Monday, January 31, 2005

Oops All Gone

The recall blog's posts seem to flit before your eyes, ephemera passing through a frail winter's sunbeam. First they tried to imply that the school board was hiding the report, then they said oops, we made a mistake, and now they have deleted the post altogether.

Yeah, well, we've all done that, said something stupid -- don't you wish real life had a delete button on it?

But the other thing. Was it yesterday, or Saturday? They posted this whole explanation about how they had to use fake names on the blog, because their lives were being threatened, and they have families. I should've saved that one. It was so weird at the time that I couldn't even think of anything funny to say about it. Then they took it down. Then they put it up. Then they took it down.

Now it's down.

Hey, ya wanna see something funny?

Look at this blog: American Coprophagia (don't ask what it means). They kept a fun record of some of the more amusing messages from the recall message board, before they had the good sense to make it private so the rest of the world couldn't see the crazy stuff they were saying.

Listen, people, it's not that the recall people are being threatened. Read these messages, which these guys have been good enough to archive, just because they have a good sense of humor. The people who are aligned with this "movement" to keep any mention of gays out of the school curriculum are ... [I've given up the search for a word to put here].

They want people to feel sorry for them, so they blog that they're being threatened, but then they know that we know it's not true, so they take it down. But then they really do want us to think everybody's being mean to them, so they put it up, but of course even they can see how silly it sounds, so it goes down again. Some of this is just too weird.

Recall Blog Oops

The recall group's blog has retracted their comment about the BOE hiding the report.

They say:
Update: Oops. Our mistake. The document is still available at (Recall group blog)

Well, yes it is, isn't it?

Look, we're not here to make fun every time somebody makes a mistake. But here ya got a gang of conspiracy theorists who are trying to convince the world that the "gay agenda" is out to recruit public school students into its nefarious sodomistic nightmare by teaching them some simple, obvious facts about sexual orientation, and they go out on the Internet implying that the Board of Education is part of the scandalous plot to undermine all that is virtuous by concealing the One Document that contains the True Plan ...

... well, yeah, we make fun of that.

People, follow the link, read the document, make up your own mind.

Bush Misunderestimates Gay Parenting

This morning's New York Times has an article that asks some questions about a remark President Bush made the other day.
Are children worse off being raised by gay or lesbian couples than by heterosexual parents?

Responding on Thursday to a question about gay adoption, President Bush suggested that they were.

"Studies have shown," Mr. Bush said in an interview with The New York Times, "that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman." Experts Dispute Bush on Gay-Adoption Issue

Now, this is funny. You hear people say this all the time, "studies have shown" this or that. It seems to me it has become more of an off-handed way of supporting common sense than an actual citation of any scientific research. Studies show that a low fat diet is good for your heart, or studies show that kids who play outside are healthier, or studies show that people who don't express their emotions are more likely to have problems later in life... you know, you don't ever ask "Hey -- what studies?"

But after Bush said this, some people did ask what studies. And the answer was that there really aren't any studies that show that "the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman."

But of course that's not the whole story.

The Times continues:
But experts say there is no scientific evidence that children raised by gay couples do any worse - socially, academically or emotionally - than their peers raised in more traditional households.

The experts, who cross the political spectrum, say studies have shown that on average, children raised by two married heterosexual parents fare better on a number of measures, including school performance, than those raised by single parents or by parents who are living together but are unmarried.

But, said Dr. Judith Stacey, a professor of sociology at New York University, "there is not a single legitimate scholar out there who argues that growing up with gay parents is somehow bad for children."

Dr. Stacey, who published a critical review of studies on the subject in 2001 and has argued in favor of allowing adoption by gays, added, "The debate among scientists is all about how good the studies we have really are."

Indeed, that is the debate. You find some gay people with kids, you interview them, administer a survey, whatever, you add up the results. So what?

The definitive critique of this research, not mentioned in this particular article, was put out by a Rockville couple, both PhD's, who do social-science research, often for conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation. Robert Lerner, now acting Commissioner of Education Statistics, and his wife, Althea Nagai, reviewed the methodology of a number of studies of gay parents, and found all of them lacking in terms of methodology -- research designs, sampling, measurement, statistical testing, etc. Their paper (which can be found online HERE) is a seminar in how to find the problems in social-science research.

I would be almost sure that Bush, who appointed Lerner to the Commissioner's position, was thinking of Lerner and Nagai's report when he made his comment.

But, as they say in the article, the argument is over whether the research is sound and valid, not whether gay parenting is inferior. And even Lerner and Nagai don't go so far as to comment on that, only on methods.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Recall Blog Exposes BOE Cover-Up

Woo hoo! The recall group is blowing the whistle on a big conspiracy. Seems that the Board of Education has taken down the report, so the public can't read about the new sodomy-promotin' curriculum that will turn all our kids into perverts.

Here's what they say:
Missing link?

The new sex-ed curriculum used to be available at the MCPS Board of Education website ( But this link now has a picture of a gopher poking up out of a hole asking the web surfer, "Take a wrong turn?"

Why not allow the public to view the new curriculum the BOE voted on?

Luckily, the CRC has this public document on it's [sic] website at Recall Group Blog

I tried that link, and I, too, was shown the Great Gopher of Disappointment.

Why not allow the public to view the new curriculum the BOE voted on? they ask.

I would re-phrase the question. I would say, Why not try the correct URL?

Try this one:

The Board of Education didn't move the document, it isn't hidden, the public can still read it. The recall group just left off part of the URL.

Here, I'll make a short one for you:

That works.

Gee, it wouldn't be like the folks at to get all upset over nuthin', would it?

Evolution debate enters ‘round two'

‘Intelligent design' backers offer option
This is what we are going against, and it's a much more delicate and subtle attack than it was back in the day...Now they try to pass the belief in an intelligent design as a plausible scientific explanation...that just happens to be based on faith. Well, that's not what we know about science as we know it, and probably the standards of science would and should be revised, and in fact they are rather periodically, because that's what science is about: selfcorrecting itself, and taking notice from the occurrances in the natural world.
“There are only two options,” said Harris, who is leading this year's fight. “Life was either designed or it wasn't.”

That's not the point, evolution defenders reply. Science is about searching for natural explanations of the world, they say, and has no room for a theory based on faith.

The public will join the debate beginning Tuesday, when the first of four public hearings on new science standards will be held in Kansas City, Kan.
Harris and seven other members of the 26-member committee instead propose students be “more adequately informed” on evolution.

The eight submitted a proposal to the state Board of Education. One recommendation was to change the definition of science. The current definition, they say, limits inquiry because it allows only “natural” explanations. They want it to be more objective and to allow students “to follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

Evolution supporters said such a change would shake science at its foundation.

“Intelligent design claims it's a mistake to limit science to naturalistic explanations,” said Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University who has written science textbooks used in Kansas and elsewhere.

“But what other kinds of explanations are there? The straightforward answer — which is very clear from their document but they never quite frankly have the courage to use the word — is supernatural explanations. … It means supernatural explanations in Kansas will now be part of science.”

Intelligent-design proponents deny that. They say design can be detected without introducing a designer.

If Kansas adopted the proposed changes from the group of eight, it would go further than any state had gone in adopting a position endorsed by supporters of intelligent design.

Sex Education Woes

Sunday, January 30, 2005 - 8:21:02 PM

Texoma schools may need to re-evaluate their sex-ed programs. As KTEN's Noelle Newton explains...students studying one type of curriculum are doing the opposite of what they're being taught.

Abstinence only programs don't seem to be very effective on the behavior of teens according to a new study.

A state-sponsored study by Texas A and M University researchers indicates that abstinence-only programs like those promoted by the bush administration don't seem to be working on teens in the president's home state. The ongoing study is the first evaluation of the abstinence programs across the state of Texas.

It found that students in almost all high school grades were more sexually active after undergoing abstinence education. Researchers don't believe the programs encouraged teenagers to have sex, but they say the programs apparently did not interfere with customary trends among adolescents.

We wanted to know what Texomans thought.
“It seems to work. Some kids are still doing it, but it think they're using a condom,” Dimitri Morton, Denison High student.
“Before they would just say, hey if you're gonna do it at least be safe about it. Evidently, the abstinence only isn't working right now. Maybe they need to change it back,” Gene Willman.

The results are based on a ten-page questionnaire filled out anonymously by junior high and high school students. The study examined five programs in more than two-dozen schools.

The researchers admit the study does have flaws, making it hard to tell if the teens would've shown an even greater increase in sexual activity if they hadn't had abstinence education.
-Noelle Newton, KTEN News

Saturday, January 29, 2005

God Hates Swedes???

I had forgotten, when I wrote the earlier post about the bigoted Swedish preacher who hates gay people, that this bigoted American preacher hates gay people and Swedes. Fred Phelps, the Baptist minister who runs the web site, felt very, very good about the recent Asian tsunami, because it killed thousands of Swedes who were vacationing there.

This so pleased him that he started a new web site, Here's a sample from his web page:
Fags have a 3 point agenda: 1) decriminalize sodomy, 2) add fags to the protected classes as victims like blacks, and 3) criminalize Gospel preaching against fags. Sweden's doom is now irreversible!

With the imprisonment of Ake Green, Swedes have allowed the filthy sodomite agenda to be completely fulfilled. See our monument to Pastor Green here.

With this act, Sweden has drawn to it the wrath and mocking of God!

"I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;
When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you" (Proverbs 1:26-27)

"He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision" (Psalm 2:4).


I came across this site by way of a blogger who calls himself The Bad Methodist. I enjoyed his commentary on the Swedish preacher dilemma:
Personally, I come down on the side of free speech. Most intelligent people, even those who think homosexuality is a sin, can make the distinction between two consenting adults of the same gender in a mutally loving relationship and pedophiles and people who would "rape animals." Speeches like this tend to show the speakers for the idiots they are and do a lot more harm to the anti-gay agenda than rational conservatives who don't use ludicrous non-sequitors to state their case. Take a look at Fred Phelps, who creates gay rights supporters every time he opens his mouth. No offense to Sweden, but I'll take free speech because I think it does the job better than any statute can.

Right, let the bigots say whatever they like. People can tell the difference.

Is There a 'Gay Gene'?

New Genetic Regions Associated With Male Sexual Orientation Found

This article from WebMD talks about new research regarding the genetical predisposition of homosexuality. What we have found more interesting in this debate it's not the fact that most people agree on the probable genetic foundation of homosexuality, but that the group that believes homosexuality is a sin just focus on the fact that people could just abstain, because "we are all called to chastity" -never mind if we want to ignore that call and have a fulfilled life following our own truth, and our own sense of self and identity.

It's important to remember, also, that homosexuality was demeed a sin, long before genetics as a field of study came in to being, and if the people who oppose homosexuality now accept the genetical component of it it's only due to its inevitability...They would look way too ignorant, otherwise.

Jan. 28, 2005 - The genes a man gets from his mother and father may play an important role in determining whether he is gay or not, according to a new study likely to reignite the "gay gene" debate.

Researchers say it's the first time the entire human genetic makeup has been scanned in search of possible genetic determinants of male sexual orientation. The results suggest that several genetic regions may influence homosexuality.

"It builds on previous studies that have consistently found evidence of genetic influence on sexual orientation, but our study is the first to look at exactly where those genes are located," says researcher Brian Mustanski, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
New Targets for Gay Gene Research

Elliot S. Gershon, MD, professor of psychiatry and human genetics at the University of Chicago, says the study represents an important step forward in understanding how genes affect human sexual orientation.

"It is worth testing genes within a region of linkage to see if one of them has a variant that is more frequent in men who are gay than in men who are not," says Gershon, who is also currently involved in another study of gay brothers and genetic influences on sexual orientation.

"This report adds to the legitimacy of research on normal variations in human behavior," Gershon tells WebMD. "There is an argument that has been made in public press that it doesn't make sense to study conditions or traits that are behavioral. But this suggests that there is a genetic contribution to this particular trait of same sex orientation."

Other articles:
Non-sex genes link to 'gay trait'

The Swedish Preacher Dilemma

I've read this news story several times, and I gotta admit, this is a very confusing situation, you're not quite sure whose side to be on in this.

This preacher in Sweden said in a sermon that gay people were sending the whole world to hell, y'know, the usual stuff.
One Sunday in the summer of 2003, the Rev. Ake Green, a Pentecostal pastor, stepped into the pulpit of his small church in the southern Swedish village of Borgholm. There, the 63-year-old clergyman delivered a sermon denouncing homosexuality as "a deep cancerous tumor in the entire society" and condemning Sweden's plan to allow gays to form legally recognized partnerships.

"Our country is facing a disaster of great proportions," he told the 75 parishioners at the service. "Sexually twisted people will rape animals," Green declared, and homosexuals "open the door to forbidden areas," such as pedophilia. Swede's Sermon on Gays: Bigotry or Free Speech?

Yeah, we've heard all that before, we didn't have to go to Sweden to find out that the "gay agenda" is undermining our entire civilization. But then, there's the Swedish angle:
With these words, which the local newspaper published at his request, Green ran afoul of Sweden's strict laws against hate speech. He was indicted, convicted and sentenced to 30 days in jail. He remains free pending appeal.

Well, that's the difference between Sweden and the US, I guess. We have hate-crime laws, but you can still pretty much say whatever stupid thing you want here. There, they lock you up.

So you find yourself rooting for the preacher, because all he did was express his opinion and now The Man is puttin' him down ... but wait, you root against him, because what he said was so moronic.
On Wednesday last week, about 200 people gathered outside the courthouse in the southern city of Jonkoping to voice support for Green during his first appeal. Many who showed up were homosexuals who said while they disagreed vehemently with what the pastor said, they defended his right to say it.

Inside, prosecutor Kjell Yngvesson argued that Green had "expressed disdain for homosexuals as a group" and that the 30-day jail term should be lengthened.

Well, I have a little theory about democracy and human intellect. I think, in the short run, people can disappoint you, they'll make choices and support causes that are obviously maladaptive and inconsistent. Over time, though, with open debate and free exchange of opinions, people will work around to a consensus position that serves everyone quite well.

For instance, in Montgomery County right now, we have some people yelling at the rest of us, sorta taking the Swedish preacher's point of view. I expect that, over time, there will be some discussions, some dialogue and eventually the people of our county will settle on something we can all live with.

We don't want to see the recall group locked up for the dumb things they say. I want them to be able to say stuff right out loud, so everybody can hear how silly it all sounds. The "gay agenda" this, the "sodomites" that, "ex-gays" this and the other thing. This is America, we speak freely, we teach our kids the facts, the people will come together on the side of reason.

Recall Has a Blog (No Comments)

The recall group has their own blog. Of course, after the fiasco with their previous message board, where their fanatics got completely out of control, until they had to shut it down, the recall group's blog doesn't have any comments.

That's good for them, because it means no dialogue. Dialogue can only be bad for them, in two ways: people on their side can say what they think, and people who disagree with them can say what they think. In the past, this has meant that their people raved like loonies, including threatening the school board and everything else, and people who happened across the message board started leaving prank messages, making fun of them. If they had allowed comments on their blog, the same thing would happen, you know it would. The one smart thing they've ever done, cutting off the dialogue before it hurts them.

We have a strict policy here. If you want to comment, we don't care about your point of view, if you're decent about it. These are obviously complex issues, and it's not scary to us if somebody can disagree with grace and wit. But trolls -- and if you don't know what that is, you probably aren't one -- will be banned, pure and simple. If people want to be jerks about it, we'll shut off our comments altogether.

OK, so the recall blog of today says:
The new curriculum blithely adds this note, "Transgender refers to someone whose gender identity or expression differs from conventional expectations for their physical sex. This term includes transsexual and transvestite. (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Vol. 92, No. 4 (Oct. 1993), pp. 631-34)"

Yep, no reference at all to gender identity disorder.

(The irony here is that the above link is one of the resources that the advisory committee recommended but isn't given to teachers or included in the lesson outline.)

Wow ... blithely ... no reference at all... irony ... that sounds bad.

That last comment is about their link in their text to an article about gender identity disorder, which, as they say, they wanted to be in the curriculum. But ... nobody cares. This isn't what the class is about, it isn't relevant, it really doesn't belong here, and it was voted down in the committee. The brought it up, they showed everybody, everybody voted, and they lost. That happens sometimes.

Maybe they would've wanted to quote the whole section, which starts: For Teacher Reference Only.

See, this material isn't for a classroom lecture, this is some auxilliary information for when a student asks a question, so the teacher has some idea what the answer is. No, they don't list every character disorder and neurosis that has a sexual-identity component. This section of the curriculum gives teachers some definitions -- here's the whole section, so you can see the term in context:
For Teacher Reference Only
Questioning refers to people who are uncertain as to their sexual orientation. (No source)
Transgender refers to someone whose gender identity or expression differs from conventional expectations for their physical sex. This term includes transsexual and transvestite.(Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Vol. 92, No. 4 (Oct. 1993), pp. 631-34)
Coming Out refers to the process in which a person identifies himself or herself as homosexual or bisexual to family, friends and other significant people in his or her life. (Source: American Psychiatric Association Fact Sheet: Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues (May 2000)).
Intersexed refers to people who are born with anatomy or physiology (ambiguous genitalia) that differs from cultural and/or medical ideals of male and female. (School Resource)

See? It's just information for the teacher, answers to some questions that might come up.

What are the chances a kid is going to raise their hand and ask, "Teacher? Teacher? What is gender identity disorder?"

And this is what they're so upset about?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Is "Telling the Truth" a Family Value?

On January Twelfth, the recall group's media guy, Steve Fisher, was on Christian radio station WAVA, interviewed by Don Kroah.

At 34:40 into the interview, Fisher mentions they have had over a hundred hits on the petition link of the recall group's website, alone. So we figure that they had their online petitions going by then.

Even if anybody had listened, they might not have noticed this little snatch of dialogue, toward the end -- it goes by kinda quick. At 46:00 into the recording (listen to it HERE) (it's the second part of the January 12th archive), the announcer says:
DK: You say there's a petition with, uh, considerable signatures ...
SF: Right
DK: ... to recall the board, is that the petition you were referencing earlier?
SF: The petition is in the process of being developed.
DK: All right, we're gonna come back in a moment...

Y'know, I woulda sworn I heard them tell the school board they weren't really going to do that.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Response to This Morning's Washington Times Article

[Editors note: the following was submitted by David Fishback, chair of the MCPS Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, in response to an article in the Washington Times this morning]

The January 26, 2004, edition of the Washington Times published an article entitled Sex-ed courses called flawed, By Jon Ward. The article is set forth below, along with some pertinent comments:

Critics of a new sex-education curriculum in Montgomery County public schools say the program teaches that homosexuality is not a choice without including scientific information to the contrary.

"It's inadequate," said Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. "It's an exercise in social advocacy, primarily."

Mr. Throckmorton, who works with former practicing homosexuals, says in a recently published 33-page critique that some good changes have been made to the curriculum, but that the negatives far outweigh the positives.

"The changes undermine any abstinence message the curriculum may offer," he said. "And its treatment of homosexuality is an exercise in social advocacy as opposed to education."

Mr. Throckmorton's opinion supports that of some members of an advisory committee that reviewed the changes and said homosexuality is a preference or choice, not a genetically predetermined condition. The members also said their scientific evidence was rejected.

(a) Providing correct information on condom use (which most students will eventually need to know, since most will eventually marry and most will not want to leave decisions on when to have children to chance) does not undermine the abstinence message. Indeed, the condom demonstration video Throckmorton objects to -- but likely has not even seen -- repeatedly stresses that abstinence is the only 100% sure way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually- transmitted infections.

(b) All the revised curriculum does is to provide basic facts, as understood by every mainstream American professional medical and mental health organization for more than three decades: that homosexuality is not a disease and that most experts do not believe that sexual orientation is a choice. This is no more "social advocacy" than the provision of any other pertinent medical and scientific information in the Health Education Curriculum. If one were to follow Throckmorton's logic, material in school curriculum debunking myths about superiority or inferiority of certain racial groups would be impermissible "social advocacy." Hopefully, that is no longer needed -- but a generation ago it was essential.

(c) The proposition that "homosexuality is . . . not a genetically predetermined condition" is a red herring. The curriculum takes no position on the precise etiology of homosexuality because the science has not figured that out. The science has concluded, however, that it is NOT the result of mental illness -- a core proposition of the teachings of Throckmorton and those who agree with him.

