Friday, March 30, 2007

Managing the Paperstorm

I was thinking this morning that a reader unfamiliar with our situation, seeing the CRC's paperstorm in the previous post, might conclude that there're really a lot of problems with this new curriculum, and that the CRC wants to make sure they are fixed.

<British_accent>I regret to inform you, that is not the case.</British_accent>

The CRC sued in 2005 over a different curriculum, which they have now decided they liked better than this newer one. They did the same thing, threw in the kitchen sink, complained about every word in the curriculum. And they got a judge who would believe that some things buried in the teacher's resources were actually part of the curriculum, and that "the curriculum" dissed some religions, and in the long run the whole thing got thrown out. The judge ignored most of the noise, but did find a jewel in the ... stuff on the ground at a pig farm.

This time, deja vu again. They are complaining about things that don't exist, things that aren't there that conceivably could be, things that are there that conceivably don't have to be, things that can be taken out of context and made to sound bad, things that are commonsense but not published in any scientific paper, things that are published in scientific papers that violate common sense; they are complaining because the curriculum doesn't teach about homosexual sexual behavior, and complaining that it does, but in a veiled way...

I transcribed a blurry pdf file so we could have it in front of us as we watch the next stage unfold. We have gone over nearly all of these complaints many times, and I'm not going to try to explain the utter bogosity of every single item the CRC has listed.

There are two reasons they are doing this. One is, obviously, to drain the opposition dry. They make these ridiculous charges, and then somebody, some high-priced lawyer in particular, is supposed to sit down and research every one of these things and write up a response to them. This has been their main strategy all along, they try to wear you down. In the citizens advisory committee meetings, they proposed hundreds of changes to the curriculum, most of them totally absurd. And then the whole committee had to stay late, week after week, discussing and voting on these things. And how many times did they propose delaying some decision or another? Everything needed more time. It's their favorite trick, and the one thing that can work in their favor. Eventually, they might be able to drain the energy out of everybody around them, and get their way. (Heh-heh. Not everybody, but they can try.)

The other reason, I suppose, is that they think they can make the school district look bad if it doesn't take them seriously. The State Board is going to get this stuff, and they just might look at it and say, why doesn't the county provide all these materials? Or, why doesn't the county answer this or that question? And, as you see in the county's response, there are good reasons for them to refuse to play along with the Drain Game. They have done what they are required to do, and the state guys should be savvy enough to see what's going on. I imagine they've been drain-attacked by rightwingers before, themselves. It's not like any of this is original.

You may have noticed the dog that didn't bark, the reason that is not plausible here: the CRC did not ask these questions in order to learn the answers to them. These are not serious inquiries, this is time-wasting, money-wasting, passive aggression as an art form.

We can imagine a non-dysfunctional community group that had a true interest in improving the quality of a course in the public schools -- even a conservative group. We can imagine them making up a list of perceived errors or weaknesses in a planned class, and submitting that to the school district. And you know what? The school district would be wise to consider it, and to make adjustments if those turned out to improve the course. The whole community could benefit from that.

That isn't what's happening here. The CRC is a non-non-dysfunctional group, and their aim is not to improve anything, their aim is not to make an adjustment in the course content in order to accommodate conservative perspectives. No, their aim is to disrupt the process altogether, to stop the implementation of the new curriculum, because it doesn't say bad things about gay people.

I'm no lawyer, and I don't know what MCPS should do in this situation. They need to win this, but they also need to be careful not to get sucked into the vortex of nonsense that the CRC is spinning here. Answering these would only support the idea that they were valid questions in the first place. On the other hand, if the state mistakenly takes these complaints seriously, as real criticisms of the curricula, not-answering may create the appearance that the school district has no answers. Hate to say it, but MCPS attorneys have been perceived as arrogant in the past, and it counts against them, to the detriment of all of us who live here.

The state school board has to decide whether to overrule the county board's unanimous decision to implement curriculum that was developed with the participation of a flock of physicians, a herd of attorneys, a committee of citizens, and a gaggle of bureaucrats. The real question before the state is whether they can accept the competence of the Montgomery County Public Schools to make their own decisions. The question is not whether there is a citation in the scientific literature for the use of the word "innate," or whether when you talk about coming-out you need to discuss anal sex. The question before the State Board is whether Montgomery County is competent to make these decisions on their own, or if they need the state to tell them what to do.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Paperstorm in Sex-Ed Appeal

We recently got a look at some legal papers filed by the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, trying to get more of a response from the Montgomery County Public Schools and the state school board. I'm no lawyer and will probably get some of this wrong, but let me fill you in.

The set-up is this. The CRC asked the State Superintendent of Schools to stop the pilot testing of new 8th and 10th grade health curricula. She didn't. Then they appealed to the State Board of Education to stop the implementation of the new health curricula in the fall. They are pondering that request now; I think we expect a decision from them in July or so. And now the CRC are crying because everybody's not playing the game by their rules.

The first CRC document is to the Assistant Attorneys General of the state of Maryland and the state school board.
... this is to respectfully request that the State instruct the MCPS BOE to transmit the record in this case and for an extension of time to file a response to the motion for summary affirmance filed on March 6, 2007 by the Montgomery County Board of Education ("MCSP BOE") in accordance with COMAR 13A.01.05.04(B)(1).

Well, the point is that the county had twenty days to give the state "the entire record of the controversy," meaning, I guess, all the materials relevant to the case. Twenty days was February 27th, they say, and the CRC is saying that the school district still hasn't given them a copy of the condom video DVD.
In addition to failing to transmit the condom DVD, the Appellee has failed to transmit other significant parts of the record. For example, although certain information was provided on the alternative classes offered to pilot test students who chose to opt-out of the Additional Lessons, there has been no specific information transmitted concerning the alternative classes to be offered once the curriculum is adopted county wide or how long students will be forced to sit in the library out of their normal class...

Then there's a list of stuff they want from the county school district:
  • the condom DVD to the State Board with a copy to the Appellant,
  • full and adequate information concerning the alternative lessons, the number of weeks the students will be taking such alternative lessons and how these lessons will be administered,
  • the record supporting the County's assertion that the curriculum was adequately reviewed by health officials and the CAC, specifically that portion of the eight [sic] grade lesson which states that homosexuality is innate which was added on January 9th,
  • the record supporting the County's assertion that the curriculum was adequately reviewed, specifically the Health Department official who reviewed the HIV portion of the Additional Lessons as required by COMAR Section [sic], and
  • the expert support for its contention that homosexuality is "innate",
  • that part of the existing curriculum which supports Appellee's contention that the students are informed that condoms are not reliable for use in anal intercourse

I doubt they'll get far trying to prove that one line of the course, which was already approved for tenth grade and added to eighth grade for consistency, was thoroughly reviewed by health officials or the CAC, or needed to be.

Also, if the "Additional Lessons" are the new stuff -- there's no "HIV portion."

And ... I'm trying not to go through this, but some of these things, you just gotta say, they contradict themselves when they try to say the schools should teach that "condoms are not reliable for use in anal intercourse." The fact is, and the point they usually make is, that there is no evidence one way or the other -- the required research would be unethical and too dangerous to conduct. It's one thing to say, "there's no research indicating that condoms are safe for anal intercourse," which is true but meaningless -- I mean, there's no research evidence that they make great balloons, either, but they do -- and it is another thing to imply that there is evidence that "condoms are not reliable for use in anal intercourse." But nice try. OK, back to the papers.

There's a little more, then the bottom line -- what this is really about:
... we request an extension of time to respond through and including April 5th. We reserve the right to request an additional extension in the event the MCPS BOE fails to transmit the record.

Finally, they want to meet to set the agenda for a trial, etc.

OK, that's what this is all about. They want more time, and of course need to blame everybody else for making them late.

The school district filed its response to that document, and it seems pretty clear: they don't need to provide materials.
The adoption of a curriculum by a county board of education is a legislative or quasi-legislative act, not a contested case involving individual rights. ... [ellipses indicate omitted legal references] As such there is no discrete "record" as there would be in a quasi-judicial matter. Appellants submitted extensive exhibits with their appeal. The exhibits, presumably, were all of the materials that were germane to and in support of their appeal. The County Board included exhibits in its submissions only for convenience or because exhibits submitted by Appellants were incomplete.

A copy of the so-called "condom DVD" was not included because there is no dispute about what is actually in the video. Rather, Appellants' objection to the video is based on the fact that it does not contain additional information about transmission of disease that Appellants believe should have been included in the video instead of later in the curriculum as part of the lessons on infectious diseases. ... There is no factual dispute about what the video says and, therefore, it was not necessary to include a copy of it. Nevertheless, a copy of the transcript is enclosed with this response for your information and that of the State Board.

And it is, right at the end.

