Light Blogging Ahead
Things are in good shape right now. We're preparing to apply for the citizens committee, a new curriculum is beginning development, and the opposition is undermining themselves without our help.
For the next week or so I won't be doing much blogging, if any. Got some stuff going on, I'll tell you about it later.
You may have noticed, I had a post here last night about the CRC's accusation that a club had gay dating links on their site at a high school. Let me outline the situation as it appears to me:
- The Outlook club, a gay-straight alliance, had a school web page with links to some gay-teen type resources
- Nobody seems to maintain the club's web page
- Some of the sites linked to have gone out of business, and their domain names were bought by commercial search engine companies -- very common on the Internet
- If you type a word into the search engines, they search for related terms, and produce "sponsored links" to the kinds of things you are looking for
- If you type "gay" into any search engine (even Ask Jeeves, a search engine just for kids), you will find sites that say how to "meet hot single gay guys"
- If CRC had searched for something nice, they would have found it
- Instead, they tried to convince the school board that their search engine results showed gay teens advertising "hot gay men in your area" using school computers
The accusation is so stinky, I am embarrassed to have to explain it.
I took that post down. Responding to bigots, you sometimes have to go down to their level, and I don't find that I like that feeing. The issue has been addressed, and I didn't want to leave this blog sitting here for a week with something that trivial on the top. Somebody did send me an email of their discussion at their little "forum," and I see they are quite worked up over this, accusing me of slandering them and stuff. Good. It's a nice time to take a break.
Let's enjoy our summer and come back to this fresh and happy, with clear minds and clean, courageous hearts.
Arlen Specter Asks for Review of Crummy Web Site
The other day at the school board public comments, somebody noted that TeachTheFacts.org had signed a letter protesting a terrible web site that the government put up to push abstinence. The site was supposed to help parents talk to their kids about sex, but, well, it didn't help at all. And yes, we signed a letter, along with a lot of other groups, protesting that stupid site. I believe the person wanted to imply to the school board that this meant we shouldn't have a member on the new citizens advisory committee.
It is with some sense of satisfaction then that we read this in the Washington Blade
Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has asked that the Department of Health & Human Services review its controversial 4parents.gov Web site, after four leading health experts commissioned by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called the site inaccurate and ineffective.
Waxman and several health advocacy groups have criticized the site since its launch in March for providing what they call outdated and inaccurate information about sexual orientation and contraception.
The not-for-profit National Physicians Center for Family Resources hired by HHS to create the site's content is also under fire for its faith-based and unscientific positions on homosexuality, contraception and abortion. Specter seeks review of teen health site
Looks like this Republican Senator wants to find out why the government is putting junk on the Internet.
A letter authored by SIECUS and more than 100 public health advocacy groups, alleges that NPC [the site's developer] has ties to conservative, religious organizations, including Focus on the Family and the California Family Group. These associations influence the NPC's positions on issues for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth, critics charge.
Richard Pleak, chair of the Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Issues Committee for the New York Council on Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, wrote in his review of the site for Waxman, that while improvements have been made, sexual orientation is still not properly addressed.
Pleak also recommended the site use the term, "people" instead of "lifestyle."
Waxman's experts also said that the site "inappropriately relies on Seventeen magazine for scientific information" about the risks of different types of sexual behaviors.
Yes, we had a problem with that web site. Us and Arlen Specter and about 145 other groups.
If parents do not sign the consent form for a student to take the dreaded and mind-warping sex-ed class, the kid is sent to an "alternative" instructional exercise instead. I haven't seen this, but it sounds like it means the student goes and sits in the library and works on something.
Normally this is not an issue, because when parents rely on their own judgment, almost nobody opts out of the class. Something around one per cent, I have heard. Now that Their Holiness have made an issue of it, we can expect more people, maybe as many as two or three per cent, to withhold this information from their children.
So the question will come up: shouldn't there be a better "alternative" to the regular sex-ed class?
At first, I thought, sure, let MCPS design a second curriculum for those kids. Maybe leave out the condom stuff and don't tell them that there are gay people. It sounds
fair, on the face of it.
But lately I'm not so assured about that.
You can see where it goes. You will give them a kind of "abstinence-only" class (also known as "ignorance education"). So what will they talk about? By definition, they will be learning about doing nothing. So there's not much to say, like, if
you were having sex, this dealy would go into that dealy and ... And we know what happens. These "abstinence" programs get bizarre
For instance, it should be enough to not tell
students about condoms. It is nonsense to tell them they don't work. But that's what happens.
It should be enough not to mention homosexuality. It is nonsense to tell them it's a choice or something that can be cured. But that happens.
See what I mean? Wherever these "abstinence-only" classes are taught, they slip-slide into nonsense. And I would not support that happening here.
Ha! What do I care? My
kids won't be taking it! -- you exclaim.
Well, listen, I don't tell the math teacher what to teach my kids about polynomials. I don't send my kids to a special English class, which they can be taught that it's just fine to end a sentence with a preposition at. (Read it again, it works.)
See, the issue isn't that "some parents believe" blah blah blah. It's that what "some parents believe" is wrong. And it's not only that, but the consequences of teaching kids some of these things are negative for all of us. If someone's kid is taught that condoms are ineffective, he isn't going to wear one when he goes out with someone else's daughter. Somebody who remains ignorant about the diversity of people around them will not know how to reason against bigotry.
Part of the reason they teach about sex in the schools is that there are public health issues around that topic. The two main kinds of issues have to do with pregnancy and disease. There are other issues, too, but mainly the public health issues have to do with unwanted babies and STD epidemics -- and these are big-time problems. So for all of us, it is important to tell students how stuff works and what they can do about it, honestly and thoroughly.
I don't mind if some prudish parent wants to keep their kid out of a couple of classes because they can't trust the kid with knowledge. Obviously, I think that's dumb, but it doesn't bother me. It will
bother me, though, if the school district institutionalizes nonsense and ignorance and teaches it to kids who live in my community.
Oh, and I have heard them say -- I heard it just the other night at the Board meeting -- that it is embarrassing and humiliating for a kid to have to leave class. Um, yeah, adolescents are a little self-conscious, I agree, it might be embarrassing. But listen, you parents are making a statement, right? You're standing up for what you believe in, right? The kid is taking a position against evil, right? So show some fortitude. If you're ashamed of missing the class, don't miss it. If you believe in what you're doing, do it with pride.
... It's just such a lame excuse ...
Ms. O'Neill's Eloquent Comments
After public comments at a Board of Education meeting, the members of the board are given an opportunity to make statements, too. Most of the time they don't, but occasionally somebody will say something, make an announcement or something. Lots of times it's like filler space, when you can bring up little things that aren't on the agenda.
Last night, board President Pat O'Neill made an outstanding statement during that period. It appeared to be totally extemporaneous, but I found her words to be very deeply considered and well ordered.
This was after a bunch of people had spoken in favor of traditional families.
I just would like to comment that if nothing else, our journey into the family life curriculum has brought us new-found friends who come and give us public comment and I hope that their enthusiasm and their advocacy will carry forward. I heard some of them speaking about the need for more teachers to teach an alternative curriculum. I hope that those folks will continue to advocate for the resources for additional teachers because that is constantly a struggle of ours.
But I also would like to speak to our last speaker. Her statement reads, "Marriage is the bedrock of society. Don't discriminate against marriage in this curriculum." I'm proud to say I've been married for 33 years and I count my family as a traditional family. My sister was divorced and has a blended family. My sister-in-law, her husband passed away due to leukemia and she has been raising two very successful children.
If anything, I don't want to discriminate against any of our students for whatever their family circumstances may be because children can't control the circumstances in their home. We respect all of our children and we love all of the children in the Montgomery County Public School system.
And I certainly embrace traditional family values but I recognize that that is not what all of our children have. So I encourage our new friends to help us advocate for additional resources for the public school and remember that we do care for all of our children regardless of what their home circumstances are.
Everybody loves a nice snuggly mom-and-dad family. Nobody is against a traditional family. That doesn't mean it's for everyone. Even one of the people who spoke for traditional families, if I remember correctly, is raising her children on her own, without a father. Yet she considers hers a traditional family. The others defined the traditional family as a man and a woman raising children together. (I would be interested to hear why this lady thought her apparently-untraditional family counted. Or why she would want to be counted with those who go out and speak publicly against her and her children.)
Much as the Leave It To Beaver ideal warms the heart, some people just aren't cut out for it, and sometimes life just doesn't deal you the cards you need for that. I can think of a million reason that someone would not settle into a traditional nuclear family.
But listen, in the end, it's nobody's business how somebody else's family works. If there's abuse, poverty, sure, that's everybody's problem. But you don't like it that somebody is a single parent, somebody is a gay parent, somebody gets divorced, a kid runs away, somebody chooses not to have kids, somebody can't
have kids, somebody works nights, grandparents move in, a couple argues, cousins move in, somebody has an affair -- man, it's none of your business.
Personally, I can't imagine choosing something for the reason that it's "traditional." Wouldn't you want to do something because it's the best? And why would one thing be the best for everybody? I mean, it gets extreme, think how weird this is: these people think that gay guys should marry women
! Can you imagine another idea that is that stupid, on the face of it? Would you want to be that guy? Would you want to be that woman?
I did think Ms. O'Neill's comments were very well expressed, and I hope the board will adopt the philosophy she expressed last night.
Meet Hot Gay Men At High School Web Site!
Last night at the Board of Education meeting, Steina Walter reported about gay porn on one of our high schools' web sites. Here's what she said, as near as I could get it.
What is going on in Montgomery County schools? Why is the MCPS allowing the gay-straight club at Walter Johnson High School to use the school's Internet web address to meet sexy, single gay men for dating, romance, and more? Browse through the profiles of like-minded men, and participate in our exciting chat rooms. Have fun online.
Does the MCPS know what links are on this Internet address? Does the school monitor this use of the school's address to make sure that nothing obscene is being allowed to children to gain access to?
