Monday, October 31, 2005

Will Texas Vote to Prohibit Marriage Altogether?

Oh, this is great. Down in Texas there's nothing that worries them more than two guys or two girls getting married. So, like some other states, they proposed a law against gay marriages.

Except they didn't really look at how they worded this thing. So now, the people of Texas will vote on a new law. The referendum ballot says you're voting for or against:
"The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

Let's walk through that:
a. marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman
b. this state or a political subdivision of this state [is prohibited] from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

In other words, the state cannot recognize the institution of marriage that it just defined.

This web site has a quote from a Texas lawyer saying, "I'm gonna get rich as a result of this." (It is a terrific, shrill web site, go see it -- it's one of a kind, trust me.)

Yeah, a law that defines marriage and then prohibits it. That'll protect the institution, good going.

Fishback on the GLSEN Conspiracy Theory

A few days ago, I posted something here about a statement on the CRC's web site that says we are a "front" for GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. I blogged what I thought had happened, that their moles on our listserve had seen a misdirected message and they had blown it up into a conspiracy theory. They were so confident in their inferences that they felt it was appropriate to alert the entire world that is a "front" for GLSEN.

David Fishback, former chair of the citizens committee that evaluated the most recent health curriculum, had replied to that message on our listserve, and in the comments here an Anonymous commenter kept the speculation alive about what his role was in all this. Mr. Fishback read the comments and decided to respond. Here is what he sent us:
Anonymous is all in a lather because he/she thinks I am involved in some sort of clandestine activity. It is kind of hard to take that seriously from someone who won't say who he/she is on a public discussion forum.

Anyway, I will now disclose organizations I have contacted over the last months as so many of us have worked to keep sensible health education revisions on track:

American Medical Association

American Academy of Pediatrics

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

American Psychiatric Association

American Psychological Association

Jewish Community Relations Council

Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

Gay and Lesbian Educators Network (GLSEN)

Equality Maryland

So, Anonymous can say, "Horrors, David Fishback is in contact with the American Medical Association." Yep, that is really a scary, left-wing group. The people at the AMA national offices were very nice. They put me in touch with Dr. Paul Wertsch, immediate past-president of the Wisconsin Medical Society who is now Chair of the AMA's advisory committee on GLBT issues. Dr. Wertsch was kind enough to come to Montgomery County on his own dime to address the community forum last month.

Of course, I'll stack up PFLAG against PFOX any day of the week. PFLAG, a truly grassroots organization of people who have done so much to help so many, is a group of which I am a proud member. I was honored to have the opportunity to present DC Metro PFLAG's Faith in Action Award to Episcopal Bishop John Chane at its 2004 Gala. That same year, Congressman Richard Gebhardt was the keynote speaker. One of DC Metro PFLAG's most active members has been former Republican Congressman Steve Gunderson.

I recently spoke on a panel at the National PFLAG meeting, which was held in Bethesda this year, along with Dr. Jack Dresher of the American Psychiatric Association. PFOX's Richard Cohen was in the audience. Didn't ask any questions, though.

I contacted GLSEN as part of my research regarding how other school systems have dealt with sexual orientation in their curricula.
So why did someone from GLSEN ask about a conference call on the TTF listserve? This is the burning question that so agitates Anonymous. The answer is very simple. National PFLAG has organized a few conference calls on health education issues; I was invited to participate, and I was happy to do so. People from GLSEN participated, as well. It is well known that I am involved with Perhaps we were remiss in exchanging e-mail addresses, but it is not surprising that a GLSEN person wanting to know about another conference call and not having contact information would make such an inquiry on the TTF listserve. Perhaps Anonymous thinks it sinister that I would actually speak with people who share my view - and that of every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association - that homosexuality is not an illness and that people can be perfectly happy living their lives consistent with their sexual orientation.

Jim described my involvement with very accurately. I know Anonymous would love to make it appear that anyone who happens to agree with the American Medical Association on these issues must be my surrogate. Well, if you are convinced that my views (and those of the mainstream health care professionals) are completely wrong, that no reasonable person could hold them, then you have to think that I must be some kind of Svengali.

Here is the truth: Over the last several years I have been gratified to learn that people in our community understand or are open to learning the real facts about sexual orientation. I have found this in churches and synagogues, among elected officials and everyday people. I am grateful and proud to live in Montgomery County.

Yet, Anonymous seems to think that all this effort to end the deafening silence in the MCPS curriculum is nothing more than the work of shadowy groups working through one person in the County. I greatly admire the founders and organizers. They exhibit public spiritedness at its best. I did not have to start an organization or lead it in order to advance my views in our community. So many people spontaneously rose up to carry that banner. And I am pleased to join them. Still, Anonymous comforts him/herself by asserting that must be some sort of a “front.”

In September, the Gazette reported that Michelle Turner (who, like me, was a member of the old Citizens Advisory Committee; but, unlike me, is now president of a group taking a strong position on the wisdom of the Board’s November 2004 decision) spoke at the convention in Missouri of Phyllis Schlafy's Eagle Forum. Does that make her or CRC a "front" for Phyllis Schlafly or James Dobson (who bankrolled PFOX and whose Family Research Council pays Peter Sprigg, PFOX's rep on the new CAC) or Richard Cohen (who is president of PFOX - and also was expelled for life by the American Counseling Association) or Jerry Falwell (whose Liberty Counsel handled the CRC/PFOX lawsuit) or Anne Arundel Delegate Don Dwyer (who has sought to make a name for himself attacking efforts to provide equal rights for gays and keynoted the CRC "town hall meeting" last March). Of course not. Michelle is her own person. I suspect that she associates herself with Schlafly, Dobson, Falwell, Cohen, and Falwell because she shares their views -- maybe not every single thing, but the basic thrust of their approaches and worldviews.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

HPV Vaccine in The Post

Tomorrow morning's Washington Post has an article on a topic we've talked about here before. There is a very common virus, called human papillomavirus or HPV, which can be spread through many kinds of contact, including sexual intercourse. HPV is a primary cause of cervical cancer. Recently, vaccines have been developed which seem to completely block HPV infection.

This is crazy, I think you'll agree:
A new vaccine that protects against cervical cancer has set up a clash between health advocates who want to use the shots aggressively to prevent thousands of malignancies and social conservatives who say immunizing teenagers could encourage sexual activity.
Groups working to reduce the toll of the cancer are eagerly awaiting the vaccine and want it to become part of the standard roster of shots that children, especially girls, receive just before puberty.

Because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus, many conservatives oppose making it mandatory, citing fears that it could send a subtle message condoning sexual activity before marriage. Several leading groups that promote abstinence are meeting this week to formulate official policies on the vaccine. Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gets Injected With a Social Issue: Some Fear a Shot For Teens Could Encourage Sex

Can you believe that?
"What the Bush administration has done has taken this coterie of people and put them into very influential positions in Washington," said James A. Morone Jr., a professor of political science at Brown University. "And it's having an effect in debates like this."

