Shocking flyers sent home with students

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the local evening news tonight. Leading up to every commercial break have been variations of this teaser: “Coming up – parents were shocked to discover that a controversial flyer had been sent home with students.”

“Up ahead: Why did some Montgomery County schools send this anti-gay flyer home with students last week? Learn why the superintendent of Montgomery County Schools says there was nothing he could do about it!

“We turn now to outrage over flyers sent home with thousands of students from some Montgomery County high schools. The flyers were distributed by PFOX – Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays – a group claiming they can help gay people turn straight.

These are delivered with the what were they thinking intonation, widened eyes, and slight shake of the head one would associate with a report that administrators had failed to evacuate students before fumigating a building.

The meaning of these words and intonation is unmistakeable. The idea of a group claiming it’s possible and desirable to “turn gay people straight,” and that they were allowed access to students, is shocking and demands an explanation.

The new Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, Dr. Joshua Starr, provided one: The public schools in Montgomery County are required, due to a lawsuit settled several years ago, to distribute material from any non-profit group as long as they allow material from groups like the Boy Scouts and PTAs (it’s an application of equal access law).

“I find the actions of PFOX to be reprehensible and deplorable. Every child deserves to feel welcomed and safe.” Dr. Starr went on to say that they are exploring options to address the situation, but said “unfortunately, my hands are tied right now.”

PFOX rep Peter Sprigg also got to weigh in, with a wan statement about MCPS being tolerant of “its gays, but not its ex-gays” Creative use of language, but no. The wheels have come off the Big Ex-Gay Bus. In the video below, three former Exodus “ex-gay ministers” apologize for the harm they did to others in the course of that work. They all acknowledge that when they were counseling other vulnerable people that they could change their sexual orientation if only they prayed harder, or wanted it more, or trusted God more, and presenting themselves as proof that “change is possible,” they were lying the entire time. There’s really no legitimate argument for doing the same kind of harm to high school students.

The way that the Montgomery County story was reported tells us something significant: This PFOX story was treated as pretty close to the equivalent of learning that a white supremacist group was being allowed to distribute flyers to students with the school system’s approval.

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4 Responses to Shocking flyers sent home with students

  1. David says:

    Jim Kennedy at Teach the Facts has more – I didn’t realize this was getting national attention.

    Obviously, not every non-profit group that might want to distribute material to students would be allowed to. So what is the standard? It seems to me that any group promoting ideas to students that are factually false and harmful to them would fall outside that standard. In fact, that’s exactly why PFOX was denied permission to have a booth at a Montgomery County education symposium a few years ago. So why isn’t that standard being applied here?

  2. David S. Fishback says:

    There is lots going on, and there will be more. Here is my take:

    The answer here, it seems to me, is not to argue that the PFOX flyers must be barred, since it is likely that the only way to do that would be to shut down the flyer distribution program entirely — and allow PFOX to assert is “victimhood.” Unlike the meetings run by MCPS, the flyer program, according to the courts, is a “public forum” where the government may not discriminate based on “viewpoint,” however unpopular the viewpoint is.

    So the answer is for MCPS to proactively respond to PFOX. Superintendent Starr’s statements show that he understands that. See http://northpotomac.patch.com/articles/mcps-superintendent-responds-to-anti-gay-flier

    In 2007, MCPS implemented for its 8th and 10th Grade Health Education Curriculum a unit entitled Respecting Differences in Human Sexuality. The curriculum does a good job in introducing issues surrounding sexual orientation and identity, albeit in a strictly scripted manner.

    Currently, however, the curriculum says nothing about so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies. And our health teachers may not discuss the canard that being gay is a sickness, unless students ask about it. The strictly scripted curriculum provides this instruction to teachers: “If students ask, ‘Is homosexuality an illness?’ say, ‘No. The American Psychiatric Association does not include homosexuality in its listing of psychiatric or mental disorders.’” But if students are too afraid or embarrassed to ask, then the subject may not be discussed.

    The absence of this information is highlighted by the recent PFOX distributions. in some of our high schools of flyers from Parents and Families of Ex-Gays (PFOX). PFOX is an organization that urges people to seek therapies to change their sexual orientation (see http://pfox.org/Facts_on_full_sheet_Apr_1.pdf) – therapies which have been condemned by every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association, including the American Medical Association. PFOX contributes to misconceptions about sexual orientation that can lead to bullying.

    In September 2010, MCPS advisors from the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wrote to the Board of Education and former Superintendent Weast urging the inclusion of information on these and related topics. Last April, The Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development urged MCPS to follow the AAP’s advice. Here are the two most significant recommendations for inclusion in what should be taught:

    “Homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness.”

    “Sexual orientation is not a choice and the American Medical Association opposes ‘therapies’ that seek to change sexual orientation that are premised on the assumption that people should change their sexual orientation.”

    Please urge MCPS to follow the counsel of its AAP advisors and its Citizens Advisory Committee and include vital information in the curriculum for the benefit of all of our students, both gay and straight.

    David Fishback
    Advocacy Chair, Metro DC PFLAG

  3. David says:

    Good call.

    “One of the things I’ve asked my folks to look at is how can we turn this into an educative process,” he said. “We’re an educational organization…”

    They want to talk about this? Ok, let’s talk.

  4. Elder Berry says:

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but it seems to me that if they sent this flyer home with kids from the schools, then under the MCPS policy the question has been raised and the door has probably already been opened for a discussion right now to make clear that homosexuality is not an illness and these reeducation programs are counter to the best judgment of the medical and psychology community. That the flyer was sent with such blatant misinformation also is a good argument for why the factual material needs to be permanently included in the curriculum. At least there should be a good argument in this direction.

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