(d) "The [dissenting Committee] members also said their scientific evidence was rejected." I have no doubt they have been saying that. The problem, however, is that they presented NO pertinent, useful scientific evidence. I told the Times reporter that they had presented the Spitzer article which suggested that maybe, for some highly motivated individuals, sexual orientation could be changed -- but that a professional medical epidemiologist on the Committee examined that article and published analyses of it by other professionals and concluded that Spitzer's methodology was fatally flawed. (Spitzer's "samples" were all provided by "ex-gay" advocacy groups.) This report from the Committee member convinced the majority not to include the Spitzer article as a teacher resource.

The county school board unanimously approved the curriculum Nov. 9.

David Fishback, a Rockville lawyer who leads the citizensadvisory committee, said he had not read Mr. Throckmorton's criticism of the curriculum but was familiar with his work.

"The bottom line for Dr. Throckmorton is that homosexuality is a sin or a disease," he said.

Mr. Fishback said that Mr. Throckmorton's view "that people can change their sexual orientation and sexual desires if they really, really want to and really, really try is risky, risky business."

Mr. Fishback has told reporters he joined the advisory committee in part because his two grown sons declared themselves homosexuals after hiding it for much of their adolescence.

"People, too often, are put through hell to fit the conception of how people think is the only way people can be," he said.

What the article omitted, however, was the fact that leaders of the "ex-gay" movement – notably, for example, John Palk and Michael Johnston -- had "fallen off the wagon," and that it was the long experience of the mental health community in damaging people by assuming they could "change" that led them to closely examine and then revise their understanding of homosexuality.

I provided to the reporter a compelling example of a retired rabbi who told me of an incident early in his professional career (in the 1960s or perhaps earlier) when he counseled a teenage member of his congregation who had told his parents he was homosexual that the young man could and must change his orientation, that it was a sin and was "abnormal." The young man, a brilliant and caring individual, tried mightily to do so -- but eventually committed suicide. As time went on, the rabbi concluded that his advice was wrong, and he still carried that guilt 40 years later.

The article should not have just provided my conclusion that "reparative therapy" approaches are risky – it should have provided the reasons for the conclusion. Our public discourse has too often become a clash of conclusions, not a discussion of facts that lead us to conclusions.

The new curriculum will be tested in three middle schools and three high schools in mid-April. The six schools have not been chosen, said Brian Edwards, the spokesman for the Montgomery County public schools.

The advisory committee will collect feedback from teachers, parents and students in the schools, then present the school board this summer with the results of the pilot program and recommend any adjustments.

The board members will then vote on whether to approve the proposed changes and whether to continue the program throughout the school district.

The new curriculum would be implemented in the fall in county eighth and 10th grades.

Mr. Fishback rejects the claim by Michelle Turner and other committee members who say their evidence on homosexuality was ignored.

Mrs. Turner has four children in public schools and has helped organize a parent group working to stop the new curriculum.

She says most of the committee members "favor a pro-gay agenda and see homosexuality as a perfectly acceptable, if not normal lifestyle, that should be taught to our children at an early age."

Ah, yes – the "pro-gay agenda." Would Mrs. Turner characterize her view as the "anti-gay agenda"? I do not think it a terribly extraordinary proposition that there is nothing wrong with being gay – although Throckmorton, Dobson, et al. would disagree.

In any event, the proposed revised curriculum for 8th and 10th Grade Health Classes simply lays out the facts as understood by all mainstream American medical and mental health organizations. It does not "advocate" sexual orientation. There is nothing in the curriculum about a so-called "homosexual lifestyle," other than an accurate statement that there are families with children in our community headed by same-sex couples.

Is that the "homosexual lifestyle" that seems to worry some people? It sounds more like just a life. If Mrs. Turner and her allies do not want their children to be "exposed" to this brief unit of the Health Education Curriculum, they have the right to not sign the form required for students to take the unit.

Your New Education Secretary's Priorities

You might not have noticed, but we got a brand new Secretary of Education last week. And just to make sure you understand what the Bush administration means by "education," the very first thing that Margaret Spellings did in office was to send a nice, fat letter to PBS, warning them about an upcoming segment of a TV show that includes a family with two mommies.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the "Sugartime!" episode does not fulfill the intent Congress had in mind for programming. By law, she said, any funded shows must give top attention to "research-based educational objectives, content and materials."

"Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode," Spellings wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of PBS.

“Congress’ and the Department’s purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television."

She asked PBS to consider refunding the money it spent on the episode.

First act as secretary
With her letter, Spellings has made criticism of the publicly funded program’s depiction of the gay lifestyle one of her first acts as secretary. She began on Monday, replacing Rod Paige as President Bush’s education chief.

Spellings issued three requests to PBS.

She asked that her department’s seal or any statement linking the department to the show be removed. She asked PBS to notify its member stations of the nature of show so they could review it before airing it. And she asked for the refund “in the interest of avoiding embroiling the Ready-To-Learn program in a controversy that will only hurt” it.

In closing, she warned: "You can be assured that in the future the department will be more clear as to its expectations for any future programming that it funds." Education chief rips PBS for gay character

Now, let me opine for a second here, may I?

Here I see a survey that shows the US ranking 28th in mathematics, 18th in reading ... you've heard this before. Our schools suck.

And why do they suck? Is it because our TV shows fail to attain sex parity in parental roles? No, I don't think so, either. Education in the United States is a mess. The kids don't learn, the whole system has turned into a big bureaucracy where kids study to learn to pass tests, it doesn't really matter if they actually get educated or not. Finland, which places number one in most categories of educational achievement, has totally rejected the idea of standardized testing, which has become the whole point of our educational system. The fact is, we're going about it all wrong.

Now, you'd think that this would be the concern of the Secretary of the Department of Education, wouldn't you?

Naw, not in this day and age. She's gonna make sure we don't see any sodomites on television.

P-FOX President Expelled for Life from the American Counseling Association

Mike Airhart at pointed out this story on Wayne Besen's website, and we double checked it with the American Counseling Association, who confirmed its accuracy. It's not exactly recent news, but the fact had not been publicized by this professional organization.

It turns out that Richard Cohen, president of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), has been expelled for life from the American Counseling Association, on the basis of numerous ethics violations having to do with attempts at "reparative therapy" intended to change the sexual orientation of gay people.
According to the ACA's letter: "Mr. Cohen was found in violation of the following code sections A.1.a; A.1.b; A.5.a; A.6.a; C.3.b, C.3.f, and has not elected to appeal the decision taken by the ACA Ethics Committee within allotted timelines." (Please see below for full explanation of violations)

The letter referred to Cohen's violations which included inappropriate behavior such as fostering dependent counseling relationships, not promoting the welfare of clients, engaging in actions that sought to meet his personal needs at the expense of clients, exploiting the trust and dependency of clients, unethically soliciting testimonials from clients and promoting products to clients in a manner that is deceptive.

Richard Cohen is the president of P-FOX, a group that recently placed an ex-gay billboard in Virginia ( and sponsored a controversial ad campaign in Washington DC's subway system. His website is and he is a conference instructor for the National Association for the Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH). Cohen is also the author of "Coming Out Straight", a book in which Dr. Laura Schlessinger wrote the forward.

"With intellect and care, he [Cohen] offers invaluable insight into the reason for same-sex attractions and, for those willing to brave it, he illuminates a challenging journey from isolation," wrote Dr. Laura {Schlessinger] in Cohen's book.

Cohen has also been prominently features on Larry King Live, The Ricki Lake Show, The Salley Jessy Raphael Show and 20/20. Reparative therapy is rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization in America.

Besen's web site lists the text of the ethics rules vioilated by Cohen.

When contacted the ACA to confirm the story, we received the following letter:

Your inquiry regarding Richard Cohen of Bowie, MD and his status
with the American Counseling Association was forwarded to me for
a response. The ACA Ethics Committee at their most recent
adjudication meeting, 3/23/02, discussed in detail the ethics
complaint filed against Mr. Richard Cohen. The decision of the
committee was to accept all charges (A.1.a; A.1.b.; A.5.a.; A.6.a;
C.3.b; and C.3.f) against him and to render the sanction of ACA
Membership expulsion.

This case was officially closed 5/28/02, 30 business days after
the committee sanction, Mr. Richard Cohen elected not to appeal.


Larry T. Freeman, MA, LPC
Manager, Ethics and Professional Standards
Staff Liaison
American Counseling Association

Well, that's to the point.

PFOX, you might recall, put the big billboard up outside the MCPS district office. They had a member on the citizen's advisory committee that complained and continues to complain loudly about the "unfairness" of the new curriculum because it doesn't include information about ex-gays.

The recall group is tightly connected to PFOX, which is in turn a spin-off of James Dobson's evangelical organization. Though PFOX's membership list is not publicized, we note that psychologist Warren Throckmorton, who has written a long criticism of the MCPS curriculum, seems to be closely aligned with PFOX, speaking at many of their functions, and joining them in many of their presentations.

The treatment of gay people as if they were sick is unethical, according to the principles of most of the leading psychotherapy and counseling organizations. Further, most of the organizations have issued some sort of statement to the effect that sexual orientation is not something that can typically be changed. Yet a certain point of view requires it. In order to blame homosexuals for the persecution they receive, it is necessary to argue that they have chosen to be the way they are. No scientific paradigm accepts that. And here we learn of one organization expelling a member who claims otherwise.

Extry, Extry! James Dobson Did Not Criticize SpongeBob SquarePants

This just in. The Focus on the Family website has announced that their leader, James Dobson, did not -- I repeat, did not "criticize a cartoon character, as has been widely reported."

Please update your records. James Dobson did not criticize SpongeBob SquarePants.

Dobson, his eyes glazed from lack of sleep, suit wrinkled and stained, hair uncombed, mumbled to reporters:
"I've been in the public eye for thirty-something years and I have never had my words more misrepresented than they were in this instance," Dobson said on today's installment of his internationally syndicated radio program. "I was said to be on the warpath for my dislike for SpongeBob — who supposedly has homosexual characteristics.

"I said no such thing."

Y'know, I wonder how this whole thing got started. It's such a doggone shame that people would think he said something bad about SpongeBob SquarePants, just out of the blue like that.

According to his website:
What Dobson did say, in a speech last week in Washington during an event sponsored by the Family Research Council, was that SpongeBob is one of 100 popular animated characters that may have been co-opted by an innocuous-sounding group to promote acceptance of homosexuality to children.

Uh. Oh, OK, that's, like, so much better.

He didn't just call SpongeBob SquarePants a sodomite, he also implicated a hundred or so other cartoon characters.

Dobson, what can I say? You're a nut.

You know what his evidence is for this, right? There is a video with SpongeBob and all these other cartoon guys in it, and they ask kids to go to a web site and sign a "Tolerance Pledge." And one of the things the pledge says is:
I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.

You got that, right? It said "sexual identity."
While words like "diversity" and "unity" sound harmless — even noble — enough, the reality is they are often used by gay activists as cover for teaching children that homosexuality is the moral and biological equivalent to heterosexuality. And there is ample evidence that the We Are Family Foundation shares — and promotes — that view.

"Unfortunately," Dobson explained, "the We Are Family foundation has very strong homosexual advocacy roots and biases."

Diversity, unity, wow, I never would have realized that people who believe in that are devil-worshipping perverts.

There's another word the sodomites use, too. Reported in New Zealand's National Business Review:
A "homosexuality detection expert" at the ... conservative Family Research Council told the NY Times that words like "tolerance" and "diversity" are part of a "coded language that is regularly used by the homosexual community."

OK, so there's diversity, unity, tolerance...

It turns out the American Family Association is against everything that is decent. They are opposed to goodness itself.

And, somebody tell me, where do you apply for the job of "homosexuality detection expert"? What is the training for that? Is that, like, a hateful guy with good gay-dar?

Look, let me get to the point here. Dobson is a nut. These people are foaming at the mouth over some cartoon characters who represent everything that is good in human nature -- kindness, collegiality, love, innocence, tolerance.

These same people are trying to influence the school board's decisions about the education of our children.

We need to keep this kind of poison out of our community.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Study: Many Blacks Cite AIDS Conspiracy

Prevention Efforts Hurt, Activists Say
Clearly, this new study shows the need to teach the facts, and, since we are already in the classroom, teach a bit more of tolerance, respect, history, openness, and a long etcetera, because the this divide in our "perfect society," - that great society that we use as model for the Middle East and the rest of the world - is worst than even what the presidential campaign could bring.
More than 20 years after the AIDS epidemic arrived in the United States, a significant proportion of African Americans embrace the theory that government scientists created the disease to control or wipe out their communities, according to a study released today by Rand Corp. and Oregon State University.

That belief markedly hurts efforts to prevent the spread of the disease among black Americans, the study's authors and activists said. African Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to Census Bureau figures, yet they account for 50 percent of new HIV infections in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A slight majority said they believe that a cure for AIDS is being withheld from the poor. Forty-four percent said people who take the new medicines for HIV are government guinea pigs, and 15 percent said AIDS is a form of genocide against black people.
"This is not a bunch of crazy people running around saying they're out to get us," Akbar said. The belief "comes from the reality of 300 years of slavery and 100 years of post-slavery exploitation."

Akbar cited the Tuskegee experiment conducted by the federal government between 1932 and 1972. In it, scientists told black men they were being treated for syphilis but actually withheld treatment so they could study the course of the disease.
Black women made up 73 percent of new HIV cases among women in 2003, and black men represented 40 percent of new cases, according to the most recent federal figures available. Among gay men, blacks represented 30 percent of new infections, and adolescents ages 18 to 24 accounted for nearly 80 percent of new HIV cases.

Evolution.... Oh, no!

Louisiana Emergency Healthcare Facilities Put Women At Risk

This release from ACLU shows how religious beliefs are put in front of safety and respect for women. Here we are not even talking about abortion after consensual sex, but about raped women who need access to every potential care.
ACLU of Louisiana Along With Broad Coalition of Advocates Implores U.S. Department of Justice to Add Pregnancy Prevention to National Protocol for Treating Rape Survivors

For immediate release January 6, 2005

NEW ORLEANS –In a recently released briefing paper, Preventing Pregnancy after Rape: Emergency Care Facilities Put Women at Risk[1], the American Civil Liberties Union found that only 6 percent of emergency care facilities in Louisiana provide emergency contraception (EC) on-site to rape survivors, significantly increasing the risk of unintended pregnancies. Louisiana ranks the lowest of the eleven states included in the report. New York, with 85 percent of facilities providing EC, ranks first.

"Louisiana's results are shameful," said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Women who have been raped have already suffered greatly. When emergency facilities don't provide EC on-site they needlessly compound women's trauma. Failing to protect sexual assault patients from pregnancy is a health care crisis that could easily be avoided."

Monday, January 24, 2005

City's teen births decline

This article from The Baltimore Sun shows the decline on teen births, and also shows Hispanics are not faring as well as the rest of the population, nationally and locally.
National statistics
Nationally, the decline in the teen birth rate has been steepest among African-Americans, for whom the problem was most prevalent a decade ago. Nationally, the percentage of black teens who became mothers fell nearly by half, from nearly 12 percent in 1991 to 6.5 percent last year, Ventura said.

Reductions in teen births have been most meager among Hispanics, who have surpassed blacks and have the highest teen birth rate. About 8 percent of Hispanic teenage girls nationally had babies last year, compared with 10.5 percent in 1991, Ventura said.

Figures released yesterday did not break down teen birth rates by race in Baltimore, which has a large black population and relatively few Hispanics.

Saying It Ain't So, Against the Facts

We focus so much on sex education, and sometimes on evolution, that we forget other ways that the facts are under attack in the US today.
KOBE, Japan Jan 19, 2005 — The U.S. delegation to a global conference on disasters wants to purge a U.N. action plan of its references to climate change as a potential cause of future natural calamities.

The U.S. stand reflects the opposition of U.S. President George W. Bush's administration to treating global warming as a priority problem.

"It's well known that there's controversy" about climate change, Mark Lagon, deputy delegation head, told reporters Wednesday at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction. "It's our desire that this controversy not distract this conference."

The chief U.N. official here had a different view.

"I hope there will be a global recognition of climate change causing more natural disasters," said Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-organized network of scientists, said in its latest major assessment of climate science that the planet is warming and that this is expected to cause more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and droughts, as the century wears on.

A broad scientific consensus attributes much of the warming to the accumulation of "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-burning. The Kyoto Protocol, which takes effect Feb. 16, mandates cutbacks in such emissions, but the United States, the biggest emitter, has rejected that international pact. Climate Change Debated at U.N. Meeting

We live in a time and place where facts that are inconvenient or uncomfortable can simply be ... changed. If we are perturbing the equillibrium of nature by emitting tons of exhaust into the atmosphere, well, that would be quite expensive to fix.

So we will declare it not true.

Here we have the US government guy saying "there's controversy" about global warming -- there's no controversy. In the same way, you have the "intelligent design" hucksters saying "there's controversy" about the science of evolution -- no, there's not. Here in Montgomery County, we have people representing James Dobson's religious right organization telling us that "there's controversy" about whether gay people can change their orientation -- no, there's not. There's no controversy at all, everybody knows what the answer is to that one, it just happens to be inconvenient or uncomfortable for some people.

You and I can't stop this at the United Nations level. But we can put our foot down when these people try to impose their fact-reversing values in our community.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Two Mommies, Legally

This couple was happily married. Judi and Michael Howden in Concord, NH (I think, the story doesn't say which New England state this is). Had a child together. And then Michael had some surgery done and became Mikayla. Now they're one of those families with two mommies that the recall group hates so much. Sex change thrust couple into same-sex marriage debate.

This is a rare breed -- a legally married same-sex couple.
The couple’s experience highlights a legal Catch-22. States can either recognize or refuse to recognize someone’s new gender after a sex change. Either decision inescapably permits some form of same-sex marriage.

Recognition lets existing, heterosexual marriages like the Howdens’ become same-sex. Denying recognition permits new same-sex marriages - like one between Judi and Mikayla if they were to marry today - because the spouses’ genders differ only on paper, not visibly.

"I have no answer to it," said state Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, who supports the state’s same-sex marriage ban. "We have ventured where angels fear to tread."

Apart from Mikayla Howden’s gender change, her family’s Concord home is like many across middle America. There are prayers at meal times. One parent works while the other stays home with the kids. There are children’s toys in every room.

Somehow I am not surprised to find this minister -- right here in DC -- who does not like this one bit.
The Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder and chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition in Washington, D.C., said marriages like the Howdens’ should be dissolved.

"Absolutely," he said. "We don’t want the roof to leak in any place. We must make sure that marriage is protected."

Sheldon’s coalition, a lobby claiming more than 43,000 member churches, is crafting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions. The Howdens, he said, have slipped through a "legal loophole."

Social conservatives often portray same-sex marriage as a moral issue, Mikayla Howden said. But she called changing her gender a life-and-death decision, not a lifestyle choice. Living as a man was fundamentally wrong, she said, and nearly led her to suicide.

Y'know what's wrong with this country? Y'know what? Why, this country lets people go and marry anybody they damn want, that's what the problem is here... Yeah, sure. You have to wonder just how frail Rev. Sheldon here thinks the American family is, if a home with two mommies is going to bring the whole civilization down.

Oh, and the other thing. The wife -- the first wife, I mean -- is now technically a lesbian.
Judi Howden said she struggles with being labeled a lesbian - one day accepting it, but resisting any label the next.

"It’s not this seedy little thing going on," she said. "We’re normal, everyday people."

And there you have it. Just leave 'em alone, let 'em raise their kids, OK Reverend?

The Crafty Attacks on Evolution

This editorial from the The New York Times does round a bit of what the "evolutionary" strategies of the creationism, and religious zealots are regarding evolution.
Critics of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution become more wily with each passing year. Creationists who believe that God made the world and everything in it pretty much as described in the Bible were frustrated when their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools or inject the teaching of creationism were judged unconstitutional by the courts. But over the past decade or more a new generation of critics has emerged with a softer, more roundabout approach that they hope can pass constitutional muster.
The Cobb County fight centers on a sticker that the board inserted into a new biology textbook to placate opponents of evolution. The school board, to its credit, was trying to strengthen the teaching of evolution after years in which it banned study of human origins in the elementary and middle schools and sidelined the topic as an elective in high school, in apparent violation of state curriculum standards. When the new course of study raised hackles among parents and citizens (more than 2,300 signed a petition), the board sought to quiet the controversy by placing a three-sentence sticker in the textbooks:

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."
A more honest sticker would describe evolution as the dominant theory in the field and an extremely fruitful scientific tool. The sad fact is, the school board, in its zeal to be accommodating, swallowed the language of the anti-evolution crowd. Although the sticker makes no mention of religion and the school board as a whole was not trying to advance religion, a federal judge in Georgia ruled that the sticker amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because it was rooted in long-running religious challenges to evolution. In particular, the sticker's assertion that "evolution is a theory, not a fact" adopted the latest tactical language used by anti-evolutionists to dilute Darwinism, thereby putting the school board on the side of religious critics of evolution. That court decision is being appealed. Supporters of sound science education can only hope that the courts, and school districts, find a way to repel this latest assault on the most well-grounded theory in modern biology.

