“Concerned about homosexual advocacy in your child’s school?”
This is the opening line from Focus on the Family’s new website “True Tolerance” on which the ultra conservative group denounces LGBT inclusive anti-bullying protections as being a way for gay groups to infiltrate schools and stifle religious free speech. But with the website sporting numerous references and links to ex-gay therapy advocates Exodus International, who is it that is really trying to promote an agenda?
Anti-Bullying Programs a Source of Conflict
Ahead of the new school year, Focus on the Family has launched an assault on LGBT inclusive bullying protection programs and acceptance promoting activities like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) “Day of Silence”.
While the group is keen to point out that they are opposed to bullying in all its forms, Focus on the Family claims that such policies have been “politicized” to adhere to the so-called agendas of “special interest groups”.
As kids head back to school, conservative Christian media ministry Focus on the Family perceives a bully on the playground: national gay-advocacy groups.
School officials allow these outside groups to introduce policies, curriculum and library books under the guise of diversity, safety or bullying-prevention initiatives, said Focus on the Family education expert Candi Cushman.
“We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled,” Cushman said.
Public schools increasingly convey that homosexuality is normal and should be accepted, Cushman said, while opposing viewpoints by conservative Christians are portrayed as bigotry.
Yet rather than a wealth of facts, a lot of the True Tolerance website appears to hinge on fear-mongering by contributors like Candi Cushman, whose status as an “education expert” has been called into question by several commentators including Pam’s House Blend writer Autumn Sandeen (read more on that here).
Regardless, the following section by Cushman entitled “Capturing Minds” is just one example of how LGBT advocacy groups are painted as sinister predators on the site:
What better way to capture a child’s imagination than with a heart-warming story about cute, fuzzy little animals?
That’s the latest tactic homosexual-advocacy groups are using in their efforts to reach the youngest minds in our public school system.
Whether it’s stories about penguins, guinea pigs or even elephants, they’ve figured out how to use fun anecdotes about animals to familiarize children as young as preschool with the idea of homosexuality and gay “marriage.”
After all, they know if they can capture the hearts and minds of the young, they can permanently change the culture. [...]
But the more worrying facet of Focus on the Family’s campaign is how, particularly on its True Tolerance website, it tries to dress up ex-gay programs and the presence of their message in schools as a simple counterbalance to LGBT-affirming policies while neglecting to mention that such conversion therapies are unproven, repudiated and are regarded as potentially harmful.
Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation?
Focus on the Family has taken special exception to the publication of GLSEN’S latest version of the 24-page booklet Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth, which will be distributed to 16,000 U.S. public school superintendents this school year.
The creation of the booklet was aided and endorsed by a coalition of 13 national organizations including the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychological Association among several others. For a full list of contributors please click here.
“Just the Facts” was designed to battle ex-gay literature being promoted in schools and to try and create a standard and easy to follow guide for school administrators dealing with sexual orientation issues and bias related bullying.
Even though the guide was created in conjunction with leading health officials, Focus on the Family and other anti-gay groups claim that the guide is misleading and inaccurate and Focus has even dedicated specific sections to it on the True Tolerance site noting, paragraph by paragraph, the group’s objections, most of which seem to center around the claim that religious views are being demonized by the guide.
One such section “What Homosexual Advocacy Groups are Giving Your Public Schools” says the following:
“What’s so scary and dogmatic about this report is that it communicates that religious-based viewpoints are harmful, and even dangerous,” said Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family Action.
The pamphlet is endorsed by more than a dozen mental health and counseling organizations, education associations and one liberal religious group. The theme: Schools are only allowed to provide one message about homosexuality — that it’s normal and should be embraced.
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, said he knows that’s not true. “Allowing people to choose what is best for their lives is respectful, it’s tolerant, it’s everything that the other side uses as their mantra, but really fails to respect and live up to,” he said.
Here we see the inclusion of Exodus International whose well known slogan is “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ” or more concisely, that one can pray away homosexaulity. Cushman is right, the guide does present conversion therapy as harmful– because it is, something which was most recently affirmed by the British Medical Association this year.
Perhaps most disingenuous though, is the the claim found in the Social Package download True Tolerance is offering in which it is written that ex-gay therapy groups have no interest in promoting gay conversion therapy in schools:
National religious ministries have no interest in pushing sexual therapy onto public schools. In fact, the majority of faith-based groups would prefer that homosexuality not be addressed in public school classrooms at all, leaving the matter up to parents.
Yet, as spelled out above, albeit in a different section on the site, True Tolerance is affiliated with Exodus International which advocates conversion practices and information on those “choices” being made available in schools. One also notes that they are accusing LGBT groups of taking away students’ rights to choose to try and change their sexuality, while at the same time using the argument that one shouldn’t place educational materials on LGBT topics in schools because they might indoctrinate kids into becoming gay. Apparently the irony is somewhat lost on them.
But to pretend that there is no interest in placing such literature in schools is also easily proven false, not only because True Tolerance refers to homosexuality as a lifestyle choice that is changeable throughout its materials, but because in the last twelve months ex-gay advocacy groups like PFOX, also closely associated with Exodus, have pushed to do exactly that. One such flier designed for school dissemination, entitled “I Chose to Change”, can be viewed here.
There is also the following comment from the True Tolerance “Key Facts that Parents Need to Know” section:
“Therefore, if schools do choose to address the issue of homosexuality, they should make a good conscious effort to provide a balanced presentation. Contradictory to gay advocacy groups’ assertions otherwise, the debate has not been settled on complex questions about how people become gay and whether or not they can change their sexual orientation.”
Unfortunately for Focus on the Family, the majority of the legitimate medical community has, at least for the time being, settled one issue in this field and that is with regards to the use of conversion therapy, whether centered on religion or otherwise.
In 2009 the American Psychological Association adopted the “Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Effects” in which it warned that the success rates of such therapy, which remain negligible at best, must not be misrepresented. The APA also warned of the potential harms of such therapy, a subject that Exodus and conversion advocates are keen to gloss over. The resolution therein recommends that conversion therapy as a course of treatment be rejected. Read more about the APA’s 2009 resolution here.
And if a reader was in any doubt as to the true danger of the discredited practice of gay conversion therapy, one only need recall California’s Proposition 8 gay marriage trial, in which Judge Vaughn Walker’s court heard the testimony of 26-year-old Ryan Kendall who was forced into conversion therapy at the age of 13.
The therapy, of course, failed, in spite of a reported second attempt at the hands of the Californian National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization affiliated with Focus on the Family. Kendall left the program suicidal and spiraled into five years of self-destructive behavior before managing to reclaim his life. A full summary of Kendall’s testimony can be found at this Courthouse News Service page.
As seen above, Focus on the Family’s attack on LGBT inclusive anti-bullying policies can not hide the fact that they are, at the same time, advocating that school students try to change their sexuality and are seeking to spread that message in schools even though such practices are discredited and potentially damaging, all under the guise of religious freedom of speech, an aim which sits ill at ease with the true spirit of that concept.
And as for Focus on the Family claiming to represent the Christian viewpoint, I believe the following from an opinion piece at the Aurora Sentinel hits the mark:
Christianity is a big tent, and the Focus on the Family aficionados claim only a small part of it. There are a growing number of devout Christian-based religions that adopted a much more progressive and enlightened attitude toward homosexuality. This group does all Americans a disservice for presuming to speak for all Christians.
- Absurd: Focus on the Family sees “Gay Conspiracy” in Anti-Bullying School Campaign – Points out factual errors in True Tolerance’s “facts” section.
- Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth GLSEN Guide.