Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reaction to Gansler's Decision

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler yesterday finally ruled that Maryland recognizes same-sex marriages from other states. That doesn't mean you can get married in Maryland, but if you get married somewhere else it's legal here.

Of course the reaction goes both ways. The Washington Post blog summarizes the situation. They quote the Baltimore Sun:
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler on Wednesday morning released a long-awaited opinion saying same-sex marriages performed in other states could be recognized by Maryland's legal system.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Democrat, asked in May asked if such marriages could be recognized. "The answer to that question is clearly 'yes,'" Gansler wrote in a 40-page document.

The opinion does not enable same-sex couples to wed here. It also does not carry the weight of law, but is meant to guide judges and state agencies.

"What we say in this opinion is a prediction, not a prescription" as to how a court would interpret the law, Gansler wrote. Same-sex marriage opinion quickly draws fire, praise

So now it's just a matter of waiting to see how long it takes for a case to come to court. There are lots of same-sex couples in Maryland who have married in other states and consider themselves to be married, but their relationship has not been recognized legally.

There is a bill in the legislature that would negate this ruling. A Baltimore Democrat, Norman Stone, introduced it.
Stone said he's concerned that with Washington, D.C., set to begin permitting the unions next month, Maryland couples will simply marry there and then continue living here. Stone believes that if people "strongly believe in same-sex marriages, they should go live in those states" that allow it. A hearing on his bill is set for next week.

Wow, wouldn't that be terrible if people who love one another were allowed to marry? They'd better patch up this loophole real fast!

The Post blog also notes that Don Dwyer is against it. We know Dwyer from his rabid speech to the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum's 2005 "hate fest" at Johns Hopkins' Rockville campus. He came to our county to crusade against a fair and objective sex-ed curriculum here.
We understand that Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican, is so dismayed that he's seeking Gansler's impeachment. Other lawmakers say it's now more important than ever for the legislature to decisively weigh in on the matter.

That would be the way they think, impeach the Attorney General for making a difficult decision that they don't agree with.
Meanwhile, supporters of same-sex marriages are again pursuing legislation that would allow those unions to be performed in this state. The bill has broad support, particularly among members of the House Judiciary Committee, which will consider it March 12. But legislative leaders doubt the effort will make it through both chambers.

Many, including Equality Maryland, praised Gansler's opinion. Freedom to Marry also has kind words for Gansler.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, said he had not reviewed Gansler's opinion but reiterated his stance that same-sex couples should be permitted civil unions. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, said he personally believes that marriages should be between a man and a woman but said that as a lawyer, he understands the basis of Gansler's opinion.

"I believe the state must give full faith and credit to the laws of our sister states," Miller said.

[Del. Emmett] Burns [who opposes same-sex marriage] said he expetcs Maryland voters to one day decide for themselves whether the state should allow same-sex marriages.

"It is going to end up on referendum, and I am going to win," he said.

Weird that they want a referendum to decide this civil rights matter. The nutty right wants to impose the norms of the majority on everybody. Except in Congress.

Well, clearly this is not finished. It is an important ruling, and it will certainly be tested in court, where an important factor will be the luck of the draw -- what judge you get. It does seem though that a state is obligated to respect the laws of another state, and it is patently absurd to tell a couple that they are married in this place but not in that one.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Showernut Ugliness Continues

Somebody forwarded a newsletter to me from the group that now apparently calls itself Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government. The email came from their president Ruth Jacobs, and the subject line was:

Here's the meat of the email.

There was a terrible rape on the Takoma campus of Montgomery College in January. A guy crawled into the stall of a ladies restroom in a quiet building and attacked a student for an hour. It was a terrible crime, and the college community was shocked by it.

Dr. Ruth Jacobs and her group want you to believe that that rape had something to do with the Montgomery County Council unanimously passing a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment and other things.

This is evil, people, this is hate in its purest form. The rapist was not transgender, nor did he pretend to be. He went into the women's restroom to attack somebody, he didn't go in disguised as a woman or justifying his presence there by claiming to be transgender. He is a violent criminal who went into the restroom to commit a crime.

Yet Ruth Jacobs and her group hate transgender people so much that they will use this horrible crime to justify discrimination against them.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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 (“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;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

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." 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) ( ), 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,, 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
Olney, Maryland

Stephanie Kreps
Co-founder, Rainbow Youth Alliance
Secretary, Metro DC PFLAG
Gaithersburg, Maryland

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Local Connections to the Uganda Kill-the-Gays Law

I don't think we have talked at all here about the anti-homosexuality law that is being considered in Uganda. That's mostly because it's, well, it's Uganda, it's halfway around the world. But it does affect us, what's happening over there even has several connections to our Montgomery County and our public school district.

Uganda is considering a law that will make homosexuality a capital offense. The effort seems to have backing from some American groups -- you should see World Net Daily's video HERE. (I especially love the grand finale: "Like the great Doctor King told us, the moral arm of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Ugandans, stay on the right side of history.")

Surprisingly, there are several connections between what is going on in Uganda and goings-on in our public school district. Former PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays) president Richard Cohen sent his staffer Caleb Lee Brundidge to Uganda to attend a conference to plan and promote the kill-the-gays law. Cohen's book is widely quoted by the leaders of the Ugandan anti-gay campaign -- Cohen is a Marylander from PG County who has been involved in our county's sex-education curriculum development, speaking to the MCPS Board of Education in 2005, when he was president of PFOX. Watch Rachel Maddow spell out the connection between Cohen and the Uganda campaign, and give him a chance to explain himself, HERE and HERE. Cohen is no longer president of PFOX, but PFOX still refers people to him for counseling and promotes his events.

The Montgomery County School District sends PFOX literature home with schoolchildren four times a year, and has appointed a PFOX board member who believes homosexual behavior should be criminalized to his third term on the citizens committee that advises the district on sex-ed policies.

A therapist for Cohen's organization, Caleb Lee Brundidge, was one of three Americans who addressed the recent anti-gay Family Life Network conference in Uganda (listen to him HERE). He had previously addressed our Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education in 2005, under the name Lee B. Brundidge, in order to influence the school district's decisions regarding classes on sexual orientation. He told the board, "I am here to tell you that ex-gay people exist, and I am one of them." Richard Cohen's International Healing Foundation's "therapists" page says (HERE) that Brundidge had moved from Atlanta, Georgia to New Jersey, then to Maryland, and on to Phoenix, Arizona. Most news accounts describe him as living in Phoenix.

Even as American bigots are motivating and supporting the Ugandans in making homosexuality a capital crime, the movement in Uganda seems to be encouraging American bigots. I don't think it is coincidental that MCPS sex-ed adviser and MoCo resident Peter Sprigg told Chris Matthews on Hardball recently that homosexual behavior should be against the law. Subsequently, Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan has said he, too, thinks it should be criminalized, and Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association has also gone on record as saying that homosexuality should be criminalized. They are not calling for the actual killing of LGBT people, as Uganda is considering, but only jailing them. (The World Net Daily video I linked above does suggest that capital punishment is what the Founding Fathers intended.)

PFOX is the ultimate passive aggressive organization. They never say anything negative about gay people, they just offer them "change" and argue that everybody should have "self-determination," as if you can determine your own sexual orientation -- as if some individuals "self-determined" to become gay and lesbian. PFOX has not gone on the record as saying that they support Uganda's efforts to kill gay people. But last month they posted on their blog the most bizarre news story. They got this from a site called I hate to rebroadcast this kind of ugliness here, but this is what PFOX considers a blogworthy news story in January 2010:
23 March 2009

Kampala — A man shocked parents on Sunday when he confessed to recruiting school children into homosexuality as part of a programme to promote the practice in Ugandan schools.

