Monday, November 28, 2011

Getting the Gay Out

A couple of years ago I was handing out report cards and part of the material I was asked to distribute were some fliers for an organization called PFOX – Parent’s and Friends of Ex-Gays.  (Warning! Not safe for intelligent, reasonable people).  In any case, I read the flier was totally disgusted and somehow that handout accidentally slipped into the recycling bin. What a tragedy.
Fast forward to early November, we are handing out report cards again, and there are the PFOX fliers.  However, the outrage was not only with me, but with many of my fellow teachers. PFOX is based on junk science, why are teachers asked to hand out such trash?  Well, that is an interesting question. 
First, let us see about PFOX and why they are dangerous.  PFOX feels that through therapy a person can change their sexual orientation from gay to straight.  Here is what the APA says about it:

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.
Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his same-sex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life. Mental health professional organizations call on their members to respect a person’s (client’s) right to self-determination; be sensitive to the client’s race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, language, and disability status when working with that client; and eliminate biases based on these factors. </blockquote>

Now here is what PFOX says:
The scientifically reinforced fluidity of sexual orientation and gender identity may help to explain why, as even the APA has acknowledged, thousands (if not millions) of people have “altered their sexual orientation” with “varying degrees of satisfaction and varying perceptions of success.” It is no longer open for serious debate. Despite tremendous political pressure to find otherwise, even the left-leaning APA has been forced to acknowledge that for people with unwanted same-sex attractions, “change is possible!” It’s not always easy, but change is undeniably and conclusively possible.  emphasis mine.

Hmm, a little different I would say…but now, let us look at the backers of PFOX.   The link for their statement of principles takes you to PATH (Positive Alternatives To Homosexuality).  The list of groups that back PATH/PFOX are from every denomination, from Catholic to Evangelical, from Mormon to Judaism.  What I found surprising, they have secular groups, being a little suspicious about this, I check the link to their “secular” groups, not quite as secular as they claim.  Yes, they are not affiliated with a church; however, there are strong links to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank with deep pockets and deep religious (Evangelical) ties.  Now that we know where PFOX is supported from, it is not surprising it is backed by religious and conservative groups.  This I have no problem with.  What I do have a problem with is PFOX using the school system by obfuscating their religious/conservative background.
PFOX targets schools that have active GSA groups (Gay Straight Alliance) and support “Days of Silence”.
1) Choose those high schools where you want your flyers to be distributed. Printing flyers costs money, so choose only those schools that need your services – schools with GSA or other gay clubs that celebrate Day of Silence or other gay events, etc. These are the schools that need to hear about the ex-gay message. Check each school’s website under Student Clubs or Student Organizations to see if they have a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), Tolerance, Diversity, or other such club. In addition, also check your state at to see if the high school has a GSA club.
Now, if PFOX is supported by good science and good intentions, why are they only targeting these schools?
Now as a teacher, what are my obligations to hand out junk science?   I see nothing in my contract saying that I must hand out these fliers.  I would love to have the time to discuss the issues associated with PFOX and bring in an alternate point of view such as PFLAG, (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).  However, I am far from an expert in this area.  I am all for having communication; I am just not comfortable with a group using the school system to reach children without having both sides of the discussion available to them. 
This situation has gone to the courts and the Board of Education, with the courts siding with PFOX, here and here.  It is obvious that PFOX is wrong.  I just want more people to know about this and to speak out.  It is the only way there will be equality for all people!


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