Saturday, July 30, 2005

Light Blogging Ahead

Things are in good shape right now. We're preparing to apply for the citizens committee, a new curriculum is beginning development, and the opposition is undermining themselves without our help.

For the next week or so I won't be doing much blogging, if any. Got some stuff going on, I'll tell you about it later.

You may have noticed, I had a post here last night about the CRC's accusation that a club had gay dating links on their site at a high school. Let me outline the situation as it appears to me:
  • The Outlook club, a gay-straight alliance, had a school web page with links to some gay-teen type resources
  • Nobody seems to maintain the club's web page
  • Some of the sites linked to have gone out of business, and their domain names were bought by commercial search engine companies -- very common on the Internet
  • If you type a word into the search engines, they search for related terms, and produce "sponsored links" to the kinds of things you are looking for
  • If you type "gay" into any search engine (even Ask Jeeves, a search engine just for kids), you will find sites that say how to "meet hot single gay guys"
  • If CRC had searched for something nice, they would have found it
  • Instead, they tried to convince the school board that their search engine results showed gay teens advertising "hot gay men in your area" using school computers

The accusation is so stinky, I am embarrassed to have to explain it.

I took that post down. Responding to bigots, you sometimes have to go down to their level, and I don't find that I like that feeing. The issue has been addressed, and I didn't want to leave this blog sitting here for a week with something that trivial on the top. Somebody did send me an email of their discussion at their little "forum," and I see they are quite worked up over this, accusing me of slandering them and stuff. Good. It's a nice time to take a break.

Let's enjoy our summer and come back to this fresh and happy, with clear minds and clean, courageous hearts.

Jim

Friday, July 29, 2005

Arlen Specter Asks for Review of Crummy Web Site

The other day at the school board public comments, somebody noted that TeachTheFacts.org had signed a letter protesting a terrible web site that the government put up to push abstinence. The site was supposed to help parents talk to their kids about sex, but, well, it didn't help at all. And yes, we signed a letter, along with a lot of other groups, protesting that stupid site. I believe the person wanted to imply to the school board that this meant we shouldn't have a member on the new citizens advisory committee.

It is with some sense of satisfaction then that we read this in the Washington Blade:
Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has asked that the Department of Health & Human Services review its controversial 4parents.gov Web site, after four leading health experts commissioned by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called the site inaccurate and ineffective.

Waxman and several health advocacy groups have criticized the site since its launch in March for providing what they call outdated and inaccurate information about sexual orientation and contraception.

The not-for-profit National Physicians Center for Family Resources hired by HHS to create the site's content is also under fire for its faith-based and unscientific positions on homosexuality, contraception and abortion. Specter seeks review of teen health site

Looks like this Republican Senator wants to find out why the government is putting junk on the Internet.
A letter authored by SIECUS and more than 100 public health advocacy groups, alleges that NPC [the site's developer] has ties to conservative, religious organizations, including Focus on the Family and the California Family Group. These associations influence the NPC's positions on issues for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth, critics charge.

Richard Pleak, chair of the Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Issues Committee for the New York Council on Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, wrote in his review of the site for Waxman, that while improvements have been made, sexual orientation is still not properly addressed.

Pleak also recommended the site use the term, "people" instead of "lifestyle."

Waxman's experts also said that the site "inappropriately relies on Seventeen magazine for scientific information" about the risks of different types of sexual behaviors.

Yes, we had a problem with that web site. Us and Arlen Specter and about 145 other groups.

Alternatives

If parents do not sign the consent form for a student to take the dreaded and mind-warping sex-ed class, the kid is sent to an "alternative" instructional exercise instead. I haven't seen this, but it sounds like it means the student goes and sits in the library and works on something.

Normally this is not an issue, because when parents rely on their own judgment, almost nobody opts out of the class. Something around one per cent, I have heard. Now that Their Holiness have made an issue of it, we can expect more people, maybe as many as two or three per cent, to withhold this information from their children.

So the question will come up: shouldn't there be a better "alternative" to the regular sex-ed class?

At first, I thought, sure, let MCPS design a second curriculum for those kids. Maybe leave out the condom stuff and don't tell them that there are gay people. It sounds fair, on the face of it.

But lately I'm not so assured about that.

You can see where it goes. You will give them a kind of "abstinence-only" class (also known as "ignorance education"). So what will they talk about? By definition, they will be learning about doing nothing. So there's not much to say, like, if you were having sex, this dealy would go into that dealy and ... And we know what happens. These "abstinence" programs get bizarre.

For instance, it should be enough to not tell students about condoms. It is nonsense to tell them they don't work. But that's what happens.

It should be enough not to mention homosexuality. It is nonsense to tell them it's a choice or something that can be cured. But that happens.

See what I mean? Wherever these "abstinence-only" classes are taught, they slip-slide into nonsense. And I would not support that happening here.

Ha! What do I care? My kids won't be taking it! -- you exclaim.

Well, listen, I don't tell the math teacher what to teach my kids about polynomials. I don't send my kids to a special English class, which they can be taught that it's just fine to end a sentence with a preposition at. (Read it again, it works.)

See, the issue isn't that "some parents believe" blah blah blah. It's that what "some parents believe" is wrong. And it's not only that, but the consequences of teaching kids some of these things are negative for all of us. If someone's kid is taught that condoms are ineffective, he isn't going to wear one when he goes out with someone else's daughter. Somebody who remains ignorant about the diversity of people around them will not know how to reason against bigotry.

Part of the reason they teach about sex in the schools is that there are public health issues around that topic. The two main kinds of issues have to do with pregnancy and disease. There are other issues, too, but mainly the public health issues have to do with unwanted babies and STD epidemics -- and these are big-time problems. So for all of us, it is important to tell students how stuff works and what they can do about it, honestly and thoroughly.

I don't mind if some prudish parent wants to keep their kid out of a couple of classes because they can't trust the kid with knowledge. Obviously, I think that's dumb, but it doesn't bother me. It will bother me, though, if the school district institutionalizes nonsense and ignorance and teaches it to kids who live in my community.

Oh, and I have heard them say -- I heard it just the other night at the Board meeting -- that it is embarrassing and humiliating for a kid to have to leave class. Um, yeah, adolescents are a little self-conscious, I agree, it might be embarrassing. But listen, you parents are making a statement, right? You're standing up for what you believe in, right? The kid is taking a position against evil, right? So show some fortitude. If you're ashamed of missing the class, don't miss it. If you believe in what you're doing, do it with pride.

... It's just such a lame excuse ...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ms. O'Neill's Eloquent Comments

After public comments at a Board of Education meeting, the members of the board are given an opportunity to make statements, too. Most of the time they don't, but occasionally somebody will say something, make an announcement or something. Lots of times it's like filler space, when you can bring up little things that aren't on the agenda.

Last night, board President Pat O'Neill made an outstanding statement during that period. It appeared to be totally extemporaneous, but I found her words to be very deeply considered and well ordered.

This was after a bunch of people had spoken in favor of traditional families.
I just would like to comment that if nothing else, our journey into the family life curriculum has brought us new-found friends who come and give us public comment and I hope that their enthusiasm and their advocacy will carry forward. I heard some of them speaking about the need for more teachers to teach an alternative curriculum. I hope that those folks will continue to advocate for the resources for additional teachers because that is constantly a struggle of ours.

But I also would like to speak to our last speaker. Her statement reads, "Marriage is the bedrock of society. Don't discriminate against marriage in this curriculum." I'm proud to say I've been married for 33 years and I count my family as a traditional family. My sister was divorced and has a blended family. My sister-in-law, her husband passed away due to leukemia and she has been raising two very successful children.

If anything, I don't want to discriminate against any of our students for whatever their family circumstances may be because children can't control the circumstances in their home. We respect all of our children and we love all of the children in the Montgomery County Public School system.

And I certainly embrace traditional family values but I recognize that that is not what all of our children have. So I encourage our new friends to help us advocate for additional resources for the public school and remember that we do care for all of our children regardless of what their home circumstances are.

Everybody loves a nice snuggly mom-and-dad family. Nobody is against a traditional family. That doesn't mean it's for everyone. Even one of the people who spoke for traditional families, if I remember correctly, is raising her children on her own, without a father. Yet she considers hers a traditional family. The others defined the traditional family as a man and a woman raising children together. (I would be interested to hear why this lady thought her apparently-untraditional family counted. Or why she would want to be counted with those who go out and speak publicly against her and her children.)

Much as the Leave It To Beaver ideal warms the heart, some people just aren't cut out for it, and sometimes life just doesn't deal you the cards you need for that. I can think of a million reason that someone would not settle into a traditional nuclear family.

But listen, in the end, it's nobody's business how somebody else's family works. If there's abuse, poverty, sure, that's everybody's problem. But you don't like it that somebody is a single parent, somebody is a gay parent, somebody gets divorced, a kid runs away, somebody chooses not to have kids, somebody can't have kids, somebody works nights, grandparents move in, a couple argues, cousins move in, somebody has an affair -- man, it's none of your business.

Personally, I can't imagine choosing something for the reason that it's "traditional." Wouldn't you want to do something because it's the best? And why would one thing be the best for everybody? I mean, it gets extreme, think how weird this is: these people think that gay guys should marry women! Can you imagine another idea that is that stupid, on the face of it? Would you want to be that guy? Would you want to be that woman?

I did think Ms. O'Neill's comments were very well expressed, and I hope the board will adopt the philosophy she expressed last night.

Meet Hot Gay Men At High School Web Site!

Last night at the Board of Education meeting, Steina Walter reported about gay porn on one of our high schools' web sites. Here's what she said, as near as I could get it.
What is going on in Montgomery County schools? Why is the MCPS allowing the gay-straight club at Walter Johnson High School to use the school's Internet web address to meet sexy, single gay men for dating, romance, and more? Browse through the profiles of like-minded men, and participate in our exciting chat rooms. Have fun online.

Does the MCPS know what links are on this Internet address? Does the school monitor this use of the school's address to make sure that nothing obscene is being allowed to children to gain access to?

Why doesn't the school advertise that other clubs can use the MCPS Internet address, too? Like the Bible club. Wouldn't the school permit willing ladies to advertise their services on the school web site? Weren't the MCPS supposed to be advocating a policy of abstinence? All the question are a concern to parents and everyone else.

When I looked up this gay-straight club web page, a number of links are available for the kids to go to. For example, under "General Resources" there's one web page entitled "Alltogether.com." These students have access to the following links after entering "Gay" in search box. "Gayfriendfinder.com join free and meet hot local gay guys. Now. Free." That the MCPS allows a facility to be used for these purposes is utterly disgraceful and contrary to the best interests of all the students. Homosexual clubs have no place in MCPS. Our schools are not safe.

I couldn't make out her last sentence, she said something about something on the back, I assumed she meant the back of her handout.

Now, I was intrigued this morning when we had a comment here, where somebody had looked for these hot gay men and had not been able to find them. So I figured, OK, I'm good with this Internet stuff, I'll find it.

So let's go looking for this gay porn at the high school web site. We'll start by going, as she says, to the Walter Johnson High School web site. There it is, with its picture of a brick and glass building. At the top, we'll select "Student Activities," and then from the next page, we'll pick Clubs and Sports.

Next, just guessing, I'll take Interest Groups. There I see links to:
  • Amnesty International
  • Asian American Club
  • Bethesda Community Action Team (B-CATs)
  • Black Student Union
  • Cartoon Club
  • Current Events Club
  • Environmental Club
  • Equestrian Club
  • Hispanic Culture Club
  • Human Relations Council
  • International Club
  • Investment Club
  • Jewish Culture Club
  • Key Club International
  • Latin Club
  • Military Club
  • National Academy of Science /
  • Science Club
  • Outlook
  • People's Organization for Women (POW)
  • Persian Club
  • Psychology Club
  • Republican Club
  • Student Alliance for Justice in Education (SAJE)
  • Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD)
  • Student Liberals
  • WJ Ski Club
  • WJ Surf Club
  • Walter Johnson Democrat club

... but she has a point, no Bible club.

Also no Gay-Straight Club. Ah, I see, somebody had to tell me, "Outlook" is their Gay-Straight Alliance. I didn't know, I thought it was buggy email software. Tensed with anticipation, I click on Links to Other Organizations and Resources.

Yike, there's a lot of links here: Advocates for Youth Home Page, All Together, Artists for a Hate-Free America, Children's Defense Fund, Cool Page for Queer Teens, Free Your Mind, The Gay Place, Every Day Out... Yeah, it looks like gay stuff.

Hey, that was it, right? All Together dot com. This is the page Ms. Walters was talking about. Let's go there to be outraged.

Here we are. Hey, wait. Is this a joke?

Here's what's on that page:
Sponsored Results For: Family
Build Your Family Tree Online
Search for ancestors and build your family tree. Ancestry.com offers pedigree charts and family tree software - downloadable for free. You'll also find tips for getting started.
www.ancestry.com

Plan Your Family Reunion: Ideas Here
Gatherings.info is your family gathering and reunion planning source. Find recipes, location information, photography ideas, invitation ideas and more - free at Gatherings.info.
www.gatherings.info

Find Lost Family Members Today for $8.95
Our licensed private investigators can locate the current address and possible phone number of anyone you are looking for.
www.nationalpeoplefinders.com

MeeVee Personalized TV Listings
Don't miss your favorite shows, sports, and events. Search. Select. Watch. Experience TV your way with custom listings and reminders. Listings for Family Channel and more.
www.meevee.com

Build Your Family Tree Online
Find your family tree in our World Family Tree database. Over 270,000 use-submitted family trees dating from the 1500s to the present. A match could add up to 600 names to your family tree.
www.genealogy.com

And then, at the bottom, more links to family-related things.

Oh, and there we are, at the bottom of the page. There is a text box and a button that says "Search."

She says to put in "Gay." I do that.

Ah, I see. This gives you "sponsored results." Companies pay this web site to link to them. If you ask for "gay" it gives you five links.

This is what she's talking about?

Just for fun, I put "Bible" in the search list, and guess what -- it gave me five links to Bible sites. "Computers" gave me five links to computer sites. I put in my name, and it gave me five links to things that would find me, or find my collectibles on eBay, and stuff.

I am sitting here with my chin on my hands, looking at the screen and thinking. This lady, a CRC member, is outraged that the school district allows its students to have access to a search engine. She got to this one -- a rather crummy commercial search engine -- by following links on the Gay-Straight Alliance web site, and she typed "gay" into the search box, and she found gay stuff.

Look, I went back to the clubs page, and randomly chose Students Against Drunk Driving. I clicked on a link labeled Link to the national organization of SADD. That went to a Yahoo page with ... a search box. I typed "gay" into the box, and it returned a hundred sixty six million items. According to Ms. Walter's reasoning, the conclusion is that we should all immediately drink and drive.

This lady tried to make the school board believe that the Gay-Straight club at one of the high schools has gay dating services on the school web site. Please ask yourself, why does she want them to think that? Ask yourself, is this the kind of reasoning you want making decisions in your school district?

No, this is reprehensible. To tell you the truth, I can't even think of a word negative enough for this. It's beyond stupid. It's beyond irresponsible. Irrational and illogical don't even brush the surface of this. Bigoted starts coming close. Hateful, well, it's lost its gloss from overuse, but it gets close to the meaning I'm looking for.

... Oh hey, by the way, here's something fun. Go to Google. Type in "Steina Walter", in quotes. Look at the first link. Don't click the link, look where it says "Cached" and click on that. Jejeje.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Notes After a School Board Meeting

Just got back from the Board of Education meeting. I'll report more thoroughly tomorrow about the new plan for the citizens committee and how the new curriculum will be developed. In brief, it is clear that the lawsuit by the CRC and PFOX has essentially ripped the guts out of the citizens advisory committee. That committee, which actually developed the previous curriculum, will now review drafts that will be written by the school district. [Note: I am told that I have it a little wrong here. The previous "new" curriculum was prepared by a working group composed of some MCPS staff and some CAC members, and then was reviewed, modified, and recommended by the CAC] Doesn't look like they even review the final version, no authority, no yea or nay. Great Swarmy envisions the future:

MCPS: Here's what we did, folks, you like it?

CAC: No, it doesn't say anything about "ex-gays."

MCPS: OK, thanks, and here's your certificate of appreciation.

Some group, maybe it was CRC but I didn't recognize most of them, seemed to think they were staging a demonstration. I saw seven people holding signs that said stuff about "traditional families." At any given time, as many as five people would be holding their signs up where you could see them, mostly they just sat with them by the sides of their chairs.

I saw one person with a sign that said "Stop the videotaping." It was hard to read, because the "ing" was on a separate line. I don't really know what they meant by it, either, unless maybe they were just re-using a piece of cardboard from their last demonstration. Maybe they also belong to an anti-videotaping group. Maybe they really meant "Stop the videotaping." Because, you know, the board meetings are videotaped.

A number of people gave public comments in support of traditional families. Like, there's an issue for you: families. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm in favor of families and against crime. And sodapop in the drinking fountains. Vote for me. Board member Pat O'Neill made a beautiful statement on the subject, after public comments.

I'd heard ahead of time that the other guys planned to have eleven people speak, maybe they did. We had three, including David Fishback giving a rather important statement. More tomorrow.

One of their guys, again, spent his time attacking TeachTheFacts. The weirdest thing, he tried to make us look bad by connecting us to a group in Seattle that had a "screw abstinence" party. I don't know, we had a little discussion among some of us in email when we heard about that, and most of us thought the "screw abstinence" thing was kind of dumb.

As I recall, the guy's argument went like this:
  • TeachTheFacts.org (and more than 140 other groups) signed a petition protesting an HHS website that promoted abstience rather than safety*
  • A NARAL chapter in Seattle had a "screw abstinence" party
  • Is TeachTheFacts the kind of group you want on the citizens committee?

Oh yeah, they crushed us with that one.

I tried to record the meeting, it will be fun (I've got a new toy, a digital recorder) to see how the sound is. Tomorrow. Now, it's after eleven, and this old guy needs his nap.

[Note: edited for accuracy after listening to the recording.]