George Oundo said funders gave them "much money" and training abroad and that he would target mostly the needy children who had problems of tuition and pocket money and "others who like outings."

Oundo warned parents to know their children's friends. Homosexuals, he added, were targeting mostly children "because they are easy to initiate and they like easy things".

Oundo said he got seriously involved in promoting homosexuality in 2003. "I was taken to Nairobi for training," he said. "I used to supply pornographic materials in form of books and compact discs showing homosexuality to young boys in many schools," he explained.

The training, he said, was facilitated by Gay and Lesbian Coalition. "I also got the pupils' telephone contacts. We used to meet with both girls and boys in schools during ceremonial parties," he asserted.

He said he only stopped his activities after becoming a Born-again Christian. He told all this to about 50 parents attending a seminar at Hotel Triangle, Kampala on Sunday. It was organised by Family Life Network, a local charity which promotes family values. Uganda - Homosexual Admits Recruiting School Children

Yes, the original article was written in March, 2009.

PFOX added a note at the top of the blog post:
Will Rachel Maddow discuss this on her show?

Actually, I would love to see Rachel Maddow discuss the fact that PFOX, claiming to be friends of gays, is republishing this kind of article, which is a perfect example of the kind of paranoid fantasy entertained and loved by the most strident gay-hater. There are people who really think this happens, that huge, well-funded organizations of gay people are actively recruiting children to join their shadowy and evil "lifestyle," not only in faraway Uganda but right here in the USA. Such a belief is cited as justification for violence, there is no reason to publish such an article beyond inciting prejudice and discrimination. And here is PFOX actively stirring the pot, going halfway across the world to Uganda to find an article describing the paranoid hater's most vivid fantasy. Friends of gays, not so much.

There have been some apologists, by the way, who have tried to say that Uganda's law won't really kill gay people. Yes it will. Under the law they can kill you for letting a gay couple use your apartment, or for not ratting a gay friend out to authorities, lots of things. Ex-Gay Watch this week linked to an excellent video that goes through the text of the law, highlighting terms and their definitions, which can be lost in the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Watch this:

Also, I should point out that Warren Throckmorton has been following the Uganda situation very closely, almost obsessively I thought, but he is justified, this is an important developing situation. Warren doesn't always see things our way, you might say, but he provides a lot of links and keeps track of what's going on, he even has the occasional interview with someone involved in the situation.

Uganda is not half a world away, what's happening in Uganda is closely linked to what's happening in our little county, in our little school district.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

2k+ Posts

By the way, I just noticed, this is the 2,005th post on this blog since we started in December, 2004.

A Subtle Wording Effect

The Family Blah Blah groups love to put the word "gay" in quotation marks, as if it were jargon or a euphemism. And they love to use the word "homosexual," emphasizing the x in sex so you have to think about sex when you think of gay people. It's a subtle way to make it sound dirty.

A recent survey shows that it works. This is interesting, a really good survey methods experiment.

A CBS News / New York Times poll looked into the question of gays in the military. They compared some numbers to 1993, when Bill Clinton first proposed "Don't Ask Don't Tell." As expected, a majority 59 percent favor "homosexuals in the military" now, compared to 42 percent in 1993.

The survey authors did something cool here. They asked the question two ways. They asked some respondents how they felt about "homosexuals serving in the military" and they asked others how they felt about "gay men and lesbians serving in the military." Here are the results:

Homosexuals Gay Men & Lesbians
Strongly favor 34% 51%
Somewhat favor 25 19
Somewhat oppose 10 7
Strongly oppose 19 12

That is a beautiful effect. People are much more tolerant of gay men and lesbians than they are of homosexuals. Seventy percent of people favor letting gay men and lesbians serve in the military, eleven percentage points more.

I have always wondered what kind of effect a subtle linguistic barb like that really has. It's like the Republicans talking about the "Democrat Party," you know they're just being jerks about it but you wonder if it has any effect. The religious right loves to call gay and lesbian people "homosexuals," half because gay people don't like it and half because they like to think it's all about sex. You can see that this kind of wording really does have the desired effect, gay men and lesbians get a much higher approval rating than homosexuals.

Time for MCPS to Take Responsibility

PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays) is an organization that sues people to protect the rights of those chimerical people who have decided not to be gay any more -- "ex-gays." The organization consists basically of Regina Griggs, who has a gay son and who wishes with all her heart that people could just change their sexual orientation. There is a board of directors, which includes our county's Peter Sprigg, who believes that homosexual behavior should be against the law, and PFOX has some friends, including a few in our county.

A few years ago, PFOX began exploiting a legal loophole which enabled them to get Montgomery County Public Schools to distribute their anti-gay literature to students. An evangelical organization had sued the school district because they wouldn't pass out the group's flyers. The school district thought it would be be a violation of the Constitution's Establishment clause, forbidding government promotion of religion, and the group said refusing was a violation of the Free Speech section, and the group won in court. Suddenly a school's decision about whether to distribute someone's flyers became a legal issue, and the district came up with a policy that said that they would distribute any flyer that met certain criteria. Besides school announcements, the PTA, and on-campus clubs, the schools would distribute flyers put out by nonprofit organizations if the flyer had a disclaimer on it and was not hate literature. PFOX is a nonprofit, and they saw the opportunity to recruit gay teenagers through the schools.

At first everybody just shrugged and said, well, they have the right to express themselves, this is fair, etcetera. Some schools set up special trash cans on PFOX flyer days, which coincided with report cards, so students could throw their anti-gay materials out immediately. All the same, school staff spent time handling the flyers, classroom time was taken to hand them out. The information on the flyers was in direct contradiction to the health curriculum, it was in direct contradiction to the schools' antidiscrimination policies, but taxpayer-paid staff spent work time, and students spent time that could have been used for learning, on the flyers.

A couple of weeks ago the flyers went out again, and now people in the county are getting fed up with it. Hateful groups like PFOX exist, we know that, the question is why are the schools giving our county's kids their literature?

This week PFOX stepped up its counteroffense. World Net Daily gives PFOX's side of it:
A campaign has been launched in Montgomery County, Md., to classify the speech of advocates for people who choose to leave the homosexual lifestyle as "hate speech," which then could be banned under a new law signed last year by President Obama.

"Hate speech is unwelcome in Montgomery County Public Schools," said an e-mail to the offices of Regina Griggs, national director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, known as PFOX. "I would like to ask that you immediately cease distribution of your flyers at our public schools.

"We intend to pursue every method possible to protest your actions if you choose to continue," the message warned. Christian speech targeted as 'hate': 'Gays' pledge to 'pursue every method' of protesting school flyers

This is great. If this had been a real newspaper, the story would have started with "Somebody sent PFOX an email message ..." World Net Daily, though, presents it as if a communique from the Gay People's Party had been released. They never do tell you who the email was from, it could have been anybody. One email equals "a campaign."

This article describes PFOX as "advocates for people who choose to leave the homosexual lifestyle." First of all, can you tell me what a "lifestyle" is? Can you tell me why "gay" is put in quotes? Have you ever heard of a person who chose to "leave the homosexual lifestyle" and did it? Is there some reason that someone like that needs an advocate -- they're straight now, what's the big deal? The ex-gay frame is a cruel hoax to make you think that gay people have chosen their sexual orientation and can choose to change it, with the subtle message between the lines that they should change their sexual orientation. Really, if change is possible, doesn't that mean that straight people can become gay, too? PFOX only advocates change in one direction. The important truth is that some people naturally have feelings for members of their own sex, nobody knows why really, it's just a statistical fact that some proportion of the population will feel that way. If there are "ex-gays," none of them apparently live in the Washington DC area.