Why doesn't the school advertise that other clubs can use the MCPS Internet address, too? Like the Bible club. Wouldn't the school permit willing ladies to advertise their services on the school web site? Weren't the MCPS supposed to be advocating a policy of abstinence? All the question are a concern to parents and everyone else.
When I looked up this gay-straight club web page, a number of links are available for the kids to go to. For example, under "General Resources" there's one web page entitled "Alltogether.com." These students have access to the following links after entering "Gay" in search box. "Gayfriendfinder.com join free and meet hot local gay guys. Now. Free." That the MCPS allows a facility to be used for these purposes is utterly disgraceful and contrary to the best interests of all the students. Homosexual clubs have no place in MCPS. Our schools are not safe.
I couldn't make out her last sentence, she said something about something on the back, I assumed she meant the back of her handout.
Now, I was intrigued this morning when we had a comment here, where somebody had looked for these hot gay men and had not been able to find them. So I figured, OK, I'm good with this Internet stuff, I'll find it.
So let's go looking for this gay porn at the high school web site. We'll start by going, as she says, to the Walter Johnson High School
web site. There it is, with its picture of a brick and glass building. At the top, we'll select "Student Activities," and then from the next page, we'll pick Clubs and Sports
Next, just guessing, I'll take Interest Groups
. There I see links to:
- Amnesty International
- Asian American Club
- Bethesda Community Action Team (B-CATs)
- Black Student Union
- Cartoon Club
- Current Events Club
- Environmental Club
- Equestrian Club
- Hispanic Culture Club
- Human Relations Council
- International Club
- Investment Club
- Jewish Culture Club
- Key Club International
- Latin Club
- Military Club
- National Academy of Science /
- Science Club
- People's Organization for Women (POW)
- Persian Club
- Psychology Club
- Republican Club
- Student Alliance for Justice in Education (SAJE)
- Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD)
- Student Liberals
- WJ Ski Club
- WJ Surf Club
- Walter Johnson Democrat club
... but she has a point, no Bible club.
Also no Gay-Straight Club. Ah, I see, somebody had to tell me, "Outlook" is their Gay-Straight Alliance. I didn't know, I thought it was buggy email software. Tensed with anticipation, I click on Links to Other Organizations and Resources
Yike, there's a lot of links here: Advocates for Youth Home Page, All Together, Artists for a Hate-Free America, Children's Defense Fund, Cool Page for Queer Teens, Free Your Mind, The Gay Place, Every Day Out... Yeah, it looks like gay stuff.
Hey, that was it, right? All Together dot com
. This is the page Ms. Walters was talking about. Let's go there to be outraged.
Here we are. Hey, wait. Is this a joke?
Here's what's on that page:
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And then, at the bottom, more links to family-related things.
Oh, and there we are, at the bottom of the page. There is a text box and a button that says "Search."
She says to put in "Gay." I do that.
Ah, I see. This gives you "sponsored results." Companies pay this web site to link to them. If you ask for "gay" it gives you five links.This
is what she's talking about?
Just for fun, I put "Bible" in the search list, and guess what -- it gave me five links to Bible sites. "Computers" gave me five links to computer sites. I put in my name, and it gave me five links to things that would find me, or find my collectibles on eBay, and stuff.
I am sitting here with my chin on my hands, looking at the screen and thinking. This lady, a CRC member, is outraged that the school district allows its students to have access to a search engine
. She got to this one -- a rather crummy commercial search engine -- by following links on the Gay-Straight Alliance web site, and she typed "gay" into the search box, and she found gay stuff.
Look, I went back to the clubs page, and randomly chose Students Against Drunk Driving. I clicked on a link labeled Link to the national organization of SADD
. That went to a Yahoo page with ... a search box. I typed "gay" into the box, and it returned a hundred sixty six million
items. According to Ms. Walter's reasoning, the conclusion is that we should all immediately drink and drive.
This lady tried to make the school board believe that the Gay-Straight club at one of the high schools has gay dating services on the school web site. Please ask yourself, why does she want them to think that? Ask yourself, is this the kind of reasoning you want making decisions in your school district?
No, this is reprehensible. To tell you the truth, I can't even think of a word negative enough for this. It's beyond stupid. It's beyond irresponsible. Irrational and illogical don't even brush the surface of this. Bigoted starts coming close. Hateful, well, it's lost its gloss from overuse, but it gets close to the meaning I'm looking for.
... Oh hey, by the way, here's something fun. Go to Google. Type in "Steina Walter", in quotes. Look at the first link. Don't click the link, look where it says "Cached" and click on that. Jejeje.
Notes After a School Board Meeting
Just got back from the Board of Education meeting. I'll report more thoroughly tomorrow about the new plan for the citizens committee and how the new curriculum will be developed. In brief, it is clear that the lawsuit by the CRC and PFOX has essentially ripped the guts out of the citizens advisory committee. That committee, which actually developed the previous curriculum, will now review drafts that will be written by the school district. [Note: I am told that I have it a little wrong here. The previous "new" curriculum was prepared by a working group composed of some MCPS staff and some CAC members, and then was reviewed, modified, and recommended by the CAC] Doesn't look like they even review the final version, no authority, no yea or nay. Great Swarmy envisions the future:
MCPS: Here's what we did, folks, you like it?
CAC: No, it doesn't say anything about "ex-gays."
MCPS: OK, thanks, and here's your certificate of appreciation.
Some group, maybe it was CRC but I didn't recognize most of them, seemed to think they were staging a demonstration. I saw seven people holding signs that said stuff about "traditional families." At any given time, as many as five people would be holding their signs up where you could see them, mostly they just sat with them by the sides of their chairs.
I saw one person with a sign that said "Stop the videotaping." It was hard to read, because the "ing" was on a separate line. I don't really know what they meant by it, either, unless maybe they were just re-using a piece of cardboard from their last demonstration. Maybe they also belong to an anti-videotaping group. Maybe they really meant "Stop the videotaping." Because, you know, the board meetings are
A number of people gave public comments in support of traditional families. Like, there's an issue for you: families. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm in favor of families and against crime. And sodapop in the drinking fountains. Vote for me. Board member Pat O'Neill made a beautiful statement on the subject, after public comments.
I'd heard ahead of time that the other guys planned to have eleven people speak, maybe they did. We had three, including David Fishback giving a rather important statement. More tomorrow.
One of their guys, again, spent his time attacking TeachTheFacts. The weirdest thing, he tried to make us look bad by connecting us to a group in Seattle that had a "screw abstinence" party. I don't know, we had a little discussion among some of us in email when we heard about that, and most of us thought the "screw abstinence" thing was kind of dumb.
As I recall, the guy's argument went like this:
- TeachTheFacts.org (and more than 140 other groups) signed a petition protesting an HHS website that promoted abstience rather than safety*
- A NARAL chapter in Seattle had a "screw abstinence" party
- Is TeachTheFacts the kind of group you want on the citizens committee?
Oh yeah, they crushed us with that one.
I tried to record the meeting, it will be fun (I've got a new toy, a digital recorder) to see how the sound is. Tomorrow. Now, it's after eleven, and this old guy needs his nap.
[Note: edited for accuracy after listening to the recording.]
Brazil Is Not America
I have been listening in on an email discussion about this New York Times
article: Prostitution Puts U.S. and Brazil at Odds on AIDS Policy
. The story isn't new, but this is a well-written look at it.
Brazil was beginning to suffer an AIDS epidemic. The United States said, no problem, we'll give you forty million dollars to fight it. But, uh, one thing. You have to issue a statement denouncing prostitution.
Well, in Brazil prostitution is legal. I'm not saying whether that's a good thing or not, but, at the least, they're different from us about that. I'm not saying we're a country of uptight puritans, but ...
In their baseball caps and T-shirts adorned with a rose in the shape of a heart, they are a familiar and welcome presence in the red-light district on the outskirts of downtown here. For years now, they have been distributing condoms to the prostitutes who work the streets, part of the Brazilian government's larger effort to hold AIDS in check.
Until recently, the condom campaign of the group called Fio da Alma had been partly financed through the United States Agency for International Development. But no longer: rather than comply with an American demand that all foreign recipients of AIDS assistance must explicitly condemn prostitution, Brazil has decided to forgo up to $40 million in American support.
"Our feeling was that the manner in which the Usaid funds were consigned would bring harm to our program from the point of view of its scientific credibility, its ethical values and its social commitment," Pedro Chequer, director of the Brazilian government's AIDS program, said in an interview in Brasilía. "We must remain faithful to the established principles of the scientific method and not allow theological beliefs and dogma to interfere."
Experts here and abroad say the disagreement over how to deal with prostitution is symptomatic of a larger conflict between Brazil and the United States over AIDS policy. Brazil, which spends more than $400 million annually on what is regarded as the most successful AIDS program in the developing world, is taking a pragmatic approach in combating the global epidemic, the experts say, while the United States, increasingly, is not.
"It's not as if you're choosing between two neutral policy programs," said Chris Beyrer of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Brazil has good data to show that their approach works, and to ask them to change that, even if they get the additional money, to one for which there is no evidence, just because of moral squeamishness in the United States, is an extraordinary position to take."
This might remind you of a particular stand-off regarding a certain sex-ed curriculum in a certain suburban-DC county in Maryland. You have one side that wants to deal with an issue directly, and one side that hopes everyone will grit their teeth, exercise their willpower, and make the problem go away. "Moral squeamishness," yes, that rings a bell.
Does Brazil's approach to the AIDS epidemic work?
One gauge of Brazil's success in confronting AIDS is to compare the situation here with that of other developing countries, many of which have sent delegations to study the Brazilian program. In 1990, for example, Brazil and South Africa had roughly the same rate of prevalence of H.I.V. among their adult populations, just over 1 percent.