The vaccine protects women against strains of a ubiquitous germ called the human papilloma virus. Although many strains of the virus are innocuous, some can cause cancerous lesions on the cervix (the outer end of the uterus), making them the primary cause of this cancer in the United States. Cervical cancer strikes more than 10,000 U.S. women each year, killing more than 3,700.

The vaccine appears to be virtually 100 percent effective against two of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains. Merck, whose vaccine is further along, plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the year for approval to sell the shots.

The thinking is that if the vaccine is given to children before they have become sexually active, they won't be infected with the virus when they come into contact with it -- which nearly everyone eventually does.
Officials of both companies noted that research indicates the best age to vaccinate would be just before puberty to make sure children are protected before they become sexually active. The vaccine would probably be targeted primarily at girls but could also be used on boys to limit the spread of the virus.

"If you really want to have cervical cancer rates fall as much as possible as quickly as possible, then you want as many people to get vaccinated as possible," said Mark Feinberg, Merck's vice president of medical affairs and policy, noting that "school mandates have been one of the most effective ways to increase immunization rates."

That is a view being pushed by cervical cancer experts and women's health advocates.

"I would like to see it that if you don't have your HPV vaccine, you can't start high school," said Juan Carlos Felix of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who leads the National Cervical Cancer Coalition's medical advisory panel.

But that's only the sensible side of the discussion. Unfortunately, in these bizarre times, there are people who think it would be better to let a women get cancer.
"Some people have raised the issue of whether this vaccine may be sending an overall message to teenagers that, 'We expect you to be sexually active,' " said Reginald Finger, a doctor trained in public health who served as a medical analyst for Focus on the Family before being appointed to the ACIP in 2003, in a telephone interview.

Look, I don't know where these kinds of people come from, or how they got that way. Now they're in positions of power in the federal government, making medical decisions that affect all of us.

Gabe Romero

Last week, when the membership of the citizens advisory committee was announced, one school board member, Gabe Romero, voted against it. He didn't make a statement, so we don't know what he didn't like about it. He may have objected to the presence of Peter Sprigg on the committee. But the first theory that occurred to ... just about everyone ... is that he objected to the fact that the CRC's seat was left vacant.

The next day, the local branches of the Internet seemed to come alive. A number of different groups suddenly found it interesting that Romero is up for election in 2006, and wanted to talk about who should run against him. I'm not in on the political insider stuff, but even I was seeing these messages.

I can't find a list of his campaign officers, but for a long time the rumor has been that CRC President Michelle Turner is Gabe Romero's treasurer.

And then I see these minutes from a CRC meeting where they were planning their March Hate-Fest, and were considering speakers for it. And guess who was on that first list.

Yes, there's Gabe Romero's name. It says Michelle will contact him.

For those who weren't following this story back then, I'll tell you. Some of us attended the CRC "town hall" meeting in March, and it was one of the most disturbing things we have ever seen. One speaker after the other stood up to spew what one of them called "hate and fear of the homosexual agenda." It was beyond creepy, it was sick. Even the leadership of the CRC, knowing they had accidentally crossed the line in public, told reporters that they didn't really agree with their own speakers. But of course they knew what they were going to say, that's why they selected this particular group of extremists. And their crowd loved it.

We taped the talks, and made mp3 files out of them. Here, listen for yourself: CRC HateFest speeches.

Romero has always seemed like a nice guy to me, and he did vote for the new curriculum the last time it came around, in November, 2004. But is this the kind of company he keeps?

Gabe, the people of the county are watching for a statement from you. You can clear this all up very easily by telling us what your position is.

What is your affiliation with the far-right group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Blade Readers Are Paying Attention

Hey, I just posted a thing saying that the GLBT groups are certainly keeping an eye on the Montgomery County sex-ed battle. Right now the new citizens committee is chartered to evaluate curricula on the topic of "sexual variation" (the state's term for it). Some people want to put some crazy stuff in about reparative therapy and "ex-gays" and negative stereotypes of gays, and others -- that would be us -- want to see the subject treated objectively, factually, and accurately. Gay folks should have an intense interest in how this comes out.

As soon as I posted that last thing, somebody pointed out to me that the Washington Blade, the local gay paper, has a little article that gets to the point of how this is looking to them. Here's the whole thing:
The Family Research Council’s Peter Sprigg has been appointed to Montgomery County’s Citizens Advisory Committee, which will advise the school system on revisions to the county’s sex education curriculum. Sprigg was nominated by the group Parents & Friends of Gays & Ex-Gays. The Board of Education accepted PFOX’s only nominee despite a request that each organization with a seat on the committee nominate three people. The board of education rejected the sole nominee from Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Henrietta Brown, who had served on the committee before. CRC joined PFOX in opposing the previous sex ed plan because it included gay topics and a condom demonstration. In rejecting Brown, the board said that nominees are not allowed to have served on the committee before. CRC is now considering legal action to force the board to accept Brown, officials said. They claim that the board of education has violated a legal settlement reached in June. “We already have the suit prepared,” said Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, which is representing CRC. “CRC is considering what to do.” The agreement signed by the board of education, CRC and PFOX allows the board to maintain control over who is selected for the committee. It states nominees from CRC and PFOX are “to be selected by the Board … provided such representatives are Montgomery County residents and are otherwise qualified.” Teach the Facts, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays will also be represented on the committee. Anti-gay conservative wins seat on Mont. Co. curriculum committee

A rational person would look at Peter Sprigg and ask, why in the world does any community put somebody like that on a panel to evaluate anything? The readers of The Blade should be very wary of this appointment, which signals that the school board is willing to listen to one of the most extreme gay-haters in the country.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

CRC's Latest Lie: A Sudden Realization

Ah, I just realized something. The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum web site this week has an ugly statement, sour-grapes thing, where among other things Michelle Turner says:
TTF has become the front for GLSEN - Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.

TTF is us, of course, Teach the Facts. We blew it off, but last night I started wondering, where in the world did they get that?

And then it hit me.

Last week the Teach the Facts Yahoo group got an email from somebody at GLSEN, asking "when your next conference call was taking place." David Fishback responded to this, saying, "I will contact you off-listserve. Conference calls have not be under the auspices of"

(Sorry David, it wouldn't have been ethical to correct your spelling.) doesn't have any conference call. My assumption, which I believe is correct, was that somebody over at GLSEN got confused. The email appeared to come from somebody trying to find some information for their boss, and it looks like they just asked in the wrong place. It sounded like Mr. Fishback knew what was going on and was going to deal with it, and that was the end of that, as far as Teach The Facts is concerned.

Not that we owe the world an explanation, but I was wondering myself, where they got this particular weird accusation.

Anyway, listen. We know that CRC long ago planted moles on our Yahoo group to spy on us. Whatever, we got no secrets, they've been listening in all year. Apparently they saw this email, and not really knowing anything that's going on, they reported back that we had some super-double-deep-undercover intrigue happening with GLSEN.

Which of course makes us a "front" for that organization. I suppose that was their best guess, given the evidence ... Take one misdirected email and construct an entire conspiracy theory out of it.