See other articles:

2 School Boards Push on Against Evolution
Caught Between Church and State
A Bunch of Krabby Patties

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Kids Show With Two-Mommy Family Delayed

PBS is planning to introduce a lesbian couple to one of their kids' programs. But the debut of the show has been postponed till March, to give station managers and others a chance to see it first. The Boston Globe reports:
The episode was originally scheduled to air Feb. 2 but is now slated for March 23. WGBH, which produces the children's show, said it wants to give other PBS member stations around the country a chance to review the contents. Those stations can then decide whether to air it.

WGBH's decision comes the same week as complaints by some Christian conservative groups that a video about diversity due to be sent to 61,000 US schools in March promotes the acceptance of homosexuality. The video features Barney and a host of cartoon characters including SpongeBob SquarePants.

The episode of "Postcards From Buster" is not about homosexuality, said Jeanne Hopkins, a spokeswoman for WGBH. Still the station acknowledged that it had heard "concerns" from other stations recently. Hopkins declined to identify the stations because conversations about programming go on constantly, she said. WGBH said it plans to send the episode to member stations next week.
"Postcards From Buster" airs weekdays at 5:30 p.m. The series -- which is part animated and part live-action -- focuses on an 8-year-old rabbit who travels around the country with his father, an airplane pilot. In each episode, Buster visits with children and asks questions about their way of life. Real-life children are featured in the live-action segments while Buster's voice is heard in the background.

Since it launched last year, "Postcards From Buster" has profiled several different types of families, including children who live with their grandparents. The show has also focused on children from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Muslims, Mormons, and evangelical Christians.

"The show's goal is to reflect the lives of American kids," said Hopkins. "It's not meant to be political."
WGBH delays show featuring lesbians

Uh, yeah, good luck with that one, guys.

Didn't Sesame Street or somebody do that already? Is it possible that this is the first time there have been obviously gay characters on a kids' TV show?
The episode in question, called ''Sugartime!," features a family in Vermont. Buster accompanies the kids when they visit a sugar house, where maple syrup is made, and a dairy farm, where a cow is milked. The lesbian couple, said Hopkins, are in the background.

"The program is not about these moms or gay couples. The family is the backdrop," Hopkins said. "One mom is in the kitchen, making a grocery list. Another mom says, 'Hi.' Later they have a meal together with some friends. Most of the time, Buster is off with the kids," she said.

Yeah, big controversy. It's hard to believe, in twenty-first century America, that this is progress.

The recall group is shocked, shocked I tell you, that our school district would teach kids that there can be families with two mommies or two daddies.

It's time to admit the truth. There really are families with two mommies and ones with two daddies, and they really are families. The love each other, they raise their kids, they fight over the remote control just like the rest of us. Get over it, and let our kids learn the facts.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Songbird's gradual evolution challenges conservation methods, researchers say

This is the way sciences works. You work with a theory and against it at the same time...Because at some points a theory may not cover all the basis on a specific issue - that's why it's called a scientific theory i.e. the (working) truth until proven false -.
Now researchers have proven the gradual evolution of the Songbird, which challenges at once some of the most relished conservation methods to this moment, and the "only in isolation" part of the theory of evolution.
Irwin's research calls into question the predominant theory that evolution only takes place when a species is isolated – by huge glaciers or on an island, for example – and adapts to new surroundings.

But, interestingly enough, the disproving of this part of the theory is a significant proof of the overall veracity of the evolutionary process.
The songbird's gradual evolution adds up to some of the most convincing evidence yet found to support evolutionary theory, the researchers said.

Researchers are not afraid to be confronted with a vacuum that challenges their core knowledge...Neither should we.

Illinois governor signs gay rights law; state joins 13 others and District of Columbia

We are thankful for this, in times of little oppenness! It's good to see some sunshine here and there. Freedom is gained and taken away in the same fashion: little by little... that's why we have to keep vigilant!
Illinois governor signs gay rights law; state joins 13 others and District of Columbia

Illinois on Friday became the 14th state with a law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a bill that adds "sexual orientation" to an existing law that protects people from bias based on race, religion and other traits. It bans discrimination in areas including jobs, housing and credit.

"What we're doing today is older than Scripture: Love thy neighbor," Blagojevich said to a cheering group of about 150 gay rights supporters and community leaders.

Opponents had argued the law would be the first step toward the legalization of gay marriage and would infringe on the rights of churches and civic groups to oppose homosexuality on moral grounds.

Proponents argued that such laws, which also are in effect in the District of Columbia, are needed because discrimination against gays is just as wrong as discriminating against people because of race or religion.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

If You Had to Choose

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Christian evangelist James Dobson's attack on SpongeBob Squarepants, who is accused of being a sodomite and recruiter for the gay underworld. No -- really. Well, Dobson (big-bucks backer of PFOX, among many other organizations) is in the Times today: Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge (NY Times, may require free registration).
Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

Mmm, yessir. It's that gay agenda, sir. Mmm, they're all in on it. Sir.

I don't know if you follow the blogosphere, but Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit is a pretty hardcore rightwinger conservative blogger. I can barely stand to read him, he's so entrenched in his view, but he does get a lot of traffic, and he does give you insights into how the other side lives.

His comment today is worth quoting, probably an accurate metaphorical assessment of the might of the right:
JAMES DOBSON IS BLOWING IT with his attacks on SpongeBob.

Not many people, forced to choose between SpongeBob Squarepants and James Dobson, are going to pick Dobson. Instapundit

Well, not me, that's fer dern sure.

Closing in on Gay Genes

A new study has found several more interesting linkages between the human genome and sexual orientation. You can read the original paper from the journal Human Genetics HERE. The researchers' press release is a little lighter reading, probably more appropriate for a site like this:
CHICAGO, Illinois, USA, January 12, 2005— A new genetic study helps explain why some men are gay and other men are heterosexual. The first research project that examines linkage between male sexual orientation and genes across the human genome was published this month in the prestigious biomedical journal, Human Genetics. The culmination of several years of research, the report identified three new chromosomal regions of interest.

One hundred forty-six families that had two or more gay brothers participated in the study. The largest finding was a statistically suggestive linkage to a region on chromosome 7 called 7q36, and the second largest link was found on chromosome 8, in a region called 8p12. There was also an interesting finding on chromosome 10, in the region called 10q26, where the linkage to sexual orientation only occurred if that region was inherited from the mother. This is likely a result of the recently discovered phenomenon that geneticists call "genomic imprinting." Given the complex nature of sexual orientation it is not surprising that multiple genetic regions were implicated.

According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Brian Mustanski, "Our study helps to establish that genes play an important role in determining whether a man is gay or heterosexual. It expands upon previous research with twins, which has consistently found evidence for genetic influences on sexual orientation. The next steps will be to see if these findings hold up in a new sample and then identify the particular genes within these newly discovered chromosomal regions." Dr. Mustanski emphasized that finding the specific genes would have implications beyond uncovering the cause of homosexuality. Their identification would also greatly advance our understanding of human variation, evolution, and brain development. Press Release

In a separate FAQ document, the lead author answers the question: Did you find the "gay gene?"

His answer:
For several reasons the answer to this question is no. First, sexual orientation is such a complex phenotype that no one gene could ever explain it. Instead, our best guess is that multiple genes, acting and interacting with environmental influences, explain variability in sexual orientation. Therefore, a better question is, "did you find one of the genes that influence male sexual orientation?"

He also answers the question, Does your study prove that homosexuality is genetic?
We found 3 new chromosomal regions that showed some linkage to male sexual orientation. This suggests that within these chromosomal regions are genes that influence male sexual orientation. If genes did not influence male sexual orientation it is unlikely that we would have found linkage to these regions. Our study builds upon previous twin and family studies which have consistently found evidence for genetic influences on sexual orientation. As with all scientific research, it is important that our results are replicated in another lab with a new sample of participants to guarantee that they are not due to unlikely random chance. At this point, the best evidence suggests that genes play an important role in determining if a man is gay or heterosexual.

Anti-gay groups have frequently argued that there is no gay gene. It seems that the implication is that people can choose their sexual orientation, since it's not hard-wired at conception. In that light, it is interesting to learn from these researchers about twin and family studies which have consistently found evidence for genetic influences on sexual orientation. We would not expect to find one site on the chromosome that explains all variation in sexual orientation, but these researchers have narrowed it down to a small number of locations. This is a young science, we can be sure that more will be learned as time rolls along.

Bias Against Ex-Gays

Now that the "ex-gays" have established their billboard outside MCPS offices, somebody pointed me to an interesting post from a few months ago at a lesbian blog, written when the same billboard was put up down in Virginia. They make an interesting point.
Ex-gays and the people they allow to guide and advise them all say that homosexuals can become heterosexuals if we simply choose to become heterosexuals. Perhaps I shouldn't simplify the issue, but really that's the premise of their argument. We have a choice. We can choose to become heterosexuals and live a life that society views as "acceptable."

We can argue all day about choice. If homosexuals can choose to be heterosexuals, then that means homosexuals chose to be homosexuals to begin with. Yes? No? Does that mean straight men can decide at any moment to become gay men? Is it really that simple? If it is that simple, then ex-gays have minimized sexuality to nothing more than a sexual act. SistersTalk: Oh, I wish I could be an ex-gay

Great point: they have minimized sexuality to nothing more than a sexual act.

In recent years, the big debate has been about marriage -- the government wanting to choose what kind of partner you're allowed. It's not about hooking up in a public restroom, it's about establishing long-term, stable relationships. And the religious right thinks that is evil and wrong -- they've said it many, many times.

There is no doubt that a gay man can manage to perform sexually with a woman, in the physical sense. Look, the multigazillion-dollar sex-toy industry shows you that people can enjoy having sex with inanimate objects! A little friction, a little fantasy, and there you go.

And that seems to be all the PFOX types want. They don't care if Chistopher Delaney (the guy on the billboard) and his re-closeted colleagues have warm, fulfilling, loving relationships. They only care who they have sex with. If a guy is dreaming about Steve while he's with Eve it doesn't matter, as long as he's actually with Eve, physically.

They want you to think this is a great accomplishment, having sex with someone you're not really attracted to. They complain that we won't teach our kids, in the public schools, how to do this. It's unbalanced, they say. Some of us don't see the sense in teaching our kids how to have sex with a socially acceptable partner that they are not attracted to -- and so we're bigots, discriminating against those who do that. Strange how that works.

I think the SistersTalk blogger is right. They have minimized sexuality to nothing more than a sexual act.

There's nothing really wrong with that, of course, we are more or less surrounded by pornographic images that do the same thing, sexy TV shows and ads that have the same effect, sex without love is something America has accepted. What is wrong is explicitly teaching it to schoolchildren, especially in the public schools, teaching kids to deny their real feelings in selecting a love partner, and choose someone that some authority has decided is acceptable for you.

Go to the PFOX website and click on some of their testimonials. See if you can find one -- I couldn't -- that says that the person has actually learned to prefer the opposite sex. There might be one in there, but most say they're "still trying." The history of the "movement" is a sad tale of people falling off the bandwagon, switching back again to what's natural for them.

It isn't discrimination or bigotry to ignore the tiny, mostly failed "ex-gay movement." People who hold a certain weird belief need them, because if there were "used-to-be" gays it would mean you could change, it might even mean it's a choice. That's why James Dobson's Christian ministries started PFOX in the first place, so they could point to them as support for their anti-gay beliefs. But this is a very, very weak point to make. It doesn't need to be in the school's curriculum, kids don't need to hear this junk.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Teachers Rebel Against Stupid Rule

You've probably been following the new ruling up in Dover, PA -- not that far from here. The school board just passed a rule that biology teachers have to read a statement to students that says that Darwin's theory "is not a fact" and that intelligent design "is an explanation of life that differs from Darwin's view."

Well, look, these are high-school science teachers, presumably they know something about science, and if that's true, then they know that "intelligent design" does not belong in a science class. So all of them have formally asked to be excused from reading the statement:
In a letter to school administrators signed by all the high-school science teachers affected by the rule, the instructors requested permission not to read the statement because it would violate Pennsylvania's professional standards and practices code for teachers.

"We believe that reading the statement violates our responsibility as educators as set forth in the code," biology teacher Jennifer Miller said in Friday's editions of the York Daily Record. "Students are allowed to opt out from hearing the statement. We should be allowed to opt out from reading it." High school teachers oppose 'intelligent design' statement

We should show some appreciation for these brave souls, holding firm for reason against the darkness of superstition. I imagine you put your job on the line when you do something like this.

"Intelligent design" is a system of beliefs that is creationist without explicitly citing the Bible. It is acceptable to some religious extremists because it's essentially just the Genesis myth in veiled language. It is not acceptable science. Only one intelligent design paper has ever been accepted by a scientific journal. The author was somehow able to bypass the journal's peer review process, and the editorial board of that journal afterwards issued a statement saying that they would not have approved that paper and would never publish a paper on that topic again.

It will be interesting to see how this all comes out in the long run.

Billboard Appears Near MCPS Offices

Once again, The Gazette story is too good to link to. I'm going to quote the whole thing. Please go to their site and buy a lot of stuff from their sponsors.
Billboard fuels homosexual discrimination debate.

Some area residents are crying discrimination after a billboard promoting the controversial idea that homosexuals can become heterosexuals was posted on Hungerford Drive in Rockville last week.

Visible from the southbound lanes of Hungerford (Route 355), the billboard located south of the East Gude Drive intersection displays a handsome man whose smile borders a caption that reads: "Ex-Gays prove that change is possible."

The towering advertisement is sponsored by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), a national group based in Virginia advocating the idea that homosexuals are not born gay and can choose, with counseling, their own sexuality.

<sarcasm>Wouldn't Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays be "PFOXG"??? It's almost like they forgot the "G".</sarcasm>
"I just think it's appalling, especially in a county as educated as Montgomery County," said Taryn Goodman, a former Damascus resident who saw the sign while driving to her job in Rockville. "It speaks to the fact when people are trying to convert gays into straights. People have a right to be who they are. This isn't a disease."

Say that again with me, people: it isn't a disease.
PFOX members hope the billboard, which they say pictures an ex-gay who has changed his orientation and started a family as a straight man, promotes the organization's message that such a transformation is possible.

No one is bashing gays over the head, PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs said. It is saying that those who want to go straight can, she added.

"All we want is children to know that change is possible," Griggs said.

That is so weird. Why would you want to tell people that? Every mental health organization in the country has declared just the opposite. It is considered unethical for some psychotherapists to try to change a patient's sexual orientation. Of course you can control your sexual behavior, we all do that, but sexual orientation -- even their "experts" stop short of saying you can change that. And why would you?
"There is no gay gene," she added. "Don't make excuses. If you are happy living a homosexual lifestyle, then I support you in that. If other people are unhappy, then they deserve a right to change and self-determination."

Quick biology lesson here. Of course there is no gay gene. There's no artistic gene, no sense-of-humor gene, no beauty gene ... there are not genes for most aspects of a complex human being. The relationship between the phenotype -- the observed characteristics -- and the genotype -- the pattern of alleles on the chromosome -- is often very complicated. It is common to say that the phenotype emerges through interaction of the genotype and the environment. This "no gay gene" statement is often used by certain groups to imply that sexual orientation is a choice. It's not, and everybody knows it's not ... really.
James Packard, a former Rockville resident whose 2004 San Francisco marriage to Erwin Gomez was invalidated by the California Supreme Court, is angered by the idea that homosexuals can become straight men and women through rehabilitation.

"There are those individuals and nutcases that believe homosexuals can be reformed," said Packard, who now lives in Laytonsville.

"We're supposed to be a community that comes together, and now we've got this group who says it's not right to be gay because of religion or their background. And that's kind of sad. I find it offensive," he added.

North Bethesda resident Ananda Jacob agreed.

"I am appalled by this whole ex-gay thing," he said. "If somebody was an ex-gay, they were probably not gay in the first place.

Woo-hoo! Nutcases! People speaking their minds! --The hammer hits the nail on the head.
"People who claim that this is something that can change are people that simply just have their heads in the sand," he added.

Griggs would not identify the man pictured on the poster, saying he has received death threats after participation with the group.

BS (he said politely). Here he is: Christopher Delaney. Why wouldn't they give his name?

Mmm, try this. Follow the links on this guy's site. Read about his lovely wife. Woops, it says: "This page is currently under construction." Ex-gay, huh?

Look, I wish the guy luck. If he wants to change, then go, man.

Just get your smirkin' face out of my neighborhood.

And lady, if you chose to marry a guy who "used to be gay," uh ... never mind.

Readers may wonder why the PFOX spokesperson felt the need to ... be obscure ... about this to the Gazette.
Ex-gay advocacy groups like PFOX are "universally rejected" by all major psychological and health organizations, said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization based in Silver Spring.

"They're free to disseminate their information," he said. "But it's so far out of the mainstream it would be ludicrous if it weren't so sad.

"What is discriminatory is they use this messaging to try to deny rights to gay individuals and their families and to prey upon young people grappling with their sexual orientation and to push them potentially one step closer to suicide," Furmansky added.

PFOX members, who failed last year in their attempt to shape the content of sexual education in Montgomery County high schools more to their liking, say pro-gay advocates are the discriminatory ones.

"There's a complete intolerance on the other side," said Mignon Middleton, a self-described ex-lesbian member of the Prince George's County chapter of PFOX. "The billboard is up there and might have helped some people that need help. It's not showing hatred toward anybody.

"I see it as discrimination on the other end," she said. "If someone said, 'I have these feelings and I want to overcome it,' to deny them that right to me that's discriminatory."

Did you follow that? Did you see how they are discriminated against? Go back and read that again.

They tried to put their hoax literature into the MCPS curriculum. The committee looked at the material and voted against it. Now they're discriminated against.

The PFOX Web site holds that sexual orientation laws "legitimize intolerance against former homosexuals" by silencing the ex-gay community as bigots.

What? "The ex-gay community?" Both of them?
However, arguing ex-gays are discriminated against provides PFOX a sympathetic shelter of legitimacy from which to operate a veiled anti-gay program, Silver Spring resident Cliff Witt said.

Gays and their supporters contend that by denying any genetic predisposition to homosexuality, PFOX and other groups like it repudiate the very identity of the homosexual minority, undercutting the need for legal protections.

When it comes to sexuality, there is no choice, Witt said.

Which is not the same as saying there is a "gay gene."
"And if there were, why would anyone choose to be discriminated against? That is the major flaw in their thinking. What it is that they're up to is unclear," he said.

The billboard represents one step in the Christian Right's attempt to spread a message of intolerance in Maryland, Furmansky said.

"I find it very interesting that it is up the week of the presidential inauguration," said Ruth Hanessian, longtime Rockville resident and pet store owner. "It's a very extremist minority that has found the funds to put that up and I find that terribly, terribly disturbing."

PFOX has little funding and no large money backer, Griggs said. The movable billboard, she said, was not designed to pressure the county school board and was previously on display in Richmond, Va., in the fall.

Tweeeeet! For the record, let us note that PFOX is a creation of James Dobson's Family Research Council, which is in turn a subsidiary of Focus on the Family. The Focus on the Family organization, with a 49-acre campus, 1,300 employees, and its own zip code, was one of the powerhouses behind Bush's 2004 re-election, mobilizing the evangelical Christian right. Dobson is often referred to as a "kingmaker."

No large money backer?
That doesn't sway Hanessian.

"It is a classic example of why we have discrimination in this county," Hanessian said. "Because people don't respect the rights of others.

"It is the type of thing I see as I drive by in southern Bible-belt states. And I keep on driving," she said.

Some of these groups don't understand the difference between Montgomery County and, say, Alabama. This stuff might work down there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Hispanic Support for the School Board Decision is concerned that some health education issues affect the county's minority populations especially strongly. Thus it is very heartening to read the following letter from the Executive Director of Casa of Maryland to the Montgomery County Board of Education.
Dear Montgomery County Board of Education,

Ref: Regarding the Sex education curriculum in MCPS and Latinos

As the Executive Director of CASA of Maryland, Inc. the largest Latino organization in Montgomery County, I would like to take time to show my full support for the board's decision to implement additional materials to the health curriculum taught in Montgomery County Public Schools. As you know, the Latino as well as the African American communities are the most affected by teen pregnancy, STDs and HIV/AIDS infections so the sexual education is very critical for both communities.