But wait. There's more:
The alternative lessons for those students who did not opt to participate in the field test of the Revised Lessons are not part of the record because the County Board took no action on them, nor were they a part of the Appeal filed on February 7, 2007. The County Board is not required to and does not take action to adopt individual lessons for every class in every course for which it adopts a curriculum. Because there had been prior litigation and because the Revised Lessons constituted a significant change in the existing health curriculum, the Superintendent chose to provide the County Board and the public with particularly detailed lessons plans so everyone would know exactly what the curricular change encompassed. The County Board, however, took no action on the alternative lessons. Moreover, the content of the additional lessons, their number, and "how these lessons will be administered" were raised by Appellants only in relation to Request for Stay and, more particularly, in their Reply in Support of Stay, not as part of their appeal. At the State Superintendent's request, information about the additional lessons, supported by an affidavit, was submitted in the County Board of Education's Surreply in Opposition to Request for Stay.

Appellants raised a number of purely legal issues in their Appeal and Request for Stay. There are no disputes of material fact: the lessons reflecting the curricular changes say what they say. The State Board has been provided copies of the instruxctional delivery plan for each lesson, the materials to be provided to the students for each lesson, the materials to be used by the teacher for each lesson, and the overheads to be used by the teacher for each lesson. The content of DVD demonstrating proper use of a condom is not disputer. The DVD says what it says and does not say what it does not say. There are no new materials...

... and so on. Pretty good.

They wind it up by putting their foot down:
There is no need for and no basis for an extension to reply to the County Board's Motion for Summary Affirmance other than to delay the State Board's decision in this matter. Therefore, the County Board opposes any extension of time to respond to the County Board's Motion for Summary Affirmance.

There are no dates on these documents, so I don't know exactly when they were filed, or what state the decision is in about whether to grant an extension to the CRC. I'll tell you when I know.

The CRC submitted another one to the state. Interestingly, they really really don't want the Maryland State Attorney General's office involved in this. They want the State school board to decide whether to overrule the county and throw out the new curricula.

They criticize the county's response to their initial complaint, saying it was "far more rhetoric than substance." And then -- now this will come in handy -- they list all the stuff they were whining about in the first place, which the County (according to CRC) did not address in their response to the state. You want to see a list of all the stuff the CRC is complaining about? Check this out:
  • There is no defense of mention of the county's controversial teaching that homosexuality is "innate." Notwithstanding the fact that every court that has addressed the issue has found precisely the opposite.
  • There is no defense or mention of the county's failure to place Focus Three Subject Matter in an Optional Course.
  • There is no defense or mention of the county's failure to divulge to students that condoms are not reliable protection against HIV/AIDS in anal intercourse.
  • There is no defense or mention of the condom video and lesson's misleading impression that condoms are reliable barriers to disease in all types of intercourse (i.e. anal intercourse). Nor the false implication that vaginal and anal intercourse of [sic] equal health risks.
  • There is no defense or mention of the age appropriateness of the Approved Lessons.
  • There is no defense or mention of the biased vignettes which portray exclusively non-heterosexuals.
  • There is no defense or mention of the fact that the only counselors mentioned to students are GLSEN, a gay advocacy group.
  • There is no defense or mention of the problematic definitions of "homophobe" and "prejudice" which by their definition stigmatize people holding traditional religious convictions.
  • There is no defense or mention of the treatment of the transgender Portia in the vignette as a "she" instead of a "he" despite the fact that the law and society classify him [sic] as a he.
  • There is no defense of the treatment of transgenderism as a sexual variation instead of a mental disorder.
  • There is no defense or mention that the curriculum fails to inform students that transgenders are no longer being given sex change operations and hormone therapy at respected medical hospitals in light of the current view that such does not treat the underlying mental disorder.
  • There is no defense or mention of the fact that the curriculum encourages students to "come out," despite the documented risks to youth of coming out, and despite the fact that this is clearly promoting and encouraging sexual activity.
  • There is no defense or mention of the move away from teaching abstinence in this curriculum.
  • There is no defense or mention of the fact that heterosexuality is barely mentioned and marriage is never mentioned.
  • There is no defense or mention of the fact that homosexuality is treated as a norm and as normal behavior despite evidence to the contrary showing it to be present in only a small percentage of the population.
  • There is no defense or mention of the local board's refusal to pay any heed to the testimony of disease specialist Dr. Ruth Jacobs or to the petition signed by the numerous (now 270) area medical doctors urging the local board to warn students that condoms are not reliable in preventing disease in anal intercourse and that anal intercourse is simply too risky to practice.
  • Furthermore, left unmentioned in the Appeal but highly significant to parents, the MCPS direction to teachers to direct student questions to "A Responsible Adult." MCPS defines a responsible adult as someone over age 18 who the student trusts. No mention of parents is suggested or even considered. Are not parents responsible adults for student questions regarding sex?

Additionally, even to topics given some coverage in the Appellee's brief, the arguments are simply not meritorious:
  • Appellee fails to recognize that Appellant has shown to any degree that the curriculum advocates homosexuality as a "natural and morally correct lifestyle" and states that Appellant "do not and cannot cite to any part of any lesson to support this assertion" ... MCPS expects the State Board to accept this bald assertion simply because it says so. Appellee, in taking this position, simply refuses to make any attempt to refute the many examples of bias and exclusive moral viewpoint shown by Appellant. Ex-gays are marginalized throughout the brief in every instance they are mentioned and the Appellee goes so far as to argue that Appellant has failed to come forth with an ex-gay student or a student struggling to overcome same-sex attractions ... Appellees have not come forth with a transgender, intersexed or bisexual student, yet transgenders, bisexuals and the intersexed are included in the Curriculum.
  • Appellee erroneously contends that students will be warned of the dangers of anal intercourse in a separate, later part of the curriculum ... No evidence of this is submitted for the simple reason that it is not true: the curriculum framework nowhere else provides that the students are to be taught the dangers of anal intercourse. Additionally, even if this were true, it would not obviate the confusion caused by the condom lesson and video on this point but only increase such confusion. Children's lives are at stake here: there is no room for confusion here or a total failure to warn here. MCPS' students' health must be the primary concern of any health class.
  • Appellee fails to adequately address the egregious fact that students who do not opt-in to the Additional Lessons are constrained to sitting in the library by themselves, conspicuously, with no teacher, with no class, for SIX WEEKS; while Appellee disingenuously argues that there is no "disparate treatment." ...
  • Appellee blithely states that there is no opt-out, there is simply an opt-in ... Appellee refuses to address that students who do not "opt-in" to their regularly scheduled MANDATORY class are constrained to the library for SIX WEEKS of INDEPENDENT STUDY. Appellee fails to adequately address the egregious fact that parents who seek to protect their children's religious beliefs and the family values, have no recourse but to convice their children to sit in the library for six weeks while still having to sign in every day in front of their peers with their teacher. That during that six week period, they have no teacher, no class and are fully isolated ... Clearly, Appellee's assertion that there is no "opt-out" ... is patently false.
  • Appellees further assertion that this opt-out does not compel students to reveal their moral, ideological, or religious views simply because, according to Appellee, there is no opt-out ..., is also false and represents callous disregard for the parents and students who hold traditional values. Furthermore the Appellee criticizes as "incendiary" Appellants statement that: students "are being molested on account of their religious beliefs by being forced with the NO CHOICE of either leaving the class and sitting in a library doing independent work ... or having to listen to negative stereotyping and epithets (homophobe and prejudiced) being directed at them as members of a group holding a moral view antithetical to the viewpoint espoused by MCPS." ... MCPS asserts without any proof that it is not intolerant toward students and parents with certain religious beliefs. Its only proof of not being intolerant and judgmental toward certain religions is its own prideful statement that its [sic] not. The fact that thousands of students and parents object to the intolerance is proof that indeed MCPS is a religiously bigoted government entity. Appellants will provide the board with numerous examples of religious bigotry including all the lawsuits MCPS has already lost trying to discriminate against certain religious sects. MCPS completely ignores the free exercise clause of both the Maryland and federal constitution. Putting a muzzle on the religious views of students is a violation of the worst kind and is the pinnacle of intolerance.
  • The many cases cited by Appellee are without exception outside of Maryland and largely outside the Fourth Circuit

Finally, we note that Appellee argues that an Appellants complaint "really boils down to a complaint that community values do not perfectly coincide with their opinions." ... Here we see a truly callous disregard for the religious convictions of many families in Montgomery County: according to Appellees, religious convictions are mere "opinion." [omitting chatter]

Additionally, MCPS has failed to prove, or even attempt to prove, its' [sic] assertion that the Additional Lessons represent "community values." Which it surely does not... [text omitted]

In closing, we note that there are legal Prohibitions against use of federal funds obtained Under [sic] the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND(Act of 2001) ... [text omitted]

Ow. I've got writer's cramp, or whatever you call it when you're pounding on a computer keyboard.

At the end there, they seem to be saying that talking about the pros and cons of coming-out amounts to a violation of NCLB, because coming-out, to the CRC, is identical with having sex. And you can't "promote or encourage sexual activity" in a class funded by NCLB. That is a very weak argument, like the rest of these, but the point is not to make a good case, the point is to waste time.

Well, that was a list of the things, mostly imaginary, that the CRC believes everybody else should take seriously. Normally, I'd go through this item by item, but ... c'mon, this is ridiculous.