Just for the record, we got nothing against GLSEN, they seem like a great organization, and I'm sure they're paying attention to what's going on here in Montgomery County. They are welcome to join our group and participate in our conversation (if they haven't already), just like CRC does. And nobody should be surprised that the gay advocacy organizations keep a close eye on what's happening here. I would if I were them, because the outcome of this controversy will affect them.

It has been my impression that some of the GLBT groups are monitoring our county's controversy very closely, but are staying out of it so far.

We are not surprised when CRC makes stuff up, we see it in the papers all the time, but just to be clear: is not a "front" for GLSEN, or for anybody else.

Let's Be Polite Bulbs

We have been very happy recently to see that people who do not agree with us have joined the conversation. We appreciate hearing your views, and really there's no way this controversy will be resolved if we don't talk to each other. In recent weeks some stuff has come out that I personally had never thought of, and it's been interesting.

But we've got a little problem. There are a bunch of people signing in as "Anonymous," and it seems that their anonymity gives some of them the "courage" to make personal and sarcastic remarks, call names, and generally act like jerks. They're often not making a point, not being funny, just soiling the discussion. And then people react to them -- I'm as guilty as anybody -- and then the conversation takes a nose dive.

So far I've been letting it go, because no single statement was so far out of line that it deserved to be deleted. Actually, a few were, but by the time I saw them people had already responded, and it had slipped into the middle of the thread somewhere.

We saw what happened at the Original Recall site, as well as the current CRC Forum, where name-calling is the most you can hope for. I'm not going to let that happen here. I really don't have the energy to babysit this site every minute of the day, but I will check in frequently, and if I see something I don't like the tone of, I'm just going to delete it. For a little while, at least, I'm not going to try to be fair, I'm just going to eliminate things I don't like, until the tone lightens up sufficiently. And of course that doesn't mean opinions I disagree with; I do mean tone. We will behave like little ladies and gentlemen when we come here.

Hopefully I won't have to delete anything. Please, try to remain civil in your discussions here. That includes our side, let's not lose sight of what we're doing here.

And it includes me.

... I wonder if I'll get mad at myself when I delete my own comments ...?

Andrea Sees What's Happening

Following my bliss is a blog published by Andrea, who describes herself like this: "I am an actor/early childhood music teacher/yoga teacher wanna be." I've quoted her here before, and I'm just about to do it again.

Because she gets it.

Her post links to this week's Post article -- here's the whole thing:
Yet again, the members of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum continued to act like spoiled brats and not play by the rules. They again refused to submit 3 names to the MoCo school board so that a member could be picked to sit on the new Family Life and Human Development curriculum committee. The appointment was already postponed by 2 weeks because of the failure to submit the names by the original deadline. The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are demanding that the same woman who was on the previous board be re-appointed - something that is not allowed by the board rules. Now the group is threatening to sue MoCo schools again until they get their way.

Great examples to be setting for your children, dont'cha think? - Not following directions, not compromising, and threatening other people when you don't get your way. I know that those are the values that *I* want to instill in my children. Maybe they should petition to get those values added into the curriculum, too?

This continued stalling and threatening is just another tactic in the coordinated movement by the extreme right/conservatives to stop schools from teaching information that students NEED TO KNOW, and putting religion over science. Unfortunately, this could very well be a model case for other extremists to start doing the same thing in their communities. I am very concerned that with this case and cases regarding "Intelligent Design" that our school systems will cave to the pressure and public schools will start to become Christian schools. If you have a specific set of religious values that you want taught to your children, then you should send them to private school or home school them yourself. Children in public schools deserve to have accurate information that is free of religious undertones and messages. The sex-ed controversy continues

This is what we like to see. Somebody who can read between the lines and understands what's going on.

And as an extra bonus, I see that Andrea has posted about our group and our blog, and has been commenting here today (more sophisticated than most of us, she figured out how to put her picture next to her comments). Give 'em hell, Andrea!

Do They Really Believe This Stuff?

I loved this, looking back at the minutes from the CRC's February 3rd meeting, which was attended, we see, by a representative from the Republican Party and somebody from Concerned Women For America, a radical rightwing lobbying group:
John had fabulous news on the legal front. He is filing a freedom of information act demanding that the BOE turn over the video. He is also sending a letter of liability (using the CCV letter on the health risks of homosexuality) to the BOE. This puts them on notice that if my 8 year old boy decides to be homosexual because of the flawed teaching of the MCPS, and contracts AIDS, they could be held liable. He is also preparing an injunction to ask for a stay of rolling out the curriculum based on the fact that the BOE did not follow their publised guidelines in releasing the curriculum. The liability letter can be leaked to the press. However, legal suits are expensive, which brought us back to discussing fundraising.

Never mind that they are planning their "last minute" lawsuit months in advance -- let me say that one part again, slowly:

This puts them on notice that if my 8 year old boy decides to be homosexual because of the flawed teaching of the MCPS, and contracts AIDS, they could be held liable.

We couldn't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

CRC Just Wants to Be Friends With the Board

Many times over the past year I have found myself copying and pasting entire articles from The Gazette into blog posts. They have just been really good about covering this story. The controversy has two sides, and neither side has any grounds for saying that The Gazette has been unfair to them.

And here they go again. This morning's paper had a good story about the new citizens committee:
The county school board has named 14 of 15 members to an advisory committee that will review sex education lessons, a move that has one group considering legal action.

The board did not name a member to fill a seat reserved for Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum.

"That seat on the committee will remain vacant until CRC submits a qualified nominee," board President Patricia B. O’Neill said in a prepared statement released at Monday night's meeting in Rockville.

CRC’s board of directors plans to meet Thursday to consider whether to go back to court over an agreement that settled a federal lawsuit against the school board by CRC and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, said John R. Garza, a Rockville attorney who is CRC's vice president. Sex ed committee almost full: Ineligible nominee rejected by board

First of all: nice headline. I like the ring of that phrase, "Ineligible nominee rejected by board." That is what happened.

Well, they could have said it the opposite way, they could have said "Ineligible nominee accepted by board," since PFOX never nominated three people, but they put Peter Sprigg on the committee anyway.

Look at that stuff, threatening another lawsuit. Ah, they love it.

Hey, I just remembered something.

Back in January -- the thirteenth, to be precise -- the CRC administrator sent this message to the rest of them:
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.

(You can read this and other hair-curling dialogue in a Google cache HERE. It is fascinating.)

Point Number Two is clear. They don't sue because they have a case, they sue because it "gets people's attention - merit or no merit."

They're just suers at heart. Tramps like us, baby we were born to sue. Sue for the money, sue for the show, sue to get ready, now go cat go. I can't stop suing you ... Please, somebody stop me.

OK, thanks.

More from The Gazette:
Garza said there was "a very good chance" that the group would ask a county Circuit Court judge or U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. to enforce the agreement as CRC sees it. In May, Williams issued the order stopping the revised curriculum from being taught.

"It may be that [CRC leaders] decide to capitulate and that it's not worth fighting with the board," Garza said. "Because there are plenty of other members of CRC who are qualified to serve."