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Brazil Is Not America

I have been listening in on an email discussion about this New York Times article: Prostitution Puts U.S. and Brazil at Odds on AIDS Policy. The story isn't new, but this is a well-written look at it.

Brazil was beginning to suffer an AIDS epidemic. The United States said, no problem, we'll give you forty million dollars to fight it. But, uh, one thing. You have to issue a statement denouncing prostitution.

Well, in Brazil prostitution is legal. I'm not saying whether that's a good thing or not, but, at the least, they're different from us about that. I'm not saying we're a country of uptight puritans, but ...
In their baseball caps and T-shirts adorned with a rose in the shape of a heart, they are a familiar and welcome presence in the red-light district on the outskirts of downtown here. For years now, they have been distributing condoms to the prostitutes who work the streets, part of the Brazilian government's larger effort to hold AIDS in check.

Until recently, the condom campaign of the group called Fio da Alma had been partly financed through the United States Agency for International Development. But no longer: rather than comply with an American demand that all foreign recipients of AIDS assistance must explicitly condemn prostitution, Brazil has decided to forgo up to $40 million in American support.

"Our feeling was that the manner in which the Usaid funds were consigned would bring harm to our program from the point of view of its scientific credibility, its ethical values and its social commitment," Pedro Chequer, director of the Brazilian government's AIDS program, said in an interview in Brasilía. "We must remain faithful to the established principles of the scientific method and not allow theological beliefs and dogma to interfere."

Experts here and abroad say the disagreement over how to deal with prostitution is symptomatic of a larger conflict between Brazil and the United States over AIDS policy. Brazil, which spends more than $400 million annually on what is regarded as the most successful AIDS program in the developing world, is taking a pragmatic approach in combating the global epidemic, the experts say, while the United States, increasingly, is not.

"It's not as if you're choosing between two neutral policy programs," said Chris Beyrer of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Brazil has good data to show that their approach works, and to ask them to change that, even if they get the additional money, to one for which there is no evidence, just because of moral squeamishness in the United States, is an extraordinary position to take."

This might remind you of a particular stand-off regarding a certain sex-ed curriculum in a certain suburban-DC county in Maryland. You have one side that wants to deal with an issue directly, and one side that hopes everyone will grit their teeth, exercise their willpower, and make the problem go away. "Moral squeamishness," yes, that rings a bell.

Does Brazil's approach to the AIDS epidemic work?
One gauge of Brazil's success in confronting AIDS is to compare the situation here with that of other developing countries, many of which have sent delegations to study the Brazilian program. In 1990, for example, Brazil and South Africa had roughly the same rate of prevalence of H.I.V. among their adult populations, just over 1 percent.

Today, some studies indicate that 20 percent or more of South African adults of reproductive age are infected with H.I.V. or have AIDS, an estimated total of more than 5 million of the country's 44 million people. In Brazil, in contrast, the rate has dropped nearly by half, and the number of patients being treated has held steady, at about 600,000 out of a total population of 180 million.

"They attempted to take out the stigma and practice safe sex so as to prevent the epidemic from expanding, and in that way they were well ahead of other countries, particularly in the developing world."

So, yes it does seem to work, by comparison. Of course everybody wishes those numbers were zero, but Brazil does seem to have kept the lid on it.

But here's the part that has sparked some discussion.
But the Brazilian approach is anathema to many conservatives in the United States because it makes use of methods seen as morally objectionable. Brazil not only operates a needle and syringe exchange program for drug addicts but also rejects the Bush administration's emphasis on abstinence, being faithful and the controlled use of condoms, the so-called ABC approach, in favor of a pragmatism that recognizes that sexual desire can sometimes overwhelm reason.

"Obviously abstinence is the safest way to avoid AIDS," Dr. Chequer said. "But it's not viable in an operational sense unless you are proposing that mankind be castrated or genetically altered, and then you would end up with something that is not human but something else altogether."

This is weird, isn't it? It's that strange thing we refer to sometimes as ... "reality." Sex, part of being human. Hmmm.

So one lady in this discussion I've been listening in on had this to say.
It's remarkable how so very obvious that comment is, yet how rarely we hear it today. And, to be honest, I think many of us (us, in the general sense) have been intimidated from speaking those very words, because we've been told so often we show so little respect to the fundamentalists.

American thought has been profoundly shaped by a wish to accommodate all types of people, even religious fundamentalists. Not all of us belong to religions that consider sexual feelings and behaviors to be sinful. But we do belong to a society that includes people who belong to such religions. And out of politeness, we respect them by censoring our language and behavior in public. And then they think we all agree with them. Further, the habit of monitoring our own speech and actions in order to accommodate others results in a kind of second-order conscience, where we feel guilty saying or doing things that really don't offend us -- it's just that we would feel bad offending somebody else.

But how far should it go? We can respect that other people have strange, twisted views of the world and human nature, and we can politely not point out the silliness of their beliefs, but at what point have we abandoned our own vision? At some point you have to stand up for common sense, you have to state out loud what seems obvious.

The clue can be seen in CRC lawyer John Garza's recent plea to the school board to come up with a curriculum that doesn't offend anyone. This can only mean that people with intelligent, rational thoughts must keep them to themselves in the presence of weirdos who are offended by anything and everything. I am not thinking that's the way we want to go, especially in the public schools.

Monday, July 25, 2005

On Gold Mines in the Blog Comments: What Do You Think?

This has been a strange few days here at the Vigilance blog. First, some stranger emailed us a link to a Google cache full of CRC discussions. (Well, actually the first thing was a few weeks ago, when the CRC President sent a bunch of conniving communications out to the Whole World, almost surely by accident.) Then somebody signed in on our comments as "Anonymous" and posted thousands of lines of another, overlapping, message board of CRC/Recall sneaky stuff. Don't know where they got it. Then we got an email from yet another guy, with another many-thousands of lines of plotting and scheming by the CRC inner circle. Then we noticed thousands more lines of this stuff in another comments section, posted by the same or a different Anonymous. Several other chunks have popped up, as well.

We didn't ask for any of this, but of course it is very interesting to see how things got where they are now. The CRC/Recall made their plans and lied to the rest of the world about what they were up to, meanwhile pulling dirty tricks from registering the "dot-com" version of our domain name (try "www.teachthefacts.com" and see where it goes) to badmouthing us in the school board meeting, to publishing private emails from our members to theirs on their blog with a bunch of sarcastic and ignorant comments ... So I didn't feel guilty at all to be able to examine exactly what kind of scheming they had been doing in secret and reveal it to the world.

But I didn't think it was especially appropriate, or interesting, to post it all. A lot of it was just private comments, and all their email addresses were displayed, and it was hard to follow in the comments format. So when the first piece appeared in the comments, I deleted it. Then I got some emails, including another comment, asking me to restore it, and so I decided to put it back. One argument was that the stuff was already public information, it was out there on the Internet already, so publishing it here was no great violation.

The comments of a blog are different from the posts. We write the posts. Our readers write the comments. Comments are more spontaneous, informal, sometimes they get a little rowdy, but that's OK. The rule here has always been Morons' comments will be deleted, and I have deleted quite a few stupid things over the months. I have been very tolerant of contrary opinions, a little bit of bad language, some inarticulate expression, etc. So I am very hesitant to wade into the role of deleting things just because I am uncomfortable with them. I mean, the comments aren't for me, unless they've got my name on them. The comments are to let the people express themselves. And these things didn't meet the "moronic" criterion, well, you know what I mean.

A few people have expressed concerns to me about leaving these big message logs in the comments, and I admit, I'm not excited about them either. So let me say two things. First, please comment or email us if you have any thoughts about this -- I honestly don't know what to do here, and so I'm asking readers for their opinions. Second, if you find something like this on the Internet, would you please send it to us -- the email link is up there on the right -- instead of posting it?

Thanks.

Negativity at The Blade

I want to take exception with an editorial in a recent Washington Blade. Graham Murtphy writes:
OUR YOUTH ARE under attack. Within the Washington, D.C. area, where some of the largest gay organizations and brightest activists reside, we are losing the battle for LGBT youth.

School districts in the suburbs that surround the District are giving in to the pressures of religious conservatives when it comes to issues like protecting the safety and health of LGBT youth. Unfortunately, our efforts to stop the conservatives seem to be failing.

The success religious conservatives are having at harming LGBT youth is epitomized in their recent victory in Montgomery County, Md. Losing the Battle for our Youth

There are two tricky questions here. First, how do you define winning and losing? Second, who are "we?"

The CRC and PFOX were successful in stopping this year's deployment of the new curriculum. But now everything is settled, and progress can begin again on developing a new one. If you want to call winning the lawsuit a "victory," then ... OK. The other side won.

But all they did was postpone the inevitable. If Superintendent Jerry Weast is good to his word, this new curriculum will be rock-solid in terms of fearlessly dealing with sexual variation issues. If I am reading the board members correctly, they are more serious than ever about this. The CRC tried everything, and everything failed ... except one thing. And even in the lawsuit, they threw everything into it, and one little thing stuck. Most of their anti-gay arguments were laughed off by the judge. The rest of it had to do with background resources, and can be dealt with easily.

Second thing: who are "we?" You say:
Conservatives used anti-gay rhetoric and classic "judicial activism" to prevent the curriculum’s implementation on religious grounds.

The response from the gay community was tepid and weak. The response from the "ex-gay" community, which spearheaded the movement against the curriculum, was exuberant and triumphant.

WHAT HAPPENED IN Montgomery County is now a successful model of how conservatives plan to exploit LGBT youth for their own political gain throughout the country.

-- which leads me to think that by "we" you mean the gay community, mainly.

And that's tough. Because in some ways, this isn't the gay community's fight.

To a lot of us, this is not a "gay rights" issue, it's an educational issue. We who have kids in the schools do not wish for them to be indoctrinated into some crazy, hateful way of thinking. They're growing up, and they need to know what's going on with their bodies, their emotions. We want them to learn the facts, clear-eyed and fearless.

No, I take that back. To most of us in this battle it's a community issue, for the entire community. We want to have a quality life here in Montgomery County, where people think clearly and critically, where neighbors can be kind to one another. I mean, we have really got a lot of different kinds of people in this county, unbelievable really who lives just in my little neighborhood. And yeah, the topic of the class is sexual variation, and the big thing is that sexual orientation is going to be discussed a little bit in the classroom. And the gay community, I'm sure, would feel more comfortable if they were not regarded as pariahs. But this kind of attempted takeover of the school district by a secretively plotting cell of radicals, tightly connected to their national organizations, is a threat to all of us, not just gay people.

We have members of our group, too, who seem to focus of the fact that CRC/PFOX won the lawsuit and got their way, in terms of stopping the 2004 implementation of the new curriculum. But realize, in doing that, they alienated the entire community, including the PTAs, the school boards, and parents of schoolchildren all across the county. They can pull stuff, we do expect them to file another lawsuit, and we know we have to pay attention to next year's school board elections, but they're not winning anything.

And the Gold Keeps Coming

I just got a voice-mail message telling me that someone else has posted another huge capture of a CRC/Recall message board, in the comments section under the post titled "Three Letters." It seems to contain stuff that was not in some of the others we have gotten. I don't when it was posted there.

This is weird.

Normally these groups operate in secrecy. This particular cell, known as Recall or CRC, set out to take over the Montgomery County school board back in November 2004. Usually you don't get to see what they're up to. But here they are, working the churches, working the politicians, working the lawyers, arranging their meetings and hustling their newspaper and radio people. Rules about what to say and how to say it. How not to look like a Neanderthal. How not to look like a homophobe. How not to look like a religious nut.

It is fascinating to watch how this works. And people, listen -- this is happening all over the country. These sneaky groups are planning things. One day you'll wake up and wonder what happened to your community. Well, look under "Three Letters," or under "'Frivolous Lawsuit' Defined" -- where I started out by deleting the messages but was talked into putting it back. Look at the way these people organize to pull the rug out from under you. Oh, it's insidious, yes it is, and it requires contant Vigilance.

It Was Political From the Start

Unbelievably, somebody else has emailed us yet another Google cache of Recall discussions. Hundreds of messages, some of them go back to the week that the Board of Education voted to adopt the new curriculum.

One thing you notice is how political the Recall movement was from the beginning. Remember, the national elections were held on November 2nd. The school board voted on November 9th to accept the new curriculum. You can't tell exactly, but it appears to be November 14th when you see CRC lawyer John Garza saying:
If you go the BOE building in Rockville you will think you are in a zombie movie. No one works there. The BOE could fire 2/3 or more of its employees and no one would be missed. If I ran my law office that way, I would be out of business in 6 months. My kids go to parochial school because I can't trust the local BOE. I guess if my daughter tells her teacher she thinks boys are yucky then its ok for the teacher to tell her she may be a lesbian and that's normal. I would prefer to have such conversations myself or her mother can discuss this. The BOE is out of step with the rest of the country and the voters here. We need people to step up to the plate and run for these offices. I can see why a conservative would not run in Montgomery County for any office. It costs money and there is a teacher's union and bureaucracy to deal with. There are no family values candidates that I know of. It seems elected officals only work to get re-elected, expand government, increase taxes, etc. If people are serious about this, I suggest they switch to the Republican Party and then get some good candidates to run against the establishment party. The local Repubs have no one strong to get behind but the party could be used to get family values on the agenda.

(I need to mention Garza's ridiculous mischaracterization of the curriculum. There is nothing, was nothing, and it was never proposed that there should be anything in the MCPS health curriculum that would make any comment on any student's sexual orientation, nor surmise from any behavior whether a person was gay or not. You wonder why they have always had to make up stuff like this -- if the curriculum was really so bad, why wouldn't they talk about things that were actually in it?)

(I might need to point out that this is the same guy who sat there and told the school board to their faces that he "loved" them. This might be one of their things, like, "Love the sinner, hate everything about them.")

You may have noticed that TeachTheFacts.org is not a political organization. I think a number of our members are Democrats, but that's something private for each person. You can search this site for the names of the political parties. and find one or two mentions, usually in a humorous vein. Our debate over the sex-ed curriculum is not a fight between Democrats and Republicans.

Growing up in Barry Goldwater's Phoenix, Arizona, I did not learn to despise conservatives. I think of real conservatives as intelligent people who argue one perspective in an important national debate. Seems to me that both sides need to be heard, and that America would be in bad shape if the debate came down to a lot of self-congratulatory one-sidedness. These days, of course, we have confusion between true conservatives and the religious right; I'm no expert, but it appears to me that though they have formed a shaky alliance, their goals and philosophies are severely at odds with one another.

It would be my expectation that a true conservative would not want to use government to advance a religious agenda. For instance, you didn't hear much complaining from the right through all the "marriage amendment" business, but wouldn't a real conservative be violently opposed to new laws regulating who people can marry? How would a real conservative feel about a powerless minority using tort lawyers and activist judges to impose their values on the majority of residents of a county? No, there is a conflict there, between the railroading religious right and true conservatives.

The debate, whether local or national, requires that the facts be presented honestly and openly. Given that some people are gay, given that some families do have same-sex parents, given that there is an AIDS epidemic and the AIDS virus is stopped by a correctly-used condom, given that AIDS and some other diseases infect men who have sex with men at a higher rate than the rest of the population ... I say, put these facts on the table, and let the debate begin: what are we going to teach our children, to prepare them to live in this real world? Conservatives, tell us what your point of view concludes about the situation -- how would you go about solving these problems, with your philosophy of smaller government and greater personal liberty? You liberals, what would you suggest, based on your ideas about government protecting the helpless? Talk to each other, let's hear what the two sides say -- we can be sure that the result will be a compromise of some sort, and both sides need to be able to live with that.

Some people don't want this discussion to happen. When you start with the assumption that you already know everything, and that God is on your side against the other guys, you've pretty much defined a situation that will go nowhere. And as we see, that's where the Recall group started.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Nuggets from the Gold Mine

Somebody sent us a gold mine of communictions within the CRC. Reading through this stuff, I just had to comment. When the CRC and PFOX sued in May, they were apologetic and tried to claim that it was a last resort.

In fact they plotted to file the suit for months in advance. Here's their lawyer, John Garza:
Our lawyers win in Louisianna
The same lawyers who are taking our case just reversed a trial court which struck as unconstitutional the Louisianna same sex marriage ban. The La. Sup Court reversed and reinstated the law.
[Date=01-19-2005] Name:John Garza jgarza@********.com, [Msgid=766783]

So back then, clearly, they were already working with those Florida lawyers, planning to file their suit at the last possible moment, so the school district would have no time to respond, and the judge would only be able to read the arguments from one side.

But then this, too, strikes me. Garza again, from the same day:
OK folks, I need anyone who wants to be a plaintiff in the case to send me an email with your name, address, email, phone, names of kids, school and grade. I need a set of plaintiffs for the federal lawsuit and a set for the State Board appeal. Two different sets. Our associate attorneys feel very confortable about these lawsuits. Also, if anyone knows of any TEACHERS WHO DO NOT WANT TO TEACH THIS STUFF, this presents another lawsuit...

You will recall that CRC and PFOX filed on their own. No students to complain, no "teachers who do not want to teach this stuff," nothing.

Apparently they couldn't find anybody.

I could point out that a week before this, on January 13th, the President of the CRC sent an email to the Einstein High School Yahoo group, saying:
THERE IS NO CRC LEGAL ACTION TAKING PLACE AGAINST ANYBODY!!!

How could anybody take these guys seriously?

When It Rains, It Pours

This morning somebody posted more than 3,000 lines of online discussions among the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum's leadership in the comments section of one of the posts here. I deleted it for a couple of reasons [Note: it has been put back]. But I did wonder why Laura Quigley posted this:
Ellen discussed with me the benefits of having a proxy server which as I understand it would disallow the teachthefacts people from tracking me down.

Why would we want to "track her down?" They're not a little paranoid over there, are they?

A little background. The CRC, originally RecallMontgomerySchoolBoard.com, set out in December to replace the Mongtomery County, Maryland, school board after the board approved a new sex-ed curricuum. They tried various things, all of which backfired on them. Letter-writing campaigns, threatening the school board, an over-the-top town-hall hatefest ... Finally in May, they filed a lawsuit and stopped the curriculum. We have seen in these captured communications that the lawsuit was set in place as early as January, with CRC plotting with their out-of-town lawyers back then.