Today, some studies indicate that 20 percent or more of South African adults of reproductive age are infected with H.I.V. or have AIDS, an estimated total of more than 5 million of the country's 44 million people. In Brazil, in contrast, the rate has dropped nearly by half, and the number of patients being treated has held steady, at about 600,000 out of a total population of 180 million.
"They attempted to take out the stigma and practice safe sex so as to prevent the epidemic from expanding, and in that way they were well ahead of other countries, particularly in the developing world."
So, yes it does seem to work, by comparison. Of course everybody wishes those numbers were zero, but Brazil does seem to have kept the lid on it.
But here's the part that has sparked some discussion.
But the Brazilian approach is anathema to many conservatives in the United States because it makes use of methods seen as morally objectionable. Brazil not only operates a needle and syringe exchange program for drug addicts but also rejects the Bush administration's emphasis on abstinence, being faithful and the controlled use of condoms, the so-called ABC approach, in favor of a pragmatism that recognizes that sexual desire can sometimes overwhelm reason.
"Obviously abstinence is the safest way to avoid AIDS," Dr. Chequer said. "But it's not viable in an operational sense unless you are proposing that mankind be castrated or genetically altered, and then you would end up with something that is not human but something else altogether."
This is weird, isn't it? It's that strange thing we refer to sometimes as ... "reality." Sex, part of being human. Hmmm.
So one lady in this discussion I've been listening in on had this to say.
It's remarkable how so very obvious that comment is, yet how rarely we hear it today. And, to be honest, I think many of us (us, in the general sense) have been intimidated from speaking those very words, because we've been told so often we show so little respect to the fundamentalists.
American thought has been profoundly shaped by a wish to accommodate all types of people, even religious fundamentalists. Not all of us belong to religions that consider sexual feelings and behaviors to be sinful. But we do belong to a society that includes people who belong to such religions. And out of politeness, we respect them by censoring our language and behavior in public. And then they think we all agree with them. Further, the habit of monitoring our own speech and actions in order to accommodate others results in a kind of second-order conscience, where we feel guilty saying or doing things that really don't offend us -- it's just that we would feel bad offending somebody else.
But how far should it go? We can respect that other people have strange, twisted views of the world and human nature, and we can politely not point out the silliness of their beliefs, but at what point have we abandoned our own vision? At some point you have to stand up for common sense, you have to state out loud what seems obvious.
The clue can be seen in CRC lawyer John Garza's recent plea to the school board to come up with a curriculum that doesn't offend anyone. This can only mean that people with intelligent, rational thoughts must keep them to themselves in the presence of weirdos who are offended by anything and everything. I am not thinking that's the way we want to go, especially in the public schools.
On Gold Mines in the Blog Comments: What Do You Think?
This has been a strange few days here at the Vigilance blog. First, some stranger emailed us a link to a Google cache full of CRC discussions. (Well, actually the first thing was a few weeks ago, when the CRC President sent a bunch of conniving communications out to the Whole World, almost surely by accident.) Then somebody signed in on our comments as "Anonymous" and posted thousands of lines of another, overlapping, message board of CRC/Recall sneaky stuff. Don't know where they got it. Then we got an email from yet another guy, with another many-thousands of lines of plotting and scheming by the CRC inner circle. Then we noticed thousands more lines of this stuff in another comments section, posted by the same or a different Anonymous. Several other chunks have popped up, as well.
We didn't ask for any of this, but of course it is very interesting to see how things got where they are now. The CRC/Recall made their plans and lied to the rest of the world about what they were up to, meanwhile pulling dirty tricks from registering the "dot-com" version of our domain name (try "www.teachthefacts.com" and see where it goes) to badmouthing us in the school board meeting, to publishing private emails from our members to theirs on their blog with a bunch of sarcastic and ignorant comments ... So I didn't feel guilty at all to be able to examine exactly what kind of scheming they had been doing in secret and reveal it to the world.
But I didn't think it was especially appropriate, or interesting, to post it all. A lot of it was just private comments, and all their email addresses were displayed, and it was hard to follow in the comments format. So when the first piece appeared in the comments, I deleted it. Then I got some emails, including another comment, asking me to restore it, and so I decided to put it back. One argument was that the stuff was already public information, it was out there on the Internet already, so publishing it here was no great violation.
The comments of a blog are different from the posts. We write the posts. Our readers write the comments. Comments are more spontaneous, informal, sometimes they get a little rowdy, but that's OK. The rule here has always been Morons' comments will be deleted
, and I have deleted quite a few stupid things over the months. I have been very tolerant of contrary opinions, a little bit of bad language, some inarticulate expression, etc. So I am very hesitant to wade into the role of deleting things just because I am uncomfortable with them. I mean, the comments aren't for me, unless they've got my name on them. The comments are to let the people express themselves. And these things didn't meet the "moronic" criterion, well, you know what I mean.
A few people have expressed concerns to me about leaving these big message logs in the comments, and I admit, I'm not excited about them either. So let me say two things. First, please comment or email us if you have any thoughts about this -- I honestly don't know what to do here, and so I'm asking readers for their opinions. Second, if you find something like this on the Internet, would you please send it to us -- the email link is up there on the right -- instead of posting it?
Negativity at The Blade
I want to take exception with an editorial in a recent Washington Blade
. Graham Murtphy writes:
OUR YOUTH ARE under attack. Within the Washington, D.C. area, where some of the largest gay organizations and brightest activists reside, we are losing the battle for LGBT youth.
School districts in the suburbs that surround the District are giving in to the pressures of religious conservatives when it comes to issues like protecting the safety and health of LGBT youth. Unfortunately, our efforts to stop the conservatives seem to be failing.
The success religious conservatives are having at harming LGBT youth is epitomized in their recent victory in Montgomery County, Md. Losing the Battle for our Youth
There are two tricky questions here. First, how do you define winning and losing? Second, who are "we?"
The CRC and PFOX were successful in stopping this year's deployment of the new curriculum. But now everything is settled, and progress can begin again on developing a new one. If you want to call winning the lawsuit a "victory," then ... OK. The other side won.
But all they did was postpone the inevitable. If Superintendent Jerry Weast is good to his word, this new curriculum will be rock-solid in terms of fearlessly dealing with sexual variation issues. If I am reading the board members correctly, they are more serious than ever about this. The CRC tried everything, and everything failed ... except one thing. And even in the lawsuit, they threw everything into it, and one little thing stuck. Most of their anti-gay arguments were laughed off by the judge. The rest of it had to do with background resources, and can be dealt with easily.
Second thing: who are "we?" You say:
Conservatives used anti-gay rhetoric and classic "judicial activism" to prevent the curriculum’s implementation on religious grounds.
The response from the gay community was tepid and weak. The response from the "ex-gay" community, which spearheaded the movement against the curriculum, was exuberant and triumphant.
WHAT HAPPENED IN Montgomery County is now a successful model of how conservatives plan to exploit LGBT youth for their own political gain throughout the country.
-- which leads me to think that by "we" you mean the gay community, mainly.
And that's tough. Because in some ways, this isn't the gay community's fight.
To a lot of us, this is not a "gay rights" issue, it's an educational issue. We who have kids in the schools do not wish for them to be indoctrinated into some crazy, hateful way of thinking. They're growing up, and they need to know what's going on with their bodies, their emotions. We want them to learn the facts, clear-eyed and fearless.
No, I take that back. To most of us in this battle it's a community
issue, for the entire community. We want to have a quality life here in Montgomery County, where people think clearly and critically, where neighbors can be kind to one another. I mean, we have really got a lot of different kinds of people in this county, unbelievable really who lives just in my little neighborhood. And yeah, the topic of the class is sexual variation, and the big thing is that sexual orientation is going to be discussed a little bit in the classroom. And the gay community, I'm sure, would feel more comfortable if they were not regarded as pariahs. But this kind of attempted takeover of the school district by a secretively plotting cell of radicals, tightly connected to their national organizations, is a threat to all of us, not just gay people.
We have members of our group, too, who seem to focus of the fact that CRC/PFOX won the lawsuit and got their way, in terms of stopping the 2004 implementation of the new curriculum. But realize, in doing that, they alienated the entire community, including the PTAs, the school boards, and parents of schoolchildren all across the county. They can pull stuff, we do expect them to file another lawsuit, and we know we have to pay attention to next year's school board elections, but they're not winning anything.
And the Gold Keeps Coming
I just got a voice-mail message telling me that someone else has posted another huge capture of a CRC/Recall message board, in the comments section under the post titled "Three Letters." It seems to contain stuff that was not in some of the others we have gotten. I don't when it was posted there.
This is weird.
Normally these groups operate in secrecy. This particular cell, known as Recall or CRC, set out to take over the Montgomery County school board back in November 2004. Usually you don't get to see what they're up to. But here they are, working the churches, working the politicians, working the lawyers, arranging their meetings and hustling their newspaper and radio people. Rules about what to say and how to say it. How not to look like a Neanderthal. How not to look like a homophobe. How not to look like a religious nut.
It is fascinating to watch how this works. And people, listen -- this is happening all over the country. These sneaky groups are planning things. One day you'll wake up and wonder what happened to your community. Well, look under "Three Letters," or under "'Frivolous Lawsuit' Defined" -- where I started out by deleting the messages but was talked into putting it back. Look at the way these people organize to pull the rug out from under you. Oh, it's insidious, yes it is, and it requires contant Vigilance.
It Was Political From the Start
Unbelievably, somebody else has emailed us yet another
Google cache of Recall discussions. Hundreds of messages, some of them go back to the week that the Board of Education voted to adopt the new curriculum.