Garza said the group wants to sit down with the school board to resolve their differences. More litigation "will hurt our chances of ever getting to meet with them," he said.

No kidding, Sherlock.

Hurting your chances of meeting with the board, eh? Hmmm, how about going to every meeting they have and talking about rimming and anal sex and eating poop, what would that do to your chances? What about starting a group to recall all of them, would that make them want to meet with you? How about suing them, taking tens of thousands of dollars of money that could have gone of our kids' education, and then refusing to follow the rules -- is that what you do to make them want to meet with you?

Hey, remember when some school board members, including Sharon Cox, were going to go out to Germantown to meet with them? What was that headline? Oh yeah, I remember: Cox avoids Germantown meeting after receiving threats. I was at the board meeting where Michelle Turner had to apologize to the board for CRC members threatening them.

It's easy to see, they are really concerned about making a good impression on the board.

Opting In

Recently there has been some discussion, and apparently some confusion, about the parental notification process for the Family Life and Human Sexuality curriculum. The fact is, a parent must actively give permission for their child to attend the classes. There is one example of a permission form on the MCPS web site.

Last night one of our members went to the Family Life Meeting to preview the Health curriculum material at their high school. Interestingly, though it was open to the public, she was the only person who bothered to attend -- most people have confidence in the schools. Anyway, at the meeting she picked up the current permission form, which is a little different from the online sample. I will add these differences to the example below:

_______________ _____________________

Student Name Daytime Phone Number of Parent/Guardian

Please check YES or NO for each of the three questions below.

I give permission for my student to receive instruction on human sexuality. YES _____ NO _____

I give permission for my student to receive instruction on sexually transmitted

diseases, including HIV/AIDS. YES _____ NO _____

I give my permission for my student to view the video and receive instruction on proper use of a condom for sexually transmitted disease prevention. YES_____ NO______

If you did not give permission for either of the above units, please circle the title of one of the alternative units of instruction listed below that you would like your student to be assigned as independent study.

1. Abstinence only. Student assigned this unit will receive information about sexual abstinence and no information about methods of contraception.

2. Self-esteem, personal and family relationships, and environmental health. Students assigned this unit will receive no information about human sexuality.

3. Independent study project. Students assigned this project will be required to select and complete an independent study project on a health-related topic.

If you do not give permission for your student to receive instruction on proper uses of a condom for sexually transmitted disease prevention, your student will be excused to the Media Center for that 20 minute lesson.

__________________ __________________

Signature of Parent/Guardian Date

(Please complete and return this form to school by ___________________________.)

This permission slip goes out stapled to a long letter from the principal explaining exactly what the course is about, explaining what the options are, gives phone numbers, etc.

You hear stories of kids taking these kinds of courses without their parents finding out until later. As you see, this doesn't happen in Montgomery County. If you don't sign the slip, your kid doesn't take sex ed. Plus, you can choose what kind of alternative your child will receive. Granted, these are not classes but packets of instructional materials, but then, almost everybody lets their kids take the course.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

CAC Membership

Here are the names of people appointed to the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development by the Montgomery County Board of Education. For the "Individuals" section, I am reporting what little I could find on the Internet (thanks to Kay for doing a lot of the research!).
  • Tracy Fox, representing Montgomery County Council of PTAs
  • James Kennedy, PhD, representing
  • Richelle Meer, representing NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland
  • Emily Wurtz, representing Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
  • Peter Sprigg, representing Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX)
  • Eric Kay, representing Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils

  • Carol Plotsky, MD is a pediatrician who is medical staff President at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. She will chair the new committee
  • Subash Duggirala, MD specializes in Preventative Medicine, with a practice in Silver Spring
  • Victor Olano, M.P.H. is Public Health Advisor Office of Prevention, Education, and Control National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH
  • Matthew Murguia is Director of the Office of Program Operations and Scientific Information in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Division of AIDS, Office of Minority Health
  • Maria Peña-Faustino was a delegate to the Republican National Convention, serves on the state Board of Liquor License Commissioners
  • Esther G. Pinder, MD is a pediatrician practicing in Silver Spring
  • Elinor Walker, PhD is at the Center for General Health Services Extramural Research Agency for Health Care Policy and Research

This looks like a fantastic group of people. I should point out that some of the organization representatives have very interesting vitas extending far beyond the charters of their sponsoring organizations. I really look forward to working with this group.

There's no need to ignore the elephant in the room. The question will be, how much influence can one person like Peter Sprigg have, in a group with actual experts like this. Sprigg is a former actor and Baptist minister who is obsessed with gay people and saying every bad thing he can think of about them. He's entitled to his opinion, I guess, and though his membership on the committee is illegitimate (since PFOX didn't follow the rules for applying), I think it's better to get moving than to quibble. After all, he's only got one vote.

No Surprise: Crybabies Want to Sue Again

The question now will be whether the Montgomery County school district can multi-task. As expected, the CRC failed to follow the school board's policy for applying, and as not surprise the school board did not appoint their single, unqualified nominee to the citizens committee. And as expected, this morning's paper has a picture of a not-very-cheerful-looking Michelle Turner, President of the CRC, and a story about how they are going to sue again.
The day after the Montgomery County school board appointed a new advisory board to consult with educators on revisions to the school system's sex education curriculum, it appears that board members could be facing a new legal challenge.

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum said it is considering legal action against the school board for violating terms of an agreement that granted it and another group one seat each on the 15-member advisory panel.

Board members last night declined to appoint to the panel a representative from Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, but they did name one from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays despite a dispute with the two groups over the nomination process.

Board members had been slated to make appointments to the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development on Oct. 11, but they delayed action to allow the groups more time to meet conditions laid out by the board.

Under the guidelines, community groups seeking a seat on the panel were required to submit three names to the board. The applicants had to be Montgomery residents who had not previously served on the committee.

The groups submitted only one name each. Left Off Sex-Ed Panel, Group Weighs Lawsuit

We've been through this before, but here's how it is. CRC and PFOX won a temporary restraining order against the school district. In order to avoid more legal costs, the district's lawyers negotiated with the anti-MCPS groups' lawyers, and they came to an agreement. Part of the agreement was that each group was guaranteed one seat on the committee.

Once that was done, the school board was able to announce that a new citizens advisory committee would be forming, and shortly thereafter they put out the rules for applying. There was an application form, some qualification requirements, a deadline, the usual stuff. But CRC and PFOX felt that they only had to meet the terms of the settlement agreement, not the board's rules for applying. So, for instance, the board said any groups that wanted to submit a representative should submit three names, And the board said that no one would be selected who had served on a previous citizens advisory committee. But since none of this was in the other document, the settlement agreement, CRC and PFOX said they would not comply.

I'm not a lawyer or a party in any of this, but I do have front-row seats to this game. So let me tell you what this is. There is not a chance in hell that any committee of reasonable citizens would approve the CRC/PFOX brand of gay-hating, anti-safe-sex health curriculum. Not going to happen. People in this county don't like them, don't like what they stand for, don't feel that way, and you're just not going to see them persuading anybody.