Now, here's a taste of what was posted this morning. This is a little section where Steve Fisher tells the group how to present themselves in print. Man, it sounds so professional -- you wonder how, with all of this attention to gloss and distortion of their real message, they still come off as a bunch of nuts.
Steve's guidelines for writing
Here are some good points to keep in mind when writing anything that will be published on web or in print:
In order to be successful in our letters and emails, there are several things we have to guard against so we can more effectively make our case:

1) Being perceived as intolerant and homophobic --- this is the current first line of defense that the opposition uses to convince others that we are merely irrational and emotional because we "hate" homosexuals. Choose words instead that say more precisely that we are "concerned" or "disappointed" or some similar milder expression when describing their actions and statements. Use of such terms as "perverted" or "weird" or "unnatural" can be interpreted as homophobic in many instances.

I have to say, I was especially surprised to hear CRC members use the terms "sodomite" and "deviant" to describe gay people. Steve has overlooked these colorful phrases.
2) Being too evangelical --- the opposition has tried to paint us a bunch of extreme religious zealots. Even when our faith or beliefs are attacked or impugned, do not reply with a morally indignant tone or try to "preach" to the attackers or the target audience. Those who do not recognize sin will not appreciate the seriousness of committing that sin. You will have to stretch your mind (and your faith) to find a more secular tone and message in replying to such attacks.

3) Attacking teachers --- we need to be careful to separate the CAC recommendations for the new changes from the teachers who will have to eventually teach this course. Some of them are on our side but for obvious reasons, have to camouflage their real feelings or suffer castigation by the unions and their more liberal colleagues. Most teachers pride themselves on getting their students to put faith into their instruction. Voice your concern with the impact this course may have by stating the fact that teachers have unique and "significant" impact on young minds. This approach both compliments teachers while also stressing the reasons we need to be especially careful about what teachers are expected to teach.

Of course, the reason there was a new curriculum in the first place was that teachers asked for it. Teachers liked the new curriculum, and were eager to get it started.
4) Inform and let people decide for themselves --- one of the more infuriating techniques that the liberal left uses is to tell people what they "should" or "should not" believe independent of any sources. Before you tell someone what to do, such as sign a petition or complain or opt out, we need to let them see the facts clearly for themselves or provide verbatim, specific quotes from reliable or official sources from which they can easily see our point. You can also add a link to one of our documents on our web site or the MCPS curriculum documents itself for them to peruse. For example, if the curriculum does not actually state a specific charge or action --- such stating in black and white it is encouraging non-marital sex--- you can say that the hidden message is there because it does not specifically discourage non-marital sex. Instead you can write a statement along the lines that "a young mind could easily imply from the tone of the proposed changes to the curriculum that non-marital or recreational sex with same gender partners is normal and acceptable." This in many ways touches upon fears more concerning to parents and lends more credence to your message. It forces the defenders of the change to refute the charge, which will be difficult to do without opening themselves up to other issues and charges. In this case, that they really did not provide ample resources or guidance for teachers to ensure that a young person does not come to that conclusion.

Yes, a good idea, play upon their fears. Make the other side respond to your nonsense charges. Then they can only look stupid for getting sucked into your meaningless argument.
5) Use 2nd or 3rd person wherever possible; avoid questions where a simple statement is more to the point --- this carries more weight and is less threatening.

6) List or encourage one or two specific actions that require little extra effort for the reader to accomplish if possible --- such as going to the web site and clicking on the on-line petition, or signing up to volunteer, forwarding the message to others, or ask for a post card or similar document to formally protest or opt out of the curriculum.

Good one. Don't make it too hard. Anything harder than Simon Says, and they will lose their following.
7) Making personal attacks --- never attack anyone personally in opposition to our CRC mission or who has attacked us in a message or article. Take the higher ground and calmly provide evidence or a rebuttal in a statement or message targeted to the readers themselves, while essentially ignoring the attacker. The opposition pride themselves on their vaunted "debating skills." Let's leave them to believe in that illusion while we make our points with the real audience that matters, the general public.

Responding while angry --- NEVER fire off an email or letter while angry, no matter how aggrieved you may be or justified or correct your point might be. If you need to vent, write a draft and lea

Steve

Mmm, actually it does end like that. He should have added a point about how to end your written communication.

Well, even this little section is almost too long for a blog like this. Sometime I should post the content of Michelle Turner's March 19th Powerpoint presentation, so you can see how well they followed these guidelines. Or, easier yet, go over to their blog and see how it compares.

Look, it is possible that somebody on their side would get hold of our emails, this goes both ways. We definitely don't plan and plot like they do, but we have been known to say some things that wouldn't look very good in public. As much as possible, I will use their communications to make a point, not just to expose them as bad people. The principle here is: roaches scatter when the lights come on.

Remember what you are seeing: a small group of people trying to take over the Montgomery County school board, by pretending that they are offended by a new health curriculum. They are manipulative, secretive, and concerned more with power than truth.

Contemplating the Attempted Coup

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about this TeachTheFacts.org business, explaining how I got involved in this, and it made me remember what it's really about. It's not about "ex-gays" or cucumbers or sexual orientation or STDs or abstinence. There was nothing in the new curriculum that couldn't have been discussed and modified until everybody was comfortable with it. Oh, maybe some would like it better than others, but that's not what this has been about. This was not about improving the curriculum, it was an attempted coup.

The fact is, as soon as the school board approved this curriculum in November, a group of people organized to RECALL THE SCHOOL BOARD. They took the 2004 national election results as a mandate and thought it was time to take over the Montgomery County school district, too. They had had membership on the citizens committee that developed the curriculum, they knew what was in there, it was not a surprise to them, as they loved to tell everybody. It wasn't about that.

When they set up a web site, it wasn't helpexgays.com, or anticucumber.com, or nogaysinclass.com. No, that wasn't what they were about. The website was called RecallMontgomerySchoolBoard.com. They didn't intend to discuss any issues or argue any points, they wanted from Day One to kick out the elected officials and replace them with somebody they liked. And the new curriculum was simply an excuse to do that.

They want you to think that they are offended by a sex education class. But there's nothing there. The condom video with the cucumber, they made such a big thing out of that. But it is not significantly different from the old condom video, which featured an animation of how to put a condom on an erect penis. They said the same things in the old video, they had a pretty young lady -- the only thing was that it was out of date. The new video gave them an opportunity to make noise and pretend that they need to take over the school board.

The sexual variation stuff in the health classes was nothing. It said some people are gay. It discussed some stuff about how people feel about themselves, about being more or less masculine or feminine, about gender roles in a society. I remember the same stuff back when I went to high school, before dinosaurs. The curriculum said that some families have same-sex parents. OK -- some families do have same-sex parents, there's nothing to argue about there. These are non-issues, nobody really cares if the school tells your kids that some families have two mommies or two daddies. It's a simple fact. That isn't what it is about.

It isn't about the curriculum, and you'd be foolish to try to argue with them about it, because they'll say anything. They'll tell you it encouraged kids to declare whether they were gay or straight at an early age. They'll tell you that kids were going to be taught that Baptists are intolerant. They'll tell you the curriculum encouraged sexual experimentation. They'll say it "promoted" homosexuality, whatever that could possibly mean. They'll tell you it instructed kids in anal sex -- I mean it, they really do say these things. And they're all absurd. You will not win an argument with them about the curriculum itself, because it doesn't matter what was really in it. That's not what this is about, it's not about a class, it's about kicking out the school board and replacing them with the kind of people that the CRC approves of. And that would not be someone that the majority of Montgomery County residents approve of.

Just this month, we saw an email circulated among the CRC leadership saying, "Now that we have settled, the goal of the CRC seems mainly to be to replace members of the BOE in the next election..."

But the school district is starting another round of developing a new sex-ed curriculum, shouldn't that be their goal? No, that isn't what this is about. They don't care about any health class, they want to take over the public school system.

People, you'd best see this as an attempted coup, and don't let it happen. They've got the support of the big national organizations, and they intend to disrupt the educational process until they either get their way or get run out of town.

You do not want these people running things in this county. Stop them.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Frivolous Lawsuit" Defined

You remember that somebody recently sent us a link to a Google cache containing a bunch of internal communications among the leadership of the CRC (Citizens for Responsible Curriculum) back in January. They were already planning to sue the Montgomery County school district, which they did, finally, in May. But why?

Somebody today pointed out to me a section that I hadn't noticed before -- really, there's so much here I haven't read it all.

Here's the plan that was posted on the CRC leaderhip's forum on January 13th:
This board is NOT going to recant anything because of "supplicant" appeals to listen to our position. The only thing that is going to get their complete attention is:
1. Continuing outrage streaming in to their castle headquarters
2. John Garza proceeding immediatley with his lawsuit. (Lawsuits tend to get peoples attention - merit or no merit because it forces them to deal with their legal team on a continuing basis)
3. 50,000 plus signatures between the paper petition and the on-line petition.
4. Tabulation of all the outrageous things said about us and this issue, and posted on both web sites.
5. Massive email campaign to inform and INFLAME.

In other words, aggressive tactics.

That "both web sites" of course is CRC's and the Recall site they claimed to have nothing to do with. And OK, they fell about 45,000 signatures short of their goal, even assuming they're telling the truth about how many signatures they did get. The "inflaming" part I suppose they did pretty well. Oh, and tabulating things, I suppose that was what resulted in CRC President Michelle Turner's tattling to the Board that somebody in our comments used a bad word to describe them.

It's that Number Two that jumps out at you. Sue to get their attention. Does it matter if the lawsuit has merit?

Nope.

There must be a real feeling of accomplishment when you do something like that, dontcha think?

Salon Part Four: "True Confessions"

In its final installment, Salon online looks at reparative therapy, the name for the controversial techniques used to transform gay people into heterosexuals.
On the front page of the Exodus International Web site is a photograph of several dozen men and women. The allegedly changed homosexuals, or newly minted ex-gays, are beaming at the camera, apparently celebrating their newfound freedom from homosexuality. Standing in the center of the photograph is 29-year-old Shawn O'Donnell, who was enrolled in Exodus programs on and off for 10 years.

Exodus is the umbrella organization, information clearinghouse and referral service for "ex-gay ministries." These organizations claim they can help gays and lesbians become heterosexual. Exodus was founded in 1976 as part of a backlash against the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 determination that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. Exodus leaders are embraced by the religious right, including the politically influential Focus on the Family, which holds conferences touting the success of the "ex-gay movement."

The only problem with the Exodus photo is that O'Donnell is still gay. In fact, he is out of the closet and says he is the happiest he has ever been in his life. The efforts to change him from gay to straight were what sank him into despair. At age 21, in his bedroom at his parents' house, O'Donnell slashed his arms. "No one was home," O'Donnell says. "I was in my room and just started cutting. I definitely did not want to live anymore. I bled through my clothes. I had pretty deep cuts." O'Donnell's parents rushed him to the hospital, and he spent a week in a psychiatric ward. At the time, he was getting counseling from a group called Overcomers Ministries. True confessions

Yes, we just heard about Reverend Grace at Overcomers Ministries in DC.

How do the legitimate shrinks feel about this?
Mental health professionals fear there may be many stories like O'Donnell's. They say that efforts to change a person's sexual orientation, notably through therapy programs modeled on boot camps, with Draconian regulations, can be psychologically destructive. The American Psychiatric Association has asked ethical psychiatrists to refrain from "reparative therapy" that is supposed to change gays. "We are finding that the numbers of people claiming to be harmed by reparative therapy are increasing," says Dr. Jack Drescher, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues. "I don't know about the suicides because it is hard to determine why somebody killed themselves afterward. But the harm is increasing."

You can get into Salon pretty easily, if you can figure it out, to read this whole article. You ending up having to watch a little commercial, and then you're in for, they say, one to eight hours. I don't get that, but it's easily enough time to read this whole thing.

The author, Mark Benjamin, meets and interviews a series of men who have gone through reparative therapy. Most of them are very religious, and were trying to reconcile their sexual orientation with their faith. A number of them had attempted to kill themselves at one time or another.

All of them are still gay.

The writer also interviews Joseph Nicolosi, who champions this kind of therapy and is President of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization of therapists who do this sort of thing.
I tell Nicolosi I have spoken to a half-dozen people who have been through reparative therapy. All are still gay. All feel hurt by the therapy. None are gay rights' advocates. Nicolosi's group claims that 25 to 50 percent of those seeking treatment get "significant improvement." So I ask him if he can introduce me to any men or women who have been converted from gay to straight who are not on the payroll of an ex-gay ministry. He responds that his patients will not talk to me because they don't get a fair shake in the press. They are done with homosexuality and have moved on with their lives. They don't want to talk about it now.

He also interviews somebody from Exodus ministries.
Exodus spokesman Randy Thomas also declines to help me meet ex-gays to interview. He says that I can read about the experiences of ex-gays on the Exodus Web site.

Mmm, yeah, that's a good representative view of what happens, sure.

Well, it turns out that, although these guys claim that thousands -- I heard one speaker at the CRC town hall meeting say "tens of thousands" -- of gay guys have gone straight due to this counseling, nobody can find one. This writer is doing a big-time series on "ex-gays," but can he meet one and interview him? No. There are a few poster-child "ex-gays" out there, mugging for the cameras and telling their stories in the churches and religious websites, but there is no evidence at all that anybody has actually changed their sexual orientation as a result of this treatment.

I think it's really neat that Salon has given this issue such prominent treatment. The average person sitting at home doesn't know what to think, and the propaganda engine is running full speed. There are a number of reasons that the religious right wants you to believe that gays can become straight. Mainly, it gives them license to continue the campaign of hate; in the simple sense, if a guy chooses to be gay, then he deserves whatever happens to him. But I fear there are more insidious intentions, too, the propagation of an anti-intellectual, anti-reason culture of ignorance. Something like this capitalizes on the fact that nobody really knows very much about sexual orientation. So when you are told something, you can't tell if it's correct or not. And the nuts are there first and loudest, telling everybody all about this "ex-gay" movement, and how there are tens of thousands of sodomites flippin' faster'n you can count 'em.

But it turns out, once you get right down to it, reparative therapy doesn't work. It inflicts more pain than it relieves. The author talked with a pastor named Bob Gratcyk:
At one point, Gratcyk underwent five weeks of intensive therapy that was supposed to cure him of his homosexuality. "You are put in a situation where you, by nature, are considered evil," Gratcyk says. "The Christian version is that you are not evil, but your actions are evil. But you cannot separate the two." Today, Gratcyk, 48, lives with his partner and has reconciled his sexuality with his faith. "I am a man who is loved by God and loves God," he says.

We Get Nice Letters

We received an especially gratifying letter this week. This is the kind of thing that keeps us going.
Hi there,

I am a graduate of Montgomery County Public Schools (Richard Montgomery High School class of 1992) and have been very saddened by the sex-ed debate there that has grabbed national headlines. I would really hope that Montgomery County, which has a reputation for being fairly progressive, would do the right thing by giving students the information they need to make safe, self-affirming choices whenever they are ready to become sexually active.

I am living in Massachusetts now, and while we are happy to have civil marriage here, I am more than aware that even this gain is tenuous given the raging national culture wars over equality. Please know that I support your efforts at TeachtheFacts.org, and let me know whether there is some way I could help from afar. Would it be useful for me and other alums to write letters to our former teachers and administrators with a message along the lines of "as a gay student at MCPS, I would have benefited greatly by recognition and discussion of homosexuality as a normal human sexual variation"?

Keep up the good fight!

Sincerely,
****** **********

(In giving us permission to use his letter, the author didn't ask us to remove his name.)

Let's say that two percent of the population is gay -- the number is certainly higher than that, but this is what the holier-than-thou crowd likes to say. If the proportion is even two percent, that means that there is more than a fifty percent chance that one student in a classroom of thirty is gay.

This letter reminds us that MCPS has an obligation to those students, to give them some explanation about what's happening that makes them different from the others, and we have an obligation to the others, to give them some understanding about what's happening with their classmate and friend.

And yes, it is a good idea to write, especially to the Board of Education, but also administrators and teachers at the school level. If you don't tell them you're out there, they'll never guess.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

PFLAG Executive Director's Response to PFOX President

A couple of weeks ago, Richard Cohen, President of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays ... which would be "PFOX-GAG" if they really meant the "and Gays" part), who lives in Bowie, Maryland, presented public comments on the health education curriculum to the MCPS Board of Education. A couple of weeks before that, Mr. Cohen had published a letter in the Washington Times in response to David Fishback's letter commenting on a Times editorial on the Montgomery County curriculum (see these discussed on the Vigilance blog HERE and HERE). Here is Mr. Cohen's June 17, 2005, letter:
'Dubious theories' about same-sex attraction

Without specifically identifying to whom he is referring, David S. Fishback obliquely mischaracterizes the position of former homosexuals and groups that represent them ("Sex-ed in the margin," Letters, Wednesday). He disingenuously states that " 'dubious theories' are those propagated by groups that cling to the long-since-rejected ideas that all homosexuals are diseased and can be 'cured' of the disease."

This is simply untrue. Groups representing former homosexuals, such as Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays (PFOX), have never taken the position that homosexuality is a disease or that people choose to have homosexual feelings.

The position taken by PFOX has always been that no one is born with same-sex attraction. We know that those feelings develop involuntarily because of a number of factors. Furthermore, we believe that a person with unwanted same-sex attraction may, with proper therapy, help and self-determination, come out straight. This is a view supported by many health care professionals, contrary to Mr. Fishback's suggestion.

As president of PFOX's board, a former homosexual who has been married for 23 years, father of three children, and a professional psychotherapist who has helped hundreds of men and women change from homosexual to straight, I know firsthand that people can change from homosexual to straight. There are, quite literally, thousands who have done so and are glad they did. I stand as one of them.

