Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Besen Writes the School Board

The "ex-gay" phenomenon is a strange bird. Because some passages in the Bible can be interpreted as saying that homosexuality is a sin or worse, some religious groups make it a major focus of their mission to see that gay people stay in the closet. Or if they're already out, they try to make them go back. This puts people who subscribe to those religions in a bad place, torn between their feelings -- the way they are, really -- and their religious beliefs.

We can only imagine how it is to grow up in a very religious environment and learn that God doesn't love you, that you need to pretend to be somebody else in order to earn His blessing. Some people in that position simply choose a different church, and of course there are lots of Christian churches that have no problem at all with whatever your sexual orientation or gender identity might be. For some other people, though, the only choice they can see is to try to stop being gay.

And so there are organizations out there with guys giving speeches claiming that they have become straight. There are a lot more who used to say they had become straight, but now are gay again, and I suppose that reveals the real issue, which is that sexual orientation really doesn't change. Oh, there might have been a couple of people sometime who found they had changed, or found they weren't what they thought they were, but you can't change who you're attracted to through prayer or therapy. God and/or nature put those feelings there, and you can't wish them away. Some people assert that you can, as a kind of "what if" argument without the "what if," but everybody knows what's going on: you don't choose to be straight, and you don't choose to be gay.

So the problem is that at their base, these organizations that promote changing from homosexual to heterosexual are fraudulent. The product they sell is hope for something that will never happen.

There are a couple of groups that keep an eye on the "ex-gay" movement, monitoring their claims and their excesses. Ex-Gay Watch is one such group, and I recommend that you read the thoughtful and careful comments they post on their blog, it is really a good site. Another, newer group, is Truth Wins Out, formed by activist Wayne Besen, who has been in the face of the ex-gay leaders who exaggerate and manipulate for a long time.

Besen recently sent a letter to the Montgomery County Public Schools' Board of Education regarding the fact that the "ex-gay" advocacy group PFOX has been sending home flyers in MCPS students' backpacks. It's a pretty long letter, but I'm going to post the whole thing, just to get it on the record here:
January 26, 2007

Montgomery County Public Schools
Board of Education
Attn: Ms. Nancy Navarro, President

Dear Ms. Navarro:

As the founder of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that monitors “ex-gay” ministries, and as the author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, I have studied Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) for many years. I am deeply concerned about the deceptive PFOX flyer going home with students on Feb. 1. If you look beneath the surface, PFOX is a dangerous group that puts children at risk and has ties to a group that recently justified slavery.

Before I further discuss PFOX’s troubling record, I want to thank you and the board for instituting a curriculum that works towards greater understanding and tolerance. In the face of organized pressure, you have stood firm and taken steps towards reducing harassment and making life better on campus for GLBT students. This is why I think it is essential that the Board of Education have the full story regarding PFOX.

While PFOX has presented an ostensibly innocuous handout for MCPS, their goal is to drive impressionable students to their website. Once there, students will receive misinformation or be referred to the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). This fringe organization made national news in 2006 after an article was published on its website by Dr. Gerald Schoenewolf, a key member of NARTH’s “Scientific Advisory Committee.” His offending essay included the following: (I have attached the full essay)

“There is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America,” writes Schoenewolf. “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle…Life there was savage… and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.”

The National Black Justice Coalition and the Southern Poverty Law Center swiftly condemned the article, and the Los Angeles Times covered the scandal on Oct. 15, 2006.

NARTH has also shown great insensitivity to gender variant schoolchildren. Last year, Dr. Joseph Berger, also on the “Scientific Advisory Committee,” published an article on NARTH’s website that said these children should be “ridiculed” into conforming. After a public outcry, NARTH removed the article. (Berger article is attached)

While these episodes are deeply troubling, it is equally troubling that much of PFOX’s information regarding homosexuality comes from NARTH. Unfortunately, PFOX’s ties to NARTH are not peripheral. PFOX’s former Board President Richard Cohen has long had an intimate relationship with the group, even serving as a featured conference trainer at their 2000 annual meeting in Washington.

Truth Wins Out is concerned that the PFOX flyer would essentially be providing a referral service for “therapist” Richard Cohen and his anti-gay activism. It is important to note that Cohen was expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002 for malpractice. Yet, he is the chief referral on the PFOX site and seemingly the only therapist PFOX recommends in the state of Maryland. While the MCPS has an obligation to represent diverse viewpoints, there should be great trepidation that the PFOX flyer might hand deliver students to a man who was severely rebuked and barred by his colleagues for unethical therapy.

