Cure ‘em young! That seems to be the message that Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) is trying to push in American schools. The Washington Post reports that, along with student report cards, high schools in Potomac last week distributed PFOX fliers that contained the message, “Every year, thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity… No ‘gay gene’ or gay center of the brain has been found. No medical test exists to determine if a person is homosexual. Sexual orientation is based on feelings and is a matter of self-affirmation and public declaration.” Click here for an example of the full text.
What’s worse is, the schools are apparently compelled to hand out this material by law. From the article:
The schools are required to distribute literature that isn’t deemed hate speech from any registered nonprofit organization four times a year, the result of a 2006 lawsuit, said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Public Schools.
School officials said that while they aren’t always happy with everything that goes home with students, their hands are tied by the results of the litigation.
“These fliers are probably counter to what is available in our health curriculum, but that curriculum focuses on respect, and we respect freedom of speech,” said Patricia O’Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), president of the Montgomery County Board of Education.
I understand that the district is in a difficult position because of the lawsuit, but the practice of conversion therapy for gay adolescents and adults alike has been shown to be so psychologically scarring that the American Psychological Association has formally discredited the practice. There is also little to no substantiated evidence that conversion therapy is actually even effective, a fact conveniently glossed over by PFOX. I also question whether the school board would be likely to allow fliers affirming gay identity, or would that be classed as promoting a “gay agenda?”
It was only last month at the Proposition 8 gay marriage trial, that we heard the testimony of 26-year-old Ryan Kendall who was forced into ex-gay therapy at the age of 13. The therapy failed, and he was pushed to the brink of suicide. Here is his testimony as reported by the Courthouse News Service:
Kendall said he was promptly sent to a Christian therapist for “reversal therapy.” He was 13 at the time… Kendall said his therapist told him that the goal of their sessions was to make him heterosexual. “I remember the therapist told me that homosexuals were bad people and that homosexuality was not consistent with Christian teachings,” he said.
But after attending the sessions, Kendall said he was “still gay.” His parents then sent him to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization in Encino, Calif., run by Focus on the Family.
For more than a year and a half, he said, he talked to conversion-therapist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi. “I remember him saying that homosexuality is incompatible with what God wants for me,” Kendall said. “He told me that I had to fundamentally reject what I was.”
Meanwhile, Kendall’s home life changed dramatically, particularly his relationship with his mother. “Before, I had the kind of parents who would drive me to school and pack my lunches,” he said. “After this, they were always yelling at me and calling me names. It was a very emotionally abusive environment. I remember my mother saying she hated me, that I was repulsive. She said she wished she’d had an abortion or that I had been born with Down syndrome,” Kendall sobbed, prompting gasps throughout the courtroom. One woman, seated at the front of the gallery, began to weep.
Kendall said he left therapy at 16 because he realized that if he didn’t stop going, he “wasn’t going to survive.” He had himself emancipated from his parents. When San Francisco City Attorney Ron Flynn asked him if his life got better after leaving therapy, Kendall replied, “I was incredibly suicidal and depressed. I hated my entire life. So no, things did not get better.”
After five years of further self-destruction, Ryan was eventually able to recover, but this is conversion therapy in action. This is what it does. To casually brush this off as a freedom of speech issue, as the district seems to have done, misunderstands the danger that LGBT high school students face by letting this material be disseminated without challenge.
Furthermore, there’s the little matter of the district’s own non-discrimination policy (.pdf), which actually goes as far as to explicitly protect lesbian and gay students (emphasis mine):
The Board of Education is committed to ensuring that:
1. Public education is provided in an atmosphere where differences are understood and appreciated, and where all persons are treated fairly and with respect in an environment free of discrimination and threats of violence or abuse
2. Acts of hate/violence, including but not limited to verbal abuse, slurs, threats, physical violence or conduct, vandalism or destruction of property, directed against persons because of their race, religion, national origin, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or disability will not be tolerated
This flier clearly violates the district’s own edict of “respect” because it reinforces the widely discredited idea that sexuality is simply a choice, and that people can choose to become straight, to become “normal,” which, in turn, fosters inequality and allows for bullying and potential violence against LGBT kids. This flier may fall short of “hate speech,” but it certainly isn’t in line with the district’s promise of an environment free of discrimination.
I also think it speaks volumes that, at the bottom of the flier, there is a disclaimer saying that neither the school, nor the school board, nor the school district, have sponsored the material that they are handing out. Unfortunately, you can’t disclaimer away psychological trauma, depression, and suicidal thoughts – and this is exactly what these fliers could lead to if just one impressionable lesbian or gay teenager chooses to believe the half-truths that are being handed to them along with their report cards.
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