PFOX is gearing up for the inevitable. There is pressure to have them classified as a hate group, officially. And while they have the Constitutional freedom to say what they do, if it is classified as hate speech the school district has a reason to refuse to distribute their materials. (And by the way, regardless of what WND says, the nation's new hate crime law has nothing to do with it, that will only apply when violence has been done.)

PFOX is walking a fine line here, their hateful message is disguised in a clever way, they say they are parents and friends of gay people right in their name, for crying out loud! They just want to help unhappy people stop doing unhealthy things, don't ya know? And all those thousands of people who have "left the homosexual lifestyle," who will speak for them? This is fine-tuned passive aggression, they can say that all they want to do is help quote-gay-unquote people but they are no gay person's friend. The ordinary citizen walking around doesn't understand how any of this works, it sounds plausible, what with AIDS and all, that somebody would want to stop being gay. But there is no question about it, PFOX's message is intended to undermine the rights of LGBT people, to turn the love they feel for their partners into a dirty thing, a feeling you wouldn't want to have. For straight people, an important component of the message is that gay people have chosen to be that way.

The school district might be backed into a legal corner, and they might not. If the flyers can be classified as hate speech then the schools don't have to hand them out -- but who does the classifying? Ah, the answer there is easier than you'd think -- some responsible person classifies it. Maybe the school district's legal department issues a decision, maybe the Superintendent looks at the flyers and says it is hate speech, maybe the school board discusses it and classifies the literature as hateful. A responsible person, that's what we're looking for.

The problem is not that PFOX is saying these things, there have always been people saying these things. The problem is that our taxpayer-supported public schools are delivering this message to our county's children. We entrust the lives and minds of our kids to the school from the moment they get on the bus until the moment they get off it again, and we expect them to be safe from physical and psychological danger, we trust the schools to enlighten their minds through education. And the school district is giving them intellectual poison.

I know what the solution is here, but I don't expect anybody in the school system to go for it. At the bottom of every flyer is a disclaimer like this:
(These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this school.)

I say, take the disclaimer off. The school should only distribute information that it endorses. Let them be responsible for their actions.

Let the school principal, the Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools, and home-room teachers be responsible for what they give the children. Consider the quotes from principals who have said things like "If I had my druthers, [the flier] would not have gone out." Why is the principal not held responsible for the literature his school is giving to the students entrusted to him? Give the guy his druthers! Take the disclaimer off all the flyers, and let the school district take responsibility for the information it is giving to our students.

Ah, you say, they're afraid of lawsuits. Yes, there is an inevitable lawsuit if they refuse to distribute the PFOX hate literature. The schools have a little problem with bullying, I wonder where the kids picked that up? Okay, PFOX is going to sue, the school district will have to fight back. If there is a legitimate reason that the school district should have to give anti-gay materials to schoolchildren then PFOX will win and the case will only be wasted money. Is it really possible that distributing hateful literature is a legitimate function of a public school? Okay, back if down a step or two, is it really possible that distributing every group's opinion is a legitimate function of a public school? Of course not, the school is there for education, it is patently absurd for them to be giving children a message that is the direct opposite of what they are taught in class.

This is a moment when we need leaders. Somebody at the top needs to identify this as something indecent and wrong and put a stop to it. The school district is hiding behind a legal opinion instead of acting like grown-ups and confronting the issue.

It may motivate MCPS to know that a lot of parents and citizens are really getting upset by this. We hear from them, we see their listserv discussions, people are not happy. It may motivate MCPS to know that this is getting attention at the national level as well, LGBT advocacy groups are paying attention and discussing what actions they should take. We used to have an elite school district, one that was admired around the country, now people are looking at us like we were some backwoods podunk place that wants to make sure gay and lesbian people know they are not welcome.

It is time for somebody at MCPS to take responsibility for these flyers and put a stop to them.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Grade Hackers and Kinky People: Two MoCo Stories

These two stories don't have anything to do with each other and nothing to do with TeachTheFacts but they have brought national attention to our little suburban county home in the last couple of weeks, and I have ignored them with all the snow and flyer business. I am talking about the grade-changing scandal at Churchill High School and the controversy over a kinky party house in Bethesda.

The latest news about the grade hackers came from last week (the whole school district has been shut down since then):
At least seven students at Churchill High School in Potomac, Md., will be punished for their roles in a grade-changing scheme.

The Montgomery County state’s attorney has yet to decide if charges will be filed.

Even more students could be implicated as the investigation continues, according to Joan Benz, Churchill’s principal. She updated parents, students and staff in a letter sent on Friday.

Benz said the students who’ve been singled out were able to get the user IDs and passwords of Churchill teachers.

They allegedly hacked into the school’s computer system and charged money to improve grades of some students. They also are accused of lowering grades for students that they didn’t like.

The scheme was detected more than a week ago. However, a source told News4 that it might have been going on for two and a half years. Seven Students Punished in Grade Changing Scheme

As I understand it somebody put a USB keylogger on a couple of teachers' computers. This would be a small device that you plug the keyboard cable into, then plug the device into the computer, so everything that is typed on that keyboard goes through this device and is saved until the device is retrieved later. A kid could slip this onto a computer pretty easily in a chaotic classroom or during a break, and you could retrieve the teacher's password for the grading system easily. It also sounds like the school was not serious about making teachers change their passwords occasionally, so a good password would get you into the system for years.

Everybody knows that kids know more than grown-ups about computers, so it was perhaps a little bit of a bad idea to put the whole grading system online with no hard-copy back-up. As it is, nobody really knows how many grades were changed, because there's nothing to compare it to.

I imagine that we will have the full range of opinions about this in the TTF community. It is a serious offense that can probably result in the guilty parties' expulsion, and it might be seen as a normal kind of thing that kids will do if they can get away with it. I'm curious to find out how people are seeing this.

The other story that has gotten national coverage is the brouhaha over a house in Bethesda where a guy was having parties for kinky people. I think this story first broke on the Maryland Politics Watch blog. First they published some letters from the kinky-house's neighbors to the County Council, which was fine, and then they published a satirical follow-up that didn't really work, saying that some County Council members had been busted there and so on.

Some neighbors had written letters to the Council complaining ... here's what one letter said (cribbed from MPW):
It has come to our attention that a renter at 6304 Tone Dr. who calls himself "British Lucky Paul" is using the house for regularly scheduled "sex parties" advertising "bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM)." His website features pictures of the house, himself and some party participants and also is linked to many other BDSM websites. In addition to parties at the house, he is offering "keyholder positions open too if you just need a regular place to play".

Some people were concerned about an adult business being run in their neighborhood -- the guy was charging admission to his parties -- and basically I think the whole idea just freaked them out a bit.

From The Post:
"BDSM" is short for "bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism." Velvet whips, leather hoods, six-inch stiletto heels, that kind of thing. If you were into the BDSM scene and periodically threw BDSM parties in your home -- as Pickthorne, a burly, jovial Briton, does in the castlelike 3,600-square-foot McMansion he rents at 6304 Tone Dr. -- you'd attract quite a crowd.
"Kinky people" is the accepted term for folks who derive erotic pleasure from BDSM. "An amazing cross-section of humanity," says Pickthorne's friend Susan Wright, founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. "Men, women, transgender, heterosexuals, gays, bisexuals. Every ethnicity. White-collar and blue-collar. It's really very, very diverse -- though we do have an unusually high percentage of lawyers. I don't know why."