While continuing to stress the importance of abstinence for teens is very important, the new curriculum expands upon the old by providing teens with real-world knowledge about how to protect themselves, and encourages them to be tolerant of all people, regardless of sexual orientation. I know that the curriculum only uses as resources reputable, factual, and scientific sources validated by the consensus of the scientific community.

I strongly support the November 9, 2004 decision of the Montgomery County Board of Education to implement the revisions to the health curriculum for grades 8 and 10.

Please let me know if you need any help to ensure that you can carry-out the November 9th decision.

Thank you so much for your work and your vision in support of the low-income families in Montgomery County.

Gustavo Torres
Executive Director
CASA of Maryland, Inc.

Reply to the Recall Group

I just saw a defensive email posted to a school listserv by one of the Recall group members, accusing of "character assassination," "insults," and "sweeping generalizations," among other things.

The author of this email, a parent (we presume, not all recall group members are) in Gaithersburg, defends the recall group. She says:
The Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (CRC), of which I am a member, has no interest in recalling the BOE, despite the initial website name. The website was named by a concerned MC citizen who set it up, and indicates the initial reflex response many people had to learning about the controversial curriculum changes that were voted through not one week after the November election. The fact is that parents of both political parties and from many different ethnic, religious and secular backgrounds are working together in the CRC.

Oh! So much to say!

We don't think the recall group reflects any particular religious affiliation -- we know there are Protestants, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, etc. in their group. We are concerned about the involvement of the religious right in this issue, and we do wonder among ourselves where some of the recall group's backing comes from, and we suspect that some of it comes from organizations like James Dobson's big-dollar evangelistic organization. Well, we know some of it comes from there.

And yes, we do get a chuckle out of people with a website called "" saying "We don't want to recall the school board." Don't forget, a number of us attended your organizational meeting. It may be that your official spokespersons say in public that they do not want to recall the school board, but a lot of your members do. It's not far under the surface. At the very least, it is extremely inconsistent. And funny.

The author says:
The goals of the CRC are to:
1. ask the BOE to rescind its curriculum changes
2. keep the original Family Life curriculum in place and intact and
3. start from scratch on amendments using a more balanced variety of unbiased sources to support the curriculum.

Now, this is the meat of it, isn't it? The BOE worked for years on these curriculum changes. The funny thing is, some of the leaders of the recall group were on the citizen's committee that proposed these changes. They had years -- literally, years -- to persuade the other committee members to include their materials, and they failed. They failed because the materials and viewpoints they wanted to include are extreme, uninformative, and prejudicial.

Having failed to introduce their anti-gay material to the new curriculum, they want to keep the original one. Well, the original curriculum was no curriculum at all. Teachers were simply told not to talk about homosexuality unless a student asked. And then what? Wing it. Now they will be given some information to present. It's not pro-homosexual information, it doesn't encourage kids to experiment sexually, it's just information: some people are gay. Some kids try things with each other. Some families have two mommies. Here's how you put on a condom.

Ah, number three, start from scratch. Do you see how silly this is? The recall group members who were on the original committee submitted all the literature and ideas they wanted. Members of the committee received the stuff, looked it over, and decided against it. The committee wasn't biased against them -- if anything, it is incredible that our community would put somebody representing the Christian Right hoax-group "PFOX" on a committee like this at all! The Daughters of the American Revolution had a member? How'd that happen? And they say the group was biased? An objective observer would think that the committee was stacked in their favor. And it voted, after considering everything, to accept some proposals and reject others.

This group just can't play by the rules.
Character assassination by some uncalled for:
The group over at 'teach the facts' has been quite aggressive in their attempt to define us negatively. Their use of insulting character assassination has been uncalled for and disappointing, especially coming from a few parents at GHS. Let me dispel a few myths:
-The CRC does not propose or favor an 'abstinence only' curriculum.
-It is not made up of 'religious zealots' or parents who do not want their children learning about condoms or homosexuality.
-The CRC has no interest in recalling the Board.

Okay, it's true, we make fun of you sometimes. It's not character assassination, it's just that ... we can't take you seriously.

Here's why.

In our world, a group of adults can be asked to do something, say, make a decision, and they can discuss it among themselves, and then they announce their decision. In our world, if some people don't agree about something, we give them a chance to explain their point of view, and we discuss it. And then we decide. If people are on a committee, a vote is a good way to decide something. Sometimes a leader makes a decision, but we would probably do what the citizen's committee did, and vote. And we don't require the vote to be unanimous, in our world we know that sometimes people make compromises.

So yes, we do find it rather primitive that, once you realize that you really won't get your way, you go crying to the national organizations, you start lobbying to overthrow the school board, you go on the radio and the newspapers and tell everybody how unfair it all was, and imply that you didn't have a fair chance to participate in the decision process.

It's not character assassination. We could get angry. Well, sometimes we do, but generally we remain cheerful, knowing that we are being reasonable.

For instance, if the school board wanted to teach kids about "flavored condoms," I think the people might agree that that was a little much. We wouldn't fight to keep something like that in the curriculum. On the other hand, we note that the recall group tells people that there are flavored condoms in the curriculum, when of course there aren't. It seems unreasonable to inflame people with mistruths, just to get them to sign your petitions or whatever.

We stay cheerful. We do not -- I mean, we really do not -- like to see your big-money national organizations coming into our community and telling our school district how and what to teach.

As for the rest of it... of course you guys want abstinence education, you say it over and over. Of course you don't want your kids -- or my kids -- to learn about homosexuality or condoms. Why else did you pick this fight? As far as recalling the school board ... right. Just an accident in the name of the web site... uh-huh, gotcha.
The CRC has not participated in name calling although we have been called many rude names.

See what I mean? We are forced to retain our sense of humor about this. I myself saw Michelle Turner, your leader, apologize to the school board for threats by your group's members. We have all seen the crazy stuff your members posted on your message board. We know why you took it down -- it was some of the most hateful spewing imaginable. Name-calling, why, yes it was.

And then you say something like this.

Yes, we brand your approach as bigoted, and we have a number of ways to say it. Nothing personal, as you repeatedly point out, you seem like a nice enough bunch of people. Some of our group are good friends with some of your group. It's not about that.

The curriculum teaches eighth graders that some people are gay, and gives definitions for various well-known sexual orientations. It gives some facts about what some people experience, and very little about what they do. The curriculum teaches tenth-graders how to put a condom on a cucumber. It does not encourage kids to indulge their appetites, it does not promote any lifestyle or orientation. The new curriculum would tend to promote tolerance, and it might make a gay kid feel a little less freakish. And that's what you object to.
If I have any 'fear' it is that the mean-spiritedness and intolerance on the part of these few but loud 'supporters' of the BOE's curriculum changes will drive a wedge in our school community. My hope is that reasonable people will be able to get past the divisiveness coming from that group of individuals at teachthefacts long enough to actually hear what many parents are concerned about.

I went to your December Fourth meeting to ask the question: what's the issue? And I heard your members, your leaders, explain what the issue is. The issue is your fear of something you call the "gay agenda." Well, I'm not gay, don't have any gay relatives, I know some gay people but have no special investment in that, and I really don't care if somebody is gay or not. As far as I know, none of the individuals who maintain the web site are gay. It appears to me that gay people want to be treated like anybody else -- if there's a "gay agenda" it's just that -- and that's okay with me. I'm a parent and I want my children to be taught the facts. Something doesn't need to be swept under the rug because some people find it threatening.

I encourage people who are undecided to go read the Board of Education's report on this matter: November 9th 2004 minutes. Read what the curriculum is. See if you can find the scary part.

Don't let these radicals jerk you around. Make up your own mind.

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The following is a talk given by David Fishback at Temple Emanuel on January 14th, in honor of Martin Luther King's birthday.

Theology, Morality, and Faith: A Legacy of Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the preeminent American religious figure of the 20th Century. In recent years, others have sought to apply their religious beliefs to the realm of public policy. Some, like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, have sought to impose very conservative religious doctrines on the laws of our nation. When people say this is improper, the reply is often essentially this: "Well, look at Dr. King. He sought to impose religious values - and liberals applauded then, and we all applaud now."
That is a point well taken, but it is only the beginning of the conversation. I have read Dr. King's words carefully, not just for inspiration, but for understanding. How, in a diverse society, with many religious traditions that often disagree with each other, were we ultimately able to come together in the successful campaign to dismantle American apartheid? And what is the legacy of Dr. King as we deal with our religious beliefs in the context of the contentious social issues of our own time?

I believe that we start this conversation with an understanding that theology, morality, and faith are not concepts that are completely coextensive with one another. They overlap, they are connected, but they are not the same.


First, THEOLOGY: My dictionary [American Heritage Dictionary] provides this definition of theology: "An organized, often formalized body of opinions concerning God and man's relationship to God." This encompasses quite a lot. For some, these formalized opinions include compliance with a comprehensive set of unbending, unquestioned rules governing all human conduct which adherents believe constitute the absolute word of God. Dr. King himself wrote that he had "been raised in a rather strict fundamentalist tradition." His writings, however, reveal his intense interest in theology not as a search for unbending rules, but, rather, as a search for an understanding of "man's relationship to God." He described his theological studies, once he left home, as a "pilgrimage." (p. 35, 1960).
Dr. King wrote at length about his theological studies, during which he adopted much of what was known as "liberal theology." He became concerned, however, that liberal theology might assume too much regarding the inherent goodness of man. He wrote that a "large segment of Protestant liberalism defined man only in terms of . . . his capacity for good," while opposing views "tended to define man only in terms of . . . his capacity for evil." Dr. King concluded that an "adequate understanding of man is found . . . in a synthesis which reconciles the truths of both" views. (p. 36). He went on to add existentialism to the mix, observing that "history is a series of unreconciled conflicts and man's existence is filled with anxiety and threatened with meaninglessness." (p. 36). No where in Dr. King's writings do I find an insistence on the literal acceptance of every word in Scripture as a command from God.
So this is what, at the outset, separates Dr. King from those today who purport to bring God's literal word to our laws and our culture. The difference between scriptural literalists and modern theologians is enormous.

While the former focus on the literal terms of the Koran or the Bible (or their translations thereof), the latter focus on the developing effort to understand the relationship of humankind and God.

The former focus on absolutes as they see them, without reference to our developing perspectives on the nature of the human race. The latter understand that we have learned much, and still have much to learn in our ongoing conversations with each other and in our private conversations with the Almighty.
I suspect that much of this division has to do with feelings about the ability of human beings to make good use of freedom. There are those who fear that if people do not have absolute, unbending rules about human behavior, then they will make bad choices. On the other hand, there are those who believe that people do have the capacity to make wise choices.

Dr. King demonstrated his belief that human beings have the capacity to use freedom wisely, to use freedom to achieve justice. He recognized man's capacity for violence, yet worked tirelessly to convince people to use non-violence to combat segregation. In community after community, he succeeded. Dr. King believed, and demonstrated, that people can use freedom wisely. Obviously, he did not, and could not, premise this on an insistence on following every word of Scripture, which is filled with violent responses, including violent responses to injustice. Rather, Dr. King looked to the essence of what he saw as good in religious tradition, and applied it to the problems we faced. And this leads is to the definition of MORALITY.


My dictionary defines MORALITY as the "quality of being in accord with standards of right and good conduct," and defines "moral" as "the judgment principles of right and wrong in relation to human action and character."

But how do we determine what is "right and wrong"? The simple way is to look at every single statement of what constitutes acceptable behavior in Scripture and to follow those statements uncritically.

But we know that that will not work: We no longer believe slavery is moral; we no longer believe that stoning to death adulterers is moral; we no longer believe that viewing women as property of men is moral; we no longer believe that execution of men who engage in homosexual activity is moral; we no longer believe that wearing garments that mix certain fibers is immoral; most of us no longer believe that doing any kind of work on the sabbath day is immoral. None of us really take every word of Scripture literally, and each of us who accept the Bible as part of our religious tradition must decide what in Scripture is useful and humane and, in the broadest sense, Godly.

This places a great responsibility on every human being. Freedom can be a scary thing, but it is what America is based upon. We cannot, in good conscience, simply say, "well, the Bible says so," without further exploration unless, for example, we are ready, to condone slavery. We really do have to use the brains God has given us.

So how did Dr. King, who was not a scriptural literalist, make his own judgments about what was moral? He did not simply take isolated passages from Scripture and then turn them to direction he wanted to go anyway.

To some extent, Dr. King's approach was an application of the moral principle that, I think, all people of goodwill apply: The Golden Rule. In both Leviticus (19:18 and 19:34) and in the Christian Book of Matthew (19:16), that rule is expressed as "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Another version in Matthew (7:5) is "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." In our Jewish tradition, perhaps the best formulation is set forth in the in the story of the cynic who is said to have approached the great philosopher Hillel and challenged him to summarize the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to another. The rest is commentary. Go and learn."

But how do we learn? If the Golden Rule is just the starting point, how do we decide, in each instance, what is moral?

Dr. King addressed this question in a 1961 discussion of the difference between just and unjust laws in the context of segregation statutes.

"What is the difference" he asked,"between a just and an unjust law?" "I would say," he answered, "that an unjust law is a code that the majority inflicts on the minority that is not binding on itself" (p. 49). But this was not the end of his analysis. He elaborated on the question in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail in 1963: "How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? . . . . Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust."

There, I think, is the core of how we assess what actions are moral and what actions are not moral. Dr. King went on to explain that "[a]ll segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes an 'I-it' relationship for the 'I-thou' relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful." (p. 293).

This is the point that gives so much force to Dr. King's message. He did not stop with the simple statement that the same laws must apply to everyone. He understood the impact of the words of Anatole France when that French author wrote, "The law, in its majesty, forbids rich and poor alike to beg in the streets and sleep under bridges." The key to just laws - and, I would posit, moral behavior - is, in Dr. King's words, the "uplift of human personality."

Dr. King knew that this understanding was not the exclusive preserve of any particular theological system. In 1967, he called "for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation," and that this call "is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men." Dr. King explained that "[w]hen I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality." He concluded that "[t]his Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up" in these words: "If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us" (p. 242).


But how does FAITH connect to Dr. King's message? My dictionary contains many definitions of faith, including (1) a "system of religious beliefs," (2) a "belief and trust in God," and (3) a "[b]elief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." The first definition - a "system of religious beliefs" - may well be the one that has the most cachet in the current public discourse. When politicians speak of "people of faith," however, the phrase unfortunately often is used to connote only those from organized religions whose tenets are fundamentalist absolutes. As the broad ecumenical expressions of Dr. King demonstrate, his view of faith was not so narrow. The words he used show that his focus was "a belief and trust in God." And, I suggest, a "belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." Yet, it was a belief that, if acted upon, could create the evidence to support his faith.

Dr. King repeatedly preached that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Did Dr. King believe that he had objective evidence for this proposition? One could argue that the history of the human race provides plenty of evidence to the contrary. But Dr. King saw the progress we had made, and believed - as an article of faith - that we could continue to make more: To accomplish, to use our term, Tikkun Olam - repair of the world.

This was faith, not clear objective evidence. In explaining his philosophy of non-violent direct action in opposition to segregation, Dr. King said that the "method of nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. It is this deep faith in the future that enables the nonviolent resister to persevere. " (p. 9, 1957)

In discussing the successful Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, Dr. King stated his belief "there is something unfolding in the universe, whether one speaks of it as an unconscious process, or whether one speaks of it as some unmoved mover, or whether someone speaks of it as a personal God. There is something in the universe that unfolds for justice and so in Montgomery we found somehow that as we struggled we had cosmic companionship. And this was one of the things that kept the people together, the belief that the universe is on the side of justice." (pp. 13-14, 1957).

Thus, he wrote in 1958, "the believer has deep faith in the future. This faith is another reason why the nonviolent resister can accept suffering without retaliation. For he knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship. It is true that there are devout believers in nonviolence who find it difficult to believe in a personal God. But even these persons believe in the existence of some creative force that works for universal wholeness. Whether we call it an unconscious process, an impersonal Brahman, or a Personal Being of matchless power and infinite love, there is a creative force in this universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole." (p. 20).

Dr. King wrote that he was "convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship. Behind the harsh appearances of the world there is a benign power. To say God is personal . . . is to take what is finest and noblest in our consciousness and affirm its perfect existence in Him." (p. 40, 1960).

While Dr. King expressed faith in the view that the "arc of the moral universe bends toward justice," he recognized that that could only be made reality through the work of people: As he said just a few miles from here at the National Cathedral only days before his death in April 1968, "[h]uman progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God." (p. 270)

In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King asserted his "abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him." (p. 225).

And that was why his vision was not just of the end of segregation, but the end of poverty and war, as well. Dr. King's expression of faith took him back to his view of morality:

He believed that "[a]ny religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial." (p. 38, 1960).

He preached that "if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. . . . No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. . . . [W]e must either learn to live together as brothers, or we are all going to perish together as fools." (p. 253, 1967).

In sum, Dr. King's faith was a faith in the future. He observed that the theme song of the Civil Rights Movement had as its key words "deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome." He explained that "out of this deep faith in the future [we] are able to move out and adjourn the councils of despair, and to bring new light in the dark chambers of pessimism." We "had faith in the future . . . [T]he movement was based on hope, that this movement had something within it that says that somehow even though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice. . . . With this faith in the future, with this determined struggle, we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice." (pp. 52-53, 1961).

So Dr. King's legacy is not a faith in a particular theology or in a particularized, laundry-list set of rules for morality. His lesson is that we are in an ongoing relationship with God and with each other; that we are all connected; that we should act in a manner which enhances the dignity and worth of all humankind; and that if we so act, the moral arc of the universe will surely bend toward justice. All the rest is commentary, and it is our challenge and responsibility to learn.

David Fishback
Temple Emanuel
Kensington, MD
January 14, 2005

NB: Page citations are to materials found in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (edited by James M. Washington).

Monday, January 17, 2005

Bible vs. science war rages on in classrooms

We are thankful there are people like Selman, who are in no rush to let themselves be run over by extremists and zealots. Thanks to them, the fight will continue. I'm open to accept that I myself created the world, I just need science to be able to prove it to the best of its abilities... That's what evolution does so far... I do want my kids to be taught that there are religious and/or just differing views regarding the origins of the Earth, and species, but that the most accurate and prevailing theory accepted by a consensus of the scientific community is that of Evolution, and that's why we use it in our classrooms to explain origins.

Selman challenged the board's right to place stickers in science texts challenging the theory of evolution, claiming it was an unconstitutional intrusion by organized religion on Georgia's education system. A federal judge agreed last week and ordered the stickers removed.

But both Selman and Manely know that was just one battle in a fight that, in some parts of the United States, has been raging for 80 years, since the 1925 trial of Tennessee teacher John Scopes who was charged with illegally teaching evolution.

And perhaps it's fitting that this latest skirmish played out in historic Marietta, in the shadow of the Confederate cemetery:

This is America's new civil war.

Read the article: Bible vs. science war rages on in classrooms

Sunday, January 16, 2005

They Can't Even Use the Word

Ha! This is great.

The Vagina Monologues is a theatrical piece by Eve Ensler that has been performed countless times, from college campuses to Madison Square Garden, and all around the world. It's a kind of feminist piece, something that seeks to break taboos and make people think in a new way about their sexuality and about women.

Naturally, The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) thinks this needs to be stopped. They are a Catholic group who describes themselves in this way:
Founded in 1973, the American TFP was formed to resist, in the realm of ideas, the liberal, socialist and communist trends of the times and proudly affirm the positive values of tradition, family and property. Who We Are

TFP Student Action (motto: Youth was not made for pleasure, but for heroism) has decided that this Vagina Monologues business has got to stop, at least on Catholic university campuses. As they tell you, this lewd play has been shown at such places as "Georgetown University, University of Notre Dame, Saint Louis University, Saint Francis University, Fordham University, Loyola Marymount University and others." So they're launching a boycott of corporate sponsors of the Vagina Monologues.

The only problem is, they can't say the word "vagina." They think it's a dirty word.

So they end up saying stuff like:
"Our next step will be to contact Catholic university officials where the "V***** Monologues" is scheduled and ask them to immediately cancel the immoral play," said TFP Student Action director John Ritchie. "We hope to generate one million protest messages with this campaign." Higher Learning Reaches New Low with Vulgar "V***** Monologues"

Do you suppose he pronounces that "vee star-star-star-star-star," like on the Internet, or does he say "vee asterisk-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk?" Wow, try that one, I don't think he says that.