Oh, and this is cute. The last page of this document is signed by the mother of a third-grader from Sequoyah Elementary School in Derwood, who swears that "As a practicing member of the Catholic Church, I believe that homosexual acts are immoral" and other statements. I guess the CRC found a real MCPS family that could claim to be victimized by this curriculum, since none of them will be.

As Expected, No Big Deal

The Gazette yesterday reviewed the excitement of pilot testing of the new sex-ed classes, and concluded that it really wasn't all that exciting.
Health teacher Jody Tyler read the new scripted sex-ed lesson last week and the hotly debated field test of the revised health curriculum at Watkins Mill High School was over without much ado.

While the revised curriculum sparked a legal challenge and a battle among school advocates and some parents, all but a few students at Watkins Mill took part in the pilot program.

Watkins Mill Principal Peter J. Cahall didn’t hear much from parents — and even less form students.

"It came and went. It was so not a big deal," Cahall said. "It was there and gone before I even blinked."

Lon Hamann, president of the Watkins Mill Parent Teacher Student Association, also said there hasn’t been much of a stir among parents.

"It hasn’t been brought to the PTSA as a big issue yet," he said last week. Sex-ed pilot ‘not a big deal’ at Watkins Mill

OK, good. The fact is, the courses were carefully planned out, carefully designed by a team of pediatricians to make sure facts were medically correct, they were reviewed by a gang of lawyers to make sure nobody's religious beliefs or First Amendment rights were threatened, everything was thoroughly evaluated by a committee of citizens, it went through the bureaucratic mill at MCPS, was adopted unanimously by the Board of Education -- there was no reason to think there would be anything weird about it.

Oh, did I mention the whiners who stole information from the PTA directories and sent letters, emails, newsletters, and made robo-calls to the homes of families at the test schools? Did I say anything about the head of the American Family Association sending a newsletter around warning Montgomery County parents not to send their children to these horrible classes? Did I mention the wackos that walked around outside the schools carrying signs protesting "Unisex Bathrooms" and other scary things? Did I mention that the state school board still has the tedious task of reading the appeal and reviewing the curriculum to find out if there is really "covert politically correct code talk" between the lines of the new curriculum?

Naw, none of that matters. The school district did a good, professional job despite the background noise; they developed the courses following all the steps they are supposed to take. Now the classes have been tested, and it turned out, as expected, that it was no big deal.

This Gazette story carries the obligatory quotes from the "other side," a couple of CRC people are given this megaphone to express their irrelevant opinions. In general, the story is: business as usual, no big deal.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

McCain Supports Gay Marriage on MySpace

Oh -- this is great.

John McCain's MySpace page uses a well-known template that was developed by Newsvine Founder and CEO Mike Davidson (see his original HERE) -- then McCain's site HERE). Davidson has said that people can re-use the template, if they give him credit for it on their site.

McCain used it, didn't give credit. Also, instead of putting the images it uses on his own site, he linked to the ones at Davidson's MySpace. That means that every time you look at John McCain's MySpace, you're using up bandwidth on Davidson's server. This is considered Not Cool on the Internet, hot-linking to somebody else's images.

But Davidson had the perfect solution. Since he had control, basically, over stuff that appears on McCain's web site ... he changed it.

As TechCrunch explains:
Davidson decided to play a small prank on the campaign this morning as retribution. Since he’s in control of some of the images on the site, he replaced one that shows contact information with a statement:
Today I announce that I have reversed my position and come out in full support of gay marriage ... particularly marriage between two passionate females.

Here are the before and afters:

I think that's fair enough, don't you?

[Thanks to Crooks and Liars for pointing this one out.]

I Hate Being On TV

I just got back from a TV interview. I doubt that it will look very good.

The lady had an idea what I should say, and I wasn't very successful at reading her mind. She wanted me to talk about how important it will be for the CRC and "us" to come to a compromise, because she had just interviewed John Garza, from the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and he had told her that they just want to negotiate something everybody can live with. Which is of course is not the truth at all.

I started to explain that the problem is that the CRC won't compromise. I began describing the pilot testing, and how they are trying to disrupt it, instead of letting the school district find and fix problems. I described the letters, the robo-calls, the meeting, the media. And in the middle she just ... interrupted me. Changed the subject. So there I am, complaining about them, and then we're talking about how important the curriculum is for gay students. It can't make any sense to somebody watching.

It was interesting sitting in the green room shooting the breeze with a guy who was waiting to go in and criticize the curriculum; it was the guy the Times interviewed yesterday, or whenever it was. Seemed like a decent guy, has six kids. He has no idea what kind of mess he's stepped into here. The other guy in the green room, the supervisor for these shows, mentioned after my interview that he had received a letter from the CRC -- he has a kid at Sherwood -- saying that the schools wanted to teach the kids about anal sex and everything. "What are you supposed to think?" he said.

I hate being on TV. I hate it in the way that makes me want to figure out how to do this, how to get my point across in a couple of minutes, talking to a person who doesn't know anything at all about our situation. Or ... do I want to learn to do this? Do I want to learn to talk in sound bites?

Ah, I don't know what I want.

Transgender Bill Killed By a Close Vote in Committee

A bill protecting transgender people from discrimination had strong support in the Maryland legislature, but was killed in the state Senate Judicial Proceedings committee last week by a vote of 6-5.

From an Equality Maryland press release:
"This is an incredibly sad day for our staff, lobbyists, boards, and legislative allies," said [Equality Maryland] Executive Director Dan Furmansky. "This legislation was our number one priority, and there is simply no excuse for any legislator to oppose legislation that aims to protect people from arbitrary discrimination. We had the votes both on the House and Senate floor so to have this killed by one vote in committee stings."

Senate Bill 516, sponsored by Lisa Gladden (D - Baltimore), was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee earlier this month and marked the first time in U.S. history that a state bill on transgender rights had no written or oral opposition. Maryland would have become the 10th state to prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals. Baltimore City passed similar legislation in 2002. Equality Maryland Deeply Disappointed By Defeat Of Transgender Equality Legislation

Somebody mentioned to me the other day they thought the case for transgender rights is stronger than for gay rights.

The thing is, the real problem for transgender people is that their private and public selves are at odds. They don't feel like what they look like. So, more than sexual orientation, gender identity is something that can't be managed, really, in private. It's when you're talking to people, and you know constantly that they're not looking at the real you, that there's a problem. After enough years, a person who feels like that figures out that the feeling isn't going to go away; correcting the problem requires an adjustment of their public appearance. And that attracts attention, confuses people, upsets people, makes them uncomfortable.

Talk to these people: it's not a joke, it's not a whim. The decision to make the transition is not like deciding to get a tattoo, or deciding to hold your cigarette a certain way -- the decision to change your public identity means that you've decided to brave all the derision of people who don't understand, in order to get your own life in order, to stop living a lie. It's a brave and extremely difficult decision, and I have the suspicion there are a lot of people out there who feel they are living a false life, but don't have the courage to change.

Some concepts of gender identity will be discussed in the new tenth-grade curriculum. The CRC tries to make it sound like tomboys and sensitive boys will label themselves as transgender in the new sex-ed curriculum, and they incessantly point out that Gender Identity Disorder is in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as if that implied that there was something ... I don't know what they mean to imply, other than that they're better than "those people." The idea that it's in the DSM doesn't seem to advance their case in any way, but only makes it sound like there's something "wrong" with some people. Why is that a threat to members of the CRC?

More from Equality Maryland:
All of the Republicans on the committee voted against the bill. Two Democrats also voted against the bill -- Norm Stone of Baltimore County, who had earlier indicated that he would consider supporting the bill, and C. Anthony Muse (D - Prince George's County), whose district covers the Ft. Washington/Camp Springs area. Sen. Muse committed to supporting the measure on a number of occasions to Equality Maryland lobbyists, and also expressed his support to the head of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, who came to testify for the measure. It's not uncommon for Senate leadership to orchestrate the defeat of a bill for which there would otherwise be sufficient support for passage.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Lisa Gladden, expressed disappointment and resolve. "Although this bill was voted down," she said, "we made tremendous progress on educating the committee and the members of the General Assembly on this important issue and we will reintroduce and pass this bill next year."

Furmansky echoes this sentiment: "The overwhelming majority of the General Assembly support this crucial civil rights legislation and we will continue our important work across Maryland to educate people on the lives of transgender individuals and the arbitrary discrimination this community faces. We will return in 2008 stronger than ever to pass this long overdue measure."

There is a certain amount of stiff-upper-lip in the state these days, as people who really wanted to see this pass have to settle for appreciating how close it came. I think the consensus is that there is a good amount of momentum built up, at least, and next year it will probably go through. In the meantime, some people will have some 'splainin' to do -- the backroom aspect of this vote is nontrivial.

It was a close vote in the committee; there is no chance this issue will just die and blow away.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

CRC Attack Fails: Less Than Five Percent Opt Out

In testing the new sex-education curricula, the default position is to opt out. Parents have to sign a form asking the school to allow their students to take the class. If they do nothing, the kid misses the class.

