Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr called it “reprehensible,” “deplorable” and “disgusting.”
What could trigger such a response? Child sexual abuse by a teacher? Drug dealing in the high schools? A drunk driving accident that killed students?
No - it was a one-page flier distributed to students in several Montgomery County, Md., high schools as part of the “backpack flier” program that helps nonprofit organizations reach students in the schools. The flier included “disgusting” declarations such as, “All individuals deserve the right to self-determination and happiness,” and such “reprehensible” advice as “[I]mportant decisions should not be made on feelings alone.”
The controversy arose not because of its relatively innocuous content, but because of its source: an organization called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, or PFOX. The flier states, “Every year, thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity,” and asserts that such people should be able to “seek help and information on overcoming their feelings.”
Perhaps the flier triggered anger because it calls into question a widespread myth - that people are “born gay.” Yet even the American Psychological Association (APA) has admitted, “[N]o findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.”
It is undeniable that some people experience same-sex attractions as unwanted, and it is demonstrable (if oft-denied) that some people experience change in one or more of the elements of sexual orientation (attractions, behavior and self-identification) over time. Even Dr. Robert Spitzer, a notable pro-homosexual psychiatrist, did research that confirmed this.
The most defamatory accusation about the PFOX flier is that it is “anti-gay.” This is simply false. The flier declares, “PFOX supports tolerance.” That means tolerance for all - homosexuals and ex-homosexuals. Apparently for some people, “tolerance” is a one-way street.
The flier does openly criticize some behavior - namely, “labeling” and “name-calling.” Discrimination based on a person’s perceived sexual orientation is one of the things forbidden in many “nondiscrimination” codes that include sexual orientation. Surely, opposition to name-calling and labeling should be a source of common ground, not of division.
The message that “change is possible” with respect to sexual orientation means just that. It does not mean change is mandatory; it does not mean change is easy; it does not even mean change is desirable for those who do not desire it. It also does not mean that people “choose” to experience same-sex attractions. However, people do have a choice what to do with those attractions - whether to engage in homosexual conduct, whether to self-identify as “gay” and, yes, whether to seek help to change those attractions.
The county curriculum on sexual orientation fails to even acknowledge that ex-homosexuals exist. In fact, before the curriculum was adopted in 2007, the Board of Education added to it a statement that was never reviewed by the Citizens Advisory Committee and never recommended by MCPS staff - the manifestly false statement, contradicted by the APA finding above, that homosexuality is “innate.” It was a deliberate and specific insult to ex-gays everywhere.
PFOX is permitted to participate in the backpack flier program because courts have ruled that if this service is made available to any nonprofits, it must be made available to all, without discrimination as to content or viewpoint. Now, the county Board of Education has voted to look at abolishing the backpack-flier program altogether - potentially punishing every nonprofit in the county simply to censor one message of freedom and self-determination for all.
Now that is “reprehensible,” “deplorable” and “disgusting.”
Peter Sprigg is a resident of Montgomery County and serves on the board of directors of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. He was a member of the MCPS Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development from 2005 to 2011.