Maybe it's just me, but I kinda thought "vagina" was the polite term for it, the official medical term.

I am trying to imagine what the sex-hating crowd might say, to avoid using the word "vagina." Maybe they call it "the stork place," in honor of its important function in producing babies. Maybe they just call it "down there," emphasizing its relationship to that other place "down there," where you go when you spend too much time thinking about what's "down there." The Down There Monologues... no, I don't think so. Sounds like something about Australians.

See, nobody cares if these superstitious groups want to believe that nature is evil, that sex is a duty and a curse and no fun -- there are all kinds of people in this world, including ... those people. The problem is just this: those people want to control what other people do.

Here in Montgomery County, "those people" want to make sure that homosexuality is not mentioned in the public school health curriculum. Their own kids aren't forced to take the class, they're not concerned about that. They're concerned about your kids, my kids learning about something. And just like these student activists who seem to think that if you use the word "vagina" you will be helplessly tricked into thinking about vaginas all the time, the Recall group seems to believe that if kids learn about homosexuality they will become homosexuals.

I'm really glad it doesn't actually work that way.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Washington State Offers Sex-Ed Guidelines

The state government out in Washington seems to be taking a very gentle approach to sex education. They just issued a set of "guidelines" for educators, which they can ignore or follow as they wish: State issues guidelines on sex ed: Recommendations mark foray into national, charged debate

The guidelines seem to describe the new Montgomery County curriculum very well:
The state guidelines urge that medically and scientifically accurate information be offered about prevention of both disease and unwanted pregnancy.

The information should include that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain method of avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, according to the five-page Guidelines for Sexual Health Information and Disease Prevention.

"I think they're great," said Pamela Hillard, supervisor for health education in the Seattle Public Schools. "They're very much in line with the philosophy and objectives that are part of the Seattle sexuality education program."

Very interesting to read how they handle it. Kids in Washington have to take 5 hours of classes about HIV/AIDS, beginning in fifth grade.
In Seattle Public Schools, most fifth-grade teachers go beyond that to offer a 15-lesson presentation of the Family Life and Sexual Health program developed by Seattle/King County public health officials.

But the only district-required sex ed is part of a health course mandated in ninth grade, she said, with additional instruction available in elective health courses.

This sounds very interesting and enlightened. We live in a time when we may see government regulation of marriage partner selection -- at the federal level, no less -- when government seems to want to impose itself more and more into people's private lives. For the state of Washington to provide a list of best practices, with no intention of forcing anybody to follow them, seems very wise.
According to this article,
Washington's new sex education guidelines call for providing information about both abstinence and contraception. The guidelines recommend programs that:
  • Are appropriate for age and culture.

  • Use information and materials that are medically and scientifically accurate and objective.

  • Identify resources to address individual needs, for present and future concerns and questions.

  • Stress that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid pregnancy and to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

  • Address the health needs of all youth who are sexually active, including how to access health services.

  • Provide accurate information about sexually transmitted diseases, including how STDs are -- and are not -- transmitted and the effectiveness of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved methods of reducing the risk of contracting STDs.

  • Provide accurate information about the effectiveness and safety of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in preventing pregnancy.

  • Provide information on local resources for testing and medical care for STDs and pregnancy.

  • Recognize and respect people with differing personal and family values.

  • Address the impact of media and peer messages on thoughts, feelings, cultural norms and behaviors related to sexuality as well as address social pressures related to sexual behaviors.


Schools Are Teaching It Anyway

I just had an interesting exchange with my fourteen-year-old son. We were talking about condoms versus birth-control pills, and stuff like that. And I asked him if they'd ever taught him at school how to use a condom.

Oh, yeah, Mrs. Somebody-or-other showed us how to put one on a banana in health class.


A couple of years ago.

In middle school?


This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, of course, this is supposed to be in a video in the new curriculum, but I find out the teachers are teaching it anyway, showing the kids themselves, with no supporting materials. They're wingin' it. So, as much as I think this is a good thing that the teachers are willing to go outside the system to get the facts to the kids, you really do wish the system would support them.

The second thing is that this wasn't worth mentioning when it happened. He's fourteen now, let's say he was twelve when this was taught. Did he run home traumatized, crying Mommy, mommy, you won't believe what they showed us at school tday? Um, no, he didn't.

It really is no big deal.

Vigilant Weekly Digest

State issues new guidelines for sex education in schools

The state has issued new voluntary guidelines for sex education in Washington's public schools, urging that medically and scientifically accurate information be offered about prevention of both disease and unwanted pregnancy.

The information should include that abstinence from sexual activity is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, according to the five-page Guidelines for Sexual Health Information and Disease Prevention.

The guidelines' preface says evidence suggests sex-education programs that provide information about both abstinence and contraception can delay sexual activity among teenagers, reduce their number of sexual partners and increase contraceptive use when they become sexually active.

The recommendations, released Thursday, were developed by the state Health Department and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, acting on a bipartisan request from 41 legislators last year.

"The goal of sex education is safe and healthy people," the guidelines state.

Sex a weapon


A "SEX bomb" that would make enemy soldiers irresistible to each other was considered by the US military.

Declassified documents reveal the Pentagon toyed with the idea of an aphrodisiac chemical weapon in 1994.

The gas would have made enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. The weapon's developers said homosexual behaviour among troops would deal a "distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale.

The plans, unearthed from a US air force laboratory in Ohio, were published in New Scientist magazine.

- Milanda Rout

Washoe school board opposes abstinence-only sex ed video

The Washoe County School Board turned down a new sex education videotape for seventh-graders partly because it promotes a fear-based, abstinence-only message.

Carson City schools earlier adopted the video, entitled "The Rules Have Changed The Teen STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) Epidemic."
In a letter to the board of trustees, SHARE committee member Nancy Lim criticized the video for suggesting that condoms "don't work" and for potentially inspiring irrational fears.

"The over-hyped, fear-based tone was felt to be a turnoff for many teens who most needed to hear the abstinence message," Lim said. "Examples of the alarmist format included blood dripping into a sink when a link was drawn between teen suicide rates and teen sexuality."

District 11 decides to keep sex education
School District-11 plans to continue to allow Planned Parenthood to present sex education to high school classes. Wednesday night, the board rejected a motion to remove Planned Parenthood from the district's Community Resource Bank.

Supporters feel it is the only organization that teaches kids a complete curriculum on avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Opponents say teaching about contraception just encourages kids to be sexually active. D-11 Board Member Eric Christen said, "It's a message that says we give up, you're uncontrollable little animals. There's no hope for you. Here's how to use a condom." On the other side, Planned Parenthood's Lenox Powell said, "Abstinence only information is flawed. And it puts kids' lives in danger."

School policy still allows parents to opt their children out of classroom presentations by Planned Parenthood.

Controversial Wyoming abstinence program resumes this week
An abstinence program cited by a recent congressional report as presenting inaccurate information about HIV is resuming this week in Casper, Wyo. The "WAIT (Why Am I Tempted)" abstinence-only curriculum resumed on January 10 for middle and high school students in Casper despite being specifically mentioned in a report by U.S. representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) as one of 11 nationwide that included inaccuracies and presented false information about sex and sexually transmitted diseases. WAIT was cited in Waxman's report because it teaches students that tears, sweat, and saliva are risk factors for HIV transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says none of the three bodily fluids can transmit the virus. Joneen Krauth, a registered nurse and executive director of the Abstinence and Relationship Training Center in Colorado, says the program will be revamped to remove references to HIV transmission risks through sweat, but she did not mention whether further changes would be made.

Family Values, Texas Style

My children are the greatest gifts that God has given me, or could have given me. Everyday, I feel more blessed to be their mom.

My children are my teachers, and I have to admit that some of who they are, and how they are, has come in spite of me. They have forced me to give up some of my hairbrained notions about what it means to be a parent, and what works in bringing out the best in them. They've taught me that being authoritarian and using fear tactics, does not work. And, that being truthful is something they need, because it shows them that I have faith in them to do the right thing, once they know what that is. They know, and I know, that they may stumble and fall sometimes. But we also know that if they are loved consistently, told the truth about life in ways they can understand, and are given clear boundaries, they will always get back up.

These are our family values.

I don't know where the family values are in some of the sex education programs the religious right promotes. For instance, when looking at one Texas town, even New Zealanders are scratching their heads:
Lubbock, West Texas, is deep in the heart of the Bible Belt. It boasts more churches per capita than anywhere else in the US. It also has the most fast food restaurants and the second largest one-storey shopping mall in America. As in the rest of Texas, Lubbock's teenagers are expected not to have sex until they're married. In schools, the policy is only to teach abstinence from sexual activity. Nobody talks to teenagers about sex.

In this town, teaching kids through fear and shame, are apparently considered family values:
Eva's pastor Ed Ainsworth is the leading light of Lubbock's abstinence campaign. For ten years Lubbock schools have relied on him to teach abstinence. If you've had sex, Ed says you're like a used toothbrush. He tells the kids that condoms don't work. While churches use the Bible, the schools use fear to keep the teenagers away from sex.

To steal a line from Dr. Phil, how's that working for you?
Despite the push for abstinence, Lubbock has some of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the whole of America. The abstinence movement studiously ignores the reality of most teenagers' lives. But in Texas, no matter what the consequences, it looks as though virginity pledges are here to stay.

Full story here: Texas Teenage Virgins

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Logic of Repression

There's a certain kind of argument that is sometimes made to criticize the curriculum that is proposed for Montgomery County, where eighth graders will learn that some people are gay.
The argument is given as:
  • AIDS is a terrible disease.
  • Gay people get AIDS.

So far, that's as far as I have ever heard anyone get with the argument. Usually they think that's enough to make their point, and they stop there, maybe with a personal anecdote about how scary it is to be around AIDS patients, or even a statistic about the AIDS epidemic.

I try to imagine what the next line is going to be, the "therefore Socrates is mortal" part. Mmm, it could be:
  • Therefore gay people are terrible.

but I don't think it is. They say they "hate the sin, love the sinner," and, well, this would sorta be blowin' it.

When I hear this argument made, it seems like the person is trying to get to the conclusion:
  • Therefore eighth graders should not be told that some people are gay.

but they just never quite get there. It's like, we're supposed to understand that that's the conclusion, without them saying it. Otherwise, how is this an argument against the new curriculum? (I am quite sure they aren't just making an impartial comment.) But it is a little difficult to see how they get to this from the first syllogism.

OK, I am being a little disingenuous here, I admit it. I know what the argument is. It's:
  • AIDS is a terrible disease.
  • Gay people get AIDS.
  • Therefore there shouldn't be any gay people.

Right? Of course.

In order to patch together the whole syllogism, about the sex-ed curriculum, you have to know the second part:
  • Being gay sounds irresistible.
  • Eighth graders are not yet able to control their impulses.
  • Therefore, if they hear that there are gay people, they will become one.

OK, now we are starting to get the logic of this whole thing. They know that once all the eight-graders turn gay, they will catch AIDS, and the world will be a more dangerous place.

See? It all makes perfectly good logical sense.

Let's see how it looks, all put together:
  • AIDS is a terrible disease.
  • Gay people get AIDS.
  • Therefore there shouldn't be any gay people.

  • Being gay sounds irresistible.
  • Eighth graders are not yet able to control their impulses.
  • Therefore, if they hear that there are gay people, they will become one.

  • From these it follows that eighth graders should not be told that some people are gay.

I think I'm getting pretty close.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

That Retraction

I keep thinking about The Gazette withdrawing their story. Yesterday I sat in the board meeting, where Michelle went in and told them that she had learned they had withdrawn from the meeting because of threats they'd received from her group, and she tried to smooth it all over.

Now, all the members of the school board were sitting right there, looking her in the eye. She only took up, I'd say, less than a minute of her allowed two minutes, so there would've been time for a comment or two. But they sat there and let her talk, and nobody said, oh, that's not the reason, or, no, we had to cancel because of other commitments. They didn't say that.

Why did she think it was true? Why did they let her apologize without correcting her?

And now The Gazette is saying that wasn't it, that they made a mistake.

Matey, me smells a big, stinkin' rat somewheres.

Something Very Strange

The Gazette has printed a correction of their story from the other day, which stated that the board members had pulled out of a citizens' meeting because they were threatened by members of the recall group. Now the Gazette says:
To our readers: A story that appeared in the Jan. 12 issue of The Gazette incorrectly reported school board member Sharon Cox's reason for missing the Germantown Citizens Association meeting. This version of the story has been corrected.

Previous engagements kept two school board members from attending Monday’s Germantown Citizens Association meeting on the proposed sex education curriculum. The Gazette had earlier reported that threats on an anti-curriculum Web site caused the two board members to cancel their appearances... Group opposed to sex ed pilot briefs GCA

From there it looks like pretty much the same story. Very, very strange.

With my own eyes -- and also on cable TV -- I saw the group's leader, Michelle Turner, apologize to the school board for the threats that came from her group. Anybody who had checked the hateful message board on their web site knows that there was a lot of wild talk, including comments about members of the Board of Education.

There are two odd things here. First, the headline: Group opposed to sex ed pilot briefs GCA. Does this mean that the Germantown citizens held a meeting, and no school board members came, but people from the recall group explained why they don't like the curriculum? That sure isn't what the story's about.

Second, the retraction. They themselves admitted there were threats -- just yesterday, Michelle noted on the Eintstein listserv that "We tried rules of decorum to no avail." Hmmm, now, what would make a newspaper like this back down from a story like that?

Can't wait to see what happens with this one!

Colorado Springs school district decides on sex education

Well, it's always pleasing to see common sense holding its own, isn't it?

Colorado Springs school district decides on sex education

School District-11 plans to continue to allow Planned Parenthood to present sex education to high school classes. Wednesday night, the board rejected a motion to remove Planned Parenthood from the district's Community Resource Bank.

Supporters feel it is the only organization that teaches kids a complete curriculum on avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Opponents say teaching about contraception just encourages kids to be sexually active. D-11 Board Member Eric Christen said, "It's a message that says we give up, you're uncontrollable little animals. There's no hope for you. Here's how to use a condom." On the other side, Planned Parenthood's Lenox Powell said, "Abstinence only information is flawed. And it puts kids' lives in danger."

School policy still allows parents to opt their children out of classroom presentations by Planned Parenthood.

"we are deadly serious"

At the last Board of Education meeting, (Tuesday, 12/11), Michelle Turner, President of the RecallMontgomerySchoolBoard group, offered public comments, and apologized to Sharon Cox and the Board for the behavior of some of the recall group's supporters. Apparently, threatening messages were posted on their message board, and the BOE also received some pretty nasty phone calls and letters.

It may be that Michelle Turner knew that the very next day, Wednesday, 12/12, the Gazette was to print an article titled Cox avoids Germantown meeting after receiving threats:
Members of the Board of Education canceled their appearance at Monday's Germantown Citizens Association meeting on the proposed sex education curriculum after receiving threats and slanderous comments on an anti-curriculum Web site.

(See Jim Kennedy's post for more on that story.)

Yesterday, on the Einstein High School listserve, in responding to criticism about threats being made at the recall group's site, Michelle offered this:
The CRC website was changed due to the nastiness/threats being posted
not only towards the CRC but the BoE as well. We tried rules of decorum to no avail.

Michelle Turner

Now, the interesting thing about that statement, is Michelle's use of the word "we". I wondered (and I asked)...who is "we"? I was curious because it sounded to me like she was trying to say that the leadership of the recall group "tried rules of decorum." And in fact, that is what she meant, because she responded to my question saying that "we" referred to her group's Executive Committee.

Fair enough. So the leaders were trying to reign in some of the more hotheaded fringe supporters?


Maybe it was some of the leaders themselves who, at best, sought to stir up an already angry crowd with what could be construed as some veiled threats of their own.

Here's a screenshot of a message posted to the recall site's message board by none other than Steve Fisher, their official Spokesperson and Media/PR guy. The use of the word deadly is pretty intense:

(Note—Click on the image to see a larger version.)

And I come back to Michelle's word decorum. Interesting word, although I'm not sure I'd use it to describe this post, again, from Mr. Fisher:

Did he have to call the BOE animals and lunatics? Hmm...decorum.

And what's really hilarious, is that while in yet another post he continues in this decorous vein by calling the BOE "knuckleheads", Mr. Fisher explains that his children do not attend Montgomery County Public Schools. If his kids aren't even in Montgomery County Public Schools, for the life of me, I can't understand why he's so irrate...or why he's the recall group's spokesperson. Maybe they like his committment to decorum.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

County approves purchase of contraceptives despite protest

You thought everybody was crazy everywhere? Well, you were wrong, it's only a few in some places, and whole lot of them in others.

County approves purchase of contraceptives despite protest

Outing PFOX and their pals

When I first heard the term 'ex-gay', it sounded fairly benign to me. Having been guilty of ignorance about the nuances of sexual orientation for most of my life, I didn't think there was anything offensive about it. I was mildly aware that within gay communities, the perception of ex-gay groups tends to be not very positive, but I had no idea why.

Now I know why. The spoken message from ex-gay groups is "you can change." The unspoken message is "you must change." They believe that gay people must change sexual orientation because according to them, being gay is an abomination to Christ. features a very thorough and indepth report on the ex-gay movement that clearly explains its history, and the real reason it exists.

Calculated Compassion: How The Ex-Gay Movement Serves The Right's Attack on Democracy

A report from Political Research Associates the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and, Equal Partners in Faith

Copyright 1998, Surina Khan and Political Research Associates


The growing prominence of the ex-gay movement is the result of a strategic shift within the Christian Right: the new packaging of an old message. The claim that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people can be "cured" has more to do with the Right's political objectives and its bitter opposition to equal rights than with genuine caring. This report examines how the Christian Right has adopted the ex-gay movement in response to increasing pressure to soften its homophobic rhetoric.

While a vast array of religious denominations and a growing majority of the public is increasingly supportive of equality and fair treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, the ex-gay movement is gaining media attention and increasing legitimacy by promoting a discredited therapeutic practice known as "reparative therapy" and by claiming to act in the name of religion. Reparative therapy has been repudiated by prominent psychological and psychiatric organizations. The religious principles promoted by the ex-gay movement are part of a fundamentalist Christian agenda that has caused concern and opposition from within virtually all mainstream communities of faith.

Our three organizations have come together to raise critical questions about the motivations, claims, and objectives of the ex-gay movement. We believe the public needs to see the truth behind the mask of compassion. The new softer face of the Christian Right merely hides the old, vicious homophobia. The ex-gay movement, like the Christian Right of which it is a part, is intolerant of anyone who does not conform to its ideals of family, marriage, moral values, and sexual orientation. It exploits and misuses the language of faith, presenting a face of Christian caring while simultaneously condemning gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people outright, and denying them their full humanity and equal rights. In attacking gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, the ex-gay movement, like its parent, the Christian Right, promotes an agenda for all Americans that is profoundly anti-democratic and exclusionary. We stand in opposition.

Rev. Meg Riley Co-Chair Steering Committee Equal Partners in Faith

Urvashi Vaid Director The Policy Institute National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Jean Hardisty Executive Director Political Research Associates

Read the full report here

"Recall" Web Site Threatens School Board

This morning's Gazette has an item of interest. It seems that some members of the school board were planning to meet with citizens in Germantown Monday. The anti-gay group that wants to recall the school board apparently was very excited about this opportunity to express their opinions to the board members. Their site,, has a message board, where members of the group can communicate among themselves. Apparently, those messages were getting a little too inflammatory for the board members' comfort.

(I have apologized to The Gazette before, and must do so now. Their reporting is so good, I end up copying-and-pasting the whole article. Readers of this blog are requested to click on, search for sponsors, and buy something from them.)

(PS Read the letters to the editor while you're there.)

While you're reading this article, and hearing them try to blame "outsiders" for the comments in question, please note that the recall group's message boards are not open to the public. You have to submit your name and be approved before you can comment there.

Cox avoids Germantown meeting after receiving threats

Members of the Board of Education canceled their appearance at Monday's Germantown Citizens Association meeting on the proposed sex education curriculum after receiving threats and slanderous comments on an anti-curriculum Web site.

"The postings started having some direct threats to school board members," GCA board member Sheila Myers said. "Evidently Sharon [Cox] got some very specific ones. ... She became concerned about coming into a public meeting" where someone might threaten her physically.

"Prior to [the postings] she had said 'yes' on coming," Myers said. "She seemed very open minded about having that discussion on a community forum."