Anyway, you can imagine what Pickthorne's non-kinky neighbors think of all this. Fed up, they convened a meeting in someone's living room last week, then fired off indignant e-mails to County Council member Roger Berliner (D), whose district includes their Merrimack Park subdivision.

"I share your sense of outrage that a sex club is operating in your lovely neighborhood," Berliner wrote back. "I want you to know that my office has been advised that our County has moved aggressively to put an end to this blight on your community."

The county moved, all right. Pickthorne received a written warning from a zoning inspector Monday. But hold on. Suppose Pickthorne stops charging admission, as he says he might? Suppose he complies with the inspector and holds all BDSM gatherings as strictly noncommercial functions in accordance with Section 59-C-1.31? What then?

"Well," Berliner says on the phone, hesitating. "Certainly one has to respect everyone's constitutional rights." Montgomery County sex-party host must role-play by the zoning rules

This Post story is quite entertaining, and educational.

Of course there's no law against having parties at your house, as long as you don't charge people for them, and there's not even a law against having sex in your house, again if you don't charge for it. Pickthorne was charging admission to his parties, and he got a warning from the county. He told The Post that he used the money to pay for party supplies and donated whatever was left to the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom -- this does not seem extremely different from a campaign fund-raiser at somebody's house, at least in principle. Granted, some of the details do differ.

Again, I'll bet you find the full range of opinions in the TTF community from "those people are disgusting" to "what was that address again?" I don't know anything about this stuff but it seems obvious to me that kinky consenting adults are free to do whatever it is they do in private, just like the rest of us. I saw the guy's web site, and his invitation asked people to dress normally and not make make a lot of noise when they arrive and leave.

Oddly, The Post reports that the neighbors are upset that this situation got publicized. Apparently they thought that Councilman Roger Berliner was going to deal with the situation quietly, shut down this place and nothing said. Unfortunately for them we live in a free and open society where their communications with elected officials are public records and where the government can only punish someone who actually breaks a law, and they can't do it in secret. I don't know why they wanted to keep their complaint under wraps, one guy said something about the parties affecting real estate values in the neighborhood. Also, just a guess, I'll bet this character's parties are going to be bigger than ever now that everybody knows about them.

Economic Data

Two graphs...

[ Update; It's hard to see, but each bar on the lefthand graph is a month, starting from December 2007 and running to January 2010. ]

Minnesota Billboard

Everybody's having a good time complaining about the new guy.

Maybe things are not really so bad.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PFOX Flyers: MCPS Central Office Blames Principals

There has been a lot of interest these days in the PFOX flyers that Montgomery County Public Schools have been sending home with students. The flyers themselves are just what you'd expect from PFOX, suggesting that nobody would really want to be gay and if you think you are you should contact PFOX so they can help you become straight, instead. We understand how PFOX feels and why. It is a reprehensible point of view, dangerous to young people, based on fantasy and wishful thinking and contradicted by science, but ... that's PFOX for you.

The problem is that our public school district is passing PFOX's flyers out to our county's children. School officials have always maintained that they are not allowed, because of a court order, to exercise any discretion in determining what materials are distributed. If a nonprofit submits something, then the schools have to give it to our kids, they say.

The Post did some digging and found out something interesting. Their question was, who decides?
I asked Montgomery County schools officials to explain who is responsible for vetting the fliers that non-profit groups are allowed to send home with students four times a year.

The issue arose when my colleague Michael Birnbaum reported about fliers that were passed out to some Montgomery County high school students from an organization that insists that therapy can turn gays into heterosexuals.

The fliers, from the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, were distributed at Churchill High School and other schools last week under a district regulation that allows non-profit groups to distribute information that is not deemed to be hate speech.

Some entities can distribute information whenever they want: The school system itself; federal, state, or local governmental entities; nationally affiliated PTAs operating within MCPS and MCCPTA; and parent-teacher organizations at special education schools and alternative centers that operate in lieu of nationally affiliated PTAs.

According to school spokesperson Dana Tofig, it is up to a school principal to raise any concerns about material that a non-profit is distributing.

If a principal does have concerns, the material is sent to the Office of School Performance for review and legal counsel may be consulted, Tofig said. A final decision “is made by executive staff if the material is appropriate for distribution.”

Tofig said that a 2006 lawsuit forced the school district to adopt this policy and it leaves “very little room for interpretation.”

Apparently principals at schools where the anti-gay flier was distributed either didn’t see it or weren’t concerned enough to speak up. Up to Montgomery County principals to challenge fliers

It is not clear if that last sentence is the writer's opinion or if it came from the MCPS spokesperson. Either way, you have to wonder, are principals unaware of the material that they are giving children, or do they think this is okay? Because most people do not think it's okay.

The Post points you to THIS SITE for the MCPS flyer policy. That page links to a decision tree for determining whether a flyer should be sent home with students. One route to acceptance is for non-PTA or school groups where the flyer has the required disclaimer, the materials do not violate law or MCPS policy, and the group is a registered nonprofit organization. It does not say, "Principal exercises judgment" or "Principal approves material" at any place on the flow chart.

The article continues:
I understand that the school system is required to pass out the information because of the lawsuit, and that the regulations surrounding this are supposed to be “viewpoint-neutral.” Only hate speech is off-limits.

The problem is that hate speech isn’t always easy to define. To many people, this flier clearly qualified. What if a non-profit group wanted to send out material on how to become a transgender? Or a group of atheists wanted to invite kids to a seminar critical of organized religion? What if the material is not spewing hate but is, nevertheless, patently wrong?

The information on the PFOX flyers is patently wrong. It directly contradicts the schools' health curriculum and the consensus among scientists and medical and mental health practitioners and researchers about the nature of sexual orientation. A lot of people worked hard to develop a curriculum that was accurate and also reflected the values of our community, and the school district undermines that by giving students literature that tells them just the opposite of the classroom lessons.

Somebody needs to look at these flyers and what they represent, the real message to and about gay people. It is cleverly veiled -- "you can change" is an especially insidious message that tells gay teens there is something wrong with them and tells straight teens that their gay peers have chosen to be the way they are. Last week a member of PFOX's Board of Directors said on Hardball that homosexual behavior should be criminalized, they call themselves Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, but they don't even use the "and Gays" in their acronym, which would make it PFOX-GAG. They are no friends of gay people. Parents, some of them, but not friends.

At some point a real live human being needs to take responsibility for the information being given to our children at public school. Somebody needs to look at it and put their foot down, they need to say, I don't care what your bureaucratic policy says, parents trust me to be responsible for their children and there is no way I am giving them this material.

Somebody needs to decide, and so far the word has been that the school district's lawyers were the ones. They have always said, PFOX is a nonprofit, we have agreed to allow all nonprofits to send home flyers, therefore MCPS staff have to spend their time handing out dangerously incorrect literature to students.

Now Dana Tofig, the MCPS Director of Public Information, is saying that it's really been up to school principals all along. I'll bet there's more than one harried principal looking at that Post article in amazement. This appears to be the MCPS administration denying responsibility for distributing hate literature to our children, now they're saying they didn't order anybody to do it, the principals decided. I'd like to hear what a principal has to say about that!

This reporter has one thing wrong.
Now that this policy has become news, I’m betting that a lot of organizations that didn’t know about it will avail themselves of the opportunity to distribute information to kids and their families.