The CRC did everything they could to try to get people to not ask for their children to be allowed to attend the classes. They sent letters to the families at the test schools and used an automated dialing system to call their homes and play a recorded message (all in violation of PTA rules about the use of directories); they held a big media event with yellow signs and Powerpoint slides and TV interviews, and videos that made gay people look bad. They sent out emails by the thousands, asking people to forward them to ten other people. They got the American Family Association's Donald Wildmon to write people in our county, encouraging them to refuse to allow their children to participate in the testing.

People had to ask the schools to include their children in the classes, and the CRC tried to get them to do nothing.

Did it work?


Here is the article in this morning's Washington Times.
Roughly 10 percent of Montgomery County students did not attend the school system's new sex-education classes that include lessons on homosexuality and condom use.

Three lessons were taught last week for 10th-graders at Watkins Mill and Bethesda-Chevy Chase high schools. And two lessons were held for eighth-graders at Argyle and Julius West middle schools.

Of the 488 students enrolled in the classes, 24 presented a parental-permission slip excusing them, and 17 failed to bring a permission slip allowing them to take the classes, said county schools spokesman Brian Edwards. Most students present for sex-ed class

Let me re-do that math for you, from The Times' numbers: 488 total, 17 forgot to return the slip, 24 opted out.

"Roughly 10 percent" is really more like "8.4 percent" (41/488) of students who did not attend the classes (because 17+24=41). About 3.5 percent (17/488)of the little darlings forgot to show the form to their parents and return it to school.

4.9 percent (24/488) of parents opted out of the classes.

In other words, less than five percent of parents, with all this commotion, chose not to ask the school to teach this new material to their children.

Skipping down...
Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for Citizens for Responsible Curriculum, which opposes the lessons, said some students were left to sit in the library during the class.

The group sent letters and automated-phone calls to parents urging them not to allow their children to attend the classes.

A Watkins Mill student decided not to take the classes because of what they taught was contrary to her beliefs, said her father, John Fichter.

The lessons she would have heard include definitions of the terms homosexual, bisexual, transgender and homophobia," he said.

Whatever, man, if that would be so upsetting, it's easy enough to keep your kids out of the class.

There's more, you will find it interesting. They quote me near the end.

The CRC wants to pretend there's a controversy, but as you can see, even with the most intense pressure they can apply, less than one family in twenty decided against asking permission for their kid to learn this important information.

Letter in the Post

I noticed this little letter in the Washington Post this morning.
I object to the pilot curriculum being rolled out at several Montgomery County public schools ["The Wide Spectrum of Sex- Ed Courses," Metro, March 18] for the following reasons:

  • The recommendations for changes in the curriculum made by the advisory committee to the Board of Education were largely ignored.
  • The new curriculum was not written by health-care professionals.
  • There was no parental input in the writing of the curriculum.
  • Children whose parents opt out of this curriculum are being discriminated against for not participating. Students are sent to media centers to complete independent projects, with little guidance or specifics. In other words, students who opt out are not given the same level of instruction as children who remain in the sex-ed setting.
  • And the curriculum states that homosexuality is "innate" but fails to include a citation to support this statement.



Shall we? Oh, let's.

The recommendations made by the advisory committee were largely accepted. I'm on that committee, and I know. Hundreds of suggested changes were voted on by the committee, dozens were accepted by the group, and most of these ended up being adopted by the school district. Some weren't -- some of my favorite suggestions were not, for instance, and I still hold out hope that some will be adopted after we learn something from the pilot testing. But ... there simply wasn't room for everything, and not everything fit the MCPS vision for what should be taught.

The new curriculum was written by health-care professionals. A team of pediatricians recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics drafted the initial framework for the 8th and 10th grade curricula, and selected materials that they considered to be appropriate.

So far, this person's comments are one hundred eighty degrees wrong.

Regarding parental input -- the school district did not go out and ask random parents to write parts of it, this part is true. Does that ever happen? Would you want parents writing the algebra curriculum? I can hardly see this as a criticism. The curriculum was rigorously reviewed by a committee of community citizens, most of whom were parents. The information is on the Internet and easily obtained from the school district, if parents are interested. Anybody can look at it and comment.

Children who opt out -- this is a weird one. OK, you have a choice: take the class, or don't take it. If your parents sign the permission slip, then you take the class. If your parents don't sign the permission slip -- this person seems to think the schools are obligated to create something equally stimulating for them to do? No, it only means you don't take the class. You get some instructional packet to work on in the library, it's not much, but that's the choice -- take the class or don't take it. It's certainly not "discrimination" to send a kid to the library when their parents won't let them do what the other kids are doing.

The "innate" thing -- what can you say? I will address this seriously. As a researcher, I know that the only certain way to establish a causal relationship is to conduct an experiment. You manipulate an independent variable and observe changes in the dependent variable. It's really the only way to know for sure that one thing causes another.

But sometimes you can't manipulate the independent variable. You can't manipulate somebody's genes before they're born, for instance, or you can't raise them in a certain way, just to see how they turn out.

So it is impossible to prove one way or the other, what causes something like sexual orientation. The closest that science can come will be to identify mechanisms, for instance, brain structures, genetic patterns, precursors and correlates. And that research is coming along, new findings are coming out every month.

But -- listen, there are some things science doesn't really need to prove, for us to agree they are true. The fact is, everybody understands that their own sexual orientation is innate. You didn't sit down at the age of twelve or thirteen and make two lists, one titled "What I Like About Boys" and the other "What I Like About Girls," and choose one. No -- it just happened. Everybody knows this. Straight people as well as gay people all say the same thing, and there is no serious reason to doubt everybody in the world. The only people who "choose" are those who realize they are homosexual and decide, for social reasons usually, to pretend they are straight. But even for them, they are innately homosexual, they are just acting as if they weren't. Everybody knows this is true, and the argument against innateness is sophistry.

Those in the scientific and medical communities who study these things have looked at it from every angle, and have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice, it is something innate. How it develops is probably a complex topic, and there is a lot to learn about it, but respectable, mainstream experts agree it's something innate.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Ridiculous Springish Morning

This kind of morning is ridiculous. The leaves have not yet returned to the trees, so there is nothing to impede the streaming clear sunlight that reflects everywhere. This breeze is unlike those we have been having, the ones that made you pull your jacket-collar up tighter under your chin; this breeze smells like flowers, and it's just a little bit cool, blowing over the just-greening patches of grass.

Last week we were doing something up on the shelf near the ceiling in the kitchen, which is where the antenna for the radio is. It had been bugging us that when you were listening to the radio in the kitchen you had to stand in certain places, or it wouldn't come in right. It was worth doing, posing between the island and the dishwasher to get Howlin' Wolf (always pronounced "woof") singing "Smokestack Lightning" on WPFW nice and clear. But there are times you might want to move around the room, even when a great song is playing. So I was up on the stepladder, putting some pots away up there, and I added another six or seven feet of copper wire to that antenna, and now -- it doesn't matter where you stand. It comes in great. Taa-Daa.

I'm glad of that now, because here I sit, at the kitchen table, listening to some fast, arpeggiated acoustic guitar on the radio, crystal-clear and static-free, while I'm working on a nice cup of fresh coffee. Everybody else is still in bed. I just got some email from Europe overnight with a bunch of papers to review, and they want them fast, but ... first things first. I wanted to tell you about the signs the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have been carrying to protest the new sex-ed classes.

The CRC had their "big meeting" a couple of weeks ago, and they had it all organized to look nice on TV. They had made up big yellow signs that they set on easels up at the front of the room. The signs are the same as the ones they've been carrying at the schools where the pilot testing is being held.

Here's a picture I took from the back of the room when John Garza was speaking. You can see how it's set up. I see four signs in this picture, and I think that's all they had. By the way, the three closest heads you see are TTF folks. Here the picture is cropped so you can see the signs:

Left to right, they say:

  • No unisex bathrooms
  • Don't label my child
  • Health before politics, and
  • No unisex bathrooms [again]

Let me go through them. Since "No unisex bathrooms" comes twice, I'm going to address it last.

"Don't label my child" is an interesting slogan. The CRC and other antigay groups like to quote a piece of research that shows that the probability of a gay person committing suicide is negatively correlated with their age at the time of coming out, or disclosure, that is, the younger you are when you come out as gay, the more likely you are to attempt suicide. The paper is not available online (and the CRC always spells the author's name wrong, which makes it harder to find), but you can read the abstract HERE. Well, actually, the paper's available if you want to pay for it. Which to me means "not available."

Anyway, the abstract gives us what we need. It concludes:
... Subjects were 137 gay and bisexual males, 14 through 21 years of age, from the upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Forty-one subjects (41/137) reported a suicide attempt; and almost half of them described multiple attempts. Twenty-one percent of all attempts resulted in medical or psychiatric admissions. Compared with nonattempters, attempters had more feminine gender roles and adopted a bisexual or homosexual identity at younger ages. Attempters were more likely than peers to report sexual abuse, drug abuse, and arrests for misconduct. The findings parallel previous studies' results and also introduce novel suicide risk factors related to gender nonconformity and sexual milestones.