Cox and fellow school board member Patricia O'Neill were originally invited to attend. Cox and O'Neill could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

The site on which the comments were posted,, is monitored by a Damascus-based group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. CRC members who attended the meeting denied that anyone from their group posted the comments or threats.

Mmm, yeah. So the board members are lying? Or did somebody hack into their site? --This would have been a different story if that had happened. Maybe they're trying to say there really weren't any nasty comments on the message board. I'd like to know.

"We're just moms," member Michelle Turner of Kensington said. Other members speculated that someone outside their group posted the comments on their site ­ adding to CRC's already negative image, they said.

Group members have been called "hateful, fearful and homophobic," none of which are true, Gaithersburg resident Laura Quigley said.

Tweeeeeet! The ref blows his whistle. Fearful? Nobody's ever called them fearful. But declines the penalty. Proceed.

--No, wait, just a minute... Kensington? Gaithersburg? I thought this was a Germantown Citizens Association meeting. Why, it almost sounds like they were planning to stack the deck by bringing in outsiders...

The curriculum includes an eight-minute video that features a young woman discussing how condoms can reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or becoming pregnant. She also demonstrates the proper way to put on a condom, using a cucumber. It also discusses "sexual variations," including homosexuality, which up until now teachers were not allowed to bring up as a topic for discussion -- only address specific questions from students.

I would like to again thank The Gazette for their even handling of this topic.

In addition to their belief that the school's proposed curriculum veers away from "traditional values," CRC members also believe the Board of Education did not follow the proper procedures for submitting a new curriculum.

Members compared the treatment of the sex ed curriculum to the school board's treatment of the grading and reporting policy, which has received a lot of public exposure, they said.

"[The curriculum] has not been given the time and attention it should have been, even compared to their own policy," CRC member Tom Reinheimer said.

Look, this really is annoying. The people who started the recall group were on the committee that proposed this curriculum in the first place. They had approximately three years of discussing this stuff. The fact is, they wanted to include extremist, anti-gay propaganda, and they were outvoted. The commmittee had numerous members representing conservative groups. They were outvoted. There was nothing wrong with the process, this is exactly how it's supposed to work.

CRC members said they are asking that the school board delay the pilot of the curriculum until a public hearing has been held and enough community input has been gathered.

The GCA will draft a letter to the board vocalizing Germantown residents' opposition to the curriculum, board member Alice Gordon said.

However, because the GCA must remain impartial, she said the letter would present both sides of the issue.

"There's no way that we can choose sides, we have to remain open-minded," Gordon said.

Mmm, OK, so they'll write a letter that says, some people in Germantown don't like this curriculum, but some do. I'm sure this is a great victory for those sore losers who are trying to undermine the democratic process in Montgomery County.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Gay Agenda

Finally ... a web site that goes behind the scenes to reveal The Gay Agenda:

Requires Flash -- oh, and turn down your volume.

Quote of the Day

Recall group member Ellen Castellano, trying to explain to the Montgomery County Board of Education why their website is called "", Jan. 11, 2005:
And by the way, we are not what' CRC, trying to recall you. That just happened to be the name of the um website that was originally started. I just wanted to make this public record. Thank you.

Uh, yeah, we don't want to recall the school board, we just called it that for, y'know, no reason, really.

(This was before recall group leader Michelle Turner explained to the school board that she was sorry members of their group had threatened the board, and how she hoped they could still work together.)

We couldn't make this stuff up.

Our Public Schools Are Doing God's Work

From the Freedom to Learn Network Newsletter
Volume VIII, Number. 2/3, September 2000

By Frosty Troy

Of all the groundless, hurtful attacks on public educators, none is more
painful than the charge that public schools are "godless" institutions. The
staccato drumbeat against public education includes religious defamation.
The Constitution requires that public education be neutral in the arena of
sectarian religion, but that's a far cry from the debasement heaped upon
public educators. A torrent of abuse has hit the airwaves since the
shootings in Littleton: If only the Ten Commandments or prayer had been
permitted ... if only school teachers were not void of values ...

It is ironic that the religious and political critics bring no facts to the
table. Columbine High School was rife with religion, the kind permitted
under the Constitution. There were Bible clubs, a religious organization for
athletes, "prayer at the pole," and a largely Christian faculty.

The crescendo of calumny heaped on public education is a partisan attack to
promote vouchers and private schools—the re-segregation of America, this
time along class lines.

Who is for spiritual values for kids and who is just kidding? Can you name
one other institution that comes nearer to biblical injunctions than public

*Feeding the hungry? Last year, for nearly 30 percent of public school
children, a school lunch was the only hot meal they got.

*Clothing the naked? There's hardly an elementary school in a poor
neighborhood in America that does not have a clothing closet stuffed with
underwear, socks, and other necessities for have-not children.

*The widow's mite? The average teacher spent more than $400 of personal
funds for such things as workbooks and pencils for poor children.

*Visiting the prisoners? Those are public educators staffing the GED,
vo-tech, literacy, and skill centers behind the walls—redeeming tens of
thousands of otherwise lost lives.

*No greater love? The Littleton teacher who herded children into a room for safety, then shielded them with his own body, lay shot and dying in front of
the praying students he had saved.

*Role models? No other profession provides a higher percentage of Sunday School teachers.

*Suffer the little ones? Who takes millions of little ones who are retarded, developmentally disabled, or mentally handicapped? Who redeems the
dispossessed and the delinquent in alternative education programs? If you're
looking for values, consider the majority of teachers who spend their time
and money mentoring students, sponsoring nonacademic class activities, all
the while attempting to deal with the most undisciplined generation ever to
enter public education.

Because teachers can't pin on a church label and baptize the student doesn't
make public education any less spiritual. It isn't the babbling critics who
wrap themselves in religious intolerance who are making a difference for all
of God's children. They preach to the saved in the rear echelon, while
public school teachers staff the front line. Public educators don't have the
time or inclination to bash Christian, parochial, or other private schools,
or the home schoolers who so often bitterly denounce public education.

Look who comes to public school among the 53 million enrolled this year, and
then consider who truly does God's work:
  • Six million for whom English is a second language
  • Six million special education children
  • More than two million abused children
  • Nearly 500,000 from no permanent address
  • One out of four who come from extreme poverty, often born out of wedlock
  • Many who are neglected, unwashed, unwanted, and unloved
Public school teachers are scorned on editorial pages and maligned from
ignorant pulpits, but they keep moving on. And only God knows why. They earn
the poorest salaries among all the industrial nations, yet a new study shows
they are among the brightest college students, and nearly half hold master's

With all its warts, public education produces more math and science brains
than all of private education combined. From astronauts to Pulitzer Prize
winners, from Nobel laureates to the clergy, public school graduates are in
the front rank.

The public school day may not start with a Hail Mary or Our Father, a mantra
or a blood sacrifice; but public education does more of God's work for
children every day than any other institution in America—and that includes
the churches.

Frosty Troy is the editor of the Oklahoma Observer.

About the Freedom To Learn Network
Formed in 1992 in response to widespread attacks on books and programs in local public schools. Supports drug and alcohol programs as well as health, sex and AIDS curricula. "FLN does not endorse all programs but seeks to expose the motives behind challenges...(and) to provide objective information and reveal the tactics of those whose goals are to destroy public education."

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Seattle Times: Education: Catholic schools face new ground on gays

If you want to see hypocrisy in full force, and what could happen to any child if we let a bunch of extremists have their way, read
The Seattle Times: Education: Catholic schools face new ground on gays.
Now it seems that what concerns them is not their own children, but how bad the two boys of homosexual parents will feel when they hear the hateful message the school has to offer. Don't mind how they will feel when they learn that they have been expelled from school because of THEIR PARENTS!!!

The views of other parents were at the core of the dispute at St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa. The two boys involved have not been named publicly and neither have their parents, who have declined interview requests.

But the objecting parents said they thought their children could not receive full-fledged instruction on faith with the two boys in the school. They said they could not see how a teacher could fully explain the church's policies on homosexuals without causing the two boys anxiety about their fathers.

But the pastor, the Rev. Martin Benzoni, said the right of the children to an education was paramount and let the boys stay.

It seems that at least in this case, Rev. Benzoni kept some common sense. But, listen up, this is the way things could go... If we let them.

Florida Gays Still Cannot Adopt

Let's start off with the news story, then some comments:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Monday to hear a constitutional challenge to a 1977 Florida law that bans gays and lesbians from adopting children, the only such state law in the nation.

Without comment, the high court declined to consider whether the law, which was adopted at the height of entertainer Anita Bryant's anti-homosexual campaign, unfairly singled out gays and lesbians in violation of their constitutional rights.

The law states, "No person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual." No other state categorically excludes gays or lesbians from adopting.

The law's sponsor, Florida Sen. Curtis Peterson, said at the time the purpose of the legislation was to send a message to gays and lesbians that "we're really tired of you. We wish you'd go back into the closet." Supreme Court Lets Stand Florida's Gay Adoption Ban

You'd think these "family values" folks would want to see orphans taken into families, where they could be cared for and loved, wouldn't you? I mean, wouldn't that be consistent with the concept of ... well ... family values? No, here again they reveal their agenda to be a hateful one. They would rather leave a kid in an orphanage or a foster home than place him or her in a family with gay people.

Yeah, they've backed themselves into a corner here, it seems, by insisting that a "family" has to have a man and a woman. Who would think it was a good idea to just come out and say: orphans belong in orphanages, not homes? But that's the effect here.

You wonder, is it legal in Florida for a single parent to adopt a kid? People who have been divorced? Adulterers? Drinkers? What if you have a criminal record? And how do they know if you're gay? Do you have to, like, "perform" to prove it?
The Florida law was challenged in 1999 by four gay men, Steven Lofton, Douglas Houghton, Wayne LaRue Smith and Daniel Skahen, who have been raising foster children, but cannot adopt them because of the law.

The lawsuit claimed the law violated the right to equal protection of lesbians and gays who seek to adopt and of the children raised by gays and lesbians who cannot be adopted by those caring for them.

A federal judge in Miami and a U.S. appeals court upheld the law. The Atlanta-based appeals court said the issue of gay adoptions should be decided by the Florida legislature, not by the courts.

This story is actually just about a legal technicality, a jurisdictional issue. But it makes you wonder, what kind of people are so hateful that they would rather see a kid grow up in an orphange, or passed around between foster homes, than adopted into a loving home with two moms, or two dads?

Lawmakers ask agency leaders if they support global HIV/AIDS prevention statement

After the Lancet published a statement in November 27, 2004 entitled "The Time Has Come for Common Ground on Preventing Sexual Transmission of HIV", now a group of Democratic members of Congress is asking federal agencies to take a stand:

Ten Democratic members of Congress have sent letters to federal agency leaders asking if they support a global consensus statement on the prevention of sexual transmission of HIV, signed by more than 130 international political, health and scientific leaders and published in The Lancet on November 27. The letter—which went to the directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the US Agency for International Development, as well as the White House Global AIDS Coordinator—inquires, “Given the broad international and domestic support for The Lancet statement and the importance of collaboration in AIDS prevention efforts worldwide, we would like to know whether you, as a key leaders in this administration in combating HIV/AIDS, support this statement.”

You can see the details, and a link to the letter itself (on pdf.) in Lawmakers ask agency leaders if they support global HIV/AIDS prevention statement from ResearchResearch.

Religious Beliefs Underpin Opposition to Homosexuality

Religious Beliefs Underpin Opposition to Homosexuality

Here we have the report from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. There is no surprise that it concludes that there is a direct connection between religion beliefs and rejection of homosexuality. But it is important to read the full report, to see the many nuances the report brings.

As we know, also, the African American religious community is very opposed to gay marriage and to gay rights in general. Darryl Fears from The Washington Post states so in an article:

A study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that since 2000, black Protestants have become far less likely than other Protestant groups to believe that gays should have equal rights. Black Protestant support for gay rights dipped to a low of 40 percent this year, down from 65 percent in 1996 and 59 percent in 1992.

The Pew Report shows that:

Attitudes about gay marriage are closely linked to where a person lives ­ with opposition significantly higher in the South, and in rural areas of the country. But there is little racial divide over gay marriage. Both whites and blacks oppose gay marriage by roughly two-to-one ­ most Hispanics also oppose the idea, but by a smaller margin (51% to 36%).

We certainly know how people use those common grounds to carve association with the same people they despise and whose interests they oppose in every other issue. It's the same strategy as when they try to divide African Americans and Hispanics on the grounds of low paying jobs, minority scholarships and other crumbs while obscuring the huge list of similarities and things and extremely important things they have in common that would allow them to fight together, instead of against each other. The issue of homosexuality, as much as the emphasis on virginity, and the like are divide and conquer issues, and we should not let them play with us on that. And, as many of us have come to realize by digging into this issues, homophobia and racism often, too often, go hand in hand.

On something directly related to our issues in MCPS, -remember when someone asked about gay teachers in Einstein???- the report also gives some hope that common sense and love for freedom and equality is still holding a place on society:
In 1987, the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press found Americans divided over whether school boards should (51%) or should not (42%) be allowed to fire teachers based on their sexual preference. Today, Americans reject this idea by nearly two-to-one (62% to 33%). While significant differences remain across partisan, religious, and generational lines, all segments of American society have become less willing to allow this kind of explicit job discrimination, even in schools.

And, while you are in the Pew website, stop by the following Press Briefing, with many interesting views, but mainly one regarding the manipulation of numbers.
How the Faithful Voted: Political Alignments & the Religious Divide in Election 2004
In some ways you can argue that the strong pro-choicers and the strong pro-lifers are the most philosophically consistent people in the electorate, but an awful lot of Americans, even on an issue as philosophically and personally difficult as abortion, or in search of some other ground, the same is true on the gay marriage question: 25 percent said that gays and lesbians should be allowed to legally marry, 35 percent favored civil unions, 37 percent favored no legal recognition of homosexual relationships. Again, you can percentage these numbers whichever way you want, and I'm sure interest groups will do exactly that. On the one hand, 60 percent of Americans favor either marriage for gays or civil unions, or, alternatively, 72 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage. Both statements are true from these exit polls. So it suggests, I think, a certain subtlety out there in the electorate and a country, again, involved in a very serious argument with itself.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Hijacking the spirit of Christ

The past few weeks have been difficult for me. Since I starting working with other parents to oppose the recall group's attempts to control our childrens' curriculum, I've had to do a lot of research on groups and ideas that seem so profoundly driven by hatred, that I have often come away feeling physically ill.

It's difficult for me to understand the mindset of people who are so completely preoccupied with keeping other people from having even the most basic levels of rights—the right to just be able to live in this world with some kind of dignity, and to simply be left alone by people who, for whatever reason, don't like how they live their lives.

I recognize that not everyone in this world is going to be comfortable with the fact that there are and always will be gay people among us. I don't think anyone expects to be fully accepted by every other person. I know that I personally can live with the fact that not everyone is going to like me, and I suspect that most gay people accept that too.

But with all of the many ways a person can use their energy to try to change the world we live in—helping homeless people, caring for abused or neglected children, or just doing the best they can to treat others with respect—I don't understand how anyone can justify spending the most valuable resources we as human beings have—our time, our energy, and our intellectual abilities, on denying other people basic rights.

And what's most astounding, is that in this situation, it's all being done in the name of Christ.

I don't think anyone needs to be a biblical scholar to get the essence of what Christ was all about, and what his message really was. If the Gospels are to be accepted as accurate portrayals of his life, then it's clear that what he came to teach was kindness, justice, forgiveness, and peace. He taught people that they could be more than what they believed—more than what society told them they were, when they were being told they were not acceptable because of their mistakes, or their jobs, or because of where they were born, or whom they were born to. Whether of high or low birth; Jew or Gentile; tax collector, shepherd, or Pharisee; healthy or leper, Jesus treated all people the same. He taught by example to be courageous in fighting for other peoples' rights, and he never lifted a finger to deny rights to anyone.

And curiously enough, based on what's in the Bible, something Jesus never uttered a single word about, was homosexuality.

That's strange, considering that the leaders of the religious right would have us believe they are collectively the devil incarnate. These leaders have folks all riled up and filled with fear of a so-called "gay agenda." They would have you believe that gay people want to get rid of marriage, recruit and corrupt all of our children, and infiltrate our schools. They would have you believe they are all deviants and morally corrupt.

But for me, what's morally corrupt is promoting hatred and actively fighting against justice.

If you think I'm making all of this hate stuff up, read for yourself. Here's some of what the religious right (including the 'exgay' crowd) says about gay people:
"Satan uses homosexuals as pawns. They're in, as you know, key positions in the media, they're in the White House, they're in everything, they're in Hollywood now. Then, unfortunately, after he uses them, he infects them with AIDS and then they die."

Anthony Falzarano, PFOX, Janet Parshall's America, 2/27/96

Michael Johnston, head of Kerusso Ministries (an "ex-gay" conversion center): "You know, really, when you think about it -- let me just be blunt here -- when an individual 'comes out' and proclaims their homosexuality, really, what they are doing is standing up and saying, 'I'm a sexual deviant, and I'm proud of it.'"

Oct 16, 96 - Family Research Council Web site

Dr. Paul Cameron: "Unless we get medically lucky, in three or four years, one of the options discussed will be the extermination of homosexuals." According to an interview with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Cameron was recommending the extermination option as early as 1983.

Mark E. Pietrzyk, News-Telegraph, March 10, 1995.

I don't know what kind of spirit would compel people to say these kinds of things, but I know it's not the spirit of Christ. This, for me, exemplifies the spirit of Christ:
"This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends"

John 15:12-13

I will leave you with words from someone who knows about hatred toward gays, and what that leads to—Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard:
Redouble efforts

On this fifth year since I lost my son, I plan to redouble my efforts to find solutions to this problem. One solution begins with parents. We have the opportunity to teach our children to understand and accept diversity long before hate can provoke violent reactions.

We can "arm" them with this education before their school years begin and require our educators to continue the job after that. Hate is a learned behavior, but it's never too late to empower a young adult with the tools to improve his or her life choices and beliefs.

If a child is taught to hate and fear diversity at home, then the next place he or she gets to practice hate is in the halls of education. Ten percent of hate crimes occur at schools and colleges. A gay teen is bashed; a disabled teen is tormented; a Jewish, black or Muslim teen is taunted. The cycle continues, until that hate-filled child becomes a citizen in our community, and sometimes, a perpetrator.

Teach your children to accept and understand diversity because the consequences of hate hurt the families of the victim. It also hurts the families of the perpetrators. Lives are ended and lives are changed forever.

Read the full story here: Five years later, progress against gay hatred lags

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Perils of Mixing Religion and Politics

From today's New York Times:
FRITZ STERN, a refugee from Hitler's Germany and a leading scholar of European history, startled several of his listeners when he warned in a speech about the danger posed in this country by the rise of the Christian right. In his address in November, just after he received a prize presented by the German foreign minister, he told his audience that Hitler saw himself as "the instrument of providence" and fused his "racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity."

"Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics," he said of prewar Germany, "but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas."

Dr. Stern's speech, given during a ceremony at which he got the prize from the Leo Baeck Institute, a center focused on German Jewish history, was certainly provocative. The fascism of Nazi Germany belongs to a world so horrendous it often seems to defy the possibility of repetition or analogy. But Dr. Stern, 78, the author of books like "The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology" and university professor emeritus at Columbia University, has devoted a lifetime to analyzing how the Nazi barbarity became possible. He stops short of calling the Christian right fascist but his decision to draw parallels, especially in the uses of propaganda, was controversial.

"When I saw the speech my eyes lit up," said John R. MacArthur, whose book "Second Front" examines wartime propaganda. "The comparison between the propagandistic manipulation and uses of Christianity, then and now, is hidden in plain sight. No one will talk about it. No one wants to look at it." Warning From a Student of Democracy's Collapse

Very interesting article. The Times requires registration, but it's worth the trouble, and free.

Craziness in California

Once you let them get started, they just can't stop forcing their bizarre values on us. California, you know, recalled its governor, Gray Davis, smoothing the way for Arnold Schwarzenegger to take over. Well, the guy who led the attack on Davis, Tony Andrade, is on one mission after the other. Now he's gotten permission to circulate a petition calling for drastic restrictions on sex education in California. Petition drive seeks to limit sex education

Ugh... ya gotta see this one. From the "Civil Rights for Families" petition:
Before homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, sadism, masochism, sodomy, pederasty, tranvestitism, bisexuality, transgenderism, transexuality, necrophilia, domestic partnerships, cunnilingus, fellatio, orgies or masturbation may be taught in any public school setting in the presence of any pupil in grades 7 through 12 inclusive, the school shall notify the parent or guardian of the pupil in writing no more than 15 days and no less than 10 days in advance, and obtain the parent or guardian's written approval. Civil Rights for Families

My! Cunnilingus in the classroom! Necrophilia in the hallways! Orgies in the public schools! Decent people must oppose that!