RICHARD COHEN
International Healing Foundation
Bowie
LINK

National PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Executive Director Jody Huckaby wrote a letter to the Washington Times in response to Mr. Cohen's assertions. The Times recently informed Mr. Huckaby that his letter would not be published. Here is Mr. Huckaby's letter:
Richard Cohen, President of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), attempted in his letter of June 18 ('Dubious theories' about same-sex attraction) to defend his groups' support of "proper therapy" to make homosexuals into heterosexuals. What readers should know is that Cohen's credibility is itself dubious, and that his notions of "proper therapy" for making gay people straight have long been soundly rejected by all credible professional mental health associations who in fact call such therapy damaging. He was himself found in violation of numerous ethics codes by the American Counseling Association a few years ago and was expelled permanently. So if he is still a professional psychotherapist making a living teaching people to suppress the homosexual orientation that is natural to them, it is without the express blessing of at least one professional mental health association and is repudiated by the rest.

Jody Huckaby
Executive Director
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

Let me throw in my two cents' worth. People like Cohen would like the public to believe that there is scientific support for what they do, that it is credible and legitimate psychotherapy, and they would like you to actually believe that gay people can become straight by subjecting themselves to some kind of therapy program. There is no evidence for this, lots of evidence that it does not work. The "ex-gay" movement is a landscape littered with scandal -- there are lots more ex-ex-gays than ex-gays out there.

The upcoming months will be challenging for us. It will be necessary for people to educate themselves, to learn to distinguish between real science and wishful-thinking-pretending-to-be-science. You can't tell the difference without learning a little bit about the field, and about how science works. Cohen is not a doctor, having neither an MD, PhD, PsyD, nor anything else; he was, as Huckaby noted, expelled from the American Counseling Association for ethical violations; and his techniques are not accepted by legitimate practitioners. He is just another brick in the wall of anti-gay bigotry -- the saddest type, the gay man struggling with his own orientation, occasionally giving in to his true feelings (this is all described in his own writings), and all the while ranting about how much better it is to be heterosexual. He and his organization should have nothing to say about anything that is taught in our public schools.

If you're like me, you never gave any thought to anything like "ex-gays." You probably never wondered whether gay people can become heterosexual, and you don't know anything about it. And now PFOX and CRC intend to use our ignorance to drive a wedge into our community, to separate the skeptics from the gullible. They are counting on the community's insecurities and lack of knowledge to increase the numbers of the gullible.

The moral of the story: inform yourself.

Salon's Third Installment on "Ex-Gays"

At least the third installment of Salon's four-part series on "ex-gays" and reparative therapy doesn't take place in Montgomery County. This one features a preacher in Washington DC.
The Rev. J. Grace Harley is a kindly, big-boned, middle-aged black woman with gentle eyes and an obvious wig. She thanks God that she arrived safely at work. Harley is the founder of Jesus Is the Answer Ministry, one of more than 100 Christian ministries across the country that seek to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. On her Web site, Harley describes herself as "the manifestation of Christ Jesus' truth on homosexuality (2 Corinthians 4:2) which describes same sex attraction disorder (S.S.A.D.D)." She hosts a local cable TV show, "God's Will and Grace," in Washington, and meetings for Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers Ministries, two programs that help gays and lesbians get straight with God.

On a recent Wednesday night, Harley is sitting behind a desk in a barren community center, located across the street from the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington. She is not supposed to host the Overcomers Ministries meeting that night, but given that the regular leader is late for some reason, she will take charge. The only people in the audience are me and a young, soft-spoken African-American man, a student at a local university. He is toting a tattered Bible and a book bag. The regular leader never does show. We pray for him later.Getting Straight With God

This is the story of the Rev. J. Grace Harley as she tells it, a human interest story presented without much comment by author Mark Benjamin. Rev. Grace had lived as a man for many years, even got married as a man, and now she has traded in her sexual appetites for spiritual ones.
Earlier this summer, I interviewed six gay men who had spent months or years in what is called "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, programs run mostly by Christian conservatives that allegedly help homosexuals become heterosexuals. Each of the men, trapped between their religious beliefs and sexual orientation, told me reparative therapy had only made them depressed. All of them recovered by coming out of the closet. Still, the religious right claims that efforts to change gays stem from "compassion, not bigotry," according to the Family Research Council. I decided to see for myself. I told Harley I was gay, although I am straight and married. I used a fake name.

We have already seen that reparative therapy is not receognized by any mental health, psychology, or psychiatric organizations. The premise would be that homosexuality is an illness, and all these professional groups have decided it's not. It's kind of a rare thing, statistically speaking, but it doesn't seem to affect the ability of a person to function, they just prefer partners of their own sex. You don't really need a cure for that, do you?

It sounds like this reporter has found that gay people do better accepting their feelings than trying to change them.
The good reverend tells us the best way to overcome our own homosexuality is to imagine Jesus as a gay man. "The love and the passion that you feel for another of the same sex, try to see Jesus and try to give him that same passion and love and desire," she says. "He can handle it. He takes it, and he will rework it and give you the deepest, greatest love affair." She whispers: "Jesus is a man. What if he were a gay man and he desired you, and he wanted your body totally for himself? Whoa! What if?"

Jesus appeared to Harley at a church service, she says, sparking her healing process. She credits her relationship with God as the bedrock of her recovery. But the end of the world is coming, she says, when we must face God. "These are end times and it is up to us to get it together," Grace tells us, heating up like a Baptist preacher. "We are going to stand one-on-one naked before God. How is he going to judge us for the actions of our bodies, which is his dwelling place? Every time we go down into the filth, we take Jesus with us!"

Harley cools down. Politically correct people do not understand that gay people "taint" others around them, she says, and so gays should be barred from the Boy Scouts of America. "Birds of a feather flock together," Harley tells us. "It's not in the Bible, but it's true. You can't have a homosexual buddy and think you are going to be buddy-buddy and nothing [will get] off on you. You will become tainted and corrupted. Why do you think they have commercials on television? If you watch any commercial on television long enough, you are going to buy the product even if you don't like it. It is just in you, and that is what the spirit of homosexuality is about -- it's just in you."

If somebody is unhappy with the way they're living, I say: let them find a better way. If a guy is gay and he's not happy with that -- maybe he's not as gay as he thinks he is, or maybe he can't handle the social pressure, whatever, I say: try something else.

It sounds like Reverend Grace offers help to those who choose to change. They come to her. They bring their own Bibles. Nobody has any problem with that, as far as I know.

Her own story is one that intertwines out-of-control sexual promiscuity and craving with lots of drugs. especially cocaine. It sounds like a way of life that it was wise to get out of, and she did it through the church. She found what she needed, and that's good. It is difficult to hold it against her when she quotes nonexistent character disorders and weird theories about how people got the way they are -- she's just somebody trying to keep their head above water, and you hope she succeeds.

There is an insidious movement brewing among organizations like Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, big-bucks religious organizations, to try to pretend that "ex-gays" are being discriminated against, and that "ex-gays" are some kind of real thing that needs to be treated as a special class of people. They are using this fake concept to blast educational institutions, as we've seen here in Montgomery County, and as we will continue to see. Somebody like Reverend Grace would be better described as an "ex-mess" than anything else -- her life was one big stinkin' mess and she pulled it back from going over the edge. Being gay had nothing to do with it.

These radical-right groups use the concept of "ex-gays" to undermine tolerance for homosexuality, and to keep alive the idea that there's something wrong with gay people. Despite what she says, Rev. Grace's problem was not that she was gay. She was married, and was cheating on her wife, and was freebasing cocaine and smoking crack, and nearly overdosed once in a room with her extramarital girlfriend. The intelligent person realizes that this is not the way to live, and changes. But being gay had nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Salon.com: A Great Series on "Ex-Gays"

We have seen in their emails that the CRC's next big goal is to get the MCPS sex-education curriculum to include sections on "ex-gays." Does that seem a little off the wall to you? Yeah, me too. It turns out that the "ex-gay" angle is the biggest hook now for the religious right to hang their anti-gay bigotry on.

This week, the online magazine Salon.com is doing a big, four-part series on the "ex-gay" phenomenon. So far the first two installments are on the web, and it is really outstanding. It starts out with a little dose of deja vu:
July 18, 2005 | Last month, the Montgomery County Board of Education in suburban Maryland settled a lawsuit over sex education in the county's public schools, brought in part by PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays). The group is a branch of a national network of "ministries" that claim homosexuality is a chosen and dangerous lifestyle, and that through "reparative therapy" a gay person can be turned straight -- into an "ex-gay."

PFOX won a restraining order in May and successfully halted the county's new sex ed curriculum, intended, among other things, to promote tolerance toward gays by treating homosexuality as natural and benign. A judge concluded the school curriculum did exclude other views on homosexuality -- namely, those of PFOX. Under the settlement last month, the county agreed to pay $36,000 of PFOX's legal expenses. The group also gets a seat at the table in drafting a new sex ed curriculum for county schools.

With homosexuality and gay marriage at the vortex of the culture wars, religious conservatives say the victory in Montgomery County will be the shot heard around the world. "This has national significance because Montgomery County is a wealthy, influential school district and the lid has been ripped off an agenda that has crept into schools nationwide," declared Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America.

"We are going to march across the country and we are going to help parents organize in every county," says Richard Cohen, president of PFOX. "We want parents to check out the curriculum in every place where sex ed is being taught, and if they are advocating homosexuality without any other diverse views being offered to the children, we will help them with a legal defense."

(This should give you a clue as to why TeachTheFacts.org's mission is so critical.)
Cohen says he will press Montgomery County to teach that homosexuality is an unhealthy lifestyle that can be fixed. "With respect to the risks of homosexual behavior, that would be fair," he says. A PFOX pamphlet states that homosexuality is a "developmental process not genetically determined" and can be treated with therapy. It notes that gay sex results in surging AIDS rates, drug abuse, "gay bowel syndrome," psychological problems and violence.

The pamphlet insinuates that men having sex with men is what causes AIDS. It fails to mention that HIV can be transmitted through either heterosexual or homosexual contact. It does not acknowledge that of the 50 million people currently living with HIV -- 3 million of whom die annually -- nearly half are women. Nor does it point out that officials worldwide are most alarmed by the rise in AIDS among girls and that AIDS rates among homosexual men in the United States have fallen 27 percent since 1990.

Despite the Maryland settlement, PFOX's claims about homosexuality are, according to virtually all mental health professions, wrong, bizarre and potentially dangerous. "I can give you a short answer of where reparative therapy fits in with the modern mental health profession: It does not," says Dr. Douglas Haldeman, president of the Association of Practicing Psychologists, a group affiliated with the American Psychological Association. "These theories have been discredited for years."

Look, it is tempting to quote this whole article, but there's just too much here.

I've never registered to read Salon, but I did today. It's a little tricky to figure out how to get a single-day site pass, but it only takes a few minutes, and you can read these two articles after you watch a short ad. The pass is good, they say, for one to eight hours.

In the second installment a straight guy goes to a therapist named Barry Levy in Rockville, claiming to be gay and wanting to change (somebody tell me, how did all this stuff end up in Montgomery County?). This therapist was recommended by Focus on the Family. The writer, Mark Benjamin, gets the whole skinny on reparative therapy.
Levy practices what is called "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, which allegedly helps homosexuals become heterosexuals. The theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder that needs to be cured is the moral underpinning of the Christian right's crusade against gay marriage, sodomy laws, gay adoption and sex ed curriculums in schools. While all major modern mental health professions say conversion therapy is baseless and potentially dangerous, I wanted to experience for myself what is going on behind counselors' closed doors.
...
According to the Bible, Levy says, homosexuality "is not consistent with the manufacturer's desire. It is not what the body is for. It is not what procreation is for. It is not what life energy is for. I am going to draw you out of that because the people around you are into that." To receive God in his holiness, Levy tells me, to experience the ultimate happiness for which God created men and women, a person needs to overcome any homosexual feelings.

Homosexuality, Levy asserts, is a mental disorder, a certifiable neurosis. "The psychoanalytic perspective has always considered homosexuality and same-sex attraction to be a neurosis. They still do and they still treat it." (In fact, mental health associations do not consider homosexuality a neurosis and do not "treat" patients for it. Dr. Douglas Haldeman, president of the Association of Practicing Psychologists, a group affiliated with the American Psychological Association, says it is wrong to identify homosexuality as a neurosis. "There is no scientific evidence of that, and there is no mainstream mental health organization or profession that supports this ancient, discredited theory," he says.)

Levy informs me that homosexuality is difficult to treat because it is about more than sexuality -- it is about a way of life. "I want to make a distinction between same-sex attraction and being gay," he says. "That is a whole ideology. It is a lifestyle. It becomes the locus, or organizing principle, of the identity of the human personality." Reparative therapy focuses on getting gays and lesbians to stop talking or walking "gay." One "ex-gay" program in Memphis, Tenn., Refuge, bars men from wearing jewelry, donning Calvin Klein clothes and listening to secular music.

Well, there's just too much.

If you're concerned about what is happening here in Montgomery County, if you're trying to understand who it is that wants to hijack your kids' education, and what it is they want, you need to read this series of articles. It is very informative and well-written. Registering at Salon doesn't seem to be any big deal -- this is worth it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

NYT: Zach, and Reparative Therapy

The following was submitted to the Vigilance blog by David Fishback, former chair of the MCPS citizens advisory committee.
For those interested in seeing what CRC/PFOX wish to include in the MCPS Health Education Curriculum, take a look at this article from Sunday's New York Times: "Gay Teenager Stirs a Storm: Blogger rejects a fundamentalist 'cure'". http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/17/fashion/sundaystyles/17ZACH.html?
(The subtitle is in the print edition only.)

It is a pretty comprehensive discussion of the Zach story, related earlier on the Teach the Facts Vigilance Blog at http://www.teachthefacts.org/2005/06/tennessee-investigates-zachs-camp.html. Note in particular the following excerpt, discussing programs like "Love In Action," to whose camp Zach was sent:
"Critics of programs that seek to change sexual orientation say the programs themselves can open a person to lifelong problems, including guilt, shame and even suicidal impulses. The stakes are higher for adolescents, who are already wrestling with deep questions of identity and sexuality, mental-health experts say.

"'Their identities are still in flux,' said Dr. Jack Drescher, the chairman of the committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues of the American Psychiatric Association, which in 2000 formally rejected regimens like reparative or conversion therapy as scientifically unproven. 'One serious risk for the parent to consider is that most of the people who undergo these treatments don't change. That means that most people who go through these experiences often come out feeling worse than when they went in.'"


The dangers of these programs are what led the American Medical Association to state that it "opposes the use of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation" (AMA Policy Number H-160.001). http://www.ama-assn.org/apps/pf_new/pf_online?f_n=browse&doc=policyfiles/HnE/H-160.991.HTM

CRC/PFOX and their backers -- Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel and James Dobson's Focus on the Family -- wish to include this reparative therapy approach in our Health Education Curriculum, notwithstanding the opposition of the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and every other mainstream American medical and mental health professional association. The actual revised curriculum that would have been piloted last spring, but for the CRC/PFOX litigation ambush, made no mention of reparative therapy (the warnings were included in some teacher resources, like that from the American Psychological Association). Perhaps the curriculum now being developed by Dr. Weast should include the AMA's warning in what is presented to the students.

Here is the full text of the NY Times article:
Gay Teenager Stirs a Storm

By ALEX WILLIAMS
MEMPHIS

IT was the sort of confession that a decade ago might have been scribbled in a teenager's diary, then quietly tucked away in a drawer: "Somewhat recently," wrote a boy who identified himself only as Zach, 16, from Tennessee, on his personal Web page, "I told my parents I was gay." He noted, "This didn't go over very well," and "They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they 'raised me wrong.' "

But what grabbed the attention of Zach's friends and subsequently of both gay activists and fundamentalist Christians around the world who came across the entry, made on May 29, was not the intimacy of the confession. Teenagers have been outing themselves online for years, and many of Zach's friends already knew he was gay. It was another sentence in the Web log: "Today, my mother, father and I had a very long 'talk' in my room, where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist Christian program for gays."

"It's like boot camp," Zach added in a dispatch the next day. "If I do come out straight, I'll be so mentally unstable and depressed it won't matter."

The camp in question, Refuge, is a youth program of Love in Action International, a group in Memphis that runs a religion-based program intended to change the sexual orientation of gay men and women. Often called reparative or conversion therapy, such programs took hold in fundamentalist Christian circles in the 1970's, when mainstream psychiatric organizations overturned previous designations of homosexuality as a mental disorder, and gained ground rapidly from the late 90's. Programs like Love in Action have always been controversial, but Zach's blog entries have brought wide attention to a less-known aspect of them, their application to teenagers.

Although Zach wrote only a handful of entries about the Refuge program, all posted before he arrived there in the Memphis suburbs on June 6, his words have been forwarded on the Internet over and over, inspiring online debates, news articles, sidewalk protests and an investigation into Love in Action by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services in response to a child abuse allegation. The investigation was dropped when the allegation proved unfounded, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

To some, Zach, whose family name is not disclosed on his blog and has not appeared in news accounts, is the embodiment of gay adolescent vulnerability, pulled away from friends who accepted him by adults who do not. To others he is a boy whose confused and formative sexual identity is being exploited by gay political activists.

In his last blog entry before beginning the program, at 2:33 a.m. on June 4, Zach wrote, "I pray this blows over," adding that if his parents caught him online he'd be in trouble. He described arguments he had been having with his parents, his mother in particular. "I can't take this," his post reads. "No one can. I'm not a suicidal person. I think it's stupid, really. But I can't help it - no I'm not going to commit suicide - all I can think about is killing my mother and myself. It's so horrible."

The Rev. John J. Smid, the executive director of Love in Action, declined to discuss the details of Zach's experience, citing the program's confidentiality rules. In an interview early this month at his headquarters, a weathered 1960's A-frame building, which was until recently a vacant Episcopal Church, Mr. Smid explained that teenage participants in Refuge are forbidden to speak with anyone the program does not approve of. Requests made through Mr. Smid to interview Zach's parents were declined.

Founded in California in 1973, Love in Action moved to Memphis 11 years ago. It is one of 120 programs nationwide listed by Exodus International, which bills itself as the largest information and referral network for what is known among fundamentalist Christians as the "ex-gay" movement. In 2003 Love in Action introduced the first structured program specifically for teenagers, 24 of whom have participated, Mr. Smid said. The initial two weeks costs $2,000, and many participants stay six weeks more, as Zach has.