One thing you notice is how political
the Recall movement was from the beginning. Remember, the national elections were held on November 2nd. The school board voted on November 9th to accept the new curriculum. You can't tell exactly, but it appears to be November 14th when you see CRC lawyer John Garza saying:
If you go the BOE building in Rockville you will think you are in a zombie movie. No one works there. The BOE could fire 2/3 or more of its employees and no one would be missed. If I ran my law office that way, I would be out of business in 6 months. My kids go to parochial school because I can't trust the local BOE. I guess if my daughter tells her teacher she thinks boys are yucky then its ok for the teacher to tell her she may be a lesbian and that's normal. I would prefer to have such conversations myself or her mother can discuss this. The BOE is out of step with the rest of the country and the voters here. We need people to step up to the plate and run for these offices. I can see why a conservative would not run in Montgomery County for any office. It costs money and there is a teacher's union and bureaucracy to deal with. There are no family values candidates that I know of. It seems elected officals only work to get re-elected, expand government, increase taxes, etc. If people are serious about this, I suggest they switch to the Republican Party and then get some good candidates to run against the establishment party. The local Repubs have no one strong to get behind but the party could be used to get family values on the agenda.
(I need to mention Garza's ridiculous mischaracterization of the curriculum. There is nothing, was nothing, and it was never proposed that there should be anything in the MCPS health curriculum that would make any comment on any student's sexual orientation, nor surmise from any behavior whether a person was gay or not. You wonder why they have always had to make up stuff like this -- if the curriculum was really so bad, why wouldn't they talk about things that were actually in it?)
(I might need to point out that this is the same guy who sat there and told the school board to their faces that he "loved" them. This might be one of their things, like, "Love the sinner, hate everything about them.")
You may have noticed that TeachTheFacts.org is not a political organization. I think a number of our members are Democrats, but that's something private for each person. You can search this site for the names of the political parties. and find one or two mentions, usually in a humorous vein. Our debate over the sex-ed curriculum is not
a fight between Democrats and Republicans.
Growing up in Barry Goldwater's Phoenix, Arizona, I did not learn to despise conservatives. I think of real conservatives as intelligent people who argue one perspective in an important national debate. Seems to me that both sides need to be heard, and that America would be in bad shape if the debate came down to a lot of self-congratulatory one-sidedness. These days, of course, we have confusion between true conservatives and the religious right; I'm no expert, but it appears to me that though they have formed a shaky alliance, their goals and philosophies are severely at odds with one another.
It would be my expectation that a true conservative would not want to use government to advance a religious agenda. For instance, you didn't hear much complaining from the right through all the "marriage amendment" business, but wouldn't a real conservative be violently opposed to new laws regulating who people can marry? How would a real conservative feel about a powerless minority using tort lawyers and activist judges to impose their values on the majority of residents of a county? No, there is a conflict there, between the railroading religious right and true conservatives.
The debate, whether local or national, requires that the facts be presented honestly and openly. Given that some people are gay, given that some families do have same-sex parents, given that there is an AIDS epidemic and the AIDS virus is stopped by a correctly-used condom, given that AIDS and some other diseases infect men who have sex with men at a higher rate than the rest of the population ... I say, put these facts on the table, and let the debate begin: what are we going to teach our children, to prepare them to live in this real world? Conservatives, tell us what your point of view concludes about the situation -- how would you go about solving these problems, with your philosophy of smaller government and greater personal liberty? You liberals, what would you suggest, based on your ideas about government protecting the helpless? Talk to each other, let's hear what the two sides say -- we can be sure that the result will be a compromise of some sort, and both sides need to be able to live with that.
Some people don't want this discussion to happen. When you start with the assumption that you already know everything, and that God is on your side against the other guys, you've pretty much defined a situation that will go nowhere. And as we see, that's where the Recall group started.
Nuggets from the Gold Mine
Somebody sent us a gold mine of communictions within the CRC. Reading through this stuff, I just had to comment. When the CRC and PFOX sued in May, they were apologetic and tried to claim that it was a last resort.
In fact they plotted to file the suit for months in advance. Here's their lawyer, John Garza:
Our lawyers win in Louisianna
The same lawyers who are taking our case just reversed a trial court which struck as unconstitutional the Louisianna same sex marriage ban. The La. Sup Court reversed and reinstated the law.
[Date=01-19-2005] Name:John Garza jgarza@********.com, [Msgid=766783]
So back then, clearly, they were already working with those Florida lawyers, planning to file their suit at the last possible moment, so the school district would have no time to respond, and the judge would only be able to read the arguments from one side.
But then this, too, strikes me. Garza again, from the same day:
OK folks, I need anyone who wants to be a plaintiff in the case to send me an email with your name, address, email, phone, names of kids, school and grade. I need a set of plaintiffs for the federal lawsuit and a set for the State Board appeal. Two different sets. Our associate attorneys feel very confortable about these lawsuits. Also, if anyone knows of any TEACHERS WHO DO NOT WANT TO TEACH THIS STUFF, this presents another lawsuit...
You will recall that CRC and PFOX filed on their own. No students to complain, no "teachers who do not want to teach this stuff," nothing.
Apparently they couldn't find anybody.
I could point out that a week before this, on January 13th, the President of the CRC sent an email to the Einstein High School Yahoo group, saying:
THERE IS NO CRC LEGAL ACTION TAKING PLACE AGAINST ANYBODY!!!
How could anybody take these guys seriously?
When It Rains, It Pours
This morning somebody posted more than 3,000 lines of online discussions among the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum's leadership in the comments section of one of the posts here. I deleted it for a couple of reasons [Note: it has been put back]. But I did wonder why Laura Quigley posted this:
Ellen discussed with me the benefits of having a proxy server which as I understand it would disallow the teachthefacts people from tracking me down.
Why would we want to "track her down?" They're not a little paranoid over there, are they?
A little background. The CRC, originally RecallMontgomerySchoolBoard.com, set out in December to replace the Mongtomery County, Maryland, school board after the board approved a new sex-ed curricuum. They tried various things, all of which backfired on them. Letter-writing campaigns, threatening the school board, an over-the-top town-hall hatefest ... Finally in May, they filed a lawsuit and stopped the curriculum. We have seen in these captured communications that the lawsuit was set in place as early as January, with CRC plotting with their out-of-town lawyers back then.
Now, here's a taste of what was posted this morning. This is a little section where Steve Fisher tells the group how to present themselves in print. Man, it sounds so professional -- you wonder how, with all of this attention to gloss and distortion of their real message, they still come off as a bunch of nuts.
Steve's guidelines for writing
Here are some good points to keep in mind when writing anything that will be published on web or in print:
In order to be successful in our letters and emails, there are several things we have to guard against so we can more effectively make our case:
1) Being perceived as intolerant and homophobic --- this is the current first line of defense that the opposition uses to convince others that we are merely irrational and emotional because we "hate" homosexuals. Choose words instead that say more precisely that we are "concerned" or "disappointed" or some similar milder expression when describing their actions and statements. Use of such terms as "perverted" or "weird" or "unnatural" can be interpreted as homophobic in many instances.
I have to say, I was especially surprised to hear CRC members use the terms "sodomite" and "deviant" to describe gay people. Steve has overlooked these colorful phrases.
2) Being too evangelical --- the opposition has tried to paint us a bunch of extreme religious zealots. Even when our faith or beliefs are attacked or impugned, do not reply with a morally indignant tone or try to "preach" to the attackers or the target audience. Those who do not recognize sin will not appreciate the seriousness of committing that sin. You will have to stretch your mind (and your faith) to find a more secular tone and message in replying to such attacks.
3) Attacking teachers --- we need to be careful to separate the CAC recommendations for the new changes from the teachers who will have to eventually teach this course. Some of them are on our side but for obvious reasons, have to camouflage their real feelings or suffer castigation by the unions and their more liberal colleagues. Most teachers pride themselves on getting their students to put faith into their instruction. Voice your concern with the impact this course may have by stating the fact that teachers have unique and "significant" impact on young minds. This approach both compliments teachers while also stressing the reasons we need to be especially careful about what teachers are expected to teach.
Of course, the reason there was a new curriculum in the first place was that teachers asked for it. Teachers liked
the new curriculum, and were eager to get it started.
4) Inform and let people decide for themselves --- one of the more infuriating techniques that the liberal left uses is to tell people what they "should" or "should not" believe independent of any sources. Before you tell someone what to do, such as sign a petition or complain or opt out, we need to let them see the facts clearly for themselves or provide verbatim, specific quotes from reliable or official sources from which they can easily see our point. You can also add a link to one of our documents on our web site or the MCPS curriculum documents itself for them to peruse. For example, if the curriculum does not actually state a specific charge or action --- such stating in black and white it is encouraging non-marital sex--- you can say that the hidden message is there because it does not specifically discourage non-marital sex. Instead you can write a statement along the lines that "a young mind could easily imply from the tone of the proposed changes to the curriculum that non-marital or recreational sex with same gender partners is normal and acceptable." This in many ways touches upon fears more concerning to parents and lends more credence to your message. It forces the defenders of the change to refute the charge, which will be difficult to do without opening themselves up to other issues and charges. In this case, that they really did not provide ample resources or guidance for teachers to ensure that a young person does not come to that conclusion.
Yes, a good idea, play upon their fears. Make the other side respond to your nonsense charges. Then they can only look stupid for getting sucked into your meaningless argument.
5) Use 2nd or 3rd person wherever possible; avoid questions where a simple statement is more to the point --- this carries more weight and is less threatening.
6) List or encourage one or two specific actions that require little extra effort for the reader to accomplish if possible --- such as going to the web site and clicking on the on-line petition, or signing up to volunteer, forwarding the message to others, or ask for a post card or similar document to formally protest or opt out of the curriculum.
Good one. Don't make it too hard. Anything harder than Simon Says, and they will lose their following.
7) Making personal attacks --- never attack anyone personally in opposition to our CRC mission or who has attacked us in a message or article. Take the higher ground and calmly provide evidence or a rebuttal in a statement or message targeted to the readers themselves, while essentially ignoring the attacker. The opposition pride themselves on their vaunted "debating skills." Let's leave them to believe in that illusion while we make our points with the real audience that matters, the general public.