Naw, it's a big pain to distribute flyers. It is expensive to print them up, you have to go around to every school on a certain date, you have to bundle them a certain way, it takes hours of work. We did it once, thinking that it would be sensible to counter PFOX's poison with an alternative view. But in reality, this is not a matter of "opposing viewpoints." It's not, like the lady said at the Parents Coalition listserve, that PFOX "disagrees with homosexuality." That would be like disagreeing with blue eyes, or disagreeing with being tall. The problem is that PFOX's point of view is nonsense. It is old-fashioned bigotry, there are people who are gay by nature and PFOX promotes prejudice against them. It's not just a different point of view, it's wrong, and our school district should not be passing this material out to students.

Now the central office is circling its wagons, saying that the schools are really responsible for the decision to distribute these flyers. That's a good sign, at least they realize they are under attack.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Snow Is Going to Get Bad

This just arrived from Alert Montgomery (a service I strongly recommend, by the way, I get it sent to my email and my cell phone):
Winter Storm Update from Montgomery County

Since early Monday, all Montgomery County efforts have been fully focused on 4,128 miles of neighborhood roads – divided into 140 plow routes – with workers and machinery laboring around-the-clock to clear the snow as soon as possible.

Thousands still remain without power and hundreds of trees are down. The County continues to work closely with PEPCO to provide them with the snowplows, tree crews, and other assistance they need to restore service.

The shelter at Richard Montgomery High School, 250 Richard Montgomery Drive in Rockville, remains open. Transport to the center is being handled by County volunteers with 4-wheel-drive vehicles and by Maryland National Guard members. Medical emergency calls continue to be handled by Fire & Rescue.

Montgomery County government will be open tomorrow, Tuesday, February 9, for normal operations, with liberal leave for employees.

Ride On buses will operate on an “S” schedule on Tuesday. Parking enforcement in County garages and parking lots will remain suspended through Thursday. County liquor stores will be open. The Solid Waste Transfer Station will close at 5 PM on Tuesday.

Given piles of plowed snow along streets and at intersections, County officials urge motorists and pedestrians to continue to exercise extreme caution. Residents should continue to check in on friends and neighbors to make sure they are all right.

If there is an emergency, County residents should call 911. Please do not call 911 with snow plowing questions, as that delays responses to emergency calls. For snow calls, call 240-777-6000 or email To volunteer with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, call 240-777-2600.

Earlier this afternoon:
Another major winter storm expected tomorrow [Tuesday] with 10-20" of snowfall possible. This amount of snowfall may cause roof collapses in some areas. Roads will become extremely dangerous and travel should be discouraged. Additional power outages are likely. Event onset is around noon tomorrow and travel may become extremely difficult if not impossible tomorrow.

The National Weather Service has upgraded the Winter Storm Watch to a WINTER STORM WARNING. This Warning is effective until Wednesday.

A WINTER STORM WARNING means that significant amounts of snow, sleet, or freezing rain are expected or are occurring in the warned area.

Travel disruptions within the County and region are likely as roads quickly become snow covered and icy. Caution should be used during any travel and please remain alert for ongoing plow/salt operations. Deteriorating weather conditions are now imminent in the next 24hrs

Please visit to keep updated on county services, traffic information, and school closings.

Washington DC offices of the federal government are closed tomorrow (Tuesday). OPM's web site has crashed under the pressure of all these federal employees and contractors wondering if they're going to work in the morning, it's one of those government things that only works when you don't need it. But WTOP carries the announcements, too.

This is ten to twenty inches of snow on top of 24 inches or more that is still on the ground. We finally got our last car dug out today. The sidewalk is clear in front of our house, but the plows piled snow higher than the top of my head at the end of the block, so though you can walk on the sidewalk you can't get to it, or get off it.

I was able to rescue the trash and recycle bins along the street, where they were when the storm hit -- the trash can was visible, I had to guess which peak in the snow mountain range was the recycle container, I poked the shovel around and there it was! Even on major roads you are driving on a crust of snow, and people are walking in the middle of the street. There are potholes and places that have not been cleared, cars are jumping from lane to lane to avoid the messes, your brakes might stop you and they might not and that goes for the guy behind you, too. It's beautiful, trees highlighted in white, all things wrapped in a serene blanket, but it will definitely make you live an alternative lifestyle, so to speak, one where you stay indoors a lot.

Have you been in a grocery store? It's funny but it's not funny, empty shelves.

Look out for your neighbors, and don't try to go anywhere, okay? You can't drive in this stuff, and there will be serious emergencies, the fire department doesn't need to be pulling your twisted-up wreck out of a snowdrift just because you were stupid. Plan on the electricity going out, know where a flashlight is, put batteries in it now.

This looks like it could be a serious event, a big storm coming in on the back of a really big storm. If you're ready for it, if you're cool, if you stay indoors, you'll be fine. It's just snow. Some trees will fall, some roofs will collapse, some cars will run off the road, we can handle that. Let's take it seriously and help each other out as the weather forces converge to bury us in white stuff again.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Reaction To The PFOX Flyers Is Growing first formed in late 2004 when our school district came under attack by rightwing extremists for its plan to implement a somewhat comprehensive sex-ed curriculum that included a condom-usage video and some objective and correct statements about sexual orientation. The most intense criticisms were about the sexual orientation part, with the arguments consisting mainly of a laundry-list of complaints about the stereotype of the gay man. One court document argued that if the schools taught about various orientations students will become gay, catch AIDS, and come back to sue the school district. Costing the taxpayers millions, see? That's why we shouldn't teach the facts. The two groups that filed lawsuits, over and over again, were the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever and PFOX. PFOX is not a friend of the school district, and PFOX is not a friend of any gay person. PFOX's premise is that being gay is bad, and their recommendation is that gay people should just quit it and turn straight.

It was a hard fight, and in the end our side won a decent curriculum but the other side intimidated the school district and kept important information out under the threat of more lawsuits. Some school board members made firm statements about the new curriculum, and in the end all of them except one predictable member voted in favor of it. But the reason TTF had to organize in the first place was that elected officials and their staff, in general, fear controversy.

The school district should not be handing out flyers to children telling them that gay people can choose to be straight. It is scientifically incorrect and morally indefensible to make students think there is something wrong with being gay, and that you can choose to change if you want. It is unhealthy advice for those students who are discovering they are gay or lesbian, and it is dangerous advice for the straight students, who will believe that their gay peers are that way because they decided to be. But our school district has agreed to spread just that message four times a year to high school students, and they do it without complaining. We had a progressive school board members tell The Post recently that "These fliers are probably counter to what is available in our health curriculum" when the flyers directly contradict the health curriculum, and then she defended the district's freedom of speech to tell students the opposite of the truth. I don't think you'll find any other board members, and certainly not the Superintendent's office, speaking out about the PFOX flyers. They shrug their shoulders and say "the court ordered us to do this," and that's the end of it.

Montgomery County parents send their children off to school with the expectation that they will be educated and that they will be safe. They do not expect the school district to be giving their children literature from hate groups. It would be irresponsible to ignore a group like PFOX outside the school distributing poisonous flyers, this is not mere irresponsibility. The school district is actively packaging these flyers and using teacher resources and time that could be spent on education to give this hate literature to students. This goes beyond irresponsibility. It's not like they are negligent, MCPS is the active agent in this.