This would be funny if weren't so mean-spirited.
"None of this is normally taught in schools," said Sandra Jackson, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. "I think teachers would probably be appalled to find it even suggested that it would be taught. It's not part of any curriculum."

This is not Andrade's first effort to restrict sex education in public schools. Together with the Traditional Values Coalition, Save California and similar organizations, Andrade gathered 100,000 signatures for a similar initiative last fall before a legal challenge derailed the effort.

He launched the new petition drive Tuesday, after minimal changes to the initiative's wording.

If the initiative passes it could restrict not just health education, but high school history and social studies classes too -- forcing parents to give daily, written permission before their children could even discuss last winter's gay marriages, Catholic church scandals and potentially other current events.

It's a mess out there, but it should teach us a lesson. This is what happens if you let these people get started.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Condom Tests: The Results Are In

People who push for abstinence-only education often like to talk about the failure rates of condoms; you might remember Bill Frist sorta being caught exaggerating about this on a TV show a month or so ago. Basically there are two reasons that condoms have a nonzero failure rate: people don't use them correctly, and sometimes they break.

Well, as we know, the first of those two problems can be largely alleviated through education, for instance you could show teenagers how to put a condom on, oh, a cucumber or something. Give them a little instruction on how it works, when and how to put it on, when and how to take it off...

Now, it turns out that education can help with the second problem as well, or at least make it less likely that the thing will break. You can read about the testing that was done with the various brands of condoms, and pick the best one -- that would be the Durex Extra Sensitive Lubricated Latex.
The consumers group best known for rating cars and washing machines has turned its testing prowess to condoms to find out which ones measure up best and how other birth control methods compare.

The nonprofit Consumers Union says in a new guide to contraception that the seven top U.S. types of condom they studied did not burst despite vigorous testing, and all models met international standards.

But results showed that the top brand, able to take the most punishment, was the Durex Extra Sensitive Lubricated Latex, according to the report.

Other top-performers include the Durex Performax Lubricated, Lifestyles Classic Collection Ultra Sensitive Lubricated and TheyFit Lubricated.

A melon-colored model distributed by Planned Parenthood performed the worst, bursting during a test in which the latex condoms were filled with air.

The group says its review of contraceptives was not politically motivated, although there is an intense debate among health professionals and advocacy groups about the focus on abstinence-only education by the Bush administration. Condom Testing Reveals Best Brands

Well, it's not good that Planned Parenthood is giving out puny ones, I hope they do something about that. "Unplanned Parenthood" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

I had an interesting talk last year with a woman in a condom store in Denmark. She said (in perfect English, of course), "We know that our young people are going to be having sex, and we want them to do it safely." The store had free samples, and posters, and all kinds of interesting stuff, very clean and businesslike, not dirty -- it wasn't an "adult" store, but just something at the mall, not clinical, just direct. You gotta wonder, why is this an issue in the US?

SpongeBob SquarePants -- A Sodomite?

Hoo boy. A "researcher" for the American Family Association is criticising a new DVD featuring SpongeBob SquarePants, Barney the Dinosaur, Arthur, Dora the Explorer, JoJo, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Big Bird, Bob the Builder, and other proponents of the gay agenda.

According to the Agape Press web site:
The problem, he says, is that it is an "open door" to a secondary discussion of homosexuality.

"When you go to the We Are Family Foundation website, there is a 'tolerance pledge' that children and others are encouraged to sign, which includes sexual orientation," he explains. That, he says, is the crux of the problem. "While we want everyone to respect other people's beliefs, we do not consider it appropriate for children's television to be used in an effort to indoctrinate children to accept homosexuality." Researcher Says Children's 'Tolerance' Video Promotes Homosexuality

They made a video of these guys singing "We Are Family." It's actually kind of cool, they got characters from all the major kids' shows to work together on this. Uh, I mean, I didn't mean to say "cool," I meant "Satanic." Yeah, evil.

I admit, I never cease to be amazed by the wackos:
Vitagliano says the objective behind the video is to get children to the Foundation's website -- "and there they're given the full pitch about homosexuality," he adds.

Well, the AFA site doesn't tell you where this pro-perversion website is, but I found it. It's

What I really wanted to find was that pledge, where you have to promise to support sodomy and perversion. Here's the Tolerance Pledge I found at the site:
Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America's diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination.

To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own. Tolerance Pledge

I clicked on every tab on the web site, I think, and searched for the text strings "sex", "gay", and "homo" ( to find words like homosexual, homosexuality, even homophobic). Zilch. The only thing you'll find -- what this phony researcher calls "the full pitch about homosexuality," is the words "sexual identity" in this tolerance pledge.

If you think this pledge sounds OK, if you think respecting those who differ from ourselves seems like a good thing to do, then please join with us. Write the board of education. Join the discussions in our Yahoo group and our message boards here. Because these bigots want to assert their influence in our community, in our public schools.

Just a Passing Thought

Walking to the Metro this morning, I started thinking about "ex-gays," and what that must actually be like.

Say a boy grows up and finds other boys more attractive than girls. He has crushes on boys at school, finds the actors more interesting than the actresses in movies. Depending on how his family and culture feel about it, this boy may feel very, very ashamed. Because of this, he may want to change.

Let's say he goes to a counselor who agrees to help him. Over time, and with constant practice, he learns to block his thoughts about men, and trains his mind to substitute women into his fantasies. Eventually he enters into a straight relationship and gets married: he's now an "ex-gay," officially.

Now, here was my thought: imagine the poor girl who marries this guy.

That's all, I was just thinking what a mess that would be, in reality, what that marriage would be like day to day.

What is PFOX doing in my child's classroom?

Call me crazy, but I think the people who should have the most say about what our children learn are the educators we hire for their expertise, the Board of Education, whom we elect, and the parents of Montgomery County's children. Now, you need only be a taxpayer in Montgomery County to vote for members of the Board of Education, so all MC citizens can have a say. And that's fair—you don't have to actually be a parent to have a vested interest in the education of our youth—you could be a grandparent, or simply a neighbor who cares deeply about children.

But I have a serious problem with a national organization with a clear right-wing agenda and very deep pockets insinuating itself into my child's classroom.

PFOX stands for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, and is a Christian-based national organization created by James Dobson's Family Reasearch Council. PFOX seems to primarily be interested in promoting the idea that gay people can change orientation, and that homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder.

Since 1973, the American Psychological Association has maintained that this is innacurate. And in 1999, a host of professional organizations debunked those theories.

I do not accept the belief that gay people are sick—I've known too many wonderful people in my life, who happened to be gay, to believe that. But whether or not they can change orientation is something I'm not concerned with right now (and if that is possible, whether or not it's desirable is another question altogether.) I'm not a scientist, and I'm nobody's expert on orientation. But, even if I give PFOX the benefit of the doubt, and assume that their premise may be true, that still would not explain to me...why are they in my child's classroom?

Why are they so intent on influencing what your kids and mine will learn?

One fact that really makes me suspicious of this group is that ours is not the only community where they have actively fought against tolerance for gays. (And it's really ironic that they fight against tolerance while portraying themselves as victims of intolerance.)

In 2002, PFOX planned a rally before a Fairfax School Board meeting to protest a proposed amendment to add homosexuality ("sexual orientation") as a category to Fairfax County, Virginia Public Schools' nondiscrimination code. According to the Concerned Women of America's web site, 2 of the planned speakers at the rally were Regina Griggs, executive director of PFOX, and Estella Salvatierra, who is listed as a "civil rights attorney and vice president of PFOX."

So they're not just in Montgomery County, but in Fairfax County too, trying to influence educational policies and curricula.

PFOX has had a representative on the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, the group that worked on this issue for 3 years and proposed the new curriculum. And lately, PFOX has been in the media complaining about "their views" not being included in the final curriculum. According to David Fishback, the Committee's Chair, the views that PFOX promoted and that the committee ultimately rejected were all predicated on the idea that homosexuality is sinful, or a disease.

So if I'm understanding this correctly, PFOX doesn't believe that gay kids deserve to be included in nondiscrimination codes, and they do think these kids should be told they have a disease—even though there is no scientific basis for such claims. Because of the religious beliefs of a few people who do believe that to be true, the Montgomery County Board of Education is now being bullied by a group who represents themselves (in a letter to the editor in today's Gazette) as "your neighbors, friends and fellow taxpayers seeking to halt a serious discrimination aimed at our families, cultural background, children and county."

But is that really an accurate description of who they are? If this group is truly who they say they are, then why is a national organization like PFOX publicly promoting their views, and posting messages on school-related listserves promoting the recall group's web sites?

And why is a local issue affecting our community, and our kids all of a sudden appearing on the web sites of national right-wing organizations—organizations who just happen to be friends of PFOX?

Here are just a few:

If you think it's just coincidental that soon after PFOX gets involved in this, all of a sudden numerous other right-wing organizations with no clear ties to our community start promoting the views of the recall group, then take a look at the connections.

According to this web site, PFOX and Concerned Women of America have close ties:

"It's time that people trapped in homosexuality know that they have a choice," said Robert Knight, director of CWA's Culture and Family Institute and a PFOX board member. "Homosexual activists have peddled the unsubstantiated 'born-that-way' notion and left people without hope. The ads feature real people and real hope."

And according to, a conservative web site, Dr. Throckmorton and PFOX also have close ties:

Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College, Pa., and a supporter of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, or PFOX, said the coalition aims to correctly portray the current state of research concerning sexual orientation.

And NARTH, PFOX, and Dr. Throckmorton all seem to be quite cozy, as in this instance, in which Throckmorton talks about PFOX on NARTH's web site.

Now these groups and individuals have the right to have any opinion they want to about what happens in Montgomery County. But they DO NOT have a right to control what our children learn. But apparently, that won't keeping them from trying.

In this memo, PFOX spells out their legal strategies and explains how they plan to influence what other peoples' children will learn (pay special attention to the last list item):

From: PFOX
Date: October 21, 2003 12:40:48 PM EDT
Subject: Ex-Gay lawsuits

I am delighted to report that the ex-gay movement now has a "legal offense/defense arm" which wishes to work closely with each of our member organizations. The attorneys are eager to find and to litigate on behalf of individual clients (or class actions on behalf of groups) a series of legal cases, anywhere within the U.S.A., to challenge the notion that people are born gay and, further, to gain access for our message that a healing strategy exists for those with unwanted same-sex attractions. In each case, we need to show the harm caused and to identify an appropriate defendant(s).

To help provide some ideas for each of you to consider, the attorneys are looking for fact patterns where a patient's right to treatment may have been violated, or equal access for the "ex-gay" message has been
denied, or tort cases where a physical or emotional harm occurred to a client because of the fraudulent message that people are born that way.

Some examples of such fact patterns may include:

* HMO Discrimination -- client of therapist is denied insurance coverage for reparative therapy when same insurance company would cover gay affirmative therapy

* Emotional and Physical Harm -- individual receives hepatitis C, HIV, or other ailments because school counselors, psychologists etc. provide message that they should engage in gay affirmative sex. (Of course, if someone died, their estate or legal guardians may be an appropriate plaintiff).

* Emotional and Physical Harm -- Sue gay or porn magazines where message delivered about wonders of gay affirmative sex and an individual can be shown to have relied on such advice.

* Emotional and Physical Harm -- person undergoes sex reassignment surgery because of gay affirmative messages and subsequently regrets such action because of later acquired knowledge that reparative healing strategy for gender identity deficit existed and this alternative was not provided or actively discouraged as an option to consider.

* Endangerment of Minors -- cases where inner city at risk youth were improperly advised to engage in gay sex and suicide or lesser emotional and physicial harm occurred.

* Endangerment of Minors -- Sex education classes where advice given that anal sex is safe for receptive partner as long as condom is in use and individual contracted any one of the innumerable illness which are directly proximate to such activity.

* Equal Access Denied -- equal protection of the law cases where gay affirmative message is provided without corresponding gender affirming message being given equal time

* Endangerment of Minors -- actions on behalf of children who are placed with two mommies or two daddies (or a single placement) when a mother and father placement was available.

* Undue Economic Burden -- Where burden is placed on private business to provide domestic partnership benefits.

* Endangerment of Minors -- Inappropriate mentoring (gay affirmative message) cases in Big Brother/Big Sister programs where specific harm to an individual occurred.

* Equal Access -- Public School or other governmental environments where gender affirming process message is shut out and gay affirmative message is exclusively provided

The above are only illustrative examples. If someone has an idea for a case or an issue they feel may be appropriate, please do not hesitate to contact me, either by phone or email. Initially I am willing to serve as a liason to the attorneys. It is important to note that they will be working pro bono on these cases.

Best regards,
Arthur at
PFOX -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays
Box 561, Fort Belvoir VA 22060

If you believe that you have the right to decide what your children will learn, and not a national organization like PFOX, then please join us, and help us to fight for that right.

Marc Fisher Online Comments

Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher made some comments last month in his "Potomac Confidential" online discussion, which are interesting. In the introductory segment of the discussion, he said:
Yay to Michelle Turner of the Einstein High School PTA in Kensington, and to other parent activists around Montgomery County who are rising in protest against the school board's decision to impose discussion of "sexual variations" on eighth graders, whether they are developmentally ready for that or not. The public schools, Turner says, are "not the department of social services," a fact that seems lost on school administrators.
sion, he said:

This does sound like the "recall" group has the moral high ground, forcing young children -- just out of the crib -- to consider "sexual variations," which, well, the imagination can go wild with such a phrase.

A little later in the discussion, Fisher elaborates, and in his words we see the reason that clear-thinking people need to organize to support the school board:
I have no problem with teaching kids about homosexuality in the context of a sex ed course in high school. Where schools run into trouble is when they decide that all students at the elementary or middle school level must be subjected to classes about sexual behavior that go way beyond science instruction and well into discussion of mores and techniques, decisions that are best left to families to make for themselves.

A casual reader -- and most people are "casual readers" of the news, they don't have time to find out all the details of every story they see -- would be led to suppose, from this discussion, that the proposed curriculum goes "way beyond science instruction and well into discussion of mores and techniques."

Mores -- the right and the wrong of sexual behavior, is a tricky subject. The curriculum proposes talking with eighth-graders about sexual orientation, and the fact that some people grow up to be gay. It appears that simply presenting this fact -- and who would dispute it, really? -- is interpreted by some religious extremists as an endorsement of homosexuality, or as a suggestion to kids that they should go out and find someone of their own sex to experiment with.

It is likely that at least one kid in every class (by anyone's statistics) is, in fact, experiencing some same-sex attraction, and may have questions about how to interpret their own feelings. As far as mores go, the "recall" crowd would like to tell these kids that their feelings are aberrant and abominable and must be suppressed. One of the leaders of that group recently referred to the "gay agenda," by which we suppose she meant that gay people are actively recruiting new members from our classrooms, as if someone were telling the kids that they should run right down to the nearest gay hangout for some training.

Of course that isn't what they'll be taught. The curriculum does not tell them that their feelings are evil or sinful, and it seems that teachers have some materials that recommend sources of information and support for individuals who find themselves growing up gay. The "recall" gang interprets this as advocacy, and as teaching of values and mores. Sorry, folks, that's as neutral as you can get in this situation, the school's not going to promote your bizarre religious views in the classroom. You'll have to teach that at home.

Fisher's other concern, besides mores, was the teaching of "techniques." And this is where we might work out a conciliation with the recall group's views. The proposed curriculum doesn't teach anything at all about techniques used by homosexuals. Kids'll have to pick that part of it up on the playground, it's just a little much for the classroom. The eighth-grade discussion, as far as I can tell, involves sexual orientation and attraction, but no tab-A-into-slot-B technical details.

Why did I see hope in this for conciliation? Because the recall group must know, they don't have a leg to stand on if they want to insist that homosexual orientation is just something a person chooses. Even their quack psychologists can't claim to change orientation, their "ex-gays" are still attracted to people of their own sex. What they can change is behavior. If the fundamentalist types want to believe that gay sex is evil, they can insist that their adherents abstain from it. Sit in the pews and fantasize, if that is your nature, but don't act on your impulses. Well, all of us learn to do that, even straight people control their urges.

So I suggest we meet in this middle ground: the school teaches about sexual orientation as an emotional phenomenon, and says nothing about non-heterosexual concrete sexual behaviors. Concerned parents can teach their gay children not to "do that," and the school will teach them that those who have those feelings are not freaks.

The real issue here with Fisher's discussion is that, in framing his comment as if the Board of Education had proposed teaching "mores and techniques" to babes in grade school, he leads readers to believe that that is, in fact, part of the curriculum. The truth is, the curriculum barely glosses over the surface of sexual variation, simply presents students with a little bit of knowledge about it. It does not encourage them to do anything, or even tell them what it is that "those people" do. It's a good curriculum, not bold, not revolutionary, not even very liberal, just a few high-level facts that everyone should know.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


At this web site we are leaning pretty heavily on the concept of teaching facts. Right now, we mean the facts about sexual behavior and sexual orientation, but we expect there to be other situations, for instance, we can anticipate an attack on the teaching of evolution, where religious beliefs come into conflict with another set of scientific facts. In these various cases, we advocate teaching facts in the public schools.

So it makes sense to consider the concept of the "fact" for a moment.

A fact is a unit of knoweldge. It's really a hypothetical word, there is no such thing in the world as a single, isolated fact. There are two good reasons for this. First, no fact is independent; at the very least a fact depends on the meanings of the concepts contained in it, as "diamond is harder than glass" is a fact that requires definitions of two substances and a method for measuring hardness. The definitions of diamond and glass depend on other concepts, for instance concepts like carbon and silicon, and so on; facts are interwoven.

Second, facts change as new knowledge is discovered. This is hard for us to appreciate, as it seems that part of being human is believing that the facts as you know them are ultimately correct. You remember the hilarity that ensued in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, for instance when Bing Crosby magically caused an eclipse, baffling the quaint locals with his omnipotence? The whole story revolves around the clash between states of knowledge. People in the Middle Ages didn't walk around wondering about stuff, they felt, just as we do today, that they knew things. And someday our knowledge will be quaint and silly to people who "know" better than us.

We can be pretty sure that our knowledge is better than the knowledge of the Middle Ages, and not just because of chauvinism or conceit. Our beliefs about the world today really are more comprehensive, more accurate, and more interconsistent than the beliefs of the Middle Ages. We do not yet hold perfect knowledge about the world, there are amazing and profound new insights into physics, for instance, but there are many frontiers yet to explore.

And why is our knowledge today better than that of the Middle Ages? The answer to that is simple: science.

People sometimes think that science is a collection of undisputed facts, but really science is a way to discover knowledge. The knowledge itself is always evolving, always moving forward, and science can be thought of as a worldwide sociological system of individuals asking questions, proposing answers, finding the evidence for and against them, trying to prove one another wrong, modifying one another's answers, criticizing one another, looking for the flaws and proposing better solutions to problems. And this crazy system works. The process of science results in the slow accumulation of better and better knowledge about the world, including ourselves.

And bits of knowledge as they are understood in the present are called facts.

We know, as mankind emerges from the caves into civilization and beyond to some unseeable future, that the facts we cherish today may not survive, our beliefs may be replaced with better ones. But, temporal beings that we are, we hope to learn of the best beliefs of our own time, and understand them.

And we want out children, attending the public schools, to learn the best beliefs of our time. We want them to be taught facts, that is, beliefs that are supported by evidence, and that have withstood the battering of the scientific process.

We agree with the "recall the school board" group that public schools should not be the place to for kids to learn moral values. School should be for facts. But we differ from them in our interpretation of what constitutes a value and what constitutes a fact. The focal subject at this moment has to do with sexual orientation. Scientists are in agreement that some people are "just gay." There is still a lot to learn about how it happens, but there is no question that it does. And to us, it is perfectly appropriate to teach this fact to eighth-graders.

(There are a couple of religious shrinks who specialize in getting gay people to act more straight. They may sometimes have success at this. Sometimes they call these people "ex-gays," but real gay people know better.)

Now, the "other side" believes that homosexuality is an ugly thing, and they don't think it is right to tell kids about it without pointing out how ugly it is. In fact, their complaint is that teaching about sexual orientation without telling kids that some variations are evil amounts to "teaching values." To them, tolerance of homosexuality is a value, and one that they don't agree with -- and talking about it objectively is just a little too tolerant.

