PFLAG/RYA Letter to School Board About PFOX
Metro DC Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Rainbow Youth Alliance (RYA) sent this letter this week to the Montgomery County Public Schools' Board of Education.
The Honorable Patricia O'Neill, President
Mongtomery County Board of Education
Montgomery County Public Schools
850 Hungerford Drive
Rockville, Maryland 20850
Re: Flyer distribution by PFOX
Dear President O’Neill:
Fliers from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) recently were distributed to Montgomery County high school students. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/04/AR2010020404535.html) (“Potomac high-schoolers get note saying therapy can turn gays straight”). These fliers (a copy of which is attached) were distributed in accordance with official MCPS policy, which was modified to be consistent with the decision in Child Evangelism Fellowship v. MCPS, 457 F.3d 376 (4th Cir. 2006). The PFOX fliers tell students that gay people can become straight through "therapies.” We know that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held, in Child Evangelism Fellowship, that the MCPS flyer distribution program was a "quasi public forum," as to which there could be no "viewpoint" discrimination.
But, if MCPS wishes to continue the distribution program in its high schools, does Child Evangelism Fellowship require MCPS to distribute fliers that advocate doctrines relating to health that are in direct conflict with the consensus of the mainstream medical and mental health community? Alternatively, if the United States Constitution requires allowing the PFOX distribution in the event that MCPS maintains a distribution program for MCPS high schools, would it be better public policy to terminate the high school distribution program altogether?
The Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) asks this second question, even though PFLAG has itself utilized the program since 2006, and plans to distribute its own fliers (in conjunction with the Rainbow Youth Alliance) this coming April. (A copy of that flyer is attached). It is imperative that the dangerous assertions set forth by PFOX not be distributed under MCPS auspices. By asserting that people can decide to change their sexual orientation, PFOX promotes a doctrine that has been discredited by every American mainstream medical and mental health professional association. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in a report available at http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;113/6/1827, states that the American Psychiatric Association has found that "homosexuality [is] . . . not a mental disorder." The AAP further concludes that “sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual," nor is it something "that voluntarily can be changed." Indeed, the American Medical Association explicitly opposes “therapies” based on the incorrect premise that gay people are ill or that they should change their sexual orientation. See AMA Policy Number H-160.991 Health Care Needs of the Homosexual Population, available at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/14754.html.
In fact, MCPS itself provides as a resource for pupil personnel workers the American Psychological Association's Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel. This publication was developed expressly for school personnel and is endorsed by 13 other organizations, including the American School Counselors Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the AAP. It explicitly states that "the nation's leading professional medical, health, and mental health organizations do not support efforts to change young people's sexual orientation through therapy and have raised serious concerns about the potential harm from such efforts." http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/just-the-facts.pdf at pp. 8 and 9.
PFOX is not a benign organization; the contrary is the case. One of its board members is Peter Sprigg, who served as a representative of PFOX on the Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development from 2007 to 2009. Just a few weeks ago, on February 2, 2010, Mr. Sprigg stated, on MSNBC's Hardball program, that he advocates the criminalization of “gay behavior”: At the end of discussion on the inclusion of gays in the military (specifically, at the 8 minute, 38 second mark) (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alvin-mcewen/frcs-peter-sprigg-support_b_446854.html ), Mr. Sprigg was asked by host Chris Mathews if "gay behavior" should be outlawed. Mr. Sprigg responded that "I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior." Then Mr. Mathews, presumably to make certain that Mr. Sprigg understood what he had just said, asked, "So we should outlaw gay behavior?" Mr. Sprigg replied, "Yes."
It may be regrettable that Mr. Sprigg currently is one of 15 members on the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, whose responsibilities include the review of materials for health classes that may address matters of sexual orientation. (We recognize that none of the appointments made in 2009 were based on organizational affiliation.) But it is far worse than regrettable for his views and those of the organization he represents to be propagated under MCPS auspices. While we are fully aware of the fliers’ mandated disclaimer (which is in small, fine print at the bottom of the PFOX flyer), we have heard enough complaints regarding the unnecessary hurtfulness of the PFOX fliers that we strongly believe the fliers have no legitimate place in MCPS.
Moreover, the history of negative mental health outcomes from such “therapies” could open up MCPS to legal liability. For example, suppose a 14-year old ninth grader, who recognizes he is gay but is under enormous peer and other pressure to be straight, receives the flyer and as a consequence seeks out a therapy endorsed by PFOX? The student may not know that the promoted therapy has been deemed dangerous by the AMA. As the therapy fails to change his feelings, he becomes more and more depressed, leading to suicide. See Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf, at p. 42 (“attempts to change sexual orientation may cause or excerbate stress and poor mental health in some individuals, including depression and suicidal thoughts”). Would there be a wrongful death lawsuit that could succeed against MCPS, particularly since MCPS is already in possession of the information discussing the dangers? It is not at all clear that the required disclaimer on the flyer would insulate MCPS from such liability.
Whether MCPS may, consistent with the Child Evangelism Fellowship decision, bar the PFOX fliers without eliminating the flyer distribution program in the high schools altogether may be an open question. But what is not an open question is that PFOX promotes medically discredited therapies that are dangerous to children's health.
We stand ready to work with the Board of Education and MCPS to find ways to deal with this threat to students’ well-being.
David S. Fishback
Advocacy Chair, Metro DC PFLAG
Co-founder, Rainbow Youth Alliance
Secretary, Metro DC PFLAG