The schools are complying with their interpretation of Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Montgomery County Pub. Sch.. In that case the schools had refused to distribute flyers from a Christian evangelical group on grounds that it would have comprised "establishment of religion" by government -- the public schools. The court saw it the other way and said that forbidding the flyers amounted to interfering with the group's freedom of speech. That's one thing when it's a Sunday-school group, but it is absurd to think that the schools are required to hand out anybody's opinion, even when it directly contradicts important information that is taught in health classes. It is cheaper from a legal perspective, and that's apparently what drives the school district's decision to hand out PFOX's flyers for them. On the other hand, you can't ignore the fact that they have chosen to re-appoint Peter Sprigg, who has said on national television that he believes homosexual behavior should be criminalized, to a third term on the citizens advisory committee for sex education. Sprigg's view is certainly not representative of citizens of our county, but it appears that's what the school board and the Superintendent want.

I've been following some of the listserves' discussions of this topic. It appears that MCPS distributed the flyers at Walter Johnson, Seneca Valley, Gaithersburg, Potomac, Watkins Mill, and Richard Montgomery, probably others, and parents are very angry about it. Even the Parents Coalition listserve is having a discussion about this "PFOX Propaganda" (their subject line). Some members seem to think it is only fair to give "both sides" a chance to reach our county's young people, another guy said "Other than the fact that your CHOICE argument is completely ignorant, the bottom line is that these kind of Christian groups are trying to recruit our kids and they don’t belong there." I was curious to know where they'd fall on this one, it appears the main leaders do not like to see PFOX recruiting in our public schools.

At one of the schools, parents are gearing up a campaign to send emails to Regina Griggs at PFOX, protesting the flyers. I wouldn't bother. Regina lives for that kind of reaction, she's like Rush Limbaugh or Anne Coulter, her real goal is to get under your skin. She knows that gay people can't choose to be straight -- her own son is gay, and the whole reason for PFOX is that she wishes he would change, but he doesn't. It's a pitiful situation all the way around, and it is pathetic that our school district has bought into it. If you are going to protest, don't bother sending email to PFOX, they're just doing what their funding sources expect them to do. Send your emails to the MCPS Board of Education, the Superintendent, administrative staff inside Carver, their legal office, don't bother sending it to PFOX.

Somebody has created an online petition HERE. Go ahead and click on it.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

MCPS Propagating Anti-Gay Message to Children

We got an email from a parent last night, they attached a copy of the flyer that Montgomery County Public Schools handed out with students' report cards last week. I have transcribed it below. It really is shocking to see what the public school district is telling to our kids, especially after all we went through to get a decent sex-ed curriculum in place.

The other day we noted that an adviser to MCPS's sex education curriculum development had been on Hardball with Chris Matthews this week saying that homosexual behavior should be criminalized. Peter Sprigg was first appointed to the citizens advisory committee as a representative of PFOX -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. The committee does not have group representatives any more, but the Board of Education chose to re-appoint Sprigg as an individual because they valued him as a committee member.

As you read this, think of all the people you have ever known who were once gay and then decided not to be and became straight. Can't think of any? There's a reason for that. Put all those people together and you have the "ex-gay community." It is fictional.

Here's the text of the flyer:
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) promotes diversity for the ex-gay community. Ex-gays demonstrate that those with unwanted same-sex attractions can seek help and information on overcoming their feelings. All individuals deserve the right to self-determination and happiness based on their own needs, and not on the needs of others. PFOX supports tolerance for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

PFOX can provide: resources for parents and students, ex-gay speakers for your school or club, books for your school library, and brochures on same-sex attractions, bullying and tolerance.

Who are ex-gays?

Every year thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity through gender affirming programs, including therapy, faith based ministries, and other non-judgmental environments. Their decision is one only they can make. However, there are those in society who refuse to respect an individual's right to self-determination. Consequently, formerly gay men and women are subjected to verbal and physical attacks simply because they dare to exist. Ex-gays and their supporters are denied equal access and support, forcing them to remain silent for fear of negative reactions and disapproval, while gays are affirmed for their decision to come out as gay. Former homosexuals do not think something is wrong with them because they decided to fulfill their heterosexual potential by overcoming unwanted same-sex attractions.

But aren't some people born "gay"?

According to mainstream psychological associations, there are no replicated scientific studies to support that a person can be born "gay." No "gay gene" or gay center of the brain has been found. No medical test exists to determine if a person is homosexual. Sexual orientation is based on feelings and is a matter of self-affirmation and public declaration.

If only one part of you has gay feelings, should your whole life be gay identified?

Many people would agree that just because one part of you feels a certain way, it doesn't mean you entire identity is that way. Having feelings of same-sex attraction may make you feel different. We all feel the need to fit in and be accepted. But no one should identify themselves based on sexual feelings alone,. There is more to your identity than your sexual attractions. Thousands of ex-gay men and women had those very same feelings when they were in school. You may have heard, "You must be gay!" But no one should be labeled based on the perception of others. Get smart! Explore the origins of your same-sex attractions. Why do I have these feelings? Where did they come from? The decision of a prom date, a car, or whether to super-size those fries can be based on a feeling, but important decisions should not be made on feelings alone. In order to make an educated decision, you have to be informed! Sexuality develops over time. It is not necessary to label yourself today.

Find out more at !!!

(These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this school.)

This is not funny any more. Some students are going to get this flyer and believe, for instance, that there really are people out there who have decided not to be gay any more. Amanda Hess at the Washington City Paper advertised for weeks, trying to find one ex-gay person in the DC area, and couldn't find one. But Montgomery County Public Schools is distributing flyers to thousands of schoolchildren, convincing them that there is an "ex-gay community" that is persecuted and treated unfairly, and making gay students believe that they can stop being gay by hooking up with this pitiful group of hucksters.

The assertions in this flyer are the exact opposite of what the district teaches in its health classes, which are based on current knowledge as it is understood by the major scientific and medical organizations.

Even The Post is amazed:
Some Montgomery County high schools passed out fliers this week from an organization that contends gays can become heterosexual through therapy, and the schools say they cannot prevent the use of their distribution system by such groups.

The fliers, from the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, were distributed Thursday alongside report cards by teachers at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. The group says it delivered them to about half the county's high schools this week and plans to do the same at the remaining high schools at the end of the school year.

The schools are required to distribute literature that isn't deemed hate speech from any registered nonprofit organization four times a year, the result of a 2006 lawsuit, said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Public Schools.

School officials said that while they aren't always happy with everything that goes home with students, their hands are tied by the results of the litigation.

"These fliers are probably counter to what is available in our health curriculum, but that curriculum focuses on respect, and we respect freedom of speech," said Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), president of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

The flier, printed on one side of a sheet of paper, says that "every year thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity." At the bottom, it includes a disclaimer that the content is not sponsored by the Montgomery County Board of Education, the school or the superintendent. Potomac students get fliers saying therapy turns gays straight

The flyer we got was from Gaithersburg, not Potomac. We don't know how widely MCPS distributed this flyer.

Ms. O'Neill says that the flyers are "probably counter to what is available in our health curriculum." No, actually the word "probably" is a hedge, in fact the flyers are directly opposite to what the curriculum teaches. And it is one thing to respect freedom of speech, it is entirely another thing when the authorities in the school district give children information that is not only false but dangerous. You would think Pat O'Neill could tell the difference, her defense of the flyers is surprising and disappointing.

The district is doing this as a consequence of a lawsuit, I understand, you have to abide by the court's ruling. But at the same time somebody should be preparing to file some papers, drafting policy, gearing up for a political fight, speaking up. While the district is required to allow these flyers, our community leaders could be voicing their opposition loudly and clearly -- they have freedom of speech, too. What we are looking for here is a leader with a capital L. Instead we have a bunch of shoulder shrugging.