The goal of the program, said Mr. Smid, who said he was once gay but now renounces homosexual behavior, is not necessarily to turn gays into practicing heterosexuals, but to "put guardrails" on their sexual impulses.

"In my life I've been out of homosexuality for over 20 years, and for me it's really a nonissue," Mr. Smid said.

"I may see a man and say, he's handsome, he's attractive, and it might touch a part of me that is different from someone else," he said. "But it's really not an issue. Gosh, I've been married for 16 years and faithful in my marriage in every respect. I mean I don't think I could white-knuckle this ride for that long."

Mr. Smid first learned that one of his teenage participants was a cause célèbre when protesters appeared outside his headquarters for several days in early June, carrying signs saying, "This is child abuse" and "Jesus is no excuse for hate."

He was bombarded by phone calls from reporters, he said, as well as by 100 e-mail messages a day from as far as Norway. Zach's writings, which appeared on his page on www.MySpace.com, were publicized by one of his online acquaintances, E. J. Friedman, a Memphis musician and writer, who read Zach's May 29 blog entry, "The World Coming to an Abrupt - Stop."

Mr. Friedman, 35, was disturbed by what he read and fired off an instant message. "I said: 'You should run away from home. There are people who will help you,' " Mr. Friedman recalled. "He said: 'I can't do that. I want to have my childhood. If this is what I have to go through to have it, then I will.' "

Mr. Friedman posted an angry message about Zach's impending stay at Refuge on his own blog. Mr. Friedman's friends picked up on the story and started spreading it on blogs of their own. Soon a local filmmaker, Morgan Jon Fox, who had met Zach through mutual acquaintances, joined with others to start a group called Queer Action Coalition, which organized the protests at Love in Action.

"We wanted to show support," said Mr. Fox, 26, who directed a fictional film about gay teenagers in 2003, shot at White Station High School in Memphis, where Zach is a student. "Then it kind of blew up."

Links to Zach's site bounced around the country. Mr. Friedman's Web page had so much traffic, "it blew my bandwidth," he said. Mr. Smid, too, was inundated with Internet traffic, much of it outraged at the attempts to change Zach's sexual orientation.

"All of a sudden, 80,000 Internet hits later on our Web site, the world has decided that he should be freed," Mr. Smid said. "Maybe he didn't ask for this. Maybe he doesn't really have the personality that really is going to be able to deal with this. And they talk about our 'abuse' of him."

The program at Love in Action has parallels to 12-step recovery programs. Participants, referred to as clients, study the Bible, meet with counselors and keep a "moral inventory," a journal in which they detail their struggle with same-sex temptation over the years, which they read at emotionally raw group meetings, former clients say.

Excessive jewelry or stylish clothing from labels like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger are forbidden, and so is watching television, listening to secular music (even Bach) and reading unapproved books or magazines.

"It's like checking into prison," said Brandon Tidwell, 29, who completed the adult program in 2002 but eventually rejected its teachings, reconciling his Christian beliefs with being gay.

Physical contact among clients other than a handshake is forbidden, and so is "campy" talk or behavior, according to program rules that Zach posted on his blog before he began at Refuge. Occasionally, recalled Jeff Harwood, 41, a Love in Action graduate who still considers himself gay, some participants would mock the mandatory football games.

"You could get away with maybe one limp-wristed pass before another client would catch you," he said, seated on a tattered sofa in a funky cafe called Java Cabana in the trendy midtown district of Memphis.

Because teenagers, unlike adult clients, return home at night, parents are asked to help keep them away from television and, more important, a computer. Zach has not updated his blog since entering the program.

For Mr. Smid and his supporters, offering Love in Action to teenagers is vital to combat what they see as a growing tolerance of homosexuality among young people. "We just really believe that the resounding message for teenagers in our culture is, practice whatever you want, have sex however, whenever and with whoever you want," he said. "I very deeply believe that is harmful. I think exploring sexuality can lay a teenager up for numerous lifelong issues."

Critics of programs that seek to change sexual orientation say the programs themselves can open a person to lifelong problems, including guilt, shame and even suicidal impulses. The stakes are higher for adolescents, who are already wrestling with deep questions of identity and sexuality, mental-health experts say.

"Their identities are still in flux," said Dr. Jack Drescher, the chairman of the committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues of the American Psychiatric Association, which in 2000 formally rejected regimens like reparative or conversion therapy as scientifically unproven. "One serious risk for the parent to consider is that most of the people who undergo these treatments don't change. That means that most people who go through these experiences often come out feeling worse than when they went in."

Two weeks ago the Tennessee Department of Health sent a letter to Love in Action, saying it was suspected of offering therapeutic services for which it was not licensed, a department spokeswoman said. Mr. Smid insisted in the interview that his program is a spiritual, not a counseling, center, and he is removing references to therapy from its Web site.

He said he does not track his success rate. Mr. Harwood, who graduated from the adult program in 1999, said that of 11 fellow former clients he has kept track of, eight once again consider themselves gay.

Although critics say such programs threaten the adolescent psyche, at least one teenager who considers himself a successful graduate does not agree. "In my experience people who struggle with their sexuality are more mature in general," Ben Marshall, 18, said. He recounted being in turmoil, growing up gay in a conservative Christian household in Mobile, Ala.

In 2004 his parents sent him to Refuge. "I went to Memphis kicking and screaming," he said. "I had grown to hate the church for the militant message it gave off toward homosexuality."

While enrolled he spent days listening to stories of the pain that homosexuality had caused clients and their families. Slowly, he said, his attitude changed. He ended up choosing to continue in Love in Action's adult program for nine months. While the program has a "high rate of failure," he said "there are enough successes to know I'm not alone."

But even success comes only through continuing struggle. Although he plans to date women in the future, Mr. Marshall said, he is avoiding any romantic relationships for the time being. "In all honesty, I'm just trying to figure out how to deal normally with men before I start to deal with women," he said.

Zach's parents did not reply to a request for comment for this article left on their answering machine. Last week his father, speaking to the Christian Broadcasting Network, said: "We felt good about Zach coming here. To let him see for himself the destructive lifestyle, what he has to face in the future."

In Zach's case there is no indication he was particularly upset about his sexual identity. Although his high school is in a Bible belt city, the student body is fairly tolerant of homosexual classmates, some students said, particularly those who, like Zach, are not conspicuous about their orientation.

"Stereotype me, if you dare," was the motto Zach chose for his blog, where he listed "Edward Scissorhands" and "Girl, Interrupted" as his favorite movies and Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of the alternative rock band the Killers, as the person he would most like to meet.

While Zach, as his blog recounted, only recently came out to his parents, many of his friends had known he was gay for more than a year, one classmate said. Zach openly identified himself as gay on his blog, which links to 213 friends' blogs listed in a Friend Space box on the site.

Zach is due to leave the program next week. His June 4 message expressed thanks for the more than 1,700 messages on his page, many voicing support. "Don't worry," he wrote. "I'll get through this. They've promised me things will get better, whether this program does anything or not. Let's hope they're not lying."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A Little Weekend Funny

I don't know where this came from originally. I got it, referenced as coming from a newsletter of some sort, and written by a person named Alex Elliott. Alex, wherever you are, this is great, and I hope you don't mind me reproducing it here. This was just too good, too fun.

We remember that Robert Knight, who's mentioned in this piece, was one of the speakers at the CRC's March town hall meeting. Those people like to accuse the Montgomery County School Board of promoting the "gay agenda." As a CRC inner-core member put it in the discussions that were sent to us:
Lets not forget that this "quasi" elected board, immediately after the nationwide election which trounced the homosexual agenda, instituted a profoundly pro-gay curriculum.

So it is fun to hear how this guy views the latest nutiness from Focus on the Family.

... is that how you spell it? Nutiness? Nuttiness? Oh, never mind ... Here's Alex:
So here's the latest painfully earnest alarum from our friends at Focus on the HomosFamily:

http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/a0037164.cfm
Johnson & Johnson will be advertising its brand, Tylenol PM, in the July 19 issue of The Advocate, a leading gay magazine.

The ad shows two shirtless men in bed side by side. The text over one reads: 'His backache is keeping him up.' Over the other: 'His boyfriend's backache is keeping him up.'

Johnson & Johnson has been advertising in gay media since 1996. Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, said people need to take notice.

'A lot of corporate America has bought into the idea that they can secretly promote homosexuality without their consumers noticing out there,' he said.

Personally, I would think that this ad promotes the purchase and consumption of Tylenol PM, not homosexuality. And it's in a gay magazine - read almost exclusively by people who are already pretty much sold on the whole homosexuality thing (plus the Good and Vigilant people at FotF, of course, who seem unable to tear their eyes away from such filth).

I guess we're supposed to imagine that little Jimmy Towhead will innocently pick this magazine up off the newsstand, skip over the numerous articles about homosexuality and photographs of dozens and dozens of actual homosexuals with no ill effect, see this ad, and say, Gosh - homosexuals get backaches. I want to be homosexual so I can get backaches too! and bam! he's caught The Gay.

That's not the funniest part though. This is the funniest part:
Mike Haley, director of the gender issues department at Focus on the Family, said the gay and lesbian community has a lot of expendable income, so they are targeting big corporations who are caving to their pressure.

Apparently the FotF people live in some fantasy world where the Johnson & Johnson executives are all like, We don't want to make any profit if it comes from homosexuals, and the Evil Gay Millionaires are all like, No, you must advertise to us! Cave to our pressure! and the J&J execs are totally like, No! Gay profit bad! Money bad! and the EGMs are like, Bwahahah! You must sell us Tylenol PM or we will destroy you in some mysterious way unspecified by Focus on the Family!! and the execs are all, Oh no, we submit! We are forced to make money and delight our shareholders against our will! Woe is us!!

Or something like that. Morons.

Alex.

Uh, Alex, we don't call them "morons." They seem to get offended if you even call them "nuts." Like you, we often finding ourselves wondering -- just what in the world are those people thinking???

Friday, July 15, 2005

Summer In Waco: Fightin' Time

Down in Waco, Texas, the nuts are up in arms about a private sex-education class that hundreds of kids go to -- they say 8,000 students have taken these classes so far. There are several disturbing dimensions to this story. From the Waco Tribune-Herald:
The Waco Convention Center is an unlikely battleground for the nation's culture wars, but the lines are drawn every summer at the onset of the local Planned Parenthood's sexual education program for youths.

About 400 youngsters on Wednesday converged inside the center for Nobody's Fool, a half-day seminar that touched on various subjects including anatomy, peer pressure and contraceptives. Outside, about 35 protesters from Pro-Life Waco gathered to question the reliability and the propriety of the curriculum.

"Comprehensive sex education without customary moral guidance does irreparable harm to them," said Barbara Myers, co-director of Pro-Life Waco.

Myers and other protesters said abstinence is the sole "foolproof" solution to curb teenage pregnancy and the growing transmission rates of sexually transmitted disease among the young. Sex ed program again draws protests

OK, disturbing thing Number One. We have seen our critics complain about abortion-rights groups such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood getting involved in the sex-ed controversay, as if there was something suspicious about their interest in it. Like THIS (where CRC tries to imply that TeachTheFacts is aligned with a bunch of abortion-rights groups): ... the only agenda is the one that the pro abortion groups want to instill in every young teenager -- that sex for kids is ok, in fact its to be encouraged and that for backup -- after that condom fails ... the abortion and STD clinics at Planned Parenthood are right down the street.

So what do you think of anti-abortion groups getting involved in the sex-ed controversy? Is that OK with everybody? All right.

Disturbing Thing Number Two. This Barbara Myers, we assume her children are not attending the class, doesn't that seem like a safe bet? So I'm wondering, why does she care if other people's kids get "comprehensive sex education without customary moral guidance?" Is she afraid that the kids who take the class are going to go out and sexually abuse her children? That's the closest thing I can think of to a rational explanation for her involvement in this. See, she is not complaining that her kids are being forced to do something that she doesn't approve of; she's mad because other people's kids are doing something she doesn't approve of.

And as for that word "foolproof": isn't there a kind of pun in there somewhere? Oh, never mind what it proves...

In the next paragraph we find out why Mrs. Myers and the other straightlaced citizens of Waco are takin' it to the streets:
Anti-abortion groups have greeted the annual gathering since 1994, the year when Planned Parenthood of Central Texas began offering abortions at its Waco clinic. While most voiced complaints about the comprehensive sex education course, a few also decried Planned Parenthood's roles in abortions and providing emergency contraception.

Pam Smallwood, Planned Parenthood of Central Texas' executive director, said the purpose of Nobody's Fool is to offer age-appropriate information so that teens can make better decisions. More controversial topics, such as homosexuality and contraception, are reserved for the older students. Nobody's Fool targets fifth through ninth graders.

Contrary to what some critics say, children are not taught how to give oral sex and props are not used to demonstrate condom use, she said.

Nobody's Fool is best described as an "abstinence-plus" program. While it encourages teens to postpone sex, it also tells teens to be sensible and use caution if and when they do become sexually active.

Ah, now we see. This is just a regular sex-ed class. I'm guessing that schools in Waco offer the abstinence-only plan (yes, this is confirmed later in the story). So parents who actually want their kids to learn something have to send them to a special class.

And the problem is that it's given by Planned Parenthood. And because that organization also offers abortions, the "pro-life" group is going to picket the sex-ed class.

Class, we have been studying how these people think. And the association thing is very important. If Item A can be spoken anywhere in the same sentence with Item B, then all the qualities of Item A can be transferred to B. So if Planned Parenthood puts on the class, it must be terrible, immoral, evil. Like, it must teach kids how to practice oral sex. That only makes sense, right?
"Kids who are given medically accurate information are much better decision makers," Smallwood said. "Kids for whom information is withheld are those who turn to information from their peers and we know that's not the best source of information."

Pro-Life Waco invited Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life Coalition, to speak Wednesday. That organization fought in 2004 to introduce state high school health textbooks that had no references to contraceptives or the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases except through abstinence.

Wright said she doubted Wednesday's Nobody's Fool course would mention the failure rates of condoms, especially in protecting against the human papillomavirus, or HPV. That virus causes common and genital warts. Certain strains are known to cause cervical cancer.

Given that condoms may not protect against HPV infection, which can be hard to detect, Wright said it's irresponsible to not teach abstinence.

"Telling our kids anything else ... is not only foolish, it's criminal," she said.

Well, this is all familiar. "No references to contraceptives or the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases except through abstinence." The perfect sex education class. To somebody.

It's interesting that they're hanging their argument on the HPV issue. Condoms don't prevent HPV -- human papillomavirus -- for a good reason. The condom creates a barrier between the penis and the external world. HPV cannot get through the rubber, so in that sense it does stop the virus. But HPV is not just a sexually transmitted disease. It can be spread by any kind of contact, not just through sex. Some studies have shown that as many as a third of grade-school children have HPV in their systems -- it is simply not an STD. It's very common, and it is spread in countless ways, not just by sex.

I was led to this story by a blogger who commented that "this is the way to write a story about sex-education." And he was right, this is a well-done story. There's quite a bit more, you oughta click on the link and go read it.

See, we're not the only ones who have to deal with these things.

Three Letters

People email us here at TeachTheFacts.org rather regularly. There are times, for instance after the NPR story aired, when we are inundated with people who just love us and want to send us money. Then there are times, when the rightwing sites pick up the story and present us as demons, when we get a lot of hate mail, usually religious in nature, and usually not very well spelled. We get notified when someone signs our online petitions, and lately those have been ticking along like clockwork, every day there are new signatures.

Recently we received three letters I thought I'd write about.

RSS
The first letter was from a guy who complained that he couldn't get the RSS feed for this site. If you don't know what that is, don't worry. I use an RSS aggregator (SharpReader), and it helps me get through hundreds of web sites in a few minutes, to see what's new, what people are talking about, to keep track of changes in the culture wars. Anyway, it has bothered me since we started this site, that we couldn't make the RSS feed work right.

Now you will notice on the top right side of this page, a link that says "Syndicate this site (XML)." Yes, I am proud to say, with some help from a stranger out there on the Internet (here's his web page: Welcome to America), I was able to get it working. Now I'm happy.

CRC Plotting
The second thing. A guy with an email address that looks like random letters writes us and says:
Hi,

I don't even live in your state but I found your site through a series of links while researching. With reference to the CRC, I thought you might be interested in another page I found in Google's cache during my search. It appears to be from a now removed forum from January 2005. If you are already aware of this content, then please disregard.

Good luck in your efforts.

And he posts a link.

Wow. What a gold mine. He gives us a whole online discussion among the CRC's inner circle, hundreds of messages from January and February. I haven't read it all -- there's just too much, but you can see them plotting their lawsuit -- this is way back in January, remember how it was a "last resort?" You can see them complaining about me and this blog: as our Spanish-speaking friend writes: "jejeje."

Why, looky here. On January 18th, you have John Garza writing:
The lawfirm that just whipped the BOE due to its unconstitutional conduct against the young men of the "Good News Club" has agreed to help us in our case. We a putting together quite a team of lawyers. If you know of any kids who have been discriminated against for their viewpoint, or religious beliefs please let me know. The BOE has a poor batting record in Court trying to defend its actions...

A quick Google search reveals that Liberty Counsel represented the Good News Club in some lawsuits. So here we are, all the way back in the middle of January, conspiring with those out-of-town lawyers to sue the school district. The suit was filed in May, and they were s-o-o-o sorry it had to come to this, they really didn't want to, it was simply a last resort.

Liars.

Ooh, it's fun to search for mentions of teachthefacts -- isn't that terrible? It's like Googling your own name. But, man, it does appear that we were getting under their skin -- jejeje.

We will have many hours of entertainment reading this stuff. I'll report to you occasionally, I'm sure, some of the nuggets that can be found on the Internet.

Thanks, whoever-you-are, for sending us that link.

Are We Too Hard on People?
The third letter we got was from a nice lady who agrees with our position and wishes that we (I) were nicer about it. She said she is concerned about the tone of our blog postings. I replied to her, but I think a public statement is in order. This is a fairly difficult concept to convey, and I will probably be misunderstood, but let me give it a try.