Some of Cohen’s methods are quite bizarre and should be strongly considered by the MCPS as they consider future input from PFOX. A few of his scientifically questionable methods that won’t be found in PFOX’s flier include:

Spiritual Warfare: Cohen has suggested in his book, Coming Out Straight, that avenging spirits from dead relatives are one potential cause of homosexuality. This strange idea could surely influence the way some students view their gay peers, leading to increased alienation or harassment.

Touch Therapy: This is where Cohen gets clients to sit on his lap (or the lap of another man) while the client is softly petted – supposedly in a nonsexual way. Cohen’s technique likely came from his time living on Vashon Island with the Wesleyan Christian Community Church, a cult that news reports say practiced nude therapy in church.

Intrauterine Memory Recovery: Cohen believes that if a mother had bad experiences during pregnancy, such as fights with her husband, this could traumatize the fetus and lead to homosexuality. Cohen promotes the idea that through therapy, a client can retrieve memories from the womb, which could help him or her become heterosexual.

Bioenergetics: This is where Cohen tries to induce flashbacks in clients so they can remember when they became gay. To generate these supposedly repressed memories, Cohen has clients bang a tennis racket against a pillow, while yelling the name of his or her parents. Clients are also encouraged to unfairly blame parents for causing their homosexuality. This often divides families, causing an unnecessary rift between parents and children.

Aversion: Cohen tries to create an aversion to homosexuality by chronically demeaning homosexuals and dehumanizing them. For example, in his book, Coming Out Straight, he says, without supporting evidence, that, “A man with same-sex attractions may have a chameleon-like nature” or suffer from “impatience or lack of discipline.”

In light of glaring statistics showing GLBT students are more likely to commit suicide as a result societal rejection, the MCPS should have great apprehension about PFOX’s divisive and discriminatory rhetoric being introduced to students. While PFOX has a right to free speech, there is no inherent right to false speech that seeks to ridicule and demonize GLBT Americans.

Additionally, there is also the concern that students are receiving incorrect information on homosexuality that flies in the face of every respected medical and mental health organization in America. In August 2006, the American Psychological Association clearly said that ex-gay therapy was scientifically unsound and could promote discrimination. According to the APA:

“For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA’s concern about the position’s espoused by NARTH and so-called conversion therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

The American Psychiatric Association says that ex-gay therapy can lead to “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.” This is a major reason why the American Medical Association specifically 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-160.991).

As harmful as the experts consider ex-gay therapy, the way it is administered by PFOX exponentially raises the possibility of harm to students. The distribution of PFOX’s flyers is clearly the equivalent of the smoking industry handing out “informational” materials on campus touting the health benefits of cigarettes. The experts have spoken and I hope that these learned opinions and medical standards would be reflected and incorporated in MCPS curriculum.

Truth Wins Out requests that you thoroughly investigate PFOX, Cohen’s troubling record and the dubious groups PFOX is associated with before considering their positions on homosexuality. I would be more than happy to provide my book, Anything But Straight, to school board members and meet with you to further discuss this matter.

There is no doubt in my mind that you want what is best for students and are concerned about their health and well-being. That is why I urge you to review the full array of facts before students are subjected to disinformation that could cause them psychological or physical harm. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.


Wayne Besen
Executive Director
Truth Wins Out
Letter To Montgomery County School Board President From TWO

I should point out that it now appears that Richard Cohen is no longer President of PFOX, as he was for years, even long after being expelled for life from the American Counseling Association.

The school district was told by the court that they had no discretion over what could be sent home with students, unless a document contained hate speech. They could decide not to allow any flyers from outside the school to go home, making life difficult for extracurricular groups with a legitimate need to communicate to students; the alternative was to let everybody send flyers home, at least any nonprofit organization, and this is what they decided to do. The resulting policy is posted HERE. Schools can send extracurricular materials home four times a year, and they have to have a disclaimer on them.

This is a tough one. The schools should not be actively promoting an evil group like PFOX, whose message is not only the opposite of our community's values regarding right and wrong, but also contradicts what students will be taught in Health class. Common sense says that the schools should have control over the materials that are given to students, but as long as PFOX is careful not to cross the line (which is not very far away) into "hate speech," it appears that our public schools will be delivering their message for them.


Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jim writes,

This is a tough one.

How so? Is it because the free speech rights of PFOX conflict with your desire to silence their message?

The schools should not be actively promoting an evil group like PFOX, whose message is not only the opposite of our community's values regarding right and wrong, but also contradicts what students will be taught in Health class.

I agree...just like I think it is sending our children the wrong kind of message that if they are going to engage in vaginal, anal or oral sex that it will be made safe by simply using a condom. Sigh...such is free speech. Now, all of this could be avoided by keeping it ALL out of the public schools, but since the State of Maryland and TTF think this message is SO important for public school students to hear, free speech and equal protection demand others also have their input heard.

Common sense says that the schools should have control over the materials that are given to students, but as long as PFOX is careful not to cross the line (which is not very far away) into "hate speech," it appears that our public schools will be delivering their message for them.

The MCPS does have control: they can choose to not distribute anything other than school related material, telling all outside groups that they will need to find aother way to communicate their message. Free speech and equal access mean exactly what they say, and that is not only common sense, but constitutional principle as well.

February 01, 2007 7:22 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

This comes from's Best of the Web, January 30, 2007.

Banish all Doubt!

The Associated Press reports on an astonishing statement from Rep. Henry Waxman:

The Democratic chairman of a House panel examining the government's response to climate change said Tuesday there is evidence that senior Bush administration officials sought repeatedly "to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming."

Of course doubt is the very essence of the scientific method. If there's no room in "the science of global warming" for doubt, it isn't science at all, but a sort of secular religious belief.


Now I would not say doubt is the "very essence" of the scientific method since the scientific method appears to be based upon observation, hypothesis, testing that hypothesis, etc. (or as the Wikipedia entry for scientific method puts it, "Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence, subject to the principles of reasoning.").

Even with that definition as a given, it would seem that doubt does play a crucial role.

Since the origins of sexual variation seem to be a complex combination of biology and environment, is it possible that PFOX is as much an expression of doubt as of prejudice?

February 01, 2007 7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orin asks "is it possible that PFOX is as much an expression of doubt as of prejudice?"

No. PFOX is Dobson's response to PFLAG, pure and simple. Dobson thinks the only way for an LGBT person to live is to remain celebate or to live in the closet. Dobson's empire launched PFOX in an effort to sway religious parents to procure dangerous so-called "reparative therapy" for their LGBT kids, against the advice of all American mainstream professional medical and mental health organizations.

Regina Griggs of PFOX bought Dobson's bogus message lock, stock and barrel because she is the angry mother of a gay son who refuses to accept her son's sexual orientation and expects it to change.

February 01, 2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Thank you anaonymous for your reply...

I think PFOX is naive about the intracable aspect of human nature, that is, that we develop habits that despite our best efforts stay with us, for better and for worse. Perhaps then PFOX is more an expression of prejudice than doubt since absent any evidence it would appear that it is more an expression of frustration on the part of those that would like to see others change.

There is a way out of all of this: it is to banish all teaching, discussion, etc. about sexual variation. I know, I know, the State of Maryland mandates that sexual variation be taught. Perhaps it is time to change that mandate...

Frankly I find the message of PFOX unpersuasive (in addition to be naive) so I would not support them in any attempt to use the public schools to disseminate their message. Truth Wins Out and PFLAG are two organizations that are as political as any group could be, so it becomes a problematic thing to allow them in, while excluding a group with a contrary message.

I know, I know...the message that Truth Wins Out and PFLAG bear is more realistic in our world, but I do wonder why they fight so vociferously on behalf of not just their message, but in attempting to silence the opposing message. Would it not be better to simply adopt a policy that mandates that ALL students are treated with respect by their fellow students, their teachers and school administration?

Is it naive of me to think that public schools have more enough to do with teaching students the basics? Have teachers teach, practice and enforce ( vigorously?...enough to have gay-bashers understand that they will not be tolerated) ethical standards that make clear that everyone will be treated with respect and dignity.

Would all of that be too difflicult, or is the political mission of TTF and those that share this POV more important?