So what else can they do? Ah, they can gum up the works. They've already managed to delay the pilot-testing, which should have been done last spring, and now probably won't happen until next year. They did that by filing a bogus last-minute lawsuit, what has been called a "drive-by" suit, and simply baffling a federal judge. They didn't win any argument, the judge was unclear about what was in the curriculum and what was in some background resources. He didn't have anything to say about anything that was going to actually be used in the classroom.

So ... they'll never win by reasoned argument, so instead they're going to take the low road, and just waste taxpayers' money on defending the school district from legal sniping.

The Post continues:
Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said the group will not submit another name.

"CRC intends to stand by the settlement, and that settlement said we could choose who we wanted to serve," Turner said.

Members of the group said that according to the settlement agreement reached in June, they, not the board, should determine who would represent them on the panel.

Let me remind you of what the actual legal 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.

You can read the whole thing HERE.

Contrast that little phrase in there, "to be selected by the Board in accordance with Section C(2)(a)(3) of Board Policy BMA," with Ms. Turner's statement, "that settlement said we could choose who we wanted to serve." Go to court, hold up the agreement, CRC loses, pound the gavel, case closed. It would have been easier, actually, just to take our tax money and flush it down the toilet.

But this is a good, effective way to waste time and money. Four school board seats are up for election next year, and I doubt anybody wants this to still be in the papers when campaign-time comes. CRC is counting on the board to back down from the controversy and the expense.

Now ... the question is this: can MCPS defend itself in court and develop a new curriculum at the same time? I don't see why they wouldn't be able to, these are two entirely separate functions performed by entirely different groups of people.

If the district stops development while they battle in court, then the suers (and that is a perfect word for them) will have won. That's all they want -- to gum things up, slow the process down, so they can get their way without winning the debate.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Board Appoints Committee

Quick one here before bedtime. The school board made its announcement tonight. They let PFOX put Peter Sprigg on the committee even though they didn't follow the process, but CRC had no such luck. Their seat will remain vacant. has Yours Truly on the committee. MCCPTA, NARAL Pro Choice, PFLAG, and the Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils all had representatives. The new chair is Carol Plotsky, a pediatrician, and there are seven individuals, none of whom I know, but I will trust that the board screened them rigorously.

Gabe Romero was the only board member who voted against the appointments.

OK, well ... what in the world have I gotten myself into this time?

(More tomorrow)

The Committee Will Be Named Tonight

I'm not going to say much about this. Tonight the MCPS school board will announce the membership of the new citizens advisory committee that will evaluate the sex education curriculum.

The die is cast, the school board knows who they're selecting, they know what is being done inside the system toward development of a new curriculum (or re-introduction of the old one), and they know how they're going to handle the fact that CRC and PFOX have refused to follow the official procedures for applying. The rest of us just have to wait until 9:45 tonight, which is when the board's agenda says the topic will come up.

The important thing is to keep the process moving. If the crybabies want to file another lawsuit, that should not affect the way the citizens committee conducts its business. Let the lawyers go to the courtroom, the committee to its conference room.

The board has said that nearly 200 people applied for the 15-person committee. They have had plenty of time to study the applications. I'm sure it was hard just figuring out who stood for what, but they had time to look into all of it, and they know the eyes of the country are on them now.

I only hope that the people they select will reflect the community. The people of Montgomery County know what's right.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Peer Review for the Science-Challenged

You know there's a trial going on right now up in Dover, Pennsylvania, where some parents are suing to make sure that the public schools don't teach Intelligent Design instead of science. This trial is opening the debate to public inspection, as both sides get to put their very best arguments on the record.

Dr. Michael Behe, author of a book on Intelligent Design entitled Darwin's Black Box, was on the stand this week. Here's how the Pennsylvania ACLU's blog sets it up:
It has been stated here before that Behe has not submitted his own work on intelligent design for peer review. At the same time, Behe agreed, when asked by plaintiff's counsel Eric Rothschild if the "peer review for Darwin's Black Box was analogous to peer review in the [scientific] literature." It was, according to Behe, even more rigorous. There were more than twice standard the number of reviewers and "they read [the book] more carefully... because this was a controversial topic."

One such reviewer, said Behe, was Dr. Michael Atchison, head of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school. "He was selected," Behe said, "because he was the instructor of the editor's wife." While Behe was not in touch with him, "Professor Atchison contacted [Behe]...after the book came out." ACLU blog

The lawyer then introduced a piece of evidence, an article written by this Dr. Atchison. Atchison's article is a kind of introspective piece where he muses about the consequences of introducing yourself as a Christian. He seems like a smart guy, he doesn't want to be crass or put people on the spot, but he is a religious man and if he's going to introduce himself to someone it does seems reasonable for them to know that about him.

And then he describes a situation that proves to him that, as he says, "To accomplish His will, the Lord uses His saints at strategic points." He tells about an ethics class he teaches where, on the first day, he tells the class he is a Christian.

He then switches scenes and talks about how Behe's book had been sent to the publisher for consideration, who was worried that there might be problems with it. Then there are some mysterious ways ...
The editor shared his concerns with his wife. His wife was a student in my class. She advised her husband to give me a call. So, unaware of all this, I received a phone call from the publisher in New York. We spent approximately 10 minutes on the phone. After hearing a description of the work, I suggested that the editor should seriously consider publishing the manuscript. I told him that the origin of life issue was still up in the air. It sounded like this Behe fellow might have some good ideas, although I could not be certain since I had never seen the manuscript. We hung up and I never thought about it again. At least until two years later. Mustard Seeds

Then the book comes out, sells 40,000 copies ...

Here, you might be interested in seeing how this man of faith interprets the way it all went down:
Then it struck me. This was all the result of my identifying myself as a Christian in class. By identifying myself as a Christian, I played a small, but crucial part in influencing 40,000 people. The plot unfolds. Behe's book needs to be published. The Lord places the manuscript in the hands of an editor. The editor's wife "just happens" to be in my class. The editor needs advice on issues concerning science and faith. Meanwhile, in class I identify myself as a Christian. The editor's wife tells him, "I know someone you can call." Suddenly, I can see how mustard seeds move mountains.

Now, I'll admit, I'm partial to this mustard seed business. My mother wore a little mustard-seed necklace for, I think, her whole life, at least as long as I was alive. It comes from a parable in Matthew, Chapter 13. And this guy adapts it pretty well here, this is a good example of the power of the tiny mustard seed, if you look at it from his point of view

But look. A guy's religion connects him through the social network to an editor who asks him about a book. He comments positively on the book without reading it.

The author seems to really believe his book was peer reviewed. Rigorously.

Tell me, how are going to argue with that? They think this is how science works.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cabin John Backs Down

We fight over a sex-ed curriculum. Sometimes we tell reporters it's just one little part of the big culture war. And it is: there are several other fronts in this war. One that we kind of keep an eye on is the fight over evolution. The other side in our sex-ed fight pretends that it's not a conflict of religion with science by carefully not quoting scripture in their public statements. Same in the evolution controversy. The religious extremists pretend that Intelligent Design is something different from creationism, by carefully not mentioning any Creator by name. Like oh yeah, it might be Paul Bunyon.