As you know, not every gay person registers the same on the gay-dar. There are people who, when you learn they're gay, you're surprised. Lots of them. You also know people who push the needle to eleven just walking down the sidewalk. These are people who would be teased as children, and who would have had to "deal with it" at an early age, probably before puberty, because it was just so obvious to themselves and everybody else that something was different about them, and they had to figure out what it was.

Nearly thirty percent of the subjects had tried to commit suicide. There's no question, this is a significant public-health issue, and a terrible tragedy every time it happens. This particular study is showing that people who register highest on the gay-dar (for want of a better way to describe this dimension) are also most likely to try to commit suicide. They're also more likely to get in trouble for other things, use drugs, etc. That's not an especially surprising phenomenon, the scientific discovery that people who, lacking any other information, might infer that they are freaks of nature and unlike anyone else who has ever lived, would tend to be out-of-control and suicidal. This study is actually a call for good, clear information, so those young people know what's happening to themselves, and so those around them understand, too, and can help them through it. If you asked me.

The CRC doesn't see it that way. Here's how they take it: disclosing that you are gay at an earlier age makes you more likely to try to kill yourself. To them, labeling causes suicide.

Their reasoning is: if the schools tell students that there are various forms of sexual identity, and tell them what some of those categories are, students may categorize themselves -- "label" themselves. This act of labeling themselves then makes them susceptible to killing themselves.

Listen, this is bizarre, but I'm not making it up. They have explained this over and over. They want you to believe that teaching some facts about sexual orientation actually increases the risk for gay students. For instance, in their "minority report" to the school board, they said:
Research is conclusive in this area: the risk of suicide decreases by 20% for each year that a young person delays homosexual or bisexual self-labeling (Remafidi et al, 1991).

See? I'm not making this up. Labeling causes suicide. In their minds. And they do spell the guy's name wrong.

The second sign says "Health before politics." This sign reflects the often-hilarious blindness to irony that has defined the political right in our time. Look, the school district has written a new section of the health curriculum. It meets a legal requirement of the state, and it addresses a significant public health issue, the tip-of-the-iceberg of which was mentioned just now. The CRC itself exists solely to oppose this curriculum for political reasons. They had representatives from the Republican Party at some of their very first meetings, urging them on, coaching them on strategy. They are the ones with the political signs. They are the tax-exempt organization that endorsed candidates in the school board elections. Them, and nobody else.

We, for instance, never said a word one way or the other about any political candidate.

These are some strange, weird and wacky times we live in. But -- this is a health class. It would never have occurred to any of us to politicize a health class. This sign is an terrific example of the karlrovian technique of "projection," which is well documented (here's Digby discussing it). You accuse your opponent of whatever it is you do. If you're George Bush, you attack your political opponent for his record in the military, you say he didn't deserve the medals he was awarded. Then you force him to play defense, while nobody looks at the fact that your own military record is in the file drawer labeled "AWOL."

So here they are saying "Health before politics," even as they send out the press releases to politicize the health classes. Sorry, guys, it's true Karl Rove has this down to an art form -- or did, his magic powder doesn't seem to make things invisible these days -- but the CRC ain't got that talent. The CRC made this "controversy" political, and everybody knows that.

The last one: "No unisex bathrooms."

Many times over the past couple of years, news stories have broken here first, on the Vigilance blog. People call us, they email us, we talk among ourselves, we hear things. This is a big one. I could hardly hold this to the end, but I did it.

I am breaking this story here first -- reporters, please give the correct attribution when you write this up, and remember, it's "org" and not "com." Okay, here we go, pencils ready: It has been learned that almost all the leaders of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have unisex bathrooms right in their own homes!

I have run this through the TTF Towers legal offices, and our team of high-powered attorneys tells me I am safe from slander charges here, since I have it on perfectly unimpeachable evidence that numerous CRC members themselves, possibly a majority of them, keep unisex bathrooms hidden within the walls of their own houses.

Let me tell you what these signs mean.

The CRC just hates the 10th-grade handouts that come from a Holt textbook, giving vignettes about some young people whose sexual identities are outside the mainstream. Hate 'em. The problem is, the vignettes make these people seem likeable, human, they make you empathize with the protagonist -- empathy is actually one of the themes of the eighth-grade classes, but the CRC hates-hates-hates that.

The CRC actually copied this page and sent it to the families at the pilot-test schools, assuming they would be so shocked that they would opt out of the testing, once they saw the truth about what was going on.

Note, these vignettes are not used in eighth grade, these are only for the tenth-graders. The CRC carries this sign outside the middle schools, too. Can you imagine driving by and seeing people protesting unisex bathrooms?

So -- the one they hate the very most. There's a vignette about a transgender student, Portia. I'll transcribe the whole thing here:
I am incredibly lucky to have such supportive parents. When I was young, I loved dressing up in pretty things and playing with dolls. My mother never made me feel ashamed. I began school feeling good about myself. Elementary school was fine, but by middle school things got pretty bad. I was made fun of, called names, shoved in the halls, and pushed down the stairs. High school was better in some ways. I had friends who stood by me, but even with their support, I was very depressed. I was supposed to be a boy, but every feeling inside told me that I was a girl. I hated myself. I knew I wanted to live as a girl, but I didn't know how people would respond. My parents and I had many long talks. When I said I couldn't go on lying, they agreed to support me. We had a meeting with the principal. I explained to her that I was transgender and that I wanted to be known as a girl and not use my birth name. I expected resistance, but the principal was incredible! She said that the staff had received LGBT training and wanted to be sensitive. She gave me a new student ID and a key to the teachers' single-stall restroom. Some of my teachers don't understand, but they're trying. I know that my experience is unique. Few transgender youths get the support that I was fortunate to receive. Hopefully, that situation is changing. I now speak about transgender concerns at schools and work with other transgender youths to help them get through some of the challenges that they face. I try to be living proof that a person can live honestly and openly.

That's it, the whole thing. The story of Portia. It's not exactly great literature, but it makes you think, just for a minute, about what that must be like. Gender identity issues are very difficult to discuss, because there are so many causes and varieties, affecting a statistically small proportion of the population, and because people who feel this way usually try to keep it to themselves. You might never in your life meet somebody who tells you they feel like this. So how would you know anything about it? Hopefully, you will spend two or three minutes in a health class learning that such a phenomenon exists and what it's called, and you might spend a minute of your life thinking about what that might be like for the person.

The CRC doesn't see the value in any of that. They read this in horror. Why, this story has a unisex bathroom in it!

It seems to me that there really are some bad things in the world. But to some of these nutty people, this is the thing that makes them spring into action, the idea that students will read a story where a character uses a "single-stall restroom."

Well, one kid is up. I have been informed that the bicycle tires have no air. They're playing some koto music on the radio, which I think sounds really cool, and I have gone through most of a pot of coffee. I have some papers to review, tires to fill, dragons to slay.

Go outside.

Friday, March 23, 2007

CRC Brags: Parents Unimpressed

The CRC is really trying to undermine the pilot testing. Here's part of a newsletter they sent out a couple of days ago:
The opt-out program is going well. We have mailed information, and town-hall postcards, to all of the schools but one (Argyle) and a significant number of parents are choosing not to let their kids participate. We also autodialed three of the schools -- Westland, Watkins Mill and Sherwood, and have picketed at Argyle, Julius West, Westland, and Watkins Mill. Our picketers have been favorably received by the parents at all the schools so far -- honks and thumbs up all around.

If you haven't signed the on-line petition yet, please do so, it is almost over 2000 signatures.

Yes, bragging about auto-dialing the schools. They are trying to get people to opt out of those classes, so they can ... I don't know what. So they can prove that scary letters and phone calls can make people opt out of a health class?

There has been some discussion about the "thumbs up." Was the actual digit possibly misperceived? <strokes_chin_while_gazing_into_the_distance>

And another thing. The petition is "almost over 2000 signatures." We note that on March 14th, they said (here in the comments) that it was "up to 1900" signatures. You know they're bustin' the emails and sending letters and stuff: that doesn't sound like they're getting signatures very fast, does it? Less than a hundred in a week.

We remember back in January 13, 2005, when they planned to get 50,000 signatures on their petitions (as revealed by their online bulletin board, found in the Google cache). At this rate, that will take, by my calculations, 9.23 years. Good luck with that. (This was the same message that proposed: 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.)

The effectiveness of their attack is demonstrated by this email by a mom on one of the schools' listserves:
Subject: Phone Call from Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum

Last night, my family received a phone call with a pre-recorded message from the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, encouraging us to "opt out" of the upcoming pilot health ("sex ed.", as the message called it) curriculum for 8th grade students at [the school]. I didn't complain last week when I received the letter from CRC. Instead, I read it and discarded it, simple. However, I strongly object to our personal information from the [school] directory being used by an outside organization to phone my home with a pre-recorded message.

In my opinion, a line has been crossed that must be addressed. It has certainly been made clear to CRC that our directory should not be used for this purpose. To me, it is an extreme arrogance that leads a group to believe its message is so important that they don't have to follow "the rules" by respecting the privacy of those who released their information for use by other families listed in that same directory, not by an organization with an agenda. Is there anything we can do to address this?