February 01, 2007 9:24 AM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Orin said "Is it naive of me to think that public schools have more enough to do with teaching students the basics? Have teachers teach, practice and enforce ( vigorously?...enough to have gay-bashers understand that they will not be tolerated) ethical standards that make clear that everyone will be treated with respect and dignity.".

The trouble is Orin the message that PFOX sends is that gays are undesirables. They foster an environment where discrimination and hostility towards gays flourish. One can't make it clear that everyone will be treated with respect and dignity when groups like PFOX spread a hateful message that gays should change because no one likes a gay.

February 03, 2007 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I know, I know...the message that Truth Wins Out and PFLAG bear is more realistic in our world, but I do wonder why they fight so vociferously on behalf of not just their message, but in attempting to silence the opposing message."

Take a look at PFOX's and PFLAG's mission statements and maybe you'll understand why PFLAG fights so "vociferously" against PFOX's message.

PFLAG's mission statement (

Our Vision

We, the parents, families and friends of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, celebrate diversity and envision a society that embraces everyone, including those of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Only with respect, dignity and equality for all will we reach our full potential as human beings, individually and collectively. PFLAG welcomes the participation and support of all who share in, and hope to realize this vision.

Our Mission

PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.

Our Strategic Goals

I. Build the capacity of our organization at every level so that we may have all the resources, in the form of information, people and funding, necessary to move forward in our work with the greatest possible effect.

II. Create a world in which our young people may grow up and be educated with freedom from fear of violence, bullying and other forms of discrimination, regardless of their real or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation or that of their families.

III. Make our vision and our message accessible to the broadest range of ethnic and cultural communities, ending the isolation of families with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender family members within those communities.

IV. Work toward full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons within their chosen communities of faith.

V. Create a society in which all GLBT persons may openly and safely pursue the career path of their choice, and may be valued and encouraged to grow to their full potential in the workplace.

VI. Create a society in which all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons may enjoy, in every aspect of their lives, full civil and legal equality and may participate fully in all the rights, privileges and obligations of full citizenship in this country.

We welcome the participation and support of all who share in our Vision and Mission and who hope to realize our goals.

Compare this to PFOX's mission statement. The PFOX website ( says:

"Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX)
~ supporting the right of homosexuals to choose change ~
We show families how to love their homosexual child unconditionally...PFOX's statement of principles is found at"

Clicking on the PFOX link to pathinfo takes you to this page ( and reveals PFOX's statement of principles:

"PATH is a non-profit coalition of organizations that help people with unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA) realize their personal goals for change -- whether by developing their innate heterosexual potential or by embracing a lifestyle as a single, non-sexually active man or woman.

Collectively, our organizations have worked with thousands of men, women and youth who are finding peace and fulfillment by resolving their SSA feelings in ways that are emotionally healing, gender-affirming, congruent with their deeply held values and beliefs, and supportive of their individual life goals.

Some have transitioned out of a homosexual identity and lifestyle, while others have avoided ever fully going into it. Some have married and had children of their own. Some have saved their existing marriages and families. Some have found fulfillment in living as a single man or woman, with no homosexual involvement.

Whatever their individual circumstances and life goals, they have found from personal experience that there are, indeed, positive alternatives that are right for them rather than living a homosexual life."

Where is PFOX's unconditional love for practicing homosexuals? The only homosexuals this statement offers to help have "unwanted same-sex attractions" and hope to or have "transitioned out of a homosexual identity....[or] avoided ever fully going into it...[or] have married and had children....[or] saved their existing marriages....[or are] living as a single man or woman, with no homosexual involvement."

PFOX's claim to "show families how to love their homosexual child unconditionally" is a big fat lie. PFOX is mute when it comes to telling parents to express unconditional love for their homosexual offspring who embrace same-sex attraction. PFOX only encourages parents to express conditional love for homosexual children who have "unwanted same-sex attraction."

I am heartened to see signs that PFLAG's "vociferous" fight against PFOX's erroneous messages is beginning to make a difference. PFOX and their cohorts don't say that sexual orientation is a choice anymore. Please notice that the pathinfo statement says heterosexual potential is "innate," and the first PFOX link above says "Homosexuality is not a choice in that no one chooses same-sex feelings or asks for them."

PFLAG will continue to "vociferously" fight for the truth, and in the end PFOX will fold or accept the truth too.

February 03, 2007 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice design of blog.

August 13, 2007 3:41 PM  

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