This morning's Post had something that sort of jumped out at me. Marc Fisher wrote about some teachers at Cabin John Middle School, over in Bethesda, who gave eighth-grade students a list of the 100 top books that have been banned, and asked them to read one of them.

Now, that is pretty nervy, though obviously there's a point they're trying to make. It's about censorship, and the fact that The Man has tried to shut down some great literature. But of course it turns out that there are people who actually favor censorship. Apparently a couple of them called the school -- the school won't say how many, except that it was "less than five." Naturally the school backed down and retracted this great, challenging assignment.

There were a couple on the list that maybe you really wouldn't want your kid to read, but most of the books are just fine -- see the American Library Association's list HERE. As October is Banned Book Month, it seemed like an appropriate assignment.

So what do you think it means, when a couple hundred parents think an assignment is ok, but "less than five" complain, and get their way? Is this sounding familiar? --It's exactly what we have with the health curriculum.

Anyway, one section of Fisher's column, in particular, jumped out at me. He wrote:
"The parents flunked the assignment," says parent Chris Rigaux. "I don't blame Montgomery County for trying to avoid another court battle, but this was a chance to use books like [Hinton's] 'The Outsiders' to teach about very different lifestyles than we have here in Bethesda, Maryland."

Rigaux's and Strang's sons went ahead and read banned novels and discussed them at home. But Strang is left with a question: "How can I build a resilient child in this world when this is how schools react to pressure?" Views of the Few Send a School Into Retreat

So there it is ... trying to avoid another court battle. In this whole school, this columnist was able to find two parents who didn't like some of the books on the list. But that's all it takes.

My first thought was that this lockdown over at Cabin John was a direct consequence of the lawsuit over the sex-education curriculum earlier this year. The CRC and PFOX took tens of thousands of the school district's money, wasted hundreds of hours of people's time, drew negative national attention to Montgomery County, and now the schools are afraid to try anything that might be controversial by anybody's standards.

At the same time, I could just hear CRC's lawyer John Garza whining at the school board, saying "Send us a curriculum that's not offensive." Right, a curriculum that's not offensive to anyone, sure thing. If two or three people can totally undermine a teacher's brilliant idea, then oh yeah, we're on our way to not offending anyone. And what kind of watered-down education could ever meet that standard? I shudder to think.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Technical Virgins, Doctors, and Church Ladies

We are never sure exactly what it is that the critics of the Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum really want. They say they like the current curriculum, but then they complain about it all the time, and blame everything that happens on it. Kids misbehaving on the school bus? It's because of the sex-ed classes they take. They say they don't want the schools to teach abstinence-only, but then they crusade on and on about how risky condoms are, and how people shouldn't have sex at all until they're married, and complain that the condom video only gave "lip service" to abstinence. They say it's not about religion, but then they talk about chastity and some so-called moral values that they seem to hold, which don't follow from reason and are almost certainly derived from religion.

Of course it's not just here in Montgomery County, these people are confusing everybody everywhere. They have giant national organizations that get on their collective high-horses over stuff, boycotting this or that, or banning books or fighting their school districts or whatever. What do they want? Nobody knows, because it has nothing to do with reality. Like, they do not believe that homosexuality is natural, or they believe it goes against God's teachings, or something. Okay, so ... then what? Are gay people supposed to just stop being gay? You can't figure out what in the world they think is supposed to happen. I don't think they'll be happy until sex ... just ... goes ... away.

This week USA Today had a kind of interesting article about how kids are reacting to these impossible mixed messages.

They have figured out how to be "technical virgins."
Ten years after Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky's relationship made oral sex a mainstream topic, there's still plenty of debate over whether oral sex is really sex.

"There's not only confusion; there's fighting over it," says J. Dennis Fortenberry, a physician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. "People disagree fairly vehemently."

The latest fuss is spurred by new federal data that found that more than half of 15- to 19-year-olds have received or given oral sex. Although the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not ask the particulars of these encounters, research conducted in pre-Clinton times, along with more recent studies, suggests that teens largely fall on the "it's not sex" side. 'Technical virginity' becomes part of teens' equation

(Of course they have to mention Clinton in this... Oh those liberal media.)

Technically, I guess, a virgin is a female whose vagina has not been penetrated by a penis, or a male whose penis has not been inside a vagina. So there's your definition.

Now, some teenagers are going to be thinking about how to work around that definition so they can enjoy sex without, you know, losing that virginity that everybody keeps talking about. And it turns out to be easy.
A study published in 1999 in the Journal of the American Medical Association examines the definition of sex based on a 1991 random sample of 599 college students from 29 states. Sixty percent said oral-genital contact did not constitute having sex. "That's the 'technical virginity' thing that's going on," says Stephanie Sanders, associate director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University and co-author of the study, which the researchers titled "Would You Say You 'Had Sex' If ...?"

Now this article is going to go around a couple of sharp curves here. Watch this:
What constitutes sex tends to be defined in a culture and varies with the times, Fortenberry says.

"In certain times in the history of the world, certain kinds of kissing would be considered sex," he says. "Not too many years ago, a woman would have been considered a 'loose woman' if she kissed a person before marriage."

But a new book from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, an Austin-based non-profit that has worked for abstinence education with the Bush administration, doesn't waffle. In Questions Kids Ask About Sex, oral sex is clearly sex.

"Sex occurs when one person touches another person's genitals and causes that person to get sexually excited," the book states. "A girl or boy who's had oral sex doesn't feel or think like a virgin anymore, because he or she has had a form of sex."

Melissa Cox, who edited and contributed to the book, is a Denver-based medical writer who also edited a publication for Focus on the Family, an organization devoted to Christian family values.

She says a medical panel for the institute determined that oral sex is sex because it places young people at risk for sexually transmitted diseases and infections, puts them at risk for long-term emotional harm and opens the door for other sexual activity.

Maybe that didn't seem strange to you, but to go from quoting "a physician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine" to somebody who writes for rightwing Christian groups, mmm, do those seem equivalent to you? Like, does this lady have any qualifications? You may have noticed that none were mentioned.

This is exactly what we've got in our county. The doctors are clear about how to approach the subject of sex, whether it's sexual orientation, safe sex practices, or developing a comprehensive outline for understanding the dimensions of sexual identity. And then you've got people from these religious groups, who want sex to go away. And the church ladies pretend that they are discussing the topic on the same level as the doctors.

Isn't that special?

Part of the problem, of course, is that different people have different goals. The doctors are concerned about public health issues, mainly having to do with disease and unwanted pregnancies. The church ladies want teenagers to be little ladies and gentlemen. For them, even if oral sex is not sex (and of course, we're just defining a word here, we're not looking for any statement of fact), it's still bad. And it needs to stop. If there were no health risk to it, I doubt the doctors would have much to say about it.