Here in Montgomery County, Maryland, the school district proposed a new sex-ed curriculum. It talked about sexual orientation, and some people -- very, very few -- decided to pretend it was an affront to their values. The Presidential elections were being interpreted as a mandate for the religious right, and some of them made a move to capture the MCPS sex-ed curriculum.

These people started whining that it promoted homosexuality. They made up stuff about how it forced children to "declare their sexual identity at an early age." They said it discriminated against "ex-gays." They said it encouraged sexual behavior in young people. It undermined their religious values. Blah blah blah.

The people who started TeachTheFacts.org were not looking for an activist cause, we were just some parents who started seeing postings on the high-school message board and grew concerned. Myself, I would rather goof around with the computer or play catch with the kids than do this. But somebody had to stop these lunatics.

Here's the tough part. Look, the problem was not that the curriculum encouraged kids to turn gay, or that it instructed them in anal sex, or that it taught students that Baptists were intolerant. Those allegations were absurd, and anybody could see they were absurd -- the 8th and 10th grade curriculum outlines are linked on the righthand side of this page, you can see for yourself. Nobody in their right mind would really believe any of that stuff.

The problem was that a bunch of nuts were trying to gain control of what the school district would teach our kids.

This web site is not here just to make sure that kids in our county learn about sexual orientation in class. It's not really here to defend the curriculum, which was just fine, a health class, nothing you'd drop everything to go defend. I mean, of course, we address the issues that come up. This is all interesting, this stuff about gay people and condoms and everything, the culture wars and all that. But we wouldn't be here if there was just a new curriculum, any more than web sites spring up when there's a new math curriculum, or a new textbook in a biology class, or a new teacher is hired.

We are here to stand up for common sense, which is under attack in an otherwise sensible county. The MCPS school board is not promoting any "gay agenda." The MCPS school board does not want teenagers to become sexually promiscuous. The school board does not want to cause an epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases. The school board has no intention of discriminating against "ex-gays" or any other kind of ex-people. These are silly accusations, and nobody believes them. They are a distraction, and are not "the issue" at all.

And the only way that I can think of to fight this is to take it head-on. Sometimes here at the blog we post research results and statistics showing that the curriculum was in fact correct about things. But sometimes we have to take the crazy things that the anti-curriculum squeaky-wheels are saying, and deconstruct them a little bit. Take 'em apart. Show exactly how the reasoning fails. It's not a personal thing, really, members of our group are friends with members of theirs. Parents from both side work together on extracurricular school activities (in those few cases where CRC members have kids in the public schools), and everybody gets along. I know, it gets a little ugly sometimes when you have to show how somebody's logic is simply wishful thinking. But it has to be done. You cannot treat this sort of thing with the same respect you would give to someone who is at least trying to make sense.

I'm sorry if it gets harsh sometimes, but we are going to stand up for common sense here, and that means refuting the irrationality, and you can't do that without mentioning the person who made the statement. It's nothing personal.

Thanks to all of you who write us and sign our petitions.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rep. Waxman Questions Misleading Federal Web Site

A few months ago, we at TeachTheFacts.org, along with hundreds of other organizations, signed a letter protesting a website that had been put up by the federal government, ostensibly to help parents talk to their children about sex. Unfortunately, as seems to be the trend these days, the web site contained more ideology than facts, and a number of us were displeased with it.

California congressment Henry Waxman is now speaking up about it. From the Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- A government website created to help parents counsel their teenagers about risky health behaviors provides "inaccurate and misleading" information about condoms, sexual orientation, and other issues, a Democratic congressman charged yesterday.

The website, www.4parents.gov, promotes sexual abstinence until young people enter into a "mutually faithful marriage to an uninfected partner" as the "healthiest choice."

But it could become another source of contention in a health ethics debate that includes issues such as stem cell research and end-of-life care, pitting social conservatives and some doctors against liberals and many in the medical establishment.

The website should be removed from the Internet and a team of specialists assigned to evaluate the accuracy of its contents, Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, urged Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt in a letter sent yesterday.

"The content appears to have been guided by ideology, not a commitment to providing parents and teens reliable information about sex," Waxman wrote. "A federally funded website should present the facts as they are, not as you might wish them to be." US teen health site is 'misleading' on sex, congressman says

Mmm, I just checked our membership list, and I don't see any Henry Waxman on it. So I guess he's not getting this stuff from TeachTheFacts. Sounds like it, though.
Much of the work on the website was done by the National Physicians Center for Family Resources, an educational and advocacy group that promotes sexual abstinence for teens.

"The website was intended to emphasize the healthiest lifestyle choice, and [President Bush] says that he believes abstinence is the healthiest choice for adolescents," said Dianna Lightfoot, the nonprofit organization's president.

Department spokesman Daniel Morales said officials had not reviewed Waxman's letter and could not comment on his objections.

Waxman asked four specialists to independently review the site. Although three noted positive aspects, all found problems in accuracy, balance, and completeness.

We sometimes see our fight in local terms, us against the CRC to influence our little Blue county's two 45-minute classes on sexual variation. But, man, this is a big one. People at the very highest levels of our society want to promote ignorance across the boards, and they have the wherewithal to do it.

I may be overly cynical, but it seems to me that an ignorant population is easier to manipulate, easier to control, so those who crave power can attain and maintain it more easily. A skeptical, critical, intelligent population is going to question things, is going to check the facts, and is going to question its leaders when they act without explaining themselves. This may be a nuisance, but it seems to me that freedom depends on it. It is our duty to ensure that we and our neighbors are correctly informed -- it is more than a matter of satisfying our curiosity, it is necessary to preserve our liberty. Support Waxman in this.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Yet Another Petty Assault on Reason

The Washington Times today published a letter by Ellen Castellano, one of the founders of the group that hoped to recall the school board, and until recently an officer, I believe, in the CRC, who have campaigned to stop changes to the MCPS sex-ed curriculum.

Ms. Castellano is complaining because the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a sensible statement in support of sex education that includes training in contraceptive use. As we just saw, even 86 percent of the people of Alabama, the ultimate Red State, support teaching about contraception -- it's not a crackpot idea but a mainstream one, everybody agrees it should be included.

Ah, but the CRC's Ms. Castellano sees these medical professionals as "caving in" to liberal interests who want to encourage children to engage in sexual activities.

Here, read this, then we'll talk about it:
Don't back away from teaching abstinence
As a registered nurse and mother of seven, I say, "Shame on the American Academy of Pediatrics for throwing in the towel when it comes to teen abstinence." Cheryl Wetzstein's article "Group changes tack on teen abstinence" (Nation, yesterday) is a sad notification that the AAP has caved in to the popular misconception that teenagers are unable to control their sexual drives and should be provided with everything necessary to pursue sexual activity.

Recommending emergency contraception before it has been thoroughly tested for teenagers is evidence of how deeply the academy members have drunk of the liberal philosophy poured out by groups such as the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, is all for the AAP move. His organization's "Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten Through 12th Grade" includes positive messages to children beginning at 5 years of age about masturbation, abortion and pornography.

Everything about these guidelines is to encourage sexual activity in our children. Doctors in the AAP surely don't understand the goals of the groups with which they have aligned and how recklessly they toss the aside the risks associated with sex in favor of promoting a variety of sexual pleasures to the young.

ELLEN CASTELLANO
Montgomery Village

Look at her logic:
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement
  • A monkety-monk at SIECUS is "all for it"
  • SIECUS has literature that teaches five-year-olds how to masturbate
  • Conclusion: pediatricians don't understand the goals of the liberal groups they are aligned with

As Charlie Brown used to say: Sigh.

You know, the SIECUS Guidelines document that Ms. Castellano rolls her eyes over is available on the web. You oughta go look at it: Guidelines for Comprehensive Sex Education. I'll warn you, it's pretty long -- 112 pages. But it appears to be a very well thought out set of guidelines, with a fully developed rationale, clearly explained, for what should be taught in a sex-ed curriculum and why. You may or may not agree with every word of it, but it is a serious endeavor, a serious attempt to put together a package that can help educators figure out how to teach students of various ages about the many facets of sexuality, as they are prepared to understand them.

By the way, I found this document by following a link from the National School Board Assocation. This is something respected in the education community, something ... mainstream. Just look at that document, look at all the work and clear thinking it represents, and then look at Ms. Castellano's dismissal of it as including "positive messages to children beginning at 5 years of age about masturbation, abortion and pornography."

To someone like this CRC spokesperson a statement by a respected medical organization can be refuted -- refuted, think about that -- simply by associating it with an organization that has produced a document that can be described in incriminating terms.

I sometimes describe our debate as a struggle to preserve common sense. More and more I have become convinced that the theme of our historical era is the assault on reason. I intend to write more fully about that later, but this is an example of what I'm talking about. This letter to the editor seeks to persuade without even trying to make a coherent argument. Its intention is to alter the reader's opinion by making some negative statements about one object (SIECUS' Guidelines document), and then trying to associate another object (AAP's policy statement) with the first one. Then somehow the negativity attributed to the first object is supposed to attach itself to the second.

Maybe it is my own deficiency, but I cannot imagine having a mind that works that way.

And I definitely do not want my children taught this kind of brainless stuff.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

They Call Alabama the Crimson State ...

I will admit I have been a little tough at times on the state of Alabama. Well, a few news stories have come from there that were, how you say? -- unflattering to the poor folks down there. Especially when we're debating here about Red-State/Blue-State issues, and we're the Blue State -- no place exemplifies the Red perspective better than Alabama.

A couple of months ago our CillyGoose even printed out the words to "Sweet Home Alabama" and gave them to me, hoping I'd lighten up on them.

So I would like to report some good news from Alabama. They did a poll down there recently and found that the folks there have got some pretty clear ideas about sex education:
A recent poll shows that Alabamians support sex education classes if they are taught from a neutral perspective and parental permission is required.

These are among the findings of the spring Ask Alabama public opinion survey, conducted by the Center for Governmental Services at Auburn University.

According to the survey, more than four out of five Alabamians, both those identified as religious and non-religious, approve of some form of sex education classes offered at the middle and high school levels.

However, approximately 75 percent of those responding believe that parental permission should be required before students are presented with sex education material.

"Parents want Alabama's public schools to ask them first," said poll manager Robin Salter. "It is possible many Alabamians worry that without a permission requirement, they may not even know when their children are being presented with sex education material, much less the content of that material." Sex education OK with Alabamians

I suppose you do want to know, though it's funny. Like, did you want to know when your kid was going to read Silas Marner? Did you want to be notified when your kid was learning to do long division? To tell you the truth, when my kids took 8th grade health, neither one of them ever mentioned it to us, and we didn't even realize they were receiving the dreaded and life-traumatizing sex education.
Regarding the content covered by sex education, a large majority (95 percent to 98 percent) of Alabamians support the inclusion of a wide range of topics such as sexually transmitted diseases, rape prevention, rape reporting and abstinence.

The topic of contraception received support from 86 percent. The topic of homosexuality, which is the focus of much of the sex education controversy in Alabama and other states, received less support, but it was still significant at 72 percent if it were taught from a neutral perspective which neither supports nor condemns any viewpoint.

This indicates that Alabama parents want to insulate their kids from partisan influence, Salter said.

"Parents are comfortable having the public school system provide their children with factual information on these topics, but they reserve the right to discuss with their kids their personal views and beliefs," he added.

The Ask Alabama poll had a sample size of 603 state residents, age 19 or older, and an estimated margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Let me state the obvious: if seventy two per cent of Alabamians approve teaching about homosexuality -- how extreme do you think our Montgomery County radicals are? What do you think the percentage would be here in this Blue County? In the nineties? And that was eighty-six per cent in Alabama that want kids to learn about contraception. Assume the numbers are even higher here, in this liberal county.

The nuts that want to stop our reasonable curriculum changes here in Maryland like to pretend they're "mainstream." They'll tell you that, they say it all the time -- their web page says, right at the top, they want to be a "a mainstream voice for fairness and scientific accuracy."

Ha! They wouldn't even be mainstream in Alabama.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Getting Tricky With the Data

Those opposed to changes in the MCPS sex-ed curriculum, as well as other anti-sex-education oddballs, often argue that condoms are ineffective. It is not uncommon for them to talk in terms of "failure rates" of condoms, and to exaggerate those. Oh, and they love to talk about human papillomavirus, which can be spread even when a condom is used (because it does not require sexual contact at all). They prefer not to dwell on the various diseases that are blocked by the condom.

Unfortunately for them, the pesky, so-called "research evidence" consistently finds that condoms are effective for preventing pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infection. But while the data do not back up their arguments, they know which conclusion fits their ideological framework -- if you consider sex outside of marriage to be sinful, then you may be tempted to search for any kinds of arguments that discourage it, even if they are based on made-up facts. Your primary need is to find support for the conclusion you want.

One solution: deny the research evidence. Pretend it doesn't exist. Act like it says something other than what it actually says.

The St. Petersburg Times has a great editorial about a US Senator who is trying to do just that. I'm going to quote the whole thing:
Sex and sanctimony
A Times Editorial
Published July 10, 2005

-----------------

Public health science is clear: Condom use is an effective way to stop the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. That means condoms save lives as well as stop unwanted pregnancies. So why would anyone, least of all a doctor, want to discourage sexually active individuals from using condoms?

The doctor in this case is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a sanctimonious ideologue who is holding up confirmation of the acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner until that agency agrees to change condom labeling. Coburn wants the FDA to make condoms sound riskier than they really are, apparently to discourage use and push his abstinence agenda. Meanwhile, back in the real world, STDs remain a "major health threat in the United States," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 19-million infections yearly, half involving young people.

Coburn insisted that the National Institutes of Health issue a report on the subject, which it did four years ago. The report confirmed the efficacy of condoms in protecting against HIV and gonorrhea, but also noted that because of "inadequacies of the evidence available," it couldn't determine how well condoms worked against other STDs, though some degree of protection was noted in every study.

Coburn latched onto the uncertainty, as though it were proof of failure. Now he wants the FDA to require a condom label to proclaim not only the product's potential benefits but also its "lack of effectiveness in preventing STDs," according a Coburn spokesman.

Heather Boonstra with the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health, has been through this battle before and says Coburn and his allies are "manipulating this data to drive home their own anticondom, anticontraceptive message."

An obstetrician, Coburn has a spiteful edge that belies his medical training. Salon.com reported that at a Republican gathering last year, Coburn said the "gay agenda" was "the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today" and the source of "rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners."

Whatever his views on homosexuality, a doctor should know that promotion of condom use is a public health agenda. Here are the facts: When properly used, condoms reduce the chance of pregnancy from 85 percent without birth control to 3 percent over a year. The risk of HIV infection is greatly reduced - to less then 1 percent with condom use. The transmission of other STDs is also greatly diminished, and in no instance would a sexually active person be safer without using a condom.

Coburn's fellow senators should tell him that they won't put up with his rants when lives are at stake.Sex and sanctimony

It's sad that we live in a time when you have to fight desperately to convince people to follow common sense ... but we do. You can't just sit around thinking everything will be okay.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Little Lull in the Action

The Montgomery County sex-ed battle is kind of in a holding pattern right now, as everybody prepares to apply for the citizens advisory committee (CAC). The school board had drawn up a list of organizations that could be represented, and we were on it, but then they decided that there might be relevant groups that they didn't know about, and they should wait and see what groups applied.

Each group is supposed to submit three names, a primary one and two alternates. While this gives the board control, there is a little problem. If there is a group of, say, sex-education experts, and they nominate their three best people, it means that two of them won't make it. So they could submit their names as independents, too, but I don't know how good that looks to apply twice, so ... Nobody's really sure how to work it.

There had better be somebody from PFLAG on the committee, and somebody from TeachTheFacts.org. It seems childish to think you have to balance out every thing, one piece of candy to this kid and one for that one, but ... in this situation it is not objectionable for the radical right to have a seat at the table, they just need to be counterbalanced by commonsense. We'll submit our list of names, the other side will submit theirs, and we'll see.

My secret suspicion is that the school board will engineer the situation so that the CAC has no real power anyway. Their "experts" will prepare a curriculum, the CAC will review it, and then there will be a nice ceremony to thank them. But I am hoping that the MCPS experts will consult, say, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as other medical, psychological and counseling organizations. Since the district is a black box, we don't know how they will come up with something, but I hope they have the wisdom to reach out to real experts for advice.

As we saw in the email that the CRC President sent to the world this week, their main concern is going to be getting "ex-gays" into the health classes. I think this is best seen as a strategy to destroy the curriculum; we were at the December Fourth organizing meeting of the Recall group, where they were very clear about the fact that they don't think the schools should be teaching sex-ed in the first place. So by dragging in some lame non-issue like "ex-gays," and pretending that the district is not being fair to this group of pretend-victims, they can keep going back to court, and keep delaying the curriculum. The way that works is that the school district runs out of money for lawyers. The way that doesn't work is if there are lawyers willing to support the school board pro bono. Rumor has it that this may have been taken care of. I don't think that attempting to bankrupt the school district is going to work this time.

Be clear about this "ex-gay" thing. An "ex-gay" is somebody who has stopped being gay. In other words, it's a very rare phenomenon, nobody really believes that you just stop being gay. Ah, but they make allowances. You can still have a homosexual orientation but not act on it. That would mean that an "ex-gay" is a gay person who has gone back into the closet (though it seems, since they try to recruit teens who many not be sexually active yet, that they really mean any closeted gay person).

It is any person's choice to act or not act on their feelings. We hope that people who have dangerous or antisocial impulses do not act on them, in fact civil conduct requires us to maintain self-control. But when it comes to acting on your feelings of romantic attraction, what can you say? It's up to you. I don't see any reason that a person should be encouraged to enter into a relationship with someone they do not find attractive, but clearly there are social pressures along those lines, and some do choose that, with the encouragement of groups like CRC and PFOX.