People, we can't have it both ways. We here at want our kids to be exposed to the truth as it is best understood today. We think that if you abhor some variations, you can teach your children that part of it at home. Haven't we sat with our kids and helped them memorize stuff about communism, socialism, fascism? Of course, and that's our opportunity to pass on to them our views of what is desirable -- they didn't become fascists just because the history book had a section about fascism.

Let's let the school teach them the facts, and we'll teach them values at home.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Real Issue

"Democracy requires the nourishment of dialogue and dissent, while religious faith puts its trust in an ultimate divine authority above all human deliberation. When the government appropriates religious truth, it transforms rational debate into theological decree. Those who disagree no longer are questioning the judgment of the elected, but the rules of a higher authority who is beyond reproach."

Justice Harry Blackmun, 1992

A group of Montgomery County parents and others are not just opposed, but vehemently opposed to a new sex-ed curriculum that the Board of Education unanimously approved on November 9, 2004. In fact, they are so outraged by the content of the new curriculum that one day after the Board's vote, they organized to publicly advocate for recalling the entire school board. Never mind the fact that the school board can't be recalled—one can only assume that the intention behind the creation of a web site with such a name was to signal the level of indignation they felt about the new curriculum. Hence, these people have been dubbed the "recall group".

Why are they so angry? Some of us, who find the new curriculum to simply be a common-sense approach to helping teens understand and manage their biological and emotional urges as well as understand those of others around them would say, that's a good question. Why all the outrage? Why band together, form an executive committee, build two web sites, beg for donations (for "media buys and other activities such as legal action, printing costs. etc."), and try to bully and intimidate the Board of Education, just because of a new sex-ed curriculum?

In order to get to the real answer, you have to be very perceptive. The recall group talks about a lot of problems with the new curriculum, but to get to the heart of their outrage, you have to listen very carefully—to what they say and what they don't say. You have to read between the lines of their carefully-crafted verbiage—crafted with the intention of conveying the image of a group of calm and rational parents who simply have reasonable and legitimate concerns about their childrens' education.

The reality is, that is not who they are. Who they really are is a group of very angry religious zealots who are driven by and interested in promoting one thing—dogma. And what really makes their blood boil about the new curriculum is that it strays from their own deeply held dogma about one issue—homosexuality. While I'm sure they have other, lesser complaints about what our children will soon be taught, they are absolutely terrified of the possibility that children will be taught a terrible, terrible thing—to respect the dignity of gay people.

Yes, that is the sin that the Board of Education has committed—asking our dear little children to accept the fact that there are and will be gay people in this world, and that at the very least, they should be left alone and allowed to be who they are, and as they are.

The problem with that, for Fundamentalists (be they Mormon, Christian, or other) is that Fundamentalists tend to believe in a hierarchy of sins, and at the very top, is homosexuality. It is so offensive that 'sinful' tends to not be descriptive enough—stronger words are needed, words like abomination.

For many Fundamentalists, the very thought of 2 people of the same sex joined together in a loving, intimate relationship is not just uncomfortable (as it is for many heterosexuals) but it triggers a deep and visceral reaction that brings to mind visions of Gommorah—for them, it symbolizes the ultimate in the depravity of human nature, and once we begin to allow such depravity to go unchecked, fire and brimstone are just around the corner. And for those of us who do not share their views, our hearts and minds are guided by Lucifer anyway, so we couldn't see God's wrath coming if it slapped us in the face.

And that's the thing. They tend to focus on a wrathful God. Never mind the Prince of Peace. For those who read the Bible, you can skip all that stuff about God's love and mercy. Forget about David, who committed adultery and murdered his lover Bathsheba's husband—and yet God loved him. Forget about the fact that Peter denied Jesus three times and yet Jesus told him "you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." Ignore the part about the woman at the well, whom Jesus forgave without hesitation. And really forget the fact that the thing that angered Jesus the most, was religious hypocrisy.

Ignore all of that and focus on a judgmental God who can't wait to comdemn people—and then maybe, if your own heart is full of wrath, you'll have successfully made God into a perfect image of yourself, and you'll have a great justification for being preoccupied with how other people live. And, you'll have a fantastic reason for ignoring this exhortation: "Work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling."

My view of God has nothing in common with the view of most Fundamentalists. But, that's okay with me—I can live with that. I would never try to deny others the right to believe in God in a way that makes sense for them. God gives us free will, and not even He will force us to live or believe in a way that we do not choose. And if God doesn't force us, what would I look like trying to force my views on someone else?

The truth is, regardless of how deeply held my beliefs about God may be, I don't have the ability to change anyone else's beliefs, even if I were inclined to try.

And the truth is also, that neither my view of God, nor those of Fundamentalists, have any business being imposed on other peoples' children. And since the new curriculum requires that parents return signed permission slips before their children can participate, (and those who prefer will have options such as abstinence-only sex-ed), that's what this is really about—an attempt to control what other peoples' children will be taught. A small group of angry people are demanding the right to limit what my child, your child, and the child down the street can learn in a publicly paid-for school—even if that means dumbing down the curriculum by stripping it of scientifically-accurate facts supported by every major medical association in this country. And all of that, because those facts don't fit with somebody's religious beliefs.

So what? If an equally irrate group of Muslims demands the right to impose their religious beliefs on public school-children, should those demands also be met? And how about Buddhists? Or Zoroastrians?

Or how about this—how about we let parents teach their kids whatever they want to about God, and let public school teachers keep doing what they're paid to do—teach the facts.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

David Fishback responds to PFOX letter

Last month, the Washington Post printed a Letter to the Editor from a
Regina Griggs of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, identifying herself as
Executive Director of PFOX. If anyone is interested, I provide here a
point by point response to her letter.

1. At the outset, she writes:

"Regarding the article about the controversy surrounding
the new sex-education curriculum for Montgomery County public school
students: As part of the curriculum, the Montgomery County Board of
Education voted for materials published by gay advocacy groups while
censoring other points of view. For example, one of the board-approved
materials urges schools to refer students to select religious groups
such as Lutherans Concerned, Dignity for Catholics, Rainbow Baptists
and More Light Presbyterians. Advocating certain religions is
discriminatory. Nor should teachers be instructed to refer students
to religious groups, especially without parental permission. This
'resource' has no place in a school setting."

This is misleading because it implies that "as part of the
curriculum" a number of things are said about religion. IN FACT, the
ONLY thing stated about religion is the following:
In the 8th Grade FLHS Unit, at Section III ("Cultural and Family
Beliefs Can Affect Relationships and Marriage"), Subsection B.3 states
"different religions take different stands on sexual behaviors and
there are even different views among people of the same religion."
Subsection E ("Ways to Manage Problems Created by Contrasting
Values") suggests that students may wish to "talk to someone
you trust in your: family, school community, neighborhood community,
religious community," and "seek out information to help clarify your
beliefs and feelings." It is important, also, to remember that
Section III deals with a wide range of issues, and makes only
passing reference to sexual orientation.

2. Ms. Griggs' allegation that the Board has "censored" other views
is an attempt to use a loaded word inappropriately. The teacher
resources offered to the Committee by the dissenting members all were
premised on the proposition that homosexuality is sinful and/or is a
mental illness. As to the former, the proposed revised curriculum,
properly, takes no theological position, and makes no religious
reference, other than in the material I have just noted. As to the
latter, the materials offered by the dissenting members were directly—or by reference to their supporting links and materials—contrary
to the conclusions of every mainstream American medical and mental
health professional organization. This is no more "censorship" than
not offering "creationism" or "intelligent design" in our biology
classes in the context of discussions of evolution.

3. In any event, ALL of Ms. Griggs' references are to teacher
resources that the Committee believed health education teachers would
find useful as background. These resources are not part of the

With respect to the particular reference to "Lutherans Concerned,
Dignity for Catholics, Rainbow Baptists and More Light Presbyterians,"
this is part of 10th Grade Teacher Resource that is an article from
the December 2002 issue of The Prevention Researcher, a publication
that deals with a wide range of health issues, focusing on preventing
physical and mental illness. The article is a series of nine
questions posed by on-line readers of the publication and answered by
Dr. Donna Futterman, MD, and Caitlin Ryan, MSW, authors of Lesbian &
Gay Youth: Care and Counseling, published by Columbia University
Press. Ms. Griggs quotes from the answer to the second question on p.
4 of the document. Providing this document to teachers does not
constitute an instruction or a suggestion that they refer students to
these groups. What the document does do is to let teachers know that
not all religious communities view homosexuality as sinful.

4. Ms. Griggs then writes:
"Another board-approved resource discusses whether AIDS
is God's judgment on homosexuals and whether homosexuality is a sin.
Some of the answers are offensive to people of faith. 'Religion has
often been misused to justify hatred and oppression,' says one."

That "religion has often been misused to justify hatred and
oppression" is an unfortunate historical fact. Indeed, the Pilgrims
themselves came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to leave hatred and
oppression in England, fomented by the Established Church there, in
the first third of the 17th Century. Protestants in some parts of
Europe were hated and oppressed by Catholics, while Catholics in other
parts of Europe were hated and oppressed by Protestants, leading to
the Thirty Years War (1618-48) during which as much as a third of the
population of Central Europe died. In the first half of the 19th
Century in this country, Mormons were slaughtered due to religious
persecution, leading to their migration to Utah. Until fairly
recently, Catholics and Jews in this country were the subject of
widespread persecution from adherents of other faiths, notably, but
not exclusively, by the Ku Klux Klan, which viewed all religions that
were not Protestant as fundamentally un-American. Human slavery of
those of African descent was justified from pulpits throughout the
Antebellum South, and racial segregation was similarly justified from
such pulpits within our own lifetimes.

Religion can be a wonderful, integral part of peoples' lives. It
certainly is a large part of mine. But if anyone had any doubts that
religion has "been misused to justify hatred and oppression," one
would think that the 9/11 attacks would have dispelled such doubts.

5. Ms. Griggs goes on to write that
"the source of thatinformation, Maricopa Community
College of Avondale, Ariz., took the material off its Web site
in response to our inquiry. Although we advised the board of
the college's action, it approved this discredited 'resource'

Following the Committee's vote to include the noted material as a
teacher resource, a then-member of the Citizens Advisory Committee
contacted Maricopa Community College (or had someone else make the
contact) and "convinced" the school to drop the material. She made
reference to this call at the Committee meeting when she sought
reconsideration of the use of the Maricopa material. She did the same
thing with the Cleveland Clinic's WebMD. Following her telephone
calls to the Cleveland Clinic (which I confirmed in conversations with
personnel there), the Cleveland Clinic pulled its materials relating
to people who are transgendered (materials the Committee had been
considering as a teacher resource, but had not yet voted on),
although, I am pleased to report, the material has since been
reinstated. (In the teacher resources is an article from on the same subject.)

In light of the history set forth above, it was proper for the Board
to refuse to bow to what appear to be intimidation tactics on
the part of some opponents of the proposed revised curriculum.

6. Finally, Ms Griggs writes that
"The board refuses to explain why it approved these and
numerous other materials as school resources while rejecting
materials with other points of view. It should hold a public
hearing to explain its actions."

What is implicit in Ms. Griggs' letter is her view that the Board
has taken an action that is anti-religion. Yet, nothing in the
proposed revised curriculum takes a theological position on questions
of homosexuality. That a teacher resource mentions the fact that
there are religious faith communities that do not view homosexuality
as sinful is fairly unremarkable—but is useful, given the very
public effort by proponents of the view that homosexuality is sinful
to create the impression that all religious people share that view.
As discussed above at No. 2, the Committee properly chose not to
include in the teacher resources materials rooted in the proposition
that homosexuality is a sin or is a disease.

David Fishback
Citizens’ Advisory Committee
on Family Life and Human Development

Saturday, January 01, 2005

We're paying $900 million for THIS?

December 02, 2004

We're paying $900 million for THIS?

$900 million of our tax dollars will be spent to encourage people to have less sex, says a report in the Washington Post. But wait, that's not the shocking part of the story! It turns out that federally funded "educational" programs that promote sexual abstinence are spending nearly a billion dollars on programs that give teens truly ridiculous misinformation. The false claims include the assertion that a 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person," and the lie that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus. Thanks to GetReligion for the link.

Since Terry Mattingly's blog is an examination of the treatment of religion in the press, he focuses attention not on the misinformation and lies of the abstinence "education" programs, but on the fairness of the journalism. He says, "I would imagine that the progressives quoted in the Connolly piece would say she treated them fairly, while the conservatives scream bloody murder."

Then as an example of conservatives screaming bloody murder, he cites an angry conservative (who happens to be Maureen Dowd's brother) who complained bitterly: "Last week on the news, I heard that the Montgomery County school board voted to include a class with a 10th-grade girl demonstrating how to put a condom on a cucumber and a study of the homosexual lifestyle. The vote was 6-0. I feel better about the money all the time."
I hadn't heard anything about a 6-0 school board vote for cucumber condoms and a study of the homosexual lifestyle, so I immediately wondered if this was true or simply another example of the agitprop that the religious right is famous for.

The Montgomery County school board decision apparently refers to the events described in this article. True enough, the education program for tenth graders does include information about condom use and homosexuality. However, two facts that the conservative who cried bloody murder conveniently ignored:

(1) "Parents will be required to sign permission slips before their children can take the sexuality component of the mandatory class, and the syllabus will be available for parental review ... About 1 percent of the county's high school students opt out of the sex education component of their health classes, said Dale Fulton, an associate superintendent. Those students are given three alternatives: independent study, a unit that covers only abstinence as a method of birth control or a unit on stress management."

(2) Discussions of homosexuality in the county aren't new. What's new is that students will be given factual information about homosexuality and bisexuality instead of pretending that gays and bisexuals don't exist.

"Historically, we've avoided this issue in not a very educated way," said board Vice President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase). "Homosexuality is part of the world we live in. There's no moral judgment there. But we've been pretending it doesn't exist, sweeping it under the rug, and it's good we're going to address it finally."

Surely Mattingly is correct that once news of the Post article on the misinformation disseminated by abstinence education programs gets out, shrill conservatives will cry bloody murder. But who's listening to their propaganda about educators indoctrinating youth in "the homosexual lifestyle" anyway? Fortunately, not the Montgomery County school board. What defies belief is Mattingly's suggestion that failure to include the opinions of folks like Maureen Dowd's brother in mainstream religion reporting may constitute bias.

Mattingly's commentary is more interesting when he points out that the Post article side-steps a thorny issue. He asks: "How does an institution funded with tax dollars offer sex-education materials that say that sex outside of marriage is just peachy -- or that it is sin, sin, sinful -- without attacking the moral beliefs on one or the other side of this divide?"

Indeed, there is no such thing as value-neutral education. Conservatives clearly want the education issue to be framed as "whose values should we teach?" They think this is the way to make the world safe for hysterical lies such as the claim that half of gay youth have AIDS.
Mattingly frames the issue as a decision as to whether public education should affirm traditional morality or sexual libertinism. But as the Montgomery County program highlights, this may be a false choice.

Presenting medically accurate information about contraception and homosexuality doesn't need to infringe upon the rights of conservative parents and youth. Montgomery County provides an excellent model for how spiritual progressives can frame this sensitive issue.

Spiritual progressives should make it clear that all parents should be given the right to review sex education materials and choose to allow their children not to participate. This shows genuine respect for the religious and moral beliefs of the parents while making it difficult for the question of "whose values do we teach?" from gaining traction.

If Montgomery County is any guide, as many of 99 percent of parents aren't concerned about their children being given medically accurate facts about sex, including information about contraception and acknowledging the existence of homosexuality.

Progressives should frame the question like this: "Shall an institution funded with tax dollars offer sex-education materials that give medically accurate facts, or propaganda and misinformation disguised as science?"

Original Posted by Joe Perez on December 2, 2004 at 06:19 PM in Education Permalink Comments (6) TrackBack

Posted by Kay R

Protecting the Family ...?

The "recall the school board" crowd says they are concerned that teaching kids that some people are gay will undermine The Family. It is kind of hard to imagine how it actually undermines any real family, but they did get me thinking, yes they did. I started thinking about some things in the United States that really do undermine American families. Like ...

Divorce The US has 9.7 marriages per 1,000 population, and 4.8 divorces. If we consider that marriage means "starting a family" and divorce means "breaking up a family," then we should see that this is ... pretty damn bad for families. Shouldn't these extremists be pushing to outlaw divorce? Or how about adultery? --Did you realize that's not even a crime in many states? Why are these guys against gays, of all things, who at worst set a bad example, and yet when families are actually breaking up like so many Humpty-Dumpties they just look the other way?

War Before we decimated Fallujah, a Johns Hopkins survey estimated that 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the war and occupation. Of course, more than 1,300 of our own young people have now been killed, and hundreds of thousands have been torn from the homes to go fight or support the war effort. Every one of them was a family member, and every one was a potential father or mother -- if they were not parents in fact. That's thousands and thousands of families irreparably broken up by American violence. Yet you never hear an anti-war comment of any type from them. Why don't the "recall" folks try to save those families?

Prison Today there are 6,900,000 Americans locked up in prisons. More than 100,000 of those are women. That's nearly seven million moms and dads who can't bounce their babies on their knees, can't teach their family values to the little ones, can't show Junior how to hold a baseball bat. Tens of thousands of those prisoners are locked up for marijuana-related offenses. One would think -- wouldn't one? -- that the "recall the school board" crowd, being pro-family and all, would really be trying hard to reduce penalties for marijuana possession, so that more of those daddies and moms could go home to their families. But for some reason they choose to concentrate instead on the mentioning of homosexuality in middle-school classrooms.

Polygamy The original Mormons practiced polygamy. Of course they got into legal troubles over that, and claimed to stop doing it. But ... according to this Salon article:
Polygamy is still practiced by a surprisingly large number of people in Utah and nearby states. An estimated 30,000 or more adhere to what they see as a purer form of Mormonism.

Now, personally it doesn't bother me if all parties are willing and agreed to the arrangment, but, well, wouldn't you think the "family values" crowd would be a little upset about this? Is it threatening to the traditional family to have a couple, that is, two people, who love one another and set up a household together, and celebrate their anniversaries with a little cake, and happen to share the same anatomical form, but when some guy takes nine or ten wives the traditional family is just fine? Is it because some Old Testament guys practiced polygamy? Is everything in the Old Testament OK to do? How about in Genesis 20, where Abraham marries his own sister -- is incest a "family value?"

Reviewing the inconsistincies, several things seem obvious. First of all, these people are not concerned about families. That's not it. There are lots of ways you could strengthen the American family, but they don't really put any effort into that.

And you know it's not really a religious thing, even though they do get a lot of preachers to speak up about it as if it was. You know as well as me, you can find anything in the Bible. (Like THIS, which has gone around the Internet a few times lately.) But if you look at Jesus' teachings, why, he doesn't seem to care about any gay guys, he's much more concerned with forgiving people, and not judging them. These religious extremists find these little quotes here and there to back them up, but in reality they are one hundred eighty degrees opposite of the teachings of Jesus Christ ... it's not a religious thing.

Mmmm, maybe they're afraid their own kids are going to turn out gay. Well, actually, that does seem to lie behind some of their comments. And I suppose it's wrong of me to say that if all it takes is some schoolteacher telling your kid that some people are sexually attacted to other people of their own sex, and your kid suddenly converts to gaydom, uh, well, your kid was gay already. Now, as far as what he or she will do about it, whether they will simply fantasize or actively perform sex acts, that's their own decision, that's not part of any health class, that's between a person and his or her own conscience. That's where parents can teach their kids whatever their particular values are. The school is staying out of that. And by the way, that's the same problem for the straight kids. You learn that some people are attracted to people of the opposite sex, that's not a license to go out and start having sex with them. Controlling your behavior, that's a personal issue, a family issue -- it's a universal problem that has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

So, what is it? I can't tell you what motivates these people. They claim in some places to hate the sin and love the sinner, but you really can't go very far with that. A person's character is revealed in the decisions they make, and if you hate the decisions they make, it is pretty hard to say what's the other part, the part you claim to love. No, they think the homosexuality is evil. It's not just naughty, or perverse, it's an abomination, and evil thing.

It's one thing to dislike somebody, or to disagree with them, it's one thing to think they're unattractive, or unintelligent, or lazy. But when you think that someone is evil -- and that includes thinking that the decisions that someone makes are evil ones -- then the word for that is hatred. Let's not sit on the fence about this. The people who want to throw out the entire school board because they introduce eighth-graders to the concept of homosexuality are hateful and intolerant, and we need to stop them.