See, this isn't easy. Sex won't go away, sorry, but it just won't. We're built for it. You can sandbag the river at one point, but it's going to spill over somewhere else. Been that way since the dawn of time. We need to teach our kids what's going on and how to deal with it, honestly, thoroughly, and objectively.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Thinking About Plan A

So ... what would happen if MCPS delivered a sex-ed curriculum, and it was exactly the same as the curriculum that the school board approved unanimously last year, but with the offending background resources removed?

And what would happen if the citizens advisory committee voted to accept it? And what would happen if the crybabies refused to apply properly for the committee, and weren't there to vote?

I'm just thinking about Plan A. We could see a proper sex-ed curriculum in classrooms in the spring, couldn't we?

Moral Cowards

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculm have no sense of decency.

Someone pointed me to a post on their web site, where they try to badmouth a speaker from our forum last month. I'm not going to link to it, you need to register to read it anyway.

Robert Rigby, Jr., spoke at our September 25th forum about his seventeen years' experience with reparative therapies (therapies intended to change a patient's sexual orientation from gay to straight). After discussing it with us, he chose not to go into a lot of personal details in his talk, but his presentation at the forum was moving and emotionally intense for all present. This was obviously a very difficult thing for the guy to do, to speak in public about his hopes and fears, and what some would view as his failed attempts to overcome his homosexuality.

The Washington Blade described his talk at our forum pretty well:
Rigby, who currently works as a special education math teacher at Falls Church High School, said that he tried to live as an ex-gay from the time he was a teenager until 1998.

"During those 17 years, my life was a disaster," Rigby said. He said that he experienced 19 visits to the hospital and two suicide attempts as he tried to grapple with the depression caused by repressing his sexual orientation.

"The reparative therapy only made this worse," Rigby said. "It only reinforced the notion that something was fundamentally wrong with me."

Rigby said that he wanted to become ex-gay because he thought being gay was wrong.

"I sincerely thought they were a bunch of perverts and sinners and wanted nothing to do with them," Rigby said.

Rigby said he finally came out after beings suggested to do so in a sexual reorientation therapy session. He said the experience and effects of coming out has changed his life.

"My life has become remarkably stable and happy," Rigby said.

It was an emotional segment in the forum, a very personal few minutes while he talked.

Now, I see that the nuts at CRC really think they're going to undermine him with this kind of bizarre personal attack. They have a big post up, trying to make it sound like he is trying to fool everybody. For instance, they say:
He was featured at the recent TTF forum as a gay man who allegedly spent many years involved in reparative therapy and then admits he could not change his sexual orientation and suffered bouts of depression and suicide attempts. He failed to name the particulars of that therapy. In an e-mail to Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays he admitted that he is bipolar.

He talked about his bipolar diagnose on the stage at the TeachTheFacts forum, too. In fact, listen to what he said:
Since I ended my involvement with the ex-gay stuff, I haven't experienced any severe depressive or manic episodes, nor have I been admitted to a hospital. I've worked for the same company for six years, lived in the same city, had the same friends, and formed a solid relationship with my family. I can not express how remarkable this stability is to me. When I was involved in reparative therapy, I thought I was sentenced to bouts of shame and sadness, to unstable relationships, to perennial mental illness. That turns out not to be true.

The CRC post then cites some ... I don't know what, these aren't "studies." They quote a press release by a shrink at a Christian college, a government web site that is completely irrelevant to the discussion, and then "Dr. Robert Spitzer, from his peer reviewed journal." If you know about Spitzer's publications you know where this all comes from. It is not clear what the point of these things is supposed to be, unless the mass and density of unrelated-but-academic-sounding information is intended to tip the scale toward the CRC's point of view.

This is unbelievable, it is not human, certainly not civilized. They write;
Depression and suicidal tendencies are not caused by his having homosexual feelings, nor because he tried to change them. He is bipolar and we know this bipolar condition causes depression and suicidal thoughts. He is not being truthful.

Can you imagine posting something on the Internet discussing something like this? They seem to have no idea that they are talking about a real person, and obviously a person who has gone through some very hard times. And you're going to accuse him of lying about his psychiatric diagnosis?

What kind of person does that?

I keep remembering the CRC's Ruth Jacobs telling the school board about the "game" where one kid holds another kid's head in the toilet while they flush it again and again. That's what this is like. I feel like my head is being held in their toilet, just reading this.

They write further:
Another issue, I don't believe TTF and others are aware of is Mr. Rigby's support and admittance of the existence of ex-gays. He in a 6/26/2002 email to Fairfax County Public Schools, stated his support of no harassment for ex-gays in the Fairfax school system. This is truly admittance that there are really ex-gays in the first place!
That is to his credit. This is what he said when he was trying to get the Fairfax County School Board to pass a sexual orientation non-discrimination rule:

"I myself and my organization will defend to the utmost any person who identifies as "ex-gay" against discrimination or harassment; I consider such people members of my community, even if I disagree with them;"

Why in the world would we -- or GLSEN, who obviously supported him in his statement -- care if he defends the rights of "ex-gays?" I would defend the rights of "ex-gays," even without knowing if such a thing exists. You want to be "ex-gay?" Cool, fine with me, people don't need to hassle you, maybe you'll grow out of it. Robert Rigby, Jr., spent a lot of time with these kinds of people -- who would be surprised if he defends them? And what is this supposed to prove?

It is amazing to see that CRC thinks that defending the rights of people you disagree with is some kind of contradiction or indicates moral weakness. It just says so much.

Several of us had lunch with Robert before the forum, to meet him and see what he might want to say, and he was perfectly candid with us. He talked about maintaining connections to PFOX and others from his old life after he left the group. He even talked about that in his presentation at the forum. Why would we care? And why would CRC try to say that we're not aware of something? They'd be the last to know what we're aware of.

Robert gave an incredible talk at the TeachTheFacts forum, and it was because of his honesty and openness, not because he claimed to be something he wasn't. He presented himself as a nuanced thinker, a person with a lot of empathy for others who were going through what he'd gone through, a very real person.

Finally, the CRC writes:
Another issue, his bibliography on the back page of the program from TTF Forum, states that he came out as a homosexual in 1998 and in 2000 he co-founded the local chapter of Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN.) Remember GLSEN opposes ex-gays and does not acknowledge they exist. Rigby made his support and admittance of ex-gays in 2002. Their founder, Kevin Jennings has stated on GLSEN’s website that he believes reorientation therapy is "quackery".

Why are Mr. Rigby's views in direct conflict with the organization he represents?

Maybe the gay community should ask Mr. Rigby why he "double talks" and misrepresents the facts. Maybe he isn't a good choice to have as a spokesperson.

Mmm, I wonder how the CRC got a cover of the program from our forum. Guess they sent somebody undercover. Wow, this is real Spy Versus Spy stuff.

Listen: Robert Rigby, Junior, had the courage to stand up in front of more than a hundred people and tell them about the most private parts of his life. He grew up gay, tried to "get over it" through various kinds of therapies -- he didn't tell the crowd the half of it, but what he actually went through was incredible. And now he says he doesn't agree with those who claim to be "ex-gays," but he will defend their right to express themselves.