Responding while angry --- NEVER fire off an email or letter while angry, no matter how aggrieved you may be or justified or correct your point might be. If you need to vent, write a draft and lea
Mmm, actually it does end like that. He should have added a point about how to end your written communication.
Well, even this little section is almost too long for a blog like this. Sometime I should post the content of Michelle Turner's March 19th Powerpoint presentation, so you can see how well they followed these guidelines. Or, easier yet, go over to their blog
and see how it compares.
Look, it is possible that somebody on their side would get hold of our emails, this goes both ways. We definitely don't plan and plot like they do, but we have been known to say some things that wouldn't look very good in public. As much as possible, I will use their communications to make a point, not just to expose them as bad people. The principle here is: roaches scatter when the lights come on.
Remember what you are seeing: a small group of people trying to take over the Montgomery County school board, by pretending that they are offended by a new health curriculum. They are manipulative, secretive, and concerned more with power than truth.
Contemplating the Attempted Coup
Yesterday I was talking to a friend about this TeachTheFacts.org business, explaining how I got involved in this, and it made me remember what it's really about. It's not about "ex-gays" or cucumbers or sexual orientation or STDs or abstinence. There was nothing in the new curriculum that couldn't have been discussed and modified until everybody was comfortable with it. Oh, maybe some would like it better than others, but that's not what this has been about. This was not about improving the curriculum, it was an attempted coup.
The fact is, as soon as the school board approved this curriculum in November, a group of people organized to RECALL THE SCHOOL BOARD
. They took the 2004 national election results as a mandate and thought it was time to take over the Montgomery County school district, too. They had had membership on the citizens committee that developed the curriculum, they knew what was in there, it was not a surprise to them, as they loved to tell everybody. It wasn't about that.
When they set up a web site, it wasn't helpexgays.com, or anticucumber.com, or nogaysinclass.com. No, that wasn't what they were about. The website was called RecallMontgomerySchoolBoard.com
. They didn't intend to discuss any issues or argue any points, they wanted from Day One to kick out the elected officials and replace them with somebody they liked. And the new curriculum was simply an excuse to do that.
They want you to think that they are offended by a sex education class. But there's nothing there. The condom video with the cucumber, they made such a big thing out of that. But it is not significantly different from the old
condom video, which featured an animation of how to put a condom on an erect penis. They said the same things in the old video, they had a pretty young lady -- the only thing was that it was out of date. The new video gave them an opportunity to make noise and pretend that they need to take over the school board.
The sexual variation stuff in the health classes was nothing. It said some people are gay. It discussed some stuff about how people feel about themselves, about being more or less masculine or feminine, about gender roles in a society. I remember the same stuff back when I went to high school, before dinosaurs. The curriculum said that some families have same-sex parents. OK -- some families do
have same-sex parents, there's nothing to argue about there. These are non-issues, nobody really cares if the school tells your kids that some families have two mommies or two daddies. It's a simple fact. That isn't what it is about.
It isn't about the curriculum, and you'd be foolish to try to argue with them about it, because they'll say anything. They'll tell you it encouraged kids to declare whether they were gay or straight at an early age. They'll tell you that kids were going to be taught that Baptists are intolerant. They'll tell you the curriculum encouraged sexual experimentation. They'll say it "promoted" homosexuality, whatever that could possibly mean. They'll tell you it instructed kids in anal sex -- I mean it, they really do say these things. And they're all absurd. You will not win an argument with them about the curriculum itself, because it doesn't matter what was really in it. That's not what this is about, it's not about a class, it's about kicking out the school board and replacing them with the kind of people that the CRC approves of. And that would not be someone that the majority of Montgomery County residents approve of.
Just this month, we saw an email circulated among the CRC leadership saying, "Now that we have settled, the goal of the CRC seems mainly to be to replace members of the BOE in the next election..."
But the school district is starting another round of developing a new sex-ed curriculum, shouldn't that
be their goal? No, that isn't what this is about. They don't care about any health class, they want to take over the public school system.
People, you'd best see this as an attempted coup, and don't let it happen. They've got the support of the big national organizations, and they intend to disrupt the educational process until they either get their way or get run out of town.
You do not want these people running things in this county. Stop them.
"Frivolous Lawsuit" Defined
You remember that somebody recently sent us a link to a Google cache containing a bunch of internal communications among the leadership of the CRC (Citizens for Responsible Curriculum) back in January. They were already planning to sue the Montgomery County school district, which they did, finally, in May. But why?
Somebody today pointed out to me a section that I hadn't noticed before -- really, there's so much here I haven't read it all.
Here's the plan that was posted on the CRC leaderhip's forum on January 13th:
This board is NOT going to recant anything because of "supplicant" appeals to listen to our position. The only thing that is going to get their complete attention is:
1. Continuing outrage streaming in to their castle headquarters
2. John Garza proceeding immediatley with his lawsuit. (Lawsuits tend to get peoples attention - merit or no merit because it forces them to deal with their legal team on a continuing basis)
3. 50,000 plus signatures between the paper petition and the on-line petition.
4. Tabulation of all the outrageous things said about us and this issue, and posted on both web sites.
5. Massive email campaign to inform and INFLAME.
In other words, aggressive tactics.
That "both web sites" of course is CRC's and the Recall site they claimed to have nothing to do with. And OK, they fell about 45,000 signatures short of their goal, even assuming they're telling the truth about how many signatures they did get. The "inflaming" part I suppose they did pretty well. Oh, and tabulating things, I suppose that was what resulted in CRC President Michelle Turner's tattling to the Board that somebody in our comments used a bad word to describe them.
It's that Number Two that jumps out at you. Sue to get their attention. Does it matter if the lawsuit has merit?
There must be a real feeling of accomplishment when you do something like that, dontcha think?
Salon Part Four: "True Confessions"
In its final installment, Salon online looks at reparative therapy, the name for the controversial techniques used to transform gay people into heterosexuals.
On the front page of the Exodus International Web site is a photograph of several dozen men and women. The allegedly changed homosexuals, or newly minted ex-gays, are beaming at the camera, apparently celebrating their newfound freedom from homosexuality. Standing in the center of the photograph is 29-year-old Shawn O'Donnell, who was enrolled in Exodus programs on and off for 10 years.
Exodus is the umbrella organization, information clearinghouse and referral service for "ex-gay ministries." These organizations claim they can help gays and lesbians become heterosexual. Exodus was founded in 1976 as part of a backlash against the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 determination that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. Exodus leaders are embraced by the religious right, including the politically influential Focus on the Family, which holds conferences touting the success of the "ex-gay movement."
The only problem with the Exodus photo is that O'Donnell is still gay. In fact, he is out of the closet and says he is the happiest he has ever been in his life. The efforts to change him from gay to straight were what sank him into despair. At age 21, in his bedroom at his parents' house, O'Donnell slashed his arms. "No one was home," O'Donnell says. "I was in my room and just started cutting. I definitely did not want to live anymore. I bled through my clothes. I had pretty deep cuts." O'Donnell's parents rushed him to the hospital, and he spent a week in a psychiatric ward. At the time, he was getting counseling from a group called Overcomers Ministries. True confessions
Yes, we just heard about Reverend Grace at Overcomers Ministries in DC.
How do the legitimate shrinks feel about this?
Mental health professionals fear there may be many stories like O'Donnell's. They say that efforts to change a person's sexual orientation, notably through therapy programs modeled on boot camps, with Draconian regulations, can be psychologically destructive. The American Psychiatric Association has asked ethical psychiatrists to refrain from "reparative therapy" that is supposed to change gays. "We are finding that the numbers of people claiming to be harmed by reparative therapy are increasing," says Dr. Jack Drescher, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues. "I don't know about the suicides because it is hard to determine why somebody killed themselves afterward. But the harm is increasing."
You can get into Salon pretty easily, if you can figure it out, to read this whole article. You ending up having to watch a little commercial, and then you're in for, they say, one to eight hours. I don't get that, but it's easily enough time to read this whole thing.
The author, Mark Benjamin, meets and interviews a series of men who have gone through reparative therapy. Most of them are very religious, and were trying to reconcile their sexual orientation with their faith. A number of them had attempted to kill themselves at one time or another.
All of them are still gay.
The writer also interviews Joseph Nicolosi, who champions this kind of therapy and is President of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization of therapists who do this sort of thing.
I tell Nicolosi I have spoken to a half-dozen people who have been through reparative therapy. All are still gay. All feel hurt by the therapy. None are gay rights' advocates. Nicolosi's group claims that 25 to 50 percent of those seeking treatment get "significant improvement." So I ask him if he can introduce me to any men or women who have been converted from gay to straight who are not on the payroll of an ex-gay ministry. He responds that his patients will not talk to me because they don't get a fair shake in the press. They are done with homosexuality and have moved on with their lives. They don't want to talk about it now.
He also interviews somebody from Exodus ministries.
Exodus spokesman Randy Thomas also declines to help me meet ex-gays to interview. He says that I can read about the experiences of ex-gays on the Exodus Web site.
Mmm, yeah, that's a good representative view of what happens, sure.
Well, it turns out that, although these guys claim that thousands -- I heard one speaker at the CRC town hall meeting say "tens of thousands" -- of gay guys have gone straight due to this counseling, nobody can find one. This writer is doing a big-time series on "ex-gays," but can he meet one and interview him? No. There are a few poster-child "ex-gays" out there, mugging for the cameras and telling their stories in the churches and religious websites, but there is no evidence at all that anybody has actually changed their sexual orientation as a result of this treatment.
I think it's really neat that Salon has given this issue such prominent treatment. The average person sitting at home doesn't know what to think, and the propaganda engine is running full speed. There are a number of reasons that the religious right wants you to believe that gays can become straight. Mainly, it gives them license to continue the campaign of hate; in the simple sense, if a guy chooses to be gay, then he deserves whatever happens to him. But I fear there are more insidious intentions, too, the propagation of an anti-intellectual, anti-reason culture of ignorance. Something like this capitalizes on the fact that nobody really knows very much about sexual orientation. So when you are told something, you can't tell if it's correct or not. And the nuts are there first and loudest, telling everybody all about this "ex-gay" movement, and how there are tens of thousands of sodomites flippin' faster'n you can count 'em.