Notes to CRC: If you're trying to persuade me to your point of view, sending a pre-recorded message that is received by my 10 year old son, who happened to be the one to first hear the message last night, is not an effective strategy.

This approach is r-e-a-l-l-y working, guys -- keep it up.

Cohen, PFOX In Meltdown Mode

The Daily Show is part of the routine at our house. It comes on at eleven, and my wife and I usually watch it before we crash, for a last laugh before the day ends. We have to have the coffee made, the dog walked, the lights turned out, by eleven. Well, sometimes, eleven-thirty, for Colbert.

The other night you might have seen Richard Cohen and Wayne Besen on. Besen, I don't know, I guess that was funny. But Richard Cohen ... man, what a weirdo.

Cohen, if you don't know, claims to be "ex-gay," and practices a kind of unlicensed psychotherapy that he claims changes people from gay to straight. But, you look at him, and -- what can you say? The best part, I thought, was throwing the football at the end.

Cohen has been banned for life from the American Counseling Association for ethical violations. He's an ex-Moonie who was president of PFOX -- the anti-gay group that joined in the lawsuit against our county in 2005, and in the appeal to the state this year -- but his name seems to have disappeared from their literature (though his web site still lists him as an "advisory board member" for PFOX). He has sat in the Montgomery County boardroom and addressed our school board, trying to get "ex-gays" added to our kids' curriculum. He lives in Bowie.

In reality he's a laughingstock. He has been on several TV shows this past year, where they made fun of him and made him look like an idiot. Well, they didn't really do anything but invite him on, he did the rest. His counseling business is essentially a sham, his techniques are bizarre and self-serving (he likes to hug and cuddle with men who are trying not to be gay, as he is). Warren Throckmorton did some digging after the Daily Show, where Cohen claimed to be a "Certified Sexual Reorientation Coach," and found that Cohen is "the lead certifier and, at present, probably the only CSRC in the world."

Now a prominent "ex-gay" spokesman is coming unglued. Pam's House Blend had it:
Yipes. Is there a catfight? After "conversion therapist" Richard Cohen's embarrassing, clownish appearance on The Daily Show demonstrating his techniques on how he frees men from homosexuality ..., Exodus International's Randy Thomas couldn't take it any more. He had to unload on Cohen for making the movement look bad.

She goes on to quote Thomas, who said:
Richard is not the foremost of anything except making a spectacle of himself and completely misrepresenting the larger "ex-gay" movement. He is not a part of Exodus and apparently not willing to take our private feedback and accountability to heart.

So, if he is willing to allow "ex-gays" to continue to be circus show fodder for those who mock our sincere beliefs, he deserves the public denouncement this post brings.


By the way, note that Exodus puts "ex-gay" in quotes.

Then, yesterday, gay-converting shrink Warren Throckmorton posted a letter by Cohen to ... the world, basically, apologizing for being a buffoon. Part of the letter said:
I would like to address the questions that some friends have expressed in regard to some of the media appearances I've done recently, including Jimmy Kimmel Live, Paula Zahn Now, The Montel Show, and this week's Jon Stewart's The Daily Show on Comedy Central.

I've chosen to do interviews on shows such as these in an effort to reach people who would normally never hear our message. Some of these shows have mocked me and this work. Most times though, the interviews on these and other shows have turned out in our favor. I have had wonderful opportunities to get the truth out clearly and have seen many people respond because of these interviews, seeking out healing and change through various PATH (Positive Alternatives To Homosexuality) organizations.


This week's interview on The Daily Show was difficult. It took place in my home and office, and was the most degrading experience I've had in the media. I unknowingly allowed myself to be manipulated and coerced by the producer and the host. I take full responsibility for this mistake. I have learned since my interview with The Daily Show that this program treats most of the experts they interview the same way they treated me: taking bits and pieces of the interview, re-edit it out of order, and make the interviewee appear foolish.

Happily, regular Daily Show viewers-which I am not-are in on the gag and know that this is the way the show generates laughs. I have learned well from this experience to better research future interview opportunities and to be more discerning about the offers that I accept, and what therapeutic approaches I demonstrate on the air. I sincerely apologize if my decision to be on this and other interview programs has caused you any hurt or harm. Please forgive me.

Read the rest if you're interested.

Meanwhile, one of the leaders of the "ex-gay" movement, Alan Chambers, had joined up with PFOX (stands for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays). ExGay Watch has it:
One of the conditions of this arrangement was that PFOX remove all ties with Richard Cohen, the unlicensed, self described "psychotherapist and educator," and director of the International Healing Foundation. Cohen has received notoriety for frequently appearing on TV, sometimes in venues one might find questionable (Howard Stern?) for someone claiming to be able to "heal homosexuality."

To date PFOX remains deeply entrenched in Cohen's questionable ideology, and Cohen's own site lists him as "an advisory board member of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX)." Citing this, and a heavy work schedule of his own, Alan Chambers has informed us that he has resigned from the board of PFOX and is no longer associated with their operation. Exodus President Alan Chambers Resigns from PFOX Board

Also, they note that Chambers' organization, Exodus International, has posted this statement:
Exodus International does not endorse the work of Richard Cohen or the methods utilized in his practice. Some of the techniques Mr. Cohen employs could be detrimental to an individual's understanding of healthy relational boundaries and disruptive to the psychological and emotional development of men and women seeking clinical counsel and aid.

Now ... let me say something.

Our county, Montgomery County, Maryland, has been under attack by a loose band of ignoramuses or ignorami, depending on how proper your Latin is, who do and say anything to make gay people look bad, and to try to stop the schools' attempt to teach some factual information about sexual orientation.

That band of anti-gay radicals identifies itself with several larger groups. Well, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum is just a couple of people, but nowadays they are joined by a Mormon group called Family Leader Network or something, and -- PFOX.

I never knew anything about this stuff before, so the past couple of years have been a real education for me. One thing is, I have met and talked to a pretty wide range of people who are gay and grew up in really strict Christian religions that do not approve of homosexuality. I actually sympathize with them. When I read thoughtful web sites like Box Turtle Bulletin and ExGay Watch, I see that these guys are really trapped, they really don't know how to resolve the dilemma. Why do God and Nature pull in opposite ways for them, but not for everybody else? Jesus went into the desert for forty days of temptation and fighting the devil, but the trials last a lifetime for these people. They feel forsaken, and yet, they are brave enough to face who they are and how they feel and try to reconcile their feelings with their faith.

I think some of the organizations really try to support these poor souls and help them meet the demands of their church. I personally would not choose that, but it's there if they want it, and some do. I don't understand, exactly, but it looks to me like some of them are sincere.

PFOX isn't like that. The executive director of PFOX has a gay son and PFOX represents the institutionalization of her state of denial; the organization's desperate goal is to force the rest of the world to play along with the pipe-dream that gay people can magically become straight. PFOX insists that gay people can change, that they should change, and they pretend that there are thousands -- sometimes they say tens of thousands -- of formerly gay people who have completely changed their sexual orientation. I have called this a "cruel hoax," and I stand by that.

You grow up, you find that nature has made you attracted to your own sex, you belong to a church that doesn't approve of that: what do you do? Personally, I'd be shopping for a new church. But if you've grown up with those beliefs, those values, belief in that God who doesn't approve of you, it is not that simple. PFOX holds out the hope that they can just stop having those feelings, and that's not right.

Richard Cohen is a huckster, and PFOX is a pathological case. These people have no place telling anybody what should be taught in school. The other ministries put up with them for quite a while, and it sounds like they even tried to help them out, but now PFOX is on their own. They're exposed as a bunch of nuts, and the serious ones have abandoned them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Good Morning America Transcript

Good Morning America has this morning's story online, written up like a news story HERE. Watch (most of) the video HERE.

Here's the transcript of this morning's show about the Montgomery County sex-ed controversy, verbatim.
Transcript - Good Morning America, March 22, 2007

"A Whole New Sex Ed: Do you know what's being taught?"

Robin Roberts: ....those grainy sex education films. They're a thing of the past replaced with a new kind of sex ed class. Birds and bees are getting a new makeover. Not everyone is happy with it. Parenting contributor, Anne Pleshette Murphy, has the story.

Murphy: Today's children grow up inundated with messages about sex. From the Internet to television, children see, hear and learn more than ever. But what are they learning in the classroom?

Sex education in schools has sparked controversy since it's inception. How should it be taught, what should be taught? The question today - should sexual orientation be part of a sex ed curriculum?

Monica Rodriguez, SEICUS: Young people are growing up in a world where sexual orientation isn't as big of a taboo topic as it used to be for many people of different generations.

Murphy: Earlier this month, several schools in Montgomery County, Maryland launched a pilot program for 8th and 10th grade health classes that includes references to sexual orientation, homophobia, and transexuality. Some parents are outraged.

Michelle Turner: Starting at the 8th grade level, we are concerned about the ability of these 12 and 13 year olds to be able to fully grasp what is being presented to them.

Murphy: Michelle Turner co-founded Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum in late 2004 when the Montgomery school board first introduced sexual orientation into the classroom. She says the curriculum is factually inaccurate. Fellow Montgomery resident and father Jim Kennedy disagrees.