Severing the link between your feelings and your actions does not seem, to me, to merit special status in a health class. It is my impression that most straight guys spend a lot of their time checking out attractive women, and not acting on their feelings. That doesn't mean the schools should teach about "ex-casanovas" or anything, it just means life's like that. The gay guy who marries a woman and lives his life pretending to be straight is, likewise, just somebody making a choice, like we all do.

Let's keep our eyes open. The "ex-gay" thing is going to be used to destroy the curriculum, if we let them pretend it is credible.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Pat Robertson, Of All People, Talking Sense

The New York Times featured a guest columnist a couple of days ago named Sarah Vowell, who talked about something I had been wondering about, too.

As I was dozing in front of the TV over the Fourth of July weekend, watching the Live-8 concerts, I saw a snippet of an anti-poverty "ad" (if you can call it that) that featured a second or two of the faces of various famous people saying a few words. You know, the usual liberal movie stars, rock singers, a couple of politicians, as I recall. But one face flashed by, and it took me a minute -- I admit, I do not watch 700 Club -- but then I realized: that was Pat Robertson!

Well, read what this guest columnist had to say:
Since I have been hired, temporarily, to write about the news, here's some: seeing Pat Robertson on television cheered me up. Until recently, about the nicest thing I would have said about this televangelist is that he isn't boring. Remember when he wanted to boycott the "Satanic ritual" that is Halloween? Or when he said, "The husband is the head of the wife"? Or when he warned the city of Orlando that the flying of homosexuals' upbeat rainbow flags might incite divine retribution in the form of hurricanes or "possibly a meteor"? Yep, good times.

Nevertheless, when I spotted Robertson in a lineup of celebrities including Brad Pitt, Bono, George Clooney and the also-never-boring Dennis Hopper, I was delighted to see him. He was in the One Campaign's television ad asking for help in the crusade against poverty, starvation and AIDS in Africa and elsewhere.

In the commercial, Robertson says, "Americans have an unprecedented opportunity," and then Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, of all people, finishes his sentence, concluding that "we can make history."

On a recent "Nightline," Robertson showed up with his new best friend, Clooney. When asked if his group Operation Blessing would promote "the responsible use of condoms" along with abstinence in its AIDS education program in Africa, Robertson answered, "Absolutely." Pat Robertson!

"I just don't think we can close our eyes to human nature," he continued, adding that with regard to teaching proper condom use, "you have to do that, given the magnitude." I could have hugged him. A Pat on the Back

She goes on in an entertaining way that does not need to be reproduced here. I think you need to register to read The Times, but it's free and probably worth it.

Let's just say, I am not expecting any big turnaround from Pat Robertson. But we have seen individuals from the religious right argue that condoms don't work, that teaching how to use them promotes promiscuity, that people should simply, absolutely abstain for sex until they are in a monogamous lifetime marriage, and that's that. So it is good -- not to make too much of it -- to hear a leader from that community acknowledge that we can't close our eyes to human nature. There are some problems that just won't be solved by willpower alone. Let's teach our kids what the backup systems are when prudent willpower snaps.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Agrees With Us

You might have already seen this press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics, addressing the importance of preventing unwanted teen pregnancies. It came out last week, and refers to an article that appears in the organization's peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics, a non-fluffy, nonpartisan scientific research publication for medical professionals.

These pediatricians' advice calls for "sexuality education" that encourages abstinence and teaches about contraception -- hey, that is exactly what Montgomery County decided to do, until the noisy minority interrupted it.
For Release: July 5, 2005, 12:01 am (ET)

CHICAGO - Although adolescent pregnancy and birth rates have steadily declined in the past 13 years, many adolescents still become pregnant. Currently, more than 45 percent of high school females and 48 percent of high school males have had sexual intercourse, and the average age of first intercourse is 17 years for girls and 16 years for boys.

In a clinical report entitled "Adolescent Pregnancy: Current Trends and Issues," the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updates its 1998 policy statement of the same name. The clinical report is intended to provide pediatricians with recent data on adolescent sexuality, contraceptive use and child bearing, as well as information about preventing adolescent pregnancy in their communities.

The report highlights new information on the topic of adolescent pregnancy:
  • Although birth rates have been decreasing steadily for white and black teenagers in recent years, 1996 is the first year that birth rates decreased for Hispanic teenagers; Hispanic adolescents also have had the highest overall birth rates and smallest decreases in recent years.
  • Most successful prevention programs include multiple and varied approaches to the problem, including both abstinence promotion and contraception information and availability, sexuality education, school-completion strategies and job training.
  • Current research indicates that encouraging abstinence and urging better use of contraception are compatible goals. Evidence shows that sexuality education that discusses contraception does not increase sexual activity, and programs that emphasize abstinence as the safest and best approach, while also teaching about contraceptives for sexually active youth, do not increase sexual activity and improve teens' knowledge about access to reproductive health.
The report urges pediatricians to encourage adolescents to postpone early sexual activity and encourage parents to educate their children and adolescents about sexual development, responsible sexuality, decision-making and values.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. PREVENTION OF UNINTENDED ADOLESCENT PREGNANCY AN IMPORTANT GOAL

If you have any doubts, I recommend that you follow the link in the press release. The report is short but jam-packed with information.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Dissecting the CRC Badmouth

First a little background, since every reader might not know every detail of what's been going on.

Last November, the Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously approved a new sex-ed curriculum for 8th and 10th graders. The curriculum had been worked up by a citizens advisory committee made of 27 people, more or less. Some of them were very conservative and did not approve of introducing classroom discussions about homosexuality and other topics, or had a different agenda that the group did not vote to include. After the board approved the curriculum, these unhappy committee members formed their own group, with a web site called "RecallMontgomerySchoolBoard.com." They campaigned against the curriculum, finally morphing into a group called CRC, which with another group sued to stop the curriculum and won.

Now the school board is going to start all over again developing a new curriculum, and they are looking for citizens for the new committee. Yesterday they held their meeting to discuss this. CRC and PFOX are each going to have one member on the group, as part of the resolution of the lawsuit. Our name had been suggested by a board member as another group that should be represented. CRC's President, Michelle Turner, went to the Board of Education yesterday, signed up for the two-minute public comments, and used her time to try to make Teach the Facts look bad. She quoted some stuff that somebody said in the comments of this blog, and some other things that had been written here, and tried to make us look bad.

I wasn't there, and wasn't watching on the web or on TV, so I only today found out what she actually said. Let's run through it, shall we?
Mrs. O'Neill, Members of the Board, Dr. Weast:

A careful look at the Teach The Facts website will reward the reader with these gems:

Quote, I go to Churhill, a modern school. We barely have decent quality books and materials. And the substitutes? Just pop in a video or handout the per-determined worksheets. Many of them are multipurpose meaning they do not know many of the classes they teach. Close quote. And now these pricks want a slice of the pie. Shame on them. And they're supposed to be non-profit or whatever it was that meant they were doing it out of the goodness of their happy Christian hearts. I do not know if they are Christian. I also do not care.

Those comments followed a post called That Money Could Have Been Spent on Something Useful, which looked at what could have been done with the tens of thousands of dollars that CRC and PFOX acquired from the taxpayers, to pay their lawyers. Yeah, the kids got screwed, and one of them complained rather more graphically than necessity required.

It would be fun to quote some comments that have been published here by CRC members, but I don't want to waste the time looking for all that, and besides there's no point in dragging this all through the mud (oh, but I could, I've got stuff that ... never mind). The cool thing is -- our blog allows comments, their doesn't. I monitor the comments, but I like to let the discussion go. I couldn't tell you how many times conservative posters have started by saying, "I know you'll probably delete my comments, but ..." And I don't delete them. Don't agree with them, but don't delete them, if they have something to say.

If you're new here, I'll explain the rule about comments, which I first explained back in February when the situation came up. The rule is Morons' Comments Will Be Deleted. If you have something to say, and you don't say it very well, that's OK, even if it's critical or whatever. But if you just want to insult somebody, or be sarcastic without contributing to the discussion, then poof. Your comments disappear. I don't feel bad about it at all.

But not all the things Ms. Turner quoted came from the comments. Quoth she:
Parents are totally unqualified to teach their kids any facts about homosexuality and other variations.

Which I said in a post here. I don't know, it still doesn't sound so dumb to me. I said: The problem is that none of us know very much about things like sexual orientation. Since only a small percentage of the population turns out to be gay, and since the whole subject has been such a taboo for so many years, the public's knowledge, what you could call the "folk science" of sexual orientation, is very weak. Parents are totally unqualified to teach their kids any facts about homosexuality and other variations.

And what if I'd been talking about trigonometry or something? Is she trying to imply that parents know everything? Or just everything about sexual orientation?

I'm actually kind of pleased that, knowing they were looking for the "juicier" stuff, this was all they could find to take out of context. And the "out of context" part, as you can see, is all she's got.

Then she finds the high-school guy calling them pricks again:
MCPS needs to beat the pricks down in court. Can somone please shut them all up? As for tolerance, one should be tolerant toward those who deserve it. Close quote.

Please note, she is not saying where any of this came from, the CRC simply scraped together the ugliest stuff they could find on our site, strung it all together, and puked it out as if it belonged together. These statements were made over months and months of time.

Back to quoting me, oh boy:
CRC put on a clinic of facism, self-righteous we-want-to-take-over-the-world facism, a meeting of self-righteous venom.

Man, don't get me started on this one. I will simply point out that nobody who attended the March 19th CRC town hall meeting disagreed with me at the time. One Jewish member of our group even stated that this must have been what it was like in Germany in the 1930s. I don't like to use words like "fascism," but that meeting fit very closely with my understanding of it.

In fact, Ms. Turner edited out half of what I wrote, which was: I do not want to bring up this concept capriciously, but I think we can fairly say that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum yesterday put on a clinic on fascism. Self-righteous, we-wanna-take-over-the-world fascism.

And I stand by that. I didn't like saying it, but on that day we recognized the evil we are confronted with. Here, if you can play sound on your computer, listen to THIS speech we recorded at that meeting. What do you think? Did I go too far?
These are just a few excerpts taken from Teach The Facts website. There are many more filled with greater animosity and intolerance.

I was surprised to see that in identifying groups to be included in the new CAC, you have listed Teach The Facts. This is a group that, from its inception, has made vile, repugnant accusations while at the same time claiming to want tolerance taught in the schools. It would appear that tolerance for them is only for those whom they deem worthy of it. Expecting the school system to teach whole truths and not just pre-selected bit and pieces is neither hateful, threatening, nor self-righteous. For you to acknowledge and reward such negative, intolerant behaviors causes one to question if you yourselves are capable of tolerance. Without a public comment to the contrary, CRC must assume that hatred, bullying, intolerance and verbal abuse against other parents and students is condoned by MCPS. Thank you.

That tolerance thing is not too hard. They want us to tolerate intolerance. Hey, sounds good, huh? We should tolerate everything.

No.

There is no virtue in tolerating bigotry.

Let me say this. I invite you to read anything at this web site, and then go to the CRC BLOG and read for a while. It is indeed possible to find some things that we have said here that sound a little angry at times, and yes, I call them nuts and sometimes other things. But at least we do not take fake-research published on political web sites and declare that some academic study from a peer-reviewed journal is incorrect. We do not quote long passages from silly home-grown pundits like the Education Doctors. We do not ignore the primary sources of information and quote some Internet pretend-journalist's slanted interpretation. We don't try to alarm people with histrionic red ink, shrieking about epidemics that don't exist and crises that are manufactured for the rightwing press, we don't turn to discredited fake-authorities for intellectual points of view.

CRC's attempt to smear us on the basis of a few statements taken out of context from nearly eight months of continuous stream-of-consciousness writing is puerile and hypocritical. The stuff on their blog is uneducated, it mocks intellect and education, and yet they want to influence the process of education in our county. And as for comments, I shouldn't have to remind anybody about the ... colorful ... commentary that flowed on the original Recall site, when the school board was threatened and everything else. They had to wall that off from the public, the tenor of negativity was so great. It was an embarrassment to them, and they knew that people were laughing at them. At least we let people discuss these important topics here, openly and candidly, even when it pushes up against the line, and at least we value intelligence, even when it challenges the status quo.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Our Ears Prick Up As CRC Plots Against Us

Somebody had emailed me this morning to say that CRC President Michelle Turner had quoted something from this blog's comments section at the Board of Education meeting today. A high-school student had used the word "prick" several times to refer to the CRC and PFOX, in relation to their collecting money from the county to pay for their legal expenses, and she tattled to the board about the bad word.

I have deleted comments before for objectionable language -- including my own! -- and I have also let worse ones than this stand, when the content of the statement justified the tone. Another TTF member and I had a discussion about whether to delete this particular comment or to say something to the commenter, and decided that the word "prick" is not the worst thing in the world, and we'd let the discussion go as it was.

So they brought it up at the board meeting, that somebody used a bad word on our blog. If that is the nastiest thing you have ever seen on the Internet, then your pop-up blocker is better than mine!

But that really isn't the good part.

The good part is that Ms. Turner emailed a message to a large group of people, including a Times reporter (he seems to be on the CRC's A-list), a member of our Teach the Facts Yahoo group, and the Einstein High School Yahoo group. The entire message is long -- almost 500 lines -- so I will just snip parts of it here. For some reason, she mailed everybody copies of internal emails among the CRC inner circle. I have extracted messages to put them in chronological order, so you don't have to read from the bottom up, and I also removed carets that indicated email replies and forwards and a couple of extraneous ascii characters.

The first part is Ellen Castellano declining to be part of the planning committee to replace the school board, as they swear they don't intend to do:
From: Ellen Castellano [mailto:ellenmc7@*******.***] [Removed by request: Jimk]
Sent: Tuesday, July 05, 2005 1:41 PM
To: 'Steve'; 'Laura & Daniel Quigley'
Cc: mnturner@comcast.net; John Garza; 'Ben Patton'; 'Theresa Rickman'; rettab20@verizon.net; docrmj@sprintmail.com
Subject: RE: Public Event Planning Team

Steve,

I have to back out on being part of the planning committee.

Now that we have settled, the goal of the CRC seems mainly to be to replace members of the BOE in the next election, and my heart isn't in this kind of effort, though I completely agree with it. I have pushed the limit for the last nine months to help the CRC get rid of the curriculum and we've done it, and gotten a spot on the CAC - I consider this a huge success and I am ready to take a break. I trust the lawyers to handle the settlement dispute that has arisen, and after that, it will be up to our reps on the CAC to engage in the tug of war over ex-gays in the curriculum. I will be giving up the list serve to Laura to manage if she will take it. (I will continue to ask around for candidates for the BOE). Tony also is seeking relief from the duties of running the website, see his earlier note.

It's been a privilege to be part of this group that I consider to be no less than the grace of God at work, and everyone involved is to be thanked and will be blessed, I'm sure, by their cooperation. Now, back to the crazy summer schedule/taxi service for the next pick up/drop off!

Ellen Castellano

OK, that's mildly interesting, seeing what they're up to politically, learning that they haven't had any luck finding somebody to represent their viewpoint. We figured they wanted to run somebody for the board that they love so much.

But the part I liked was where they plotted to use our comments in the meeting:

We can't tell who first proposes the idea, but Michelle Turner likes it, and elaborates on it -- she wants the "juicier" stuff:
From: mnturner@comcast.net Date: Tue Jul 05 16:48:28 CDT 2005
To: Retta , STFisher21@cs.com, John Garza , Ellen Castellano , Laura & Daniel Quigley Cc: Ben Patton , Theresa Rickman, rettab20@verizon.net, docrmj@sprintmail.com Subject: Re: RE: Public Event Planning Team

I think this should be pointed out to the BoE. Laura,if you can send me some of the juicier comments by TTF folks-with their names-I will incorporate them into my comments for tomorrow.
Michelle

-------------- Original message --------------

Can we put it out there what this kid from Teach the Facts said about CRC? Is this the kind of organization that the BOE is proud to have on the new CAC? What kind of judgement does this show, not only for the TTF but about the BOE?

Alex K. said... MCPS needs to beat these pricks down in court and then force THEM to pay for ALL of the expenses.

And these pricks want to circumvent a democratic process to put whomever they choose on the board.

Is that un-American or what?

These guys won't stop crying "foul play" at everything.

Can someone please shut them all up?

As for tolerance, one should be tolerant toward those who deserve it.

As far as I am concern, a majority of these biggoted pricks DO NOT deserve any respect or tolerance.

Let us take the Malcolm X approach to all of this.

And let us also remember how the first speaker at the last meeting played the race card.

And then Retta tells her what a great idea it is:

----- Original Message -----
From: Retta
To: mnturner@comcast.net ; Retta; STFisher21@cs.com ; John Garza ; Ellen Castellano ; Laura & Daniel Quigley
Cc: Ben Patton ; Theresa Rickman; rettab20@verizon.net ;docrmj@sprintmail.com
Sent: Tuesday, July 05, 2005 6:32 PM Subject: Re: Re: RE: Public Event Planning Team

Great idea Michelle This will put the "heat" on the BOE-especially after they have just voted for TTF!@!@ It will be out on TV.

Maybe the BOE should spend more money, not on how to put condoms on cucumbers, but to teach the children the proper civility in their discourse with people they don't agree with. Obviously this child has a lot to learn. The Adults backing him up don't know any better either!

Laura likes the idea, and blames me for not deleting the comment:
From: Laura & Daniel Quigley [mailto:quigley5@***.***][Removed by request]
Sent: Tuesday, July 05, 2005 7:02 PM To: mnturner@comcast.net; Retta; STFisher21@cs.com; John Garza; Ellen Castellano Cc: Ben Patton; Theresa Rickman; rettab20@verizon.net; docrmj@sprintmail.com; Alberta Bertuzzi
Subject: Re: Re: RE: Public Event Planning Team

It's disgraceful in and of itself, but the fact that Jim K let that stand without comment speaks volumes. My question is, what about those kids (like ours) who may speak out against gay behavior -- will they be called names like 'prick' and 'un-American' and bullied like this as well? Seems like the 'foul play' is all over this one.

--Laura

And as we know, Michelle Turner did go to the Board of Education to repeat what was said in our comments section.

Man, I wish I could whip up a good, realistic huff of indignation just like that.