But it turns out, once you get right down to it, reparative therapy doesn't work. It inflicts more pain than it relieves. The author talked with a pastor named Bob Gratcyk:
At one point, Gratcyk underwent five weeks of intensive therapy that was supposed to cure him of his homosexuality. "You are put in a situation where you, by nature, are considered evil," Gratcyk says. "The Christian version is that you are not evil, but your actions are evil. But you cannot separate the two." Today, Gratcyk, 48, lives with his partner and has reconciled his sexuality with his faith. "I am a man who is loved by God and loves God," he says.
We Get Nice Letters
We received an especially gratifying letter this week. This is the kind of thing that keeps us going.
I am a graduate of Montgomery County Public Schools (Richard Montgomery High School class of 1992) and have been very saddened by the sex-ed debate there that has grabbed national headlines. I would really hope that Montgomery County, which has a reputation for being fairly progressive, would do the right thing by giving students the information they need to make safe, self-affirming choices whenever they are ready to become sexually active.
I am living in Massachusetts now, and while we are happy to have civil marriage here, I am more than aware that even this gain is tenuous given the raging national culture wars over equality. Please know that I support your efforts at TeachtheFacts.org, and let me know whether there is some way I could help from afar. Would it be useful for me and other alums to write letters to our former teachers and administrators with a message along the lines of "as a gay student at MCPS, I would have benefited greatly by recognition and discussion of homosexuality as a normal human sexual variation"?
Keep up the good fight!
(In giving us permission to use his letter, the author didn't ask us to remove his name.)
Let's say that two percent of the population is gay -- the number is certainly higher than that, but this is what the holier-than-thou crowd likes to say. If the proportion is even two percent, that means that there is more than a fifty percent chance that one student in a classroom of thirty is gay.
This letter reminds us that MCPS has an obligation to those students, to give them some explanation about what's happening that makes them different from the others, and we have an obligation to the others, to give them some understanding about what's happening with their classmate and friend.
And yes, it is a good idea to write, especially to the Board of Education, but also administrators and teachers at the school level. If you don't tell them you're out there, they'll never guess.
PFLAG Executive Director's Response to PFOX President
A couple of weeks ago, Richard Cohen, President of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays ... which would be "PFOX-GAG" if they really meant the "and Gays" part), who lives in Bowie, Maryland, presented public comments on the health education curriculum to the MCPS Board of Education. A couple of weeks before that, Mr. Cohen had published a letter in the Washington Times
in response to David Fishback's letter commenting on a Times
editorial on the Montgomery County curriculum (see these discussed on the Vigilance blog HERE
). Here is Mr. Cohen's June 17, 2005, letter:
'Dubious theories' about same-sex attraction
Without specifically identifying to whom he is referring, David S. Fishback obliquely mischaracterizes the position of former homosexuals and groups that represent them ("Sex-ed in the margin," Letters, Wednesday). He disingenuously states that " 'dubious theories' are those propagated by groups that cling to the long-since-rejected ideas that all homosexuals are diseased and can be 'cured' of the disease."
This is simply untrue. Groups representing former homosexuals, such as Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays (PFOX), have never taken the position that homosexuality is a disease or that people choose to have homosexual feelings.
The position taken by PFOX has always been that no one is born with same-sex attraction. We know that those feelings develop involuntarily because of a number of factors. Furthermore, we believe that a person with unwanted same-sex attraction may, with proper therapy, help and self-determination, come out straight. This is a view supported by many health care professionals, contrary to Mr. Fishback's suggestion.
As president of PFOX's board, a former homosexual who has been married for 23 years, father of three children, and a professional psychotherapist who has helped hundreds of men and women change from homosexual to straight, I know firsthand that people can change from homosexual to straight. There are, quite literally, thousands who have done so and are glad they did. I stand as one of them.
International Healing Foundation
National PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Executive Director Jody Huckaby wrote a letter to the Washington Times
in response to Mr. Cohen's assertions. The Times
recently informed Mr. Huckaby that his letter would not be published. Here is Mr. Huckaby's letter:
Richard Cohen, President of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), attempted in his letter of June 18 ('Dubious theories' about same-sex attraction) to defend his groups' support of "proper therapy" to make homosexuals into heterosexuals. What readers should know is that Cohen's credibility is itself dubious, and that his notions of "proper therapy" for making gay people straight have long been soundly rejected by all credible professional mental health associations who in fact call such therapy damaging. He was himself found in violation of numerous ethics codes by the American Counseling Association a few years ago and was expelled permanently. So if he is still a professional psychotherapist making a living teaching people to suppress the homosexual orientation that is natural to them, it is without the express blessing of at least one professional mental health association and is repudiated by the rest.
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
Let me throw in my two cents' worth. People like Cohen would like the public to believe that there is scientific support for what they do, that it is credible and legitimate psychotherapy, and they would like you to actually believe that gay people can become straight by subjecting themselves to some kind of therapy program. There is no evidence for this, lots of evidence that it does not work. The "ex-gay" movement is a landscape littered with scandal -- there are lots more ex-ex-gays than ex-gays out there.
The upcoming months will be challenging for us. It will be necessary for people to educate themselves, to learn to distinguish between real science and wishful-thinking-pretending-to-be-science. You can't tell the difference without learning a little bit about the field, and about how science works. Cohen is not a doctor, having neither an MD, PhD, PsyD, nor anything else; he was, as Huckaby noted, expelled from the American Counseling Association for ethical violations; and his techniques are not accepted by legitimate practitioners. He is just another brick in the wall of anti-gay bigotry -- the saddest type, the gay man struggling with his own orientation, occasionally giving in to his true feelings (this is all described in his own writings), and all the while ranting about how much better it is to be heterosexual. He and his organization should have nothing to say about anything that is taught in our public schools.
If you're like me, you never gave any thought to anything like "ex-gays." You probably never wondered whether gay people can become heterosexual, and you don't know anything about it. And now PFOX and CRC intend to use our ignorance to drive a wedge into our community, to separate the skeptics from the gullible. They are counting on the community's insecurities and lack of knowledge to increase the numbers of the gullible.
The moral of the story: inform yourself.
Salon's Third Installment on "Ex-Gays"
At least the third installment of Salon's four-part series on "ex-gays" and reparative therapy doesn't take place in Montgomery County. This one features a preacher in Washington DC.
The Rev. J. Grace Harley is a kindly, big-boned, middle-aged black woman with gentle eyes and an obvious wig. She thanks God that she arrived safely at work. Harley is the founder of Jesus Is the Answer Ministry, one of more than 100 Christian ministries across the country that seek to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. On her Web site, Harley describes herself as "the manifestation of Christ Jesus' truth on homosexuality (2 Corinthians 4:2) which describes same sex attraction disorder (S.S.A.D.D)." She hosts a local cable TV show, "God's Will and Grace," in Washington, and meetings for Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers Ministries, two programs that help gays and lesbians get straight with God.
On a recent Wednesday night, Harley is sitting behind a desk in a barren community center, located across the street from the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington. She is not supposed to host the Overcomers Ministries meeting that night, but given that the regular leader is late for some reason, she will take charge. The only people in the audience are me and a young, soft-spoken African-American man, a student at a local university. He is toting a tattered Bible and a book bag. The regular leader never does show. We pray for him later.Getting Straight With God
This is the story of the Rev. J. Grace Harley as she tells it, a human interest story presented without much comment by author Mark Benjamin. Rev. Grace had lived as a man for many years, even got married as a man, and now she has traded in her sexual appetites for spiritual ones.
Earlier this summer, I interviewed six gay men who had spent months or years in what is called "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, programs run mostly by Christian conservatives that allegedly help homosexuals become heterosexuals. Each of the men, trapped between their religious beliefs and sexual orientation, told me reparative therapy had only made them depressed. All of them recovered by coming out of the closet. Still, the religious right claims that efforts to change gays stem from "compassion, not bigotry," according to the Family Research Council. I decided to see for myself. I told Harley I was gay, although I am straight and married. I used a fake name.
We have already seen that reparative therapy is not receognized by any mental health, psychology, or psychiatric organizations. The premise would be that homosexuality is an illness, and all these professional groups have decided it's not. It's kind of a rare thing, statistically speaking, but it doesn't seem to affect the ability of a person to function, they just prefer partners of their own sex. You don't really need a cure for that, do you?
It sounds like this reporter has found that gay people do better accepting their feelings than trying to change them.
The good reverend tells us the best way to overcome our own homosexuality is to imagine Jesus as a gay man. "The love and the passion that you feel for another of the same sex, try to see Jesus and try to give him that same passion and love and desire," she says. "He can handle it. He takes it, and he will rework it and give you the deepest, greatest love affair." She whispers: "Jesus is a man. What if he were a gay man and he desired you, and he wanted your body totally for himself? Whoa! What if?"
Jesus appeared to Harley at a church service, she says, sparking her healing process. She credits her relationship with God as the bedrock of her recovery. But the end of the world is coming, she says, when we must face God. "These are end times and it is up to us to get it together," Grace tells us, heating up like a Baptist preacher. "We are going to stand one-on-one naked before God. How is he going to judge us for the actions of our bodies, which is his dwelling place? Every time we go down into the filth, we take Jesus with us!"
Harley cools down. Politically correct people do not understand that gay people "taint" others around them, she says, and so gays should be barred from the Boy Scouts of America. "Birds of a feather flock together," Harley tells us. "It's not in the Bible, but it's true. You can't have a homosexual buddy and think you are going to be buddy-buddy and nothing [will get] off on you. You will become tainted and corrupted. Why do you think they have commercials on television? If you watch any commercial on television long enough, you are going to buy the product even if you don't like it. It is just in you, and that is what the spirit of homosexuality is about -- it's just in you."
