Report cards aren't the only thing they gave out at a Maryland county's high schools recently. The Washington Post reports that Montgomery County high schools distributed fliers from Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays Seeking Tolerance for All (PFOX).
The fliers included the following message: "Every year, thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity. . . . 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."
The district's own non-discrimination policy (.pdf) would seem to forbid the distribution of such materials on its high school campuses. But district officials claim their hands are tied in the Post story.
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.
"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, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education.
But Steve Williams presents a compelling counter-argument on a Care2.com blog. He notes that the practice of conversion therapy for gay adolescents and adults alike has been shown to be so psychologically scarring that the American Psychological Association has formally discredited the practice.
Williams also mentions it was only last month at California's Prop 8 trial that 26-year-old Ryan Kendall testified about the ex-gay therapy sessions he was forced into at the age of 13. As Courthouse News Service reports:
Kendall said he was promptly sent to a Christian therapist for "reversal therapy." He was 13 at the time... Kendall said his therapist told him that the goal of their sessions was to make him heterosexual. "I remember the therapist told me that homosexuals were bad people and that homosexuality was not consistent with Christian teachings," he said.
But after attending the sessions, Kendall said he was "still gay." His parents then sent him to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization in Encino, Calif., run by Focus on the Family.
For more than a year and a half, he said, he talked to conversion-therapist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi. "I remember him saying that homosexuality is incompatible with what God wants for me," Kendall said. "He told me that I had to fundamentally reject what I was."
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Meanwhile, Kendall's home life changed dramatically, particularly his relationship with his mother. "Before, I had the kind of parents who would drive me to school and pack my lunches," he said. "After this, they were always yelling at me and calling me names. It was a very emotionally abusive environment. I remember my mother saying she hated me, that I was repulsive. She said she wished she'd had an abortion or that I had been born with Down syndrome," Kendall sobbed, prompting gasps throughout the courtroom. One woman, seated at the front of the gallery, began to weep.
Kendall said he left therapy at 16 because he realized that if he didn't stop going, he "wasn't going to survive." He had himself emancipated from his parents. When San Francisco City Attorney Ron Flynn asked him if his life got better after leaving therapy, Kendall replied, "I was incredibly suicidal and depressed. I hated my entire life. So no, things did not get better."
After five years of further self-destruction, Ryan was eventually able to recover.
"To casually brush this off as a freedom of speech issue, as the district seems to have done, misunderstands the danger that LGBT high school students face by letting this material be disseminated without challenge," Williams writes.