It is incredible to see Superintendent Jerry Weast and the members of the Board of Education sitting on their hands, looking the other way, when the emotional damage they are doing is unimaginable. This is damaging both to gay adolescents who need understanding and accurate information at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable, and to the others, who are forming attitudes and stereotypes, and are likely to believe this junk about gay people choosing not to be gay, especially since it is handed out by their teachers, at school.

Our school district is propagating a message that undermines the proud values of our community and the hard-won knowledge of researchers, scientists, and medical practitioners. It's time for MCPS to stand up for what's right.

Progress on Many Fronts

So many things going on! I hate to do this but I'm going to combine several news stories into one post here. They all kind of go together, a tide is rising up in our state of Maryland and in our suburban county.

First, a bill had been introduced in the Maryland legislature to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. Yesterday that bill was killed in the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 12 to 8, after no debate. The state Attorney General, Doug Gansler, has been asked to rule on this issue; the bill had been introduced in by anti-gay legislators to counter the possibility of his ruling in favor of recognizing out-of-state marriages.

Today state Senator Rich Madaleno will officially introduce a statewide gender identity nondiscrimination bill.

As far as Montgomery County, The Post had this yesterday:
Montgomery officials Tuesday also, as expected, passed a pair of other social initiatives. In a unanimous vote, the council passed a measure that requires certain contractors and subcontractors to provide domestic benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees if they provide them for married couples.

On a 7 to 2 vote, the council also required pregnancy counseling centers to post a disclaimer if they don't have medical professionals on staff. A notice would also encourage women to consult a licensed health-care provider. Proponents said the measure is meant to address misleading information from opponents of abortion rights. Some clinic operators, who often provide free clothes along with other services, said they plan to comply, although they said they are being targeted unfairly for political reasons. Montgomery County to favor disabled job seekers

It is heartening to see these positive developments at the county and state levels.

By the way, Monday, February 8th, is Equality Maryland lobby day. You can help keep the momentum going by driving up to Annapolis and helping out. CLICK HERE to find out how to participate.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Legal Breakthrough for Sex Reassignment Surgery

From the New York Times:
BOSTON (AP) -- A woman who battled the IRS over a tax deduction for the costs of her sex-change operation says she feels like she won a victory for all transgender people.

Rhiannon O'Donnabhain (oh-DON'-oh-vin), who was born a man, sued the Internal Revenue Service in 2007 after the agency rejected a $5,000 deduction for about $25,000 in medical expenses associated with the sex-change surgery, finding it was a cosmetic procedure and not medically necessary.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Tax Court ruled that O'Donnabhain should be allowed to deduct the costs of her treatment for gender-identity disorder, including sex-reassignment surgery and hormone treatments.

''The tax court has spoken for my community and has supported my community by saying that this is a proper medical deduction, much the same as an appendectomy or open heart surgery,'' O'Donnabhain said in an interview Wednesday. Woman Says Sex-Change Tax Battle Also Helps Others

Skipping a little ways ...
''I think it's an important decision that could help educate and bring along transgender rights in other areas because it ratifies what the medical community has said clearly for years, which is for people with gender identity disorder, this type of surgery is frequently a medical necessity for their lives and for their health and for their well-being,'' said Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director at Lambda Legal.

The Tax Court voted 11-5 to grant the deduction.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge David Gustafson said he believes sex reassignment surgery falls within the ''cosmetic surgery'' category of the tax code and the expense is therefore not deductible.

Even if such surgery ''is medically indicated ... it is an otherwise cosmetic procedure that does not 'treat' the mental disease,'' Gustafson wrote.

Ha, but it does "'treat' the mental disease!" Preliminarily, a person feels that their true sex differs from that indicated by their physical body. Subsequently, they feel that their true sex corresponds to their physical body. Voila: 'treated.'
O'Donnabhain said she underwent sex-reassignment surgery at age 57, after a tormented existence as a father, husband, Coast Guardsman and construction worker.

An estimated 1,600 to 2,000 people a year undergo sex-change surgery in the United States, according to the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

MCPS Sex-Ed Advisor Believes Gay Behavior Should Be Outlawed

The Montgomery County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development (CAC) advises the school district on its health curriculum, specifically its sex-ed classes. Citizens from the community review materials and advise on curriculum changes. I was on that committee for four years.

Of last year's members who reapplied, most were not accepted. The only members selected by the school board to continue from last year are the chair and co-chair, a woman who was new last year, and Family Research Council Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg.

Word from an MCPS insider at the time was that the Board of Education picked him because they were told "he is not as big of a trouble maker as some and actually they have witnessed him building consensus." This means, really, that he was recommended by MCPS administrators who were part of the CAC meetings. Somebody inside MCPS likes him. I can tell you as a former committee member that the only consensus he ever built was in opposition to him. The Board of Education was well aware of his philosophies, he was appointed originally as a nominee of the anti-gay group PFOX and has spoken at events held by the anti-gay Citizens for Responsible Curriculum.

Here's our longtime friend and TTF comment-community member Alvin McEwen writing at Huffington Post:
On Tuesday's episode of Hardball, Family Research Council spokesperson and board member Peter Sprigg said that he believes that Lawrence vs. Texas (the Supreme Court decision that struck down the sodomy laws) was "wrongly decided" and that "gay behavior" should be criminalized. FRC's Peter Sprigg supports 'criminal sanctions' against the gay community

In case you think this was a distortion of what Sprigg said, here is a transcript of the last part of Sprigg's appearance on Hardball
Chris Mathews: Do you think we should outlaw gay behavior?
Peter Sprigg: Well, I think certainly it's defensible ...
CM: I'm just asking, should we outlaw gay behavior?
PS: I think that the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas which overturned the sodomy laws in this country was wrongly decided. I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.
CM: So we should outlaw gay behavior.
PS: Yes.

Follow the link to Huffington Post and listen for yourself.

There is nothing ambiguous about this. Your school district selected this man, knowing his views, to serve on their advisory committee. Peter Sprigg believes gay behavior should be against the law, and he is shaping the sex education curriculum in Montgomery County.

Now It Makes Sense

Something bothered me in the Post article I talked about this morning. It was a paragraph I did not quote here. The Post said:
"One of the things that's exciting about this study is that it says we have a new tool to add to our repertoire," said Monica Rodriguez, vice president for education and training at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Abstinence-only programs might work, study says

It just didn't make sense. SIECUS has fought harder than anybody to get rid of the stupid abstinence programs that the previous administration funded. Further, this isn't "one more tool," at least as The Post presented it. There might be something new in the way these abstinence classes were taught, but The Post did what it could to make it appear like a typical abstinence-only class. And nobody at SIECUS would think that abstinence-only sex-ed was "a new tool," or "exciting" in any positive way, it just didn't make sense.

I fully expected SIECUS to come out today with a correction or retraction of that statement, but did not see anything. Did they really mean it? I wondered.

Interestingly, The AP had a longer quote from this same person. Here's what she really thinks:
Monica Rodriguez of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, an advocacy group favoring comprehensive sex education, said the study doesn't mean other abstinence-only programs would work.

"It's unfair to compare this abstinence-only intervention to the typical abstinence-only-until-marriage program that young people in this country have been put through," she said. These typically portray sex and condom use in a more negative light, she said.

Rodriguez said the program studied might be one approach to try with younger children, but that it probably would be less successful with older, more sexually experienced teens.

Almost one-fourth of the teens studied said they'd already had sex at least once, similar to other studies of urban, mostly black middle school-aged kids. Success seen with experimental abstinence program

Follow that link and you will see that this is a very different kind of abstinence program, in a number of ways.