If somebody is unhappy with the way they're living, I say: let them find a better way. If a guy is gay and he's not happy with that -- maybe he's not as gay as he thinks he is, or maybe he can't handle the social pressure, whatever, I say: try something else.
It sounds like Reverend Grace offers help to those who choose to change. They come to her. They bring their own Bibles. Nobody has any problem with that, as far as I know.
Her own story is one that intertwines out-of-control sexual promiscuity and craving with lots of drugs. especially cocaine. It sounds like a way of life that it was wise to get out of, and she did it through the church. She found what she needed, and that's good. It is difficult to hold it against her when she quotes nonexistent character disorders and weird theories about how people got the way they are -- she's just somebody trying to keep their head above water, and you hope she succeeds.
There is an insidious movement brewing among organizations like Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, big-bucks religious organizations, to try to pretend that "ex-gays" are being discriminated against, and that "ex-gays" are some kind of real thing that needs to be treated as a special class of people. They are using this fake concept to blast educational institutions, as we've seen here in Montgomery County, and as we will continue to see. Somebody like Reverend Grace would be better described as an "ex-mess
" than anything else -- her life was one big stinkin' mess and she pulled it back from going over the edge. Being gay had nothing to do with it.
These radical-right groups use the concept of "ex-gays" to undermine tolerance for homosexuality, and to keep alive the idea that there's something wrong with gay people. Despite what she says, Rev. Grace's problem was not that she was gay. She was married, and was cheating on her wife, and was freebasing cocaine and smoking crack, and nearly overdosed once in a room with her extramarital girlfriend. The intelligent person realizes that this is not the way to live, and changes. But being gay had nothing to do with it.
Salon.com: A Great Series on "Ex-Gays"
We have seen in their emails that the CRC's next big goal is to get the MCPS sex-education curriculum to include sections on "ex-gays." Does that seem a little off the wall to you? Yeah, me too. It turns out that the "ex-gay" angle is the biggest hook now for the religious right to hang their anti-gay bigotry on.
This week, the online magazine Salon.com
is doing a big, four-part series on the "ex-gay" phenomenon. So far the first two installments are on the web, and it is really outstanding. It starts out with a little dose of deja vu:
July 18, 2005 | Last month, the Montgomery County Board of Education in suburban Maryland settled a lawsuit over sex education in the county's public schools, brought in part by PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays). The group is a branch of a national network of "ministries" that claim homosexuality is a chosen and dangerous lifestyle, and that through "reparative therapy" a gay person can be turned straight -- into an "ex-gay."
PFOX won a restraining order in May and successfully halted the county's new sex ed curriculum, intended, among other things, to promote tolerance toward gays by treating homosexuality as natural and benign. A judge concluded the school curriculum did exclude other views on homosexuality -- namely, those of PFOX. Under the settlement last month, the county agreed to pay $36,000 of PFOX's legal expenses. The group also gets a seat at the table in drafting a new sex ed curriculum for county schools.
With homosexuality and gay marriage at the vortex of the culture wars, religious conservatives say the victory in Montgomery County will be the shot heard around the world. "This has national significance because Montgomery County is a wealthy, influential school district and the lid has been ripped off an agenda that has crept into schools nationwide," declared Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America.
"We are going to march across the country and we are going to help parents organize in every county," says Richard Cohen, president of PFOX. "We want parents to check out the curriculum in every place where sex ed is being taught, and if they are advocating homosexuality without any other diverse views being offered to the children, we will help them with a legal defense."
(This should give you a clue as to why TeachTheFacts.org's mission is so critical.)
Cohen says he will press Montgomery County to teach that homosexuality is an unhealthy lifestyle that can be fixed. "With respect to the risks of homosexual behavior, that would be fair," he says. A PFOX pamphlet states that homosexuality is a "developmental process not genetically determined" and can be treated with therapy. It notes that gay sex results in surging AIDS rates, drug abuse, "gay bowel syndrome," psychological problems and violence.
The pamphlet insinuates that men having sex with men is what causes AIDS. It fails to mention that HIV can be transmitted through either heterosexual or homosexual contact. It does not acknowledge that of the 50 million people currently living with HIV -- 3 million of whom die annually -- nearly half are women. Nor does it point out that officials worldwide are most alarmed by the rise in AIDS among girls and that AIDS rates among homosexual men in the United States have fallen 27 percent since 1990.
Despite the Maryland settlement, PFOX's claims about homosexuality are, according to virtually all mental health professions, wrong, bizarre and potentially dangerous. "I can give you a short answer of where reparative therapy fits in with the modern mental health profession: It does not," says Dr. Douglas Haldeman, president of the Association of Practicing Psychologists, a group affiliated with the American Psychological Association. "These theories have been discredited for years."
Look, it is tempting to quote this whole article, but there's just too much here.
I've never registered to read Salon, but I did today. It's a little tricky to figure out how to get a single-day site pass, but it only takes a few minutes, and you can read these two articles after you watch a short ad. The pass is good, they say, for one to eight hours.
In the second installment a straight guy goes to a therapist named Barry Levy in Rockville, claiming to be gay and wanting to change (somebody tell me, how did all this stuff end up in Montgomery County?). This therapist was recommended by Focus on the Family. The writer, Mark Benjamin, gets the whole skinny on reparative therapy.
Levy practices what is called "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, which allegedly helps homosexuals become heterosexuals. The theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder that needs to be cured is the moral underpinning of the Christian right's crusade against gay marriage, sodomy laws, gay adoption and sex ed curriculums in schools. While all major modern mental health professions say conversion therapy is baseless and potentially dangerous, I wanted to experience for myself what is going on behind counselors' closed doors.
According to the Bible, Levy says, homosexuality "is not consistent with the manufacturer's desire. It is not what the body is for. It is not what procreation is for. It is not what life energy is for. I am going to draw you out of that because the people around you are into that." To receive God in his holiness, Levy tells me, to experience the ultimate happiness for which God created men and women, a person needs to overcome any homosexual feelings.
Homosexuality, Levy asserts, is a mental disorder, a certifiable neurosis. "The psychoanalytic perspective has always considered homosexuality and same-sex attraction to be a neurosis. They still do and they still treat it." (In fact, mental health associations do not consider homosexuality a neurosis and do not "treat" patients for it. Dr. Douglas Haldeman, president of the Association of Practicing Psychologists, a group affiliated with the American Psychological Association, says it is wrong to identify homosexuality as a neurosis. "There is no scientific evidence of that, and there is no mainstream mental health organization or profession that supports this ancient, discredited theory," he says.)
Levy informs me that homosexuality is difficult to treat because it is about more than sexuality -- it is about a way of life. "I want to make a distinction between same-sex attraction and being gay," he says. "That is a whole ideology. It is a lifestyle. It becomes the locus, or organizing principle, of the identity of the human personality." Reparative therapy focuses on getting gays and lesbians to stop talking or walking "gay." One "ex-gay" program in Memphis, Tenn., Refuge, bars men from wearing jewelry, donning Calvin Klein clothes and listening to secular music.
Well, there's just too much.
If you're concerned about what is happening here in Montgomery County, if you're trying to understand who it is that wants to hijack your kids' education, and what it is they want, you need to read this series of articles. It is very informative and well-written. Registering at Salon doesn't seem to be any big deal -- this is worth it.
NYT: Zach, and Reparative Therapy
The following was submitted to the Vigilance blog by David Fishback, former chair of the MCPS citizens advisory committee.
For those interested in seeing what CRC/PFOX wish to include in the MCPS Health Education Curriculum, take a look at this article from Sunday's New York Times: "Gay Teenager Stirs a Storm: Blogger rejects a fundamentalist 'cure'". http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/17/fashion/sundaystyles/17ZACH.html?
(The subtitle is in the print edition only.)
It is a pretty comprehensive discussion of the Zach story, related earlier on the Teach the Facts Vigilance Blog at http://www.teachthefacts.org/2005/06/tennessee-investigates-zachs-camp.html. Note in particular the following excerpt, discussing programs like "Love In Action," to whose camp Zach was sent:
"Critics of programs that seek to change sexual orientation say the programs themselves can open a person to lifelong problems, including guilt, shame and even suicidal impulses. The stakes are higher for adolescents, who are already wrestling with deep questions of identity and sexuality, mental-health experts say.
"'Their identities are still in flux,' said Dr. Jack Drescher, the chairman of the committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues of the American Psychiatric Association, which in 2000 formally rejected regimens like reparative or conversion therapy as scientifically unproven. 'One serious risk for the parent to consider is that most of the people who undergo these treatments don't change. That means that most people who go through these experiences often come out feeling worse than when they went in.'"
The dangers of these programs are what led the American Medical Association to state that it "opposes the use of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation" (AMA Policy Number H-160.001). http://www.ama-assn.org/apps/pf_new/pf_online?f_n=browse&doc=policyfiles/HnE/H-160.991.HTM
CRC/PFOX and their backers -- Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel and James Dobson's Focus on the Family -- wish to include this reparative therapy approach in our Health Education Curriculum, notwithstanding the opposition of the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and every other mainstream American medical and mental health professional association. The actual revised curriculum that would have been piloted last spring, but for the CRC/PFOX litigation ambush, made no mention of reparative therapy (the warnings were included in some teacher resources, like that from the American Psychological Association). Perhaps the curriculum now being developed by Dr. Weast should include the AMA's warning in what is presented to the students.