Imagine that, somebody used the word "prick" in a blog comment. Now they've really got us backed into a corner!

On Calling a Nut a Nut

I have been told that yesterday Regina Griggs, President of PFOX, complained on a radio show about my reference on this blog to Peter Sprigg as a "nut." I am only too happy to explain my use of that word.

What is a "nut?" In common usage, the word "nut" is reserved for people who are mentally unbalanced, but do not meet the criteria of mental illness. For instance, a person who is obsessed with a topic is referred to as a nut -- we talk about model-airplane nuts, health nuts, computer nuts, etc., because they are obsessed with something to a degree that other people do not share, but they do not seem to be neurotic or psychotic. There are religious nuts who have strong convictions that are not shared by others, political nuts who hold strong and idiosyncratic political opinions, conspiracy-theory nuts are a favorite category of nuts, being people who connect the dots in a different way from the rest of us.

Some nuts are lovable, some are scary. The really scary ones end up getting a more serious label, something from the DSM, and I don't think really crazy people are usually referred to as nuts. Well, maybe you could say, "He used to be a nice guy, but he went nuts." But, "He's the nut who killed eighteen people with a rusty machete?" No, that's not a nut, that's a maniac. The guy who pays his mortgage in pennies: a nut -- see how that works?

One of the characteristics of a nut is that they express their nuttiness openly and frequently. A person who thinks that the President is a communist, for instance, is not a nut if he harbors this belief privately, if he just sits in front of the TV in his Laz-E-Boy, thinking, I'll bet the President is a communist. He is a nut, though, if he stands on street-corners with a sign saying "The President is a communist," and organizes anti-communist-President marches.

Look -- could you do what Peter Sprigg does? Could you write a 176-page book called Outrage: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage? Could you fill a whole book with stuff about gay people, and call it Getting it Straight: What the Research Shows about Homosexuality? The other question: would you? Would you want to go to work every morning to talk with people all day about how bad gay people are, to write about gay people and how terrible they are, to go out and give speeches about how bad it is that there are gay people? Would you go around telling everybody that SpongeBob SquarePants was promoting homosexuality? Do you have a desire to go on TV and on the radio and talk to reporters, telling everybody about gay people and the evil they bring to this world?

Is there something about the word "nut" that doesn't fit?

I have said before, in discussing the sexual orientation section of the MCPS sex-ed curriculum, that life is not about gay people. Statistically they make up a small proportion of the population, the exact proportion depends on your definition. Nobody seems to really know why somebody turns out gay, but it happens. And there really isn't any good reason to hold that against a person, that they turned out to be gay. There's no way that gay people falling in love with each other really threatens anybody else's family. And if gay people have problems, that seems to me to be evidence that they might need a little help, not more proof that they are bad people. It just happens that some people are gay, and though we don't know the exact numbers, everybody's estimates -- even Peter Sprigg's -- give a greater than fifty percent chance that there is a gay kid in any classroom of thirty students. So it's statistically rare, but not that rare, not so rare you can pretend it doesn't exist.

I understand that a lot of straight people are uncomfortable with gay people. Can't imagine doing it, don't like to think about it. It would be nice if those people would lighten up and get over it, but you can't hold it against them, it is really only in the last decade or two that gay people could be open about it in public. People who find it unupleasant are not necessarily nuts, people who believe it's immoral are mostly just repeating what they've been told, and never gave it a thought, and most of them don't intend to.

But here and there are people who find gay people to be the most ... interesting ... thing in the world. They hate them, but they just can't seem to stop thinking about them.

Do we need a special theory of psychology, or a special diagnostic category, to explain that? Naw, I don't think so. There are all kinds of nuts in this crazy world. And sometimes you gotta call them what they are.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

PFOX Wants Peter Sprigg on the Committee

It's not very often that one newspaper article gives us two items to blog about, but this morning's Washington Times piece does. Not only are CRC/PFOX trying to renege on their legal agreement, but they have announced who they intend to nominate for the citizens advisory committee that will help develop the new sex-ed curriculum. And it is quite interesting.

PFOX wants to nominate Peter Sprigg as their representative on the committee. We had heard a rumor to this effect, and now it's confirmed.

You need to know a little bit about Peter Sprigg. He's not just any local-yokel nut; he's a big-time, dyed-in-the-wool nut. Here's the opening of his bio at the Family Research Council web site:
Peter S. Sprigg was appointed Senior Director of Policy Studies at the Family Research Council on March 1, 2004. In June 2005, Mr. Sprigg was promoted to Vice President for Policy. He also continues to direct FRC's Center for Marriage and Family Studies, a role he assumed in April 2003, after having served as Senior Director of Culture Studies for two years. He oversees FRC's efforts to analyze and influence our culture as it relates to: marriage and family structure; education; human sexuality and the homosexual agenda; religion in public life; and the arts and entertainment.

We encountered this guy several months ago, when the CRC had their town hall meeting. Yes, some of us went, and sat through four hours of distilled hatred. Do you remember that meeting, and how afterwards the groups putting on the event tried to tell the press that they didn't really agree with the speakers' extreme positions?

Do you remember that?

Funny, then, that they would nominate one of those extremists to represent them on this committee.

Of all the speakers that day, Sprigg worried me the most. He is a well-spoken man, articulate (at least when he's following a script), and his talk was sprinkled with references to other people's work -- I cannot bring myself to call it "research," but that is what he calls it. It sounds like he's quoting scientific research and stuff, but when you go look it up you discover that hardly any of it comes from respectable journals or authorities.

The theme of his talk that day was that he was going to dispel some "myths" about homosexuality. And it was the weirdest thing, every "myth" had a kind of rationale that followed it, which justified discrimination against gays. Here were the "myths" he sought to dispel that day, the outline of that talk:
  • Homosexuality is genetic, inborn. ("research show no convincing evidence that anyone is born gay and suggest instead that homosxuality results from a complex mix of developmental factors." [It would be naive to insist that homosexuality is purely genetic; to imply that it is learned, or that it is a choice, as Sprigg does, is even more naive.])
  • Ten percent of the population is gay ("research clearly shows that a very small percentage of the popluation, less than 3 percent, identify themselves as homosexuals." [Nobody know the real percentage, and why would it matter?])
  • Homosexuals are seriously disadvantaged by discrimination in our society. ("research shows that homosexuals actually have significantly higher levels of educational attainment than the general public while their findings on homosexual incomes are at worst mixed." [Sleight-of-hand. Education and finances are one thing, bigotry and anti-gay violence are the issue.])
  • Homosexuality is harmless ("research clearly shows that homosexual behavior specifically and the homosexual lifestyle generally are associated with serious threats to the physical and mental health of those who engage in them" [and goes on to cite ONE Canadian study where life expectancy of gays was 8-20 years less than heterosexuals])
  • Children raised by gays suffer no harm. ("research shows clearly that children do best when raised by a married mother and father and that the homosexual lifestyle is unstable." [here he ignored Lerner and Nagai's meta-analysis of the literature showing that it is inconclusive])
  • Homosexuals are more likely to molest children than heterosexuals. ("research clearly shows that same-sex child sexual abuse, mostly men molesting boys, occurs at rates far higher than adult homosexual behavior and it strongly suggests that many of those abusers are homosexual in their adult orientation as well." [For the real story, look at this page at UC Davis psychology department])
  • People cannot change their sexual orientation. ("tens of thousands of former homosexuals around this country uh, who will testify to the possibliity of change in their sexual orientation..."[Who do you know who "used to be" gay?])

We have already dissected Sprigg's March 19th speech somewhere else, and I won't go through it here. Suffice it to say, he goes against the scientific evidence on every count, often simply arguing against a case that nobody makes.

But the thing that struck you, as he went on and on, was -- what motivates this guy? He spends his whole life thinking of ways to make gay people sound bad. I mean, really, he goes to work at the Family Research Council, and that's what he does. They must have meetings, where they take any tidbit of information and discuss how to spin it so that gay people look bad. They figure out how to twist arguments so their lobbyists can go into the halls of the Capitol Building and persuade our leaders to pass laws that make life harder for gay people. And why? Why not fight real bad guys, robbers and rapists and murderers and terrorists? Why gay people, of all things?

Sprigg was one of the spokesmen in the big SpongeBob SquarePants controversy last year. In fact, he was the one who got off the most memorable quote of the whole campaign against that cartoon character. Listen to this, from the Christian Post:
"If you look at the Web site, it becomes pretty clear that a part of the agenda is to change the definition of family to include virtually anyone who chooses to be called a family, including homosexual couples and homosexual couples raising children," said Sprigg. "Much of what they have is coded language that is regularly used by the pro homosexual movement such as 'tolerance' and 'diversity.'

On the Foundation's website, there are links to organizations that promote the gay and lesbian lifestyle.

"Ultimately we feel that this is being used as propaganda to indoctrinate very small children to accept a different definition of family," said Sprigg. Evangelicals Warn Parents of Pro-Gay SpongeBob Video.

In this brief paragraph, Peter Sprigg sets the standard for everything that is despicable. Tolerance and diversity, the very backbone of civilized behavior, the font of personal liberty, are, to him, part of the "gay agenda." Peter Sprigg reveals himself to be opposed to straightforward, simple decency.

Well, people, we live in a diverse county. And so people like Peter Sprigg get to express their opinion in the public debate, same as you and me. If various positions are represented on the committee in the proportion that they exist in the community, we're ok.

Anti-Gay Groups Regret Agreement, Want to Sue Again

This is incredible. It is really slap-yourself-in-the-forehead unbelievable.

The Montgomery County Public Schools were sued this spring by two groups, known by the acronyms CRC and PFOX. They won the suit and the school district cancelled the new sex-ed curriculum for the rest of the year. Then they disbanded the advisory committee. They announced that the controversial teachers' background materials would not be used. They threw out the new curriculum and announced they would start over again.

Then lawyers from the two sides, that is, the school district and the two groups, got together and wrote up an agreement. It was very carefully negotiated, neither side got everything they wanted, but it came out ok. Read the agreement HERE. We didn't have a problem with it, except it didn't seem cool to pay the lawyers who had sued. CRC and PFOX seemed to get what they wanted, and we were glad to start moving forward again.

It appears that those groups thought they had agreed to take control of the process of developing a new curriculum. The agreement is very clear, and it does guarantee each of the groups membership on the new citizens committee, and it does promise to meet certain requirements that the groups specified.

But it does not say they get to put whoever they want on the committee. And it does not say that some other groups, like, uh, teachthefacts.org, can't be on the committee, too.

This morning's Washington Times has the most amazing article: Schools incite feud with sex-ed advisers.

First of all, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this is yet another biased Times headline. The "schools" didn't incite anything. Their lawyers negotiated with the other guys' lawyers, and they came to an agreement.

And now the other guys don't like the agreement they signed.
Citizens groups are feuding with Montgomery County Public Schools officials over how to appoint members to an advisory panel that will help create a new sex-education curriculum.

The groups -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) and Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) -- have each nominated one person to represent their interests on the panel.

But the schools' attorney has told the groups that they must submit a list of three nominees, and the school board will pick whom it wants. A resolution drafted by board President Patricia O'Neil, a Democrat, and scheduled for a vote tomorrow includes the provision.

PFOX and CRC are threatening to go back to court, after having signed an agreement with schools officials last week that ended the groups' previous lawsuit against the school system and guaranteed them two seats on the 15-member panel. Such a move could further delay the creation and implementation of the county's sex-education course.

Look, several posts below this one we went through the agreement and the CRC/PFLAG whining about it. It simply does not say they can put just anybody on the committee. Their lawyers wrote the agreement, we assume. How can they now complain that they don't like what it says?

Here's what one of their out-of-town Liberty Counsel lawyers said:
In her letter, Ms. Lindevaldsen said PFOX and CRC need to "place individuals on the [citizens advisory committee] who are well-versed in the subject matter and willing to speak out on the issue even though they are likely to be offering a viewpoint not accepted by the majority of the CAC members."

"We insisted on language giving our clients control over who would fill those two seats," she wrote.

OK, great, so they insisted, they got the language. Here is what the agreement says:
MCPS agrees that the newly-constituted CAC, for the term during which the consultation on the Revisions contemplated by the Board’s May 23, 2005 resolution will occur, will include a maximum of 15 members and will include one representative of PFOX and one representative of CRC, to be selected by the Board in accordance with Section C(2)(a)(3) of Board Policy BMA, provided such representatives are Montgomery County residents and are otherwise qualified and able to serve on the committee. PFOX and CRC will inform the Board of their nominees in writing by July 1, 2005.

They signed it, they knew what it said. It says they will be selected by the Board. It says the selection will follow MCPS policy. It says the groups will submit "nominees." It says they have to be qualified.

These groups represent a tiny minority of Montgomery County residents, and they want to control this whole process. They disrupted the whole thing by taking the schools to court, and now they're threatening to do it again, after signing a negotiated agreement.

I have only one favor to ask of the school district, pretty-please. If these nuts sue again, please send a real lawyer to court this time, OK? Maybe they could start preparing, like, now, not at the last minute. This just means too much to all of us.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Sensible, Yes

Wow, who would have thought that the Fourth of July would begin with such a ringing endorsement of our viewpoint in the pages of the Washington Post? An editorial this morning, Sensible Sex Education, makes the Teach the Facts argument as explicit and clear as it can be made. The paper is hopeful about renewing the process of developing a sex-ed curriculum in Montgomery County; they support the inclusion of the condom video; they are pleased that the board is still committed to the inclusion of sexual orientation information; they even approve, as a necessary strategic move, the pay-off of Liberty Counsel's bribe, as it at least advances development to the next stage.
Sensible Sex Education.

Monday, July 4, 2005; Page A16

THE LEGAL offensive against changes to Montgomery County's sex education curriculum is over. For now.

In May, the two groups leading the charge, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum -- a group formed specifically for this fight -- and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, sued for a temporary restraining order to block a trial in six schools of the revised "family life and human sexuality" unit. The Montgomery County School Board settled the lawsuit with a promise that teachers would not discuss specific religious beliefs regarding sexuality. The board also agreed to pay $36,000 for the groups' legal fees -- a reasonable decision when weighed against the likelihood of a protracted court battle costing the school system hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And so the process begins anew. This time, the school board has asked the superintendent to ensure that every detail of the updated curriculum is legally airtight and educationally sound. One of the casualties of the restraining order was a video produced by the county school system to educate students on the correct way to use a condom. We hope the superintendent and the school board will see fit to include it again this time around. In addition to giving vital information to sexually active teens -- sandwiched between messages reinforcing the fact that abstinence is the only completely safe option -- the video saves teachers the embarrassment of demonstrating prophylactic technique. To its credit, the board has committed to adding the subject of sexual orientation to the course, a change from the current policy that allows it to be addressed briefly only in response to students' specific questions.

Let's be clear: The changes involve only one unit of the health education course for eighth- and 10th-graders, amounting to just 90 minutes -- two class periods -- of instruction. As required by Maryland law, a citizens advisory committee will consult with educators developing the revisions. Parents have the option to review course material, and they must give written consent before their children can take part. Parents who withhold consent may choose from three substitutions to the standard curriculum: an abstinence-only unit; a lesson on stress management, nutrition or a similarly benign subject; or an independent study on a health topic designated by the parent.

Meanwhile, students whose parents have no objections to the course will get accurate information about sexual orientation, abstinence, and preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. We think that the school board is right to include this information in a sex education course, but the alternatives provided are more than adequate for those who disagree.

Let's frame this one and hang it on the wall of the Teach the Facts clubhouse. This is what we stand for: sensible sex education in our county.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

That Money Could Have Been Spent on Something Useful

Here's The Gazette talking about last week's agreement ending the lawsuit:
"We were prepared for a good fight in court, if necessary, but it would have been costly in terms of both time and resources," he said in a statement.

"Many believe that we would have won, and I don't necessarily disagree with them," said Board President Patricia B. O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda, who also read aloud from prepared remarks Monday night. Sex ed agreement opens curriculum, broadens debate

Clearly, one big reason MCPS settled at all was to avoid the costs of fighting. Those costs are almost entirely legal expenses. CRC/PFOX had free lawyers, so they didn't care how long it dragged on, but MCPS had to pay their guys. So it did matter to them. So they settled.

The only thing the whiners, uh, complainants, got out of the agreement was $36,000 to pay their lawyers. Everything else was going to happen anyway -- they were going to have members on the citizens committee, there wasn't going to be any religious discussion, the controversial materials had already been jettisoned, there was going to be public review of materials -- they didn't really win anything by all of this, except blocking a good curriculum for a year and getting money for some Florida lawyers. Those lawyers, Liberty Counsel, affiliated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University law school, go around the country suing over these religious issues. And I guess when they win, they get paid.

I have two kids in the Montgomery County public schools. And I know these are among the best schools in the country, but still, for instance, my kid's math class didn't have textbooks. The teacher would xerox some problems and send them home, and they didn't even have any explanation on the page about how to solve them. You listened in class and took notes, and did the homework. Can you imagine a math class without textbooks? And that's just one thing -- we all hear lots of stories about classrooms without air conditioning, substitutes who don't know the subject area, lots of things.

Our CillyGoose wondered what we could have bought with that thirty-six thousand dollars. So she did a little shopping online.

With that $36,000, the school district could have bought:
  • 514,285 pencils at $0.07 each
  • 90,000 free containers of milk at $0.40 each
  • 45,569 composition notebooks at $0.79 each
  • 22,641 graph paper notebooks at $1.59 each
  • 19,459 free elementary lunches at $1.85 each
  • 19,354 free sets of colored pencils at $1.86 each
  • 3,600 hours of afterschool tutoring at $10.00 an hour
  • 1,440 private 30 minute music lessons at $25.00 each
  • 360 Biology text books at $100.00 each
  • 1 year salary for full time reading assistant at $17.31 per hour

Instead, we the taxpayers end up funding the religious right's quest to eliminate the separation of church and state, which is Liberty Counsel's long-term goal. CRC and PFOX really didn't get anything out of the lawsuit except to postpone the inevitable, but now we've got a liberal county paying to promote a rightwing extremist agenda that almost none of us support.

We can think of lots of better things that could've been done with that money.