Montgomery County Public Schools
Board of Education
Attn: Ms. Nancy Navarro, President
Dear Ms. Navarro:
As the founder of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit organization that monitors “ex-gay” ministries, and as the author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, I have studied Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) for many years. I am deeply concerned about the deceptive PFOX flyer going home with students on Feb. 1. If you look beneath the surface, PFOX is a dangerous group that puts children at risk and has ties to a group that recently justified slavery.
Before I further discuss PFOX’ troubling record, I want to thank you and the board for instituting a curriculum that works towards greater understanding and tolerance. In the face of organized pressure, you have stood firm and taken steps towards reducing harassment and making life better on campus for GLBT students. This is why I think it is essential that the Board of Education have the full story regarding PFOX.
While PFOX has presented an ostensibly innocuous handout for MCPS, their goal is to drive impressionable students to their website. Once there, students will receive misinformation or be referred to the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). This fringe organization made national news in 2006 after an article was published on its website by Dr. Gerald Schoenewolf, a key member of NARTH’ “Scientific Advisory Committee.” His offending essay included the following: (I have attached the full essay)
“There is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America,” writes Schoenewolf. “Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle…Life there was savage… and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off.”
The National Black Justice Coalition and the Southern Poverty Law Center swiftly condemned the article, and the Los Angeles Times covered the scandal on Oct. 15, 2006.
NARTH has also shown great insensitivity to gender variant schoolchildren. Last year, Dr. Joseph Berger, also on the “Scientific Advisory Committee,” published an article on NARTH’ website that said these children should be “ridiculed” into conforming. After a public outcry, NARTH removed the article. (Berger article is attached)
While these episodes are deeply troubling, it is equally troubling that much of PFOX’ information regarding homosexuality comes from NARTH. Unfortunately, PFOX’ ties to NARTH are not peripheral. PFOX’ former Board President Richard Cohen has long had an intimate relationship with the group, even serving as a featured conference trainer at their 2000 annual meeting in Washington.
Truth Wins Out is concerned that the PFOX flyer would essentially be providing a referral service for “therapist” Richard Cohen and his anti-gay activism. It is important to note that Cohen was expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002 for malpractice. Yet, he is the chief referral on the PFOX site and seemingly the only therapist PFOX recommends in the state of Maryland. While the MCPS has an obligation to represent diverse viewpoints, there should be great trepidation that the PFOX flyer might hand deliver students to a man who was severely rebuked and barred by his colleagues for unethical therapy.
Some of Cohen’ methods are quite bizarre and should be strongly considered by the MCPS as they consider future input from PFOX. A few of his scientifically questionable methods that won’t be found in PFOX’ flier include:
Spiritual Warfare: Cohen has suggested in his book, Coming Out Straight, that avenging spirits from dead relatives are one potential cause of homosexuality. This strange idea could surely influence the way some students view their gay peers, leading to increased alienation or harassment.
Touch Therapy: This is where Cohen gets clients to sit on his lap (or the lap of another man) while the client is softly petted — supposedly in a nonsexual way. Cohen’ technique likely came from his time living on Vashon Island with the Wesleyan Christian Community Church, a cult that news reports say practiced nude therapy in church.
Intrauterine Memory Recovery: Cohen believes that if a mother had bad experiences during pregnancy, such as fights with her husband, this could traumatize the fetus and lead to homosexuality. Cohen promotes the idea that through therapy, a client can retrieve memories from the womb, which could help him or her become heterosexual.
Bioenergetics: This is where Cohen tries to induce flashbacks in clients so they can remember when they became gay. To generate these supposedly repressed memories, Cohen has clients bang a tennis racket against a pillow, while yelling the name of his or her parents. Clients are also encouraged to unfairly blame parents for causing their homosexuality. This often divides families, causing an unnecessary rift between parents and children.
Aversion: Cohen tries to create an aversion to homosexuality by chronically demeaning homosexuals and dehumanizing them. For example, in his book, Coming Out Straight, he says, without supporting evidence, that, “A man with same-sex attractions may have a chameleon-like nature” or suffer from “impatience or lack of discipline.”
In light of glaring statistics showing GLBT students are more likely to commit suicide as a result societal rejection, the MCPS should have great apprehension about PFOX’ divisive and discriminatory rhetoric being introduced to students. While PFOX has a right to free speech, there is no inherent right to false speech that seeks to ridicule and demonize GLBT Americans.
Additionally, there is also the concern that students are receiving incorrect information on homosexuality that flies in the face of every respected medical and mental health organization in America. In August 2006, the American Psychological Association clearly said that ex-gay therapy was scientifically unsound and could promote discrimination. According to the APA:
“For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA’ concern about the position’ espoused by NARTH and so-called conversion therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”
The American Psychiatric Association says that ex-gay therapy can lead to “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.” This is a major reason why the American Medical Association specifically opposes “the use of “reparative’ or “conversion’ therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” (AMA Policy Number H-160.991).
As harmful as the experts consider ex-gay therapy, the way it is administered by PFOX exponentially raises the possibility of harm to students. The distribution of PFOX’ flyers is clearly the equivalent of the smoking industry handing out “informational” materials on campus touting the health benefits of cigarettes. The experts have spoken and I hope that these learned opinions and medical standards would be reflected and incorporated in MCPS curriculum.
Truth Wins Out requests that you thoroughly investigate PFOX, Cohen’ troubling record and the dubious groups PFOX is associated with before considering their positions on homosexuality. I would be more than happy to provide my book, Anything But Straight, to school board members and meet with you to further discuss this matter.
There is no doubt in my mind that you want what is best for students and are concerned about their health and well-being. That is why I urge you to review the full array of facts before students are subjected to disinformation that could cause them psychological or physical harm. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
Truth Wins Out