Here is the full text of the NY Times article:
Gay Teenager Stirs a Storm
By ALEX WILLIAMS
IT was the sort of confession that a decade ago might have been scribbled in a teenager's diary, then quietly tucked away in a drawer: "Somewhat recently," wrote a boy who identified himself only as Zach, 16, from Tennessee, on his personal Web page, "I told my parents I was gay." He noted, "This didn't go over very well," and "They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they 'raised me wrong.' "
But what grabbed the attention of Zach's friends and subsequently of both gay activists and fundamentalist Christians around the world who came across the entry, made on May 29, was not the intimacy of the confession. Teenagers have been outing themselves online for years, and many of Zach's friends already knew he was gay. It was another sentence in the Web log: "Today, my mother, father and I had a very long 'talk' in my room, where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist Christian program for gays."
"It's like boot camp," Zach added in a dispatch the next day. "If I do come out straight, I'll be so mentally unstable and depressed it won't matter."
The camp in question, Refuge, is a youth program of Love in Action International, a group in Memphis that runs a religion-based program intended to change the sexual orientation of gay men and women. Often called reparative or conversion therapy, such programs took hold in fundamentalist Christian circles in the 1970's, when mainstream psychiatric organizations overturned previous designations of homosexuality as a mental disorder, and gained ground rapidly from the late 90's. Programs like Love in Action have always been controversial, but Zach's blog entries have brought wide attention to a less-known aspect of them, their application to teenagers.
Although Zach wrote only a handful of entries about the Refuge program, all posted before he arrived there in the Memphis suburbs on June 6, his words have been forwarded on the Internet over and over, inspiring online debates, news articles, sidewalk protests and an investigation into Love in Action by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services in response to a child abuse allegation. The investigation was dropped when the allegation proved unfounded, a spokeswoman for the agency said.
To some, Zach, whose family name is not disclosed on his blog and has not appeared in news accounts, is the embodiment of gay adolescent vulnerability, pulled away from friends who accepted him by adults who do not. To others he is a boy whose confused and formative sexual identity is being exploited by gay political activists.
In his last blog entry before beginning the program, at 2:33 a.m. on June 4, Zach wrote, "I pray this blows over," adding that if his parents caught him online he'd be in trouble. He described arguments he had been having with his parents, his mother in particular. "I can't take this," his post reads. "No one can. I'm not a suicidal person. I think it's stupid, really. But I can't help it - no I'm not going to commit suicide - all I can think about is killing my mother and myself. It's so horrible."
The Rev. John J. Smid, the executive director of Love in Action, declined to discuss the details of Zach's experience, citing the program's confidentiality rules. In an interview early this month at his headquarters, a weathered 1960's A-frame building, which was until recently a vacant Episcopal Church, Mr. Smid explained that teenage participants in Refuge are forbidden to speak with anyone the program does not approve of. Requests made through Mr. Smid to interview Zach's parents were declined.
Founded in California in 1973, Love in Action moved to Memphis 11 years ago. It is one of 120 programs nationwide listed by Exodus International, which bills itself as the largest information and referral network for what is known among fundamentalist Christians as the "ex-gay" movement. In 2003 Love in Action introduced the first structured program specifically for teenagers, 24 of whom have participated, Mr. Smid said. The initial two weeks costs $2,000, and many participants stay six weeks more, as Zach has.
The goal of the program, said Mr. Smid, who said he was once gay but now renounces homosexual behavior, is not necessarily to turn gays into practicing heterosexuals, but to "put guardrails" on their sexual impulses.
"In my life I've been out of homosexuality for over 20 years, and for me it's really a nonissue," Mr. Smid said.
"I may see a man and say, he's handsome, he's attractive, and it might touch a part of me that is different from someone else," he said. "But it's really not an issue. Gosh, I've been married for 16 years and faithful in my marriage in every respect. I mean I don't think I could white-knuckle this ride for that long."
Mr. Smid first learned that one of his teenage participants was a cause célèbre when protesters appeared outside his headquarters for several days in early June, carrying signs saying, "This is child abuse" and "Jesus is no excuse for hate."
He was bombarded by phone calls from reporters, he said, as well as by 100 e-mail messages a day from as far as Norway. Zach's writings, which appeared on his page on www.MySpace.com, were publicized by one of his online acquaintances, E. J. Friedman, a Memphis musician and writer, who read Zach's May 29 blog entry, "The World Coming to an Abrupt - Stop."
Mr. Friedman, 35, was disturbed by what he read and fired off an instant message. "I said: 'You should run away from home. There are people who will help you,' " Mr. Friedman recalled. "He said: 'I can't do that. I want to have my childhood. If this is what I have to go through to have it, then I will.' "
Mr. Friedman posted an angry message about Zach's impending stay at Refuge on his own blog. Mr. Friedman's friends picked up on the story and started spreading it on blogs of their own. Soon a local filmmaker, Morgan Jon Fox, who had met Zach through mutual acquaintances, joined with others to start a group called Queer Action Coalition, which organized the protests at Love in Action.
"We wanted to show support," said Mr. Fox, 26, who directed a fictional film about gay teenagers in 2003, shot at White Station High School in Memphis, where Zach is a student. "Then it kind of blew up."
Links to Zach's site bounced around the country. Mr. Friedman's Web page had so much traffic, "it blew my bandwidth," he said. Mr. Smid, too, was inundated with Internet traffic, much of it outraged at the attempts to change Zach's sexual orientation.
"All of a sudden, 80,000 Internet hits later on our Web site, the world has decided that he should be freed," Mr. Smid said. "Maybe he didn't ask for this. Maybe he doesn't really have the personality that really is going to be able to deal with this. And they talk about our 'abuse' of him."
The program at Love in Action has parallels to 12-step recovery programs. Participants, referred to as clients, study the Bible, meet with counselors and keep a "moral inventory," a journal in which they detail their struggle with same-sex temptation over the years, which they read at emotionally raw group meetings, former clients say.
Excessive jewelry or stylish clothing from labels like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger are forbidden, and so is watching television, listening to secular music (even Bach) and reading unapproved books or magazines.
"It's like checking into prison," said Brandon Tidwell, 29, who completed the adult program in 2002 but eventually rejected its teachings, reconciling his Christian beliefs with being gay.
Physical contact among clients other than a handshake is forbidden, and so is "campy" talk or behavior, according to program rules that Zach posted on his blog before he began at Refuge. Occasionally, recalled Jeff Harwood, 41, a Love in Action graduate who still considers himself gay, some participants would mock the mandatory football games.
"You could get away with maybe one limp-wristed pass before another client would catch you," he said, seated on a tattered sofa in a funky cafe called Java Cabana in the trendy midtown district of Memphis.
Because teenagers, unlike adult clients, return home at night, parents are asked to help keep them away from television and, more important, a computer. Zach has not updated his blog since entering the program.
For Mr. Smid and his supporters, offering Love in Action to teenagers is vital to combat what they see as a growing tolerance of homosexuality among young people. "We just really believe that the resounding message for teenagers in our culture is, practice whatever you want, have sex however, whenever and with whoever you want," he said. "I very deeply believe that is harmful. I think exploring sexuality can lay a teenager up for numerous lifelong issues."
Critics of programs that seek to change sexual orientation say the programs themselves can open a person to lifelong problems, including guilt, shame and even suicidal impulses. The stakes are higher for adolescents, who are already wrestling with deep questions of identity and sexuality, mental-health experts say.
"Their identities are still in flux," said Dr. Jack Drescher, the chairman of the committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues of the American Psychiatric Association, which in 2000 formally rejected regimens like reparative or conversion therapy as scientifically unproven. "One serious risk for the parent to consider is that most of the people who undergo these treatments don't change. That means that most people who go through these experiences often come out feeling worse than when they went in."
Two weeks ago the Tennessee Department of Health sent a letter to Love in Action, saying it was suspected of offering therapeutic services for which it was not licensed, a department spokeswoman said. Mr. Smid insisted in the interview that his program is a spiritual, not a counseling, center, and he is removing references to therapy from its Web site.
He said he does not track his success rate. Mr. Harwood, who graduated from the adult program in 1999, said that of 11 fellow former clients he has kept track of, eight once again consider themselves gay.
Although critics say such programs threaten the adolescent psyche, at least one teenager who considers himself a successful graduate does not agree. "In my experience people who struggle with their sexuality are more mature in general," Ben Marshall, 18, said. He recounted being in turmoil, growing up gay in a conservative Christian household in Mobile, Ala.
In 2004 his parents sent him to Refuge. "I went to Memphis kicking and screaming," he said. "I had grown to hate the church for the militant message it gave off toward homosexuality."
While enrolled he spent days listening to stories of the pain that homosexuality had caused clients and their families. Slowly, he said, his attitude changed. He ended up choosing to continue in Love in Action's adult program for nine months. While the program has a "high rate of failure," he said "there are enough successes to know I'm not alone."
But even success comes only through continuing struggle. Although he plans to date women in the future, Mr. Marshall said, he is avoiding any romantic relationships for the time being. "In all honesty, I'm just trying to figure out how to deal normally with men before I start to deal with women," he said.
Zach's parents did not reply to a request for comment for this article left on their answering machine. Last week his father, speaking to the Christian Broadcasting Network, said: "We felt good about Zach coming here. To let him see for himself the destructive lifestyle, what he has to face in the future."
In Zach's case there is no indication he was particularly upset about his sexual identity. Although his high school is in a Bible belt city, the student body is fairly tolerant of homosexual classmates, some students said, particularly those who, like Zach, are not conspicuous about their orientation.
"Stereotype me, if you dare," was the motto Zach chose for his blog, where he listed "Edward Scissorhands" and "Girl, Interrupted" as his favorite movies and Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of the alternative rock band the Killers, as the person he would most like to meet.
While Zach, as his blog recounted, only recently came out to his parents, many of his friends had known he was gay for more than a year, one classmate said. Zach openly identified himself as gay on his blog, which links to 213 friends' blogs listed in a Friend Space box on the site.
Zach is due to leave the program next week. His June 4 message expressed thanks for the more than 1,700 messages on his page, many voicing support. "Don't worry," he wrote. "I'll get through this. They've promised me things will get better, whether this program does anything or not. Let's hope they're not lying."