Jim Kennedy: Some people think that you can just not mention something and it will just go away.

Murphy: Kennedy and others strongly believe the program will help promote tolerance among students.

Dr. Justin Richardson, Psychiatrist: Well I think that given that some of these children who are sitting in these classes are going to grow up to be gay, I think that schools do have a responsibility to try to help those kids come to terms with themselves and their sexual orientation.

Murphy: Dr. Justin Richardson who's written on the subject of sex education is not surprised by the controversy this program is causing.

Dr. Richardson: Parents will continue to have a concern about what their child's sexual orientation is going to be. It's something that's out of their control and I think some parents at some level realize this and so they're naturally concerned about what are the other influences that may affect their child's sexual orientation.

Murphy: Currently there are at least seven states prohibiting a positive portrayal of homosexuality in schools. But sex education varies state to state and the actual curriculum is often decided by individual school districts. In Montgomery County, the debate rages on.

Turner: The schools, in teaching this curriculum are imposing their own moral rightness under the guise of tolerance in telling students that they have to accept individuals who are making choices that...that many kids have been taught are wrong or inappropriate.

Kennedy: I think for everyone to be more educated about this topic is a good idea. But it's not about....this is not a gay rights issue to me. This is about truth in education.

Roberts: And now our parenting contributor Anne Pleshette Murphy. Annie, sex education has been around for years. We all know about that. The controversy now seems to be about teaching children about sexual orientation. Parents, a lot of parents are concerned about this.

Murphy: Yes, they are but 93% of parents approve of sex ed being taught at schools and 73% of them think homosexuality and sexual orientation should be part of the curriculum. So it's gaining acceptance to put it mildly. But if you are worried about it, check out the curriculum. You have that option. You also have the option to opt out. You can Montgomery County they do not need to participate; they don't have to. So you can choose to opt out and the other thing is, in my opinion, it's much more important to check out the messages they're getting on-line, in the media, in movies and use those, you know opportunities as a teachable moment. You know, to share your values. That's where it gets shaped in the family, not at school.

Roberts: It's been shown that what kids learn at home is so invaluable. It really goes a long way.

Murphy: Absolutely and parents are the most important teachers, particularly when it comes to sex.

Roberts: All right. Thanks so much.

A Personal Petition

We have a petition on our web site that you can fill out, and copies go to us and to the Montgomery County school board. (Click on "Take Action" in the upper righthand corner of this page.) You can edit the text if you want, though most people don't.

A couple of days ago somebody submitted a petition, and they added a really nice message to it. I am taking off their name, because I didn't ask them if I could use this, but once it's speeding through the tubes of the Internets, once it's been emailed to the school board, it's public domain. And actually, I don't think they'll mind.
Dear MCPS Board of Education:

I attended Montgomery County Public Schools from the age of 5 to 16. From Southlake Elementary, to Stedwick Elementary, to Montgomery Village Jr. High, to Gaithersburg High School. In fact, my father worked the majority of his career in MCPS. I was in the gifted-and-talented and honors courses for a large part of my MCPS education. But for years, I continued to believe I belonged in an asylum. For years, I held a deep dark secret that I could not come to terms with. From the age of 4 or 5, I knew I was different than other girls.

While I tried to temper the fact I had kissed my best friend in second grade, or I was in love with my third grade teacher, or I had a huge crush on a girl in 4th grade...while I tried to temper that by trying to have crushes on boys, it only led me into a deep dark depression that started as early as 5th grade and continued through 10th grade, when I finally chose to interrupt my fall towards suicide by quitting high school.

Whether it's nurture or nature, it doesn't really matter. I know if there were accurate information in the schools, if I had had LGBTQ role models, if information were presented in 5th grade and 8th grade sex education to isolate gender role/sex assignment, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression, cultural indications of masculine and feminine - I may not have hated myself so much. It wasn’t until I was twenty-three and I finally came out that I finally understood where my pain came from.

I urge you to consider the LGBTQ students and children, and for their sake, vote to have a broad sex education curriculum. We, LGBTQ children whose adolescence is broken from society's rejection, do not ask for such animosity to be showered upon us. Religious beliefs have no place in the educational system. It was difficult enough, as a Hindu, to deal with having to say 'one nation under God' when we were required to do the pledge of allegiance, but to present the intolerant views of religious fundamentalists is unconstitutional and detrimental to the psyches of children.

While students whose religious beliefs prohibit them from accepting homosexuality have that right, they are not directly harmed by the presentation of the facts, that people like me exist. But if you fail to have a curriculum that acknowledges our existence, you will harm students like me directly. What you communicate by not including accurate information in the curriculum and mixing religion (neither proven or refutable), science (testable hypothesis), and/or putting them side-by-side as if they have equal merit is to only support bigotry and intolerance, and promote bullying and hateful acts against children who are or are perceived to be different ...

The usual petition text follows.

See, in one way, this is what it's all about. This poor girl did not know what was going on. Your parents don't prepare you to be a lesbian, they're as surprised, and probably just as ignorant, as anybody. It can't be wrong to give middle and high school kids a heads up -- some people feel different, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. She talks about feeling suicidal, living a fake life, trying to have crushes on boys, feeling like she must be mentally ill. It is not that hard to send a lifeline to a kid like that.

This is one strong case, out of several, for giving good, honest information about sexual orientation. The Nutty Ones will claim that the classes "promote" homosexuality, as if it was something you caught by being exposed to it. But you know that's not correct; some people are just that way, innately. Here's a concrete example, as clear as can be. I don't see any reason for the school district to promote denial as the alternative.

These classes are objective, they're low-key, they stick to the facts. Here's how some people are, no need to judge or hate or fear.

Oh, the CRC hates those vignettes! They sent them to all the families at the pilot-test schools, as if it were some scary thing. Imagine, first-person accounts of what it's like growing up gay, or transgender, imagine the horror of seeing what that's like! Imagine empathizing with those people!

Naw, it's time to get over it. The person who wrote this petition statement is very eloquent; we should be remembering these students who are in the classrooms right now, suffering, confused, needing knowledge.

Good Morning

I'd have to say that Good Morning America gave a fair enough presentation this morning, even if there were still piles of debris visible in the background while I typed at the computer. Well, I call those "stacks of paper," or sometimes, "work." Also, you couldn't tell, but that laptop was not connected to the Internet, for some reason the wireless wasn't working. I was writing stuff in Notepad like, "Herre I acm typpping stff with tehe camrea poidnted st me, tryign not to uuse te bckspace kkey so it dosnt' look likke Im mmaking a lllot of misakes." Yeah, I was going fast, too. America should have been impressed.

Before the show came on, they had a couple of teasers that gave me the uh-oh feeling. Some lady (I never watch this show, I don't know one of them from the other) said something like, "Sex-ed -- has it crossed over the line a little bit?" Then the usual stay-tuned stuff. And I was thinking, oh great, I spent a whole night talking to these guys so they could make a big point about Sex Ed Gone Wild.

Then Diane Sawyer came on to introduce the piece (her I do recognize from somewhere, did she used to be on a different show?), and she took the same angle: "Sex ed. Your child's education. Do you really know what they're being taught?"

And I'm thinking I'd better turn this off now. Because, look, it's no secret what they're being taught. The school district has it on their web site, we have it on our web site, the CRC has it somewhere on their web site. The teachers are supposed to pretty much read the script word for word, so what you see there is what is taught.

And when the story started, there was the banner thing at the bottom of the screen saying, "A whole new sex ed -- Do you know what is being taught?"

Like it was some big secret or something, like parents are going to be shocked to find out what's going on.

But then the story was fine. Michelle Turner said her regular thing, I said mine, a psychiatrist said something, they showed some statistics. Most people in the country agree with Teach the Facts. OK, we knew that, and we know the proportion is much greater in Montgomery County than in most places.

Anyway, the interviews were good enough. They showed the usual school hallway scenes, a couple of shots of the CRC's meeting a couple of weeks ago, with their big yellow signs.

I think that viewers of the show can look at that story and know what side they're on. I doubt that we changed anybody's mind.

The producer had called me the night before to tell me when it would be on. I think it's interesting how they do this. They have an idea for a story, they send out some camera crews to the usual suspects and get some tape of people talking, and then they sit in New York and put together a script, stringing statements from the tapes together with narrative in-between. When I talked to her, eight or nine o'clock the night before, they still hadn't actually put the show together. She said she had been working on the script. So it's like "found art," but on a big budget, put together in real time, and real fast. I respect what those people have to do (even though I do not accept that the reality on TV has anything to do with "reality"). They work under a lot of pressure -- this sort of thing could really blow up in your face, but they make something of it.

It looked to me like there was a disconnect between two levels of producers. The higher-up guys assigned a story about shocking changes in education that will just now be revealed to parents for the first time, and the in-the-trenches people saw the tapes, saw that there is a real issue here, saw what was going on, and put together a show that was closer to the truth.

