An open letter to the Montgomery County, Maryland School Superintendent Joshua Star
We write with great concern today about a grossly misleading flier that was disseminated to Montgomery County students by the organization Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX). While non-profit literature must not be blocked based on viewpoint, it can and should be prohibited if it contains blatant misinformation that jeopardizes the health and well being of students. The PFOX flier easily fits this description and the group has a dubious history that includes bizarre and bigoted practices that have no place in your public school system.
The flier in question is highly deceptive because it falsely states that PFOX “promotes diversity” and “supports tolerance.” Indeed, PFOX board member and spokesperson, Peter Sprigg, played an instrumental role in the Southern Poverty Law Center declaring the Family Research Council, where he works, a certified hate group in 2011. Sprigg has called homosexuality “unnatural and unhealthy,” and an attack on the “natural family.”
In March 2008, Sprigg responded to a question on Hardball with Chris Matthews about uniting gay partners during the immigration process by saying: “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them.” He later apologized, but then went on to tell MSNBC host Chris Matthews, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.” “So we should outlaw gay behavior?” Matthews asked. “Yes,” Sprigg replied.
In August 2010, PFOX president Greg Quinlan spoke at a conference organized by another SPLC- certified hate group, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. In his speech, Quinlan made an outrageous and offensive anti-LGBT slur:
“I wasn’t your flaming faggot, you know,” Quinlan said. “I can say that because I’ve been there and done that. You know, the one’s whose wrists are so limp that when the wind blows they slap themselves in the face. I wasn’t one of them.”
At the same-conference, PFOX public speaker and convicted felon, Arthur Abba Goldberg, smeared LGBT people with ugly stereotypes disguised as scientific observation:
“By the way, did you notice that a lot of gays who remain in the gay lifestyle also do a lot of body building,” said Goldberg. “They will be in the gym a lot trying to build up their pecs…Because they have these body image issues and don’t feel they are masculine enough.”
Clearly, PFOX mischaracterized itself when it claimed that it “promotes diversity” and “supports tolerance.” Do you want LGBT students under your jurisdiction to contact a group that browbeats them with guilt and shame and believes they should be “exported” or criminalized? Are you inadvertently encouraging pupils to reach out to a group that undermines their mental health by hurling demeaning, homophobic slurs and hurtful stereotypes? More important, are you prepared to face legal action if a student is harmed or commits suicide as a result of being subjected to the destructive “therapy” pushed by this viciously anti-gay outfit?
Let’s not beat around the bush: If an unsavory organization insulted other minorities with despicable epithets and demanded that they be “exported” or jailed – no school in Montgomery County would be distributing their leaflets. The fact that you would allow this politically motivated organization to spread its noxious message about LGBT people shows an unreasonable and unfathomable double standard.
Furthermore, the former president of PFOX, Richard Cohen, was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association for multiple ethics violations. Cohen is the individual most associated with the discredited mental health techniques trumpeted by PFOX.
Are you are aware that so-called “ex-gay” therapy is rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization in the nation, including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The American Psychiatric Association says that attempts to change sexual orientation can lead to “anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior.”
Why would Montgomery County want to place LGBT youth, already at an elevated risk for bullying, depression, and suicide in dangerous situations that can lead to tragedy? To continue allowing this specific organization into your school system is to court disaster. It is grossly irresponsible, reckless, and a dereliction of the primary duty of administrators to protect students from harm.
This is absolutely not about free speech, but about the distribution of blatantly false speech by an organization that brazenly misrepresented itself as a benign group promoting tolerance and diversity. In reality, it is advocating for outright discrimination and even criminalization, pushing junk science, and referring youth to unqualified therapists.
Judging by news reports, it appears that you disagree with PFOX’s flier – yet it was still handed out. We are assuming that at the time of distribution you were simply unaware of the full scope of PFOX’s anti-LGBT activities and its direct ties to hate groups that demonize and dehumanize LGBT people.
Well, now you know the facts. The question is what are you going to do about it?
Truth Wins Out
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”