Monday, July 26, 2004

Former homosexuals who had renounced same-sex relations were called “offensive” by delegates to this month’s annual convention of the 2.7-million-member National Education Association (NEA).

“I’m really offended that you’re even here,” a delegate wearing the rainbow emblem of the NEA Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Caucus told a supporter of the new NEA Ex-Gay Educators Caucus.

The Ex-Gay Educators Caucus distributed literature explaining that scientific research shows that homosexuality is not “a fixed, inborn trait.”

Other opponents of the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus, whose exhibit was permitted for the first time at this year’s union gathering at the D.C. Convention Center, also challenged the NEA’s claim of being democratic and diverse.

One delegate who visited the exhibit told caucus members that there was “a special place in hell for us,” said caucus founder Jeralee Smith from California, an elementary special-education teacher and former lesbian.

She said another NEA delegate remarked, “You might as well set up a Ku Klux Klan booth right next to you.”

Noe Gutierrez Jr. of California, a former homosexual activist who is now a member of the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus, said the intolerance was a shocking repudiation of anti-prejudice views voiced by advocacy groups and the NEA.

“Prejudice is assuming you know someone before you take the time to know them,” said Mr. Gutierrez, who was featured as a spokesman in a 1998 Public Broadcasting Service TV special on presenting homosexual issues in the schools.

“People made the association between us and gay-bashers,” he said. “I mean, they definitely lumped us in with a whole lot of bad and came to our booth with that attitude, not open in any way to learning. Isn’t that funny? So at an educators caucus, there is no learning taking place. No one who came to yell at us or who could be angry with us came with an open mind or were ready to learn anything.”

Opposition to the message of the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus is led by Kevin Jennings, a former private school teacher in Massachusetts and founder of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. Mr. Jennings is a partner with the NEA in promoting acceptance of homosexuality through curriculum materials in the nation’s schools as early as kindergarten and elementary grades. He was given the NEA’s human rights “creative leadership” award at this year’s convention.

“Ex-gay messages have no place in our nation’s public schools,” Mr. Jennings said in a publication of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. “A line has been drawn. There is no ‘other side’ when you’re talking about lesbian, gay and bisexual students.”

Warren Throckmorton, past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, disagreed.

“Kids want to understand themselves. It’s very early in life to make a definition about one’s sexual identity. Educators should give kids options to wait awhile, to consider a straight identity if they would rather that,” he said.

“If you’ve got teachers in schools telling kids that their same-sex attractions mean they are gay, they could foreclose on the option of waiting awhile to discover their sexual identity and their option to discover their heterosexual potential. The earlier that you decide on a sexual label, the more likely you are to experiment with sex.”

But homosexual advocates within the NEA and outside groups sent out word that this was an important battle for them.

“The two issues that have been at the forefront for us this year have been the ‘ex-gay caucus’ and the marriage amendment,” Tom Nicholas and Cathy Figel, chairmen of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Caucus, said in a message to the convention. “On the ex-gay issue, we are currently working with [NEA] President Reg Weaver to get to the delegates accurate information regarding reparative therapy.”

The efforts of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Caucus prompted the NEA to distribute to all 9,000 convention delegates copies of a 12-page 1999 brochure produced by the union, “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel.”

The brochure’s central premise is that homosexuality is an inborn and immutable trait.

The Ex-Gay Educators Caucus, with Mr. Throckmorton’s help, objected to NEA leaders that science does not support that view and persuaded Mr. Weaver to allow them to provide NEA delegates their six-page response titled “Respect and the Facts: How to Have Both in the Sexual Orientation Debate.”

The NEA printed the response, which stated: “There is no consensus in current research to show that sexual orientation is a fixed, inborn trait. We believe sexual attractions are the product of nature and nurture and that sexual identity is a flexible experience for many people.”

Miss Smith and Mr. Gutierrez say their own changes in sexual orientation are proof that homosexuality is not embedded in a person at birth.

Miss Smith said she became involved in homosexuality as the result of being sexually exploited when she was 15 by a female dean at the private school she attended. She says she might not have pursued homosexuality had it not been for that early experience.

“Young people who may not want to embrace the gay identity are not being given any hope,” she said. “The stories of people who have not taken that choice are not being revealed, and there’s a repression of information on the other side of the [pro-homosexual] viewpoint. And so we have to speak up.”

Mr. Gutierrez says he “came out” as a homosexual at age 16, but by 24, “I felt empty, I felt dissatisfied, disillusioned.”

Mr. Gutierrez, the son of a Pentecostal minister, says, “My whole identity had been swallowed up in my gay identity.”

He says he objects to the way children are taught in schools that homosexuality is all right, but are denied other options for dealing with same-sex attraction as adolescents. The message given in many schools is: “If you’re experiencing feelings of same-sex attraction, the only way you’re going to be happy is to adopt them into a gay identity,” he says.

The Ex-Gay Educators Caucus has a different message.

“At the very core of our stance is that gays can change, and we want to be there for the student who is unhappy about adopting a gay identity and who very much wants to explore venues toward change, toward being heterosexually identified,” Mr. Gutierrez says.

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