I understand somebody got it on tape, and we ought to have a transcript at some point, maybe today. It went by pretty fast, I didn't exactly memorize it. They didn't use the really stupid stuff I said, and they cut out all the stammering and cussing. Just joking, I didn't stammer.

You talk to the camera for like a half hour, and then they use ten seconds of it. That's TV.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mid-Testing Update

Things seems quiet right now, but there's a lot going on in Montgomery County. The schools are in the middle of pilot testing the new health classes, with the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum trying as hard as they can to disrupt it. They have sent letters to the families at the schools, telling them not to sign the permission slips. They have been robo-calling people at home with messages trying to undermine the school district. At one school -- I don't know about others -- they stood out front with signs, until school staff kicked them out. Three people, out in the cold, holding yellow signs with irrelevant messages on them ("No Unisex Bathrooms!"), doing what they can to make it harder for the schools to test their new materials.

The first school to start testing was Argyle Middle School, and it does sound like they were stealthy about it. They caught the CRC off guard, and started testing before these fine taxpayers, who only want the best for our kids, could interfere. Of three reports I've heard, two people said that nobody opted out at Argyle, and one report said there was one. So, between zero and one students' parents refused to sign the permission slip, when there was no pressure from the CRC, who stand for morality and goodness.

Rumor has it that nine students opted out at Julius West, and nine at Watkins Mill. Plus, a lot of Watkins Mill students forgot to bring in their permission slips, which is different. Well, it's a high school, and the others are middle schools. High school kids are not too good about showing their parents what's in their backpacks, at least in my experience.

So I imagine the letters and phone calls are having their effect. Nine kids, that's a lot for one school. If there are two classes, that might even be fifteen percent, fifteen times higher than usual. That would be solid evidence that scary, misleading letters and phone calls can work. It doesn't say anything about the curriculum, though.

The CRC thinks the best thing for our community would be if people boycott the testing, so the school district won't be able to assess whether the new sex-ed program is going to work or not, and so they can't tell if there is anything that could be improved in it. I don't know if this will work for them or not. What is that like, do you think, having people writing you letters and calling you on the phone, telling you scary things about the new classes? I know how I'd react. Call me dumb, or stubborn, I get it from my old man.

I really think it's rotten for them to use the PTA directories to call people. Last time around, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs met and drafted a resolution telling the CRC not to use the school directories for their stupid letter-writing campaigns. Plus, every directory has a message on it, saying that it is not to be used for that sort of thing. Somehow everybody else figures out how to play by the rules, but of course the CRC's mission is so important that it transcends silly stuff like rules.

This year it wasn't just letters (which it sounds like they have sent a lot of). This time they're also calling people at home. The whole point is to wreck the pilot testing, because they care so much about our community.

To me, this is a kind of test of the effectiveness of the PTA, both at the school level and at the county and state levels. If they want to just sell cookies to buy band uniforms, well, fine, schools still need that. But if they are really going to provide meaningful support for the parents, teachers, staff, and students, then they have to show us right now that they can move into action. Oh, they can meet and pass resolutions, we've seen what that gets you. I don't mean that.

And so the CRC keeps pushing it. This little band of whiners -- I mean, parents and citizens who know better than the rest of us -- is working as hard as they can to cause confusion while the school district is trying to develop and implement a new curriculum. Their hatred for homosexuality overrides everything else, and they don't care what they have to do to ensure that students are denied a fair and objective lesson on the subject.

Taping At Home

So here's the phone conversation with my wife yesterday:

Her: I won't be home after work, I have to go shopping for the thing Saturday.

Me: Yeah, OK. I'll send the kids to Chipotle, no problem. When will you be home, do you think?

Her: I don't know, I hate shopping, I'll probably get fed up after a couple of hours.

Me: OK, I'll see you then. Oh, by the way, Good Morning America is sending a camera crew to our house tonight.

I'll tell you: that cheered her up.

Mmm, no, not really.

When they do one of these shows, they go fast. Apparently somebody saw the story in the Post the other day about sex-ed in different cities and states, and thought that would make a cool topic for their TV show. I thought it was a good topic, too, I didn't know what other places did.

So yesterday I got a couple of emails and then a phone call. Nothing too clear, they're doing this show, needed a parent, I came to mind. Funny, I felt like I had to almost apologise for not having a gay kid -- that would've made it better, they thought. At first. But then they started thinking about it, and decided that might actually be better -- Straight Guy With Straight Family Fights for Gay Rights. Man Bites Dog, absolutely.

They weren't sure when the camera crew could come. They had another interview to do, and then the President was speaking or something, and they didn't know if the crew they wanted would have to go to that. You know, this happens every day, people have to choose whether to visit me or the President of the United States.

The guys showed up about nine thirty. Two guys in a van. I had run around when I got home, sucking up the dust bunnies and moving piles of debris so we could have a camera shot without stacks of junk in the background. I figured either the kitchen table, or the little sofa in the living room.

These guys came in and sort of took over the house, striding from room to room, eyeballing the layout. They decided on the living room, but didn't like the sofa. It turned out we don't have the right kind of chairs. I told them, "If I knew you were coming I would've run out and bought the right kind of furniture."

We ended up bringing in the two wrought-iron chairs from the front yard, plopping them right in the middle of the living room.

First thing they say: "Do you have a speaker-phone?" I guess my cell phone has a little speaker on it, but ... Turned out they had something we could use.

Then a crisis: my living-room electrical outlets are ungrounded. Two prongs. Well, it works OK for Christmas-tree lights, which is about the only time we plug anything in there. I found a couple of adapters, and they found outlets in other rooms they could reach, and eventually they had the living room totally filled up with lights on tripods, shining all different directions.

The one guy said he'd been fishing all day, so we talked about that a little bit. He was talking about shad, which ... I don't think we have in Arizona, at least I never heard of them, growing up. The other guy was from Iowa, and he didn't know about shad, either. Must be an East Coast thing. Anyway, this guy was fishing for bass on a farm pond, and the water's still too cold. We all agreed that it was still way worth doing, even if the fish weren't biting.

I guess it took about a half hour to set it all up. These guys were like a regular Laurel and Hardy. What? Huh? Never mind, ask your parents who that was, or your grandparents. They made jokes about each other and gave each other a hard time, like guys do everywhere when they have to work together all day. It looks like one does video and the other one does audio, but really it takes two people to set it all up. Like, one sits in the chair while the other one arranges the lighting, with a bunch of lights at different angles, this big round reflector, a giant floodlight on a pole with a kind of venetian-blind thing that directs the light on the person being interviewed but leaves the rest of the room mostly dark. Stuff kept shifting, and they were adjusting this and that, helping each other out. At one point they put a dimmer on the table-lamp, and then took it out again, I think because it was making a noise in the microphone.

Then they got the producer on the phone. She interviewed me from New York, over a cell phone. The first question, I swear, I gave her a great answer. It was classic, I was funny, articulate, threw in some highly-detailed facts, smiled handsomely ... and they said I was talking too loud and looking in the wrong place. See, the lady is on the phone, and you want to speak loudly because of that, but I was wearing a lapel mike, so I didn't need to.

And the hardest thing. The sound guy is sitting in the chair facing me, holding the phone, and I'm supposed to look at him, like I'm talking to him. So the lady on the phone asks me a question, and I answer this other guy. It seems that it's especially bad if I look right at the camera, which is behind his shoulder, they really didn't like me to do that. Now and then the guy in the chair would nod or point to his face, to remind me to talk to him. Do you know how weird that is, when somebody asks you a question and you answer somebody else?

Anyway, I hate this. I am not a made-for-TV kind of guy. TV is all about appearances. The world is a two-dimensional screen, and the meaning of a thing is what it looks like. Sorry, but I don't do that well with that. Like, once there was a noise while I was saying something, and they said, "OK, say that again." Can you do that? I think they'll probably try to salvage the first one.

Of course I had some things ahead of time that I wanted to say, and naturally I forgot. Like I said. Sometimes I see these politicians on TV, and they give the same answer, no matter what the question was, because they understand how TV works. Nobody quotes the question afterwards, they only quote the answer. So if they ask you about global warming and you answer about the economy, the next day everybody will be talking about what you said about the economy. See, I can't do that. Let's say, that's one reason I'd never make it as a politician. Not the only reason, just one.

Afterwards the guys took their time winding up their cords. We showed them my daughter's paintings, and they talked about their kids. And of course the guy from Iowa had to talk to my wife, who's also from Iowa, and they talked about these little towns that they both knew -- the technical college there, the fountain in the middle of town, stuff like that. The other guy made a couple of jokes about the secret Hawkeye handshake, because those two were off in a world of their own.

We have these little white fences in our doorways to keep the dog out of certain rooms, so the cats can have some peace, mostly. At first the fences were about a foot and a half high, but after a while I sawed down to about six inches. The dog never figured out that he could step over it. Now we just lay the fence down in the doorway, flat. He could walk right across it, but he won't. The camera guys thought that was pretty funny.

It was about eleven thirty when they left. They said they had another job at five in the morning. I don't know if I'm going to watch this show, I usually just break out in a sweat when I see myself on TV. I have what they call "a face for radio." Well, whatever, you do what you have to do.