The Post badly misrepresented Rodriguez' position on this, making it looked like she was excited by abstinence-only education and looking forward to adding that tool to the sex-ed toolbox. In fact, she is doubtful that it would work with older teens, and did not believe that results of this study would generalize to the kinds of abstinence-only programs funded by the Bush administration.

The Post Pushes Abstinence

The Post is getting bolder in its conservative flag-waving in the news sections. Yesterday an article appeared online, breathlessly asserting that a new study shows that abstinence education actually causes teenagers to be sexually abstinent. Today they put that article on the front page of the morning paper, above the fold.
Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can convince a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for the nation's embattled efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

In the first carefully designed study to evaluate the controversial approach to sex ed, researchers found that only about a third of 6th and 7th graders who went through sessions focused on abstinence started having sex in the next two years. In contrast, nearly half of students who got other classes, including those that included information about contraception, became sexually active.

"I think we've written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence," said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who led the federally funded study. "Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used."

The research, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, comes amid intense debate over how to reduce sexual activity, pregnancies, births and sexually transmitted diseases among children and teenagers. After declining for more than a decade, births, pregnancies and STDs among U.S. teens have begun increasing again.

The Obama administration eliminated more than $150 million in federal funding targeted at abstinence programs, which are relatively new and have little rigorous evidence supporting their effectiveness. Instead it is launching a new $114 million pregnancy prevention initiative that will fund only programs that have been shown scientifically to work. The administration Monday proposed expanding that program to $183 million next year. The move came after intensifying questions about the effectiveness of abstinence programs. Study finds focus on abstinence in sex-ed classes can delay sexual activity

First, this is not the first carefully designed study to evaluate abstinence education, there have been lots of them, and they typically find that abstinence education does not result in responsible sexual behavior among young people. For instance, The Post indirectly refers to results released last week by the Guttmacher Institute showing that the teen pregnancy rate has begun an alarming increase in recent years, with rates for blacks and Hispanics significantly higher than for whites. The Guttmacher report says:
“After more than a decade of progress, this reversal is deeply troubling,” says Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute senior public policy associate. “It coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration. A strong body of research shows that these programs do not work. Fortunately, the heyday of this failed experiment has come to an end with the enactment of a new teen pregnancy prevention initiative that ensures that programs will be age-appropriate, medically accurate and, most importantly, based on research demonstrating their effectiveness.” Following Decade-Long Decline, U.S. Teen Pregnancy Rate Increases As Both Births And Abortions Rise

Here is the abstract of the paper reported on in The Post, this is the only thing you can access online:
Objective To evaluate the efficacy of an abstinence-only intervention in preventing sexual involvement in young adolescents.

Design Randomized controlled trial.

Setting Urban public schools.

Participants A total of 662 African American students in grades 6 and 7.

Interventions An 8-hour abstinence-only intervention targeted reduced sexual intercourse; an 8-hour safer sex–only intervention targeted increased condom use; 8-hour and 12-hour comprehensive interventions targeted sexual intercourse and condom use; and an 8-hour health-promotion control intervention targeted health issues unrelated to sexual behavior. Participants also were randomized to receive or not receive an intervention maintenance program to extend intervention efficacy.

Outcome Measures The primary outcome was self-report of ever having sexual intercourse by the 24-month follow-up. Secondary outcomes were other sexual behaviors.

Results The participants' mean age was 12.2 years; 53.5% were girls; and 84.4% were still enrolled at 24 months. Abstinence-only intervention reduced sexual initiation (risk ratio [RR], 0.67; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.48-0.96). The model-estimated probability of ever having sexual intercourse by the 24-month follow-up was 33.5% in the abstinence-only intervention and 48.5% in the control group. Fewer abstinence-only intervention participants (20.6%) than control participants (29.0%) reported having coitus in the previous 3 months during the follow-up period (RR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.90-0.99). Abstinence-only intervention did not affect condom use. The 8-hour (RR, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.92-1.00) and 12-hour comprehensive (RR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.91-0.99) interventions reduced reports of having multiple partners compared with the control group. No other differences between interventions and controls were significant.

Conclusion Theory-based abstinence-only interventions may have an important role in preventing adolescent sexual involvement.

Wow, I wish I could see the whole paper. Significant results: abstinence-only classes reduced sexual activity relative to the no-sex-ed control group, for both sex-ever and sex in the past 3 months. Comprehensive sex-ed reduced promiscuity compared to the control group.

It does not appear from the abstract that abstinence-only resulted in significantly lower sexual intercourse rates than comprehensive sex-ed.

These results are based on fourteen-year-old inner-city girls' verbal reports to a grown-up about whether they had had sex.

One thing to notice is that this abstract gives "model-estimated probability of ever having sexual intercourse," it is not the actual percentage of participants who did, as The Post suggests. Another thing to notice is the huge confidence interval around the abstinence-only result, especially compared to the other groups. Basically this is saying that though the risk ratio is calculated at 0.67, they are 95 percent certain that if you tried this with a huge sample the result would lie between 0.48 and 0.96, where 1.0 means no effect at all and less than 1.0 means a decrease in risk. In other words, it could be something or it could be nothing. By the way, the abstract does not make clear what variables went into the denominator of the risk ratio, so it is uninterpretable as a number, all we know is that this value is very uncertain. Is this compared to the control group, all the other groups, the comprehensive group? The narrative suggests it is a comparison between abstinence-only and the control group which received no sex ed at all.

There is not enough information in The Post article or any other I have found to allow thorough evaluation of the study. According to The Post, which has presumably looked at the published paper, 33 percent of students in the "abstinence" condition (which was "wait till you're ready," not "wait till marriage") had had sex after two years, as had 47 percent of the no-sex-ed control group, while 52 percent who received the "safe sex" class had sex, and 42 percent of the "comprehensive" (abstinence and condoms) condition had.

We are really more interested in the difference between abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education here, comparing 33 percent to 42 percent sexual-activity rates after the two types of classes. Classes that tell kids to use condoms (the safer-sex only condition) should not be expected to increase abstinence. And really, you go into 6th and 7th grade classes and tell students that they should use a condom when they have sex, and don't tell them they should wait? The ethics of that are worrisome.

These are 6th and 7th grade poor, black, inner-city kids. The information they receive at home is not going to be comparable to other demographic groups, their school is not going to be a good one, and their peers are going to be having sex at a younger age than other segments of the population. This researcher, John B. Jemmott III, specializes in reducing HIV/AIDS rates in African-American populations, and this study might provide important insights about very young adolescents within that target population. The average age of participants here was 12.2; the abstinence lessons might have gotten an extra 9 percent of them to wait till they were 14 before having sex, compared to the comprehensive class.

I wouldn't scoff at a reliable (replicated) 9-percent reduction in middle-school sex rates, but this study cannot be generalized beyond a very narrow population, and as The Post article notes, "critics say" the so-called abstinence-only classes were nothing like those funded by the federal government. (But somebody from the National Abstinence Education Association says that's just "an effort to dismiss abstinence education rather than understanding what it is"...)

It is frustrating and sad to see The Post putting a study like this on the top of the front page and pushing it as a breakthrough. There is no information given about what kind of "abstinence-only" classes were taught here, but it is clear they are not like the ones that the federal government funded under the Bush administration. This is a very young target audience from a special population and there is no reason to think that these results will generalize to any other group. Twelve-year-olds who were taught not to have sex had a lower rate of sexual intercourse at the age of fourteen than those who were not taught about sex at all.