petition by

      Sue Kerr

      Pittsburgh, PA

In October 2012, the City of Pittsburgh web filters suddenly denied access to my blog, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents ( The blog was founded in 2005. I pushed for explanations for months (over six) from the Mayor's office, City Council and others. In March 2013, the City Commission on Human Relations discussed the situation and the Mayor's staff person stated that a third party had categorized my website as pornographic. He also stated he had never found pornographic content on my blog, but that it was my responsibility to address the label.

After more digging, I discovered that in 2008, a man living in Indonesia had used OpenDNS to label my blog as containing porn and nudity. OpenDNS agreed and flagged my blog. I had no knowledge of this. I have created an OpenDNS account and "appealed" as have several friends. Please note that OpenDNS does not identify the "offending" content. 

This is important because my blog is one of the few LGBTQ voices in this region with a long track record of political advocacy. Silencing my voice (and the voices of those who contribute to the blog) based on a spurious 5 year old allegation by someone living in Indonesia is unacceptable for a city the size of Pittsburgh.

My inquires were ignored for 6 months. I was never made aware of this "problem" until an ally addressed the matter in a public forum. No explanation has been offered for this delay. Nor has it been explained why my blog was open through October 2012 (and again for a few days in 2013.) Indonesia is not only hostile to LGBTQ rights; in some cities, being gay is considered a crime, and gay people are considered mentally ill. So, the city of Pittsburgh is now bound by the community standards of Indonesia? And the city of Pittsburgh is outsourcing its web filters to people in Indonesia? And the flow of information on the city of Pittsburgh's network is subject to foreign censors who are unaccountable to the elected or appointed officials in the city of Pittsburgh?

Apparently, the city is making a deliberate choice not to manage its own web filter, despite repeated requests from one specific publisher --- namely me. That's a curious abdication of responsibility, which leads one to wonder how many other websites are blocked from the city's network ... and for what reasons.

As for saying that OpenDNS includes "community moderators from around the world," that's not much of a standard to uphold. Many websites include "community moderators from around the world," including Reddit and 4chan, and they generate piles of obnoxious content as a result. If some OpenDNS moderators decided that should also be blocked --- perhaps for fomenting democracy in un-democratic areas of the world --- I doubt the city would think that "community moderators from around the world" were such a good idea.

Blocking a lesbian blog creates a hostile work environment for LGBTQ employees while their heterosexual colleagues can access similar content from a straight perspective without web filter interference. 

Please ask the City of Pittsburgh to "whitelist" my blog and to provide the current CIS guidelines on webfiltering and employee usage.

Recent signatures


    1. Reached 1,000 signatures
    2. An Update - Progress, Keep Up The Good Work

      Sue Kerr
      Petition Organizer

      Please read to catch up on our progress on this issue - we've had some great constructive responses. No formal word from the City of Pittsburgh.

      UPDATE: Is the City of Pittsburgh Still Blocking This Lesbian Blog?

      First of all - thank you. We reached over 500 signatures in 36 hours on our petition. As for an update, we have achieved some pretty good outcomes but not "success" just yet.

    3. A Step in the Right Direction

      Sue Kerr
      Petition Organizer

      I was just informed that OpenDNS has changed the label settings at the request of their CEO. I am waiting for more information on the larger picture, the role of whitelisting, and the fact that they pledged to put a stop to this as recently as 2009. So while a positive step - it is a step that took hours upon hours upon hours of finding the right button to push to get a response. I hope OpenDNS is serious about preventing this sort of abuse and will cooperate with the ACLU to solve this problem for all LGBTQ blogs who might be caught in this situation and (like me) not even know it.

      I am still waiting for the City of Pittsburgh to address their end of the issue.

    4. Reached 750 signatures
    5. OpenDNS policy on Whitelisting

      Sue Kerr
      Petition Organizer

      FYI - since 2007, OpenDNS has permitted "permanent whitelisting"

      Don't want to block everything? Use your whitelist!

      The OpenDNS Blog features information about OpenDNS happenings, news from the domain name system world, and major OpenDNS milestones in our quest to make the Internet faster, safer, and more reliable for everyone.

    6. ACLU to investigate

      Sue Kerr
      Petition Organizer

      I spoke with the Vic Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU PA. They are investigating this matter. In fact, they are wrapping up a similar case involving the Berks County School District - the school district and their web filter company are working with the ACLU to develop a policy! Learn more here:

      Note - my case is not (to my knowledge) a first amendment claim, but certainly the issue of how public institutions (schools, governments) filter internet access is relevant.

      Governor Mifflin School District :: American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania

      School district has unconstitutional Internet filters that block sites that support LGBT individuals as well as advocacy sites that it labels as

    7. Reached 500 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • Anita Kanitz STUTTGART, GERMANY
      • 10 months ago

      The only queer people are those who don't love anybody.

      About all you can do is be who you are. Some people will love you for you. Most will love you for what you can do for them, and some won't like you at all.

      I became a lesbian because of women, because women are beautiful, strong and compassionate.

      (Rita Mae Brown)

      I love, cherish, and respect women in my mind, in my heart, and in my soul. This love of women is the soil in which my life is roo ted. It is the soil of our common life together. My life grows out of this soil. In any other soil, I would die. In whatever ways I am strong, I am strong because of the power and passion of this nurturant love.

      Feminist art is not some tiny creek running off the great river of real art. It is not some crack in an otherwise flawless stone. It is, quite spectacularly I think, art which is not based on the subjugation of one half of the species. It is art which will take the great human themes--love, death, heroism, suffering, history itself--and render them fully human. It may also, though perhaps our imaginations are so mutilated now that we are incapable even of the ambition, introduce a new theme, one as great and as rich as those others--should we call it "joy"

      (Andrea Dworkin)

    • Lawrence Pearson PITTSBURGH, PA
      • 11 months ago

      Because all adults need to have equal rights and it is nobody's business what their sexual orientation is, or isn't.

    • Leah Herman EAST PITTSBURGH, PA
      • 11 months ago


    • Misty Babcock FALCONER, NY
      • about 1 year ago

      How does some random man in Indonesia have the right to label an American website as poronography? Doesn't OpenDNS have a review board before allowing such labeling by random people to be adhered to websites?

    • Elizabeth Thomas PITTSBURGH, PA
      • about 1 year ago

      Free speech is not pornography!


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