And for that, the CRC will try to make you believe he is a liar or a hypocrite, that he "'double talks' and misrepresents the facts."

They are moral cowards. That's all there is to it. This posting on the CRC forum is a personal attack of the lowest order, lies built on assumptions built on hatred and directed at a guy who deserves lots and lots of respect for what he did and the character it showed.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Failure By Inaction Will Not Be Acceptable

In Tuesday's school board meeting, several board members and the superintendent commented after the announcement that they were giving the anti-MCPS groups two more weeks to apply for the new committee. It started when board President Pat O'Neill called on board member Steve Abrams:
PO: All right, Mr. Abrams.

SA: Specifically I want to reference the comments that were made by Michelle Turner this morning. In conjunction with the correspondence that Mrs. O' Neill has stated, I think from my perspective, I think we want to make this thing work right and we want to make sure that the focus of this advisory committee gets to the task of providing us with insights onto an appropriate curriculum to be implemented during the second semester of this school year. Very fortunately, we have a little bit of time but not a great deal of time.

So I would certainly urge the three groups to take the opportunity they have to prefect their applications to the process. It should be quite clear to them what the process is, what the qualifications are, what the expectations are. I'm hopeful that we will be able to go forward and see a full advisory committee appointed on the 24th but certainly that decision rests on the applicants.

This struck me as a positive comment. Abrams is a Republican, a conservative, and he plays his cards close to his chest. We never know how excited he is about the curriculum or the controversy, but he seems fair and he pays attention, and he did vote for it the last time. And here he mentioned a pretty ambitious but perfectly reasonable plan to get the curriculum up and running for the Spring semester. He doesn't want to waste time, he wants to get this thing off his desk, up and running, and that's what we want, too.

Then board member Sharon Cox spoke up:
S. Cox: Just a point of information. I thought I heard Mr. Abrams say "the curriculum to be implemented in the Second semester of this school year" and the green sheet that we originally passed said that the recommendation would be brought to the Board by the end of the school year but it did not, you know, with training issues, etc., it may not be implemented in the second semester. (CROSS TALK) I just didn't want to set, create an expectation to the public.

Ah, the public. We do have an expectation, actually. We expect our kids to get a first rate education in Montgomery County public schools.

Abrams clarifies:
S.Abrams: I appreciate that. I didn't mean to misspeak but clearly when we deferred last years, we deferred the portion of the curriculum that would normally be given towards the latter part of the second semester. Ideally, we would certainly like to see something if ready.

This interlude of spontaneous discussion ended with a pessimistic, even fatalistic, summary by Superintendent Weast:
Dr. Weast: Yeah. I think it's going to be as you can see a fairly complicated process. I've talked to Jody [?] and she gave me a report this last week that she just believes that probably it's going to be very difficult to achieve that spring implementation. Now that doesn't mean that we won't have what we currently have and which has stood the test of time but she believes because of all the attention that has to be paid to each of these details, that we probably won't get that rolled out in that time frame.

In fact, she was certain that she wouldn't get it rolled out in that time frame. And I kept telling her please try but you understand.

OK, look, I don't know who Jody is, but what do you say you get somebody in there who can do this?

They've got half a year to put together two 45-minute classes -- and it's already been done once. Plan A: Throw out offensive background resources, vote on it, and go. Elapsed Time: near zero.

And if the crybabies miss the meeting ... oh well. They did have seats.

And that thing about "what we currently have and which has stood the test of time?" Did he mean that? Dr. Weast is on record saying that a new curriculum was overdue -- he said that last year, as I recall. This thing hasn't stood the test of time, it's way out of date and it needs to be replaced. Let's not get sentimental about how well the old curriculum has stood the "test of time."

We supported the board's adoption of the curriculum last year, and now we support their efforts to develop and approve another one. We will not support them if they sit around doing nothing. And we will make sure people notice.

The MCPS Board of Education just gave us two big fat weeks of Absolutely Nothing. For now, we will trust that they did this on sound legal advice, but it's still two weeks gone.

We will not agree to failure by inaction.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dr. Beyer Responds to Garza's Comments

In yesterday's Board of Education public comments, CRC attorney John Garza made a statement about sex reassignment surgery that was, well, you don't know where that came from, really. There was nothing in the proposed curriculum about sex reassignment surgery, nor was anything ever recommended. There was a definition of the word "transgender" for tenth graders, and that's as close as it came. Regardless, yesterday Garza shared his thoughts on the subject with the Board, the Internet, and the television audience.

A member, Dana Beyer, MD, has written a response to Garza's statements. Dr. Beyer is a physician and surgeon, trans woman, chair of Trans Equality Maryland, senior medical advisor to National Center for Transgender Equality and the DES Sons International Network, presenter on sex and gender to the International Behavioral Development Symposium. She is also a former and possibly future candidate for delegate, district 18.

First, here's what Garza said yesterday:
Good morning friends. May I ask each of you to not encourage our young children to chop off their body parts? I am talking about the medical procedure known as sexual reassignment surgery. The board continnues to be swayed by groups such as Advocates for Youth, PFLAG, GLSEN, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood. These groups believe the answer to a individual's transgenderism is to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. These groups assert that transgenderism is "as natural as being straight." The new and improved sex education curriculum that each of you backed to the point of losing a federal lawsuit, affirmed this view of transgenderism. Do you still believe this?

Will you promise, right now, to at least mention the other side? Will you tell our children that last December, Dr. Paul McHugh, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, urged psychiatrists to put an end to sexual reassignment surgery for individuals with gender identity disorder?

Will you, right now, promise to tell our children what doctors at Johns Hopkins discovered during follow up studies of people who had sexual reassignment surgeries? Will you tell our children that they found that these individual's psychological condition had little or no change? At least the doctors are honest and truthful. Bear in mind that Hopkins is the place that pioneered sexual reassignment surgery. Plus, a second study backs that up.

I conclude by quoting Dr. McHugh on the topic of sexual reassignment surgery, he said "We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure and ultimately prevent it."

Don't cause our children to stumble. Don't be swayed by PFLAG, GLSEN and NARAL. Instead, reach out to the parents of the children in your care. You will be richly rewarded.

And Dr. Beyer's response:
I have tried not to deal with this subject on this blog, because it's not relevant to the ongoing debate. It's very relevant to me, of course, and I believe it elucidates many important issues related to sex and gender. But transgender issues were the most minor topic in the sex-ed curriculum.

It is also obvious that Garza, Watson and Jacobs have serious problems with sexuality, obsessing about various aspects that the average, well-adjusted adult does not. Be that as it may, I will leave it to others to parse this out, and I will present the science once again, as I did last month to the BoE.

Gender variance is an increasingly visible aspect of life, for various reasons. But it should be understood that the medical profession has been dealing with it since the 1960's. Since then, the overwhelming majority of medical professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists as well, have concluded that human beings have a sexual, or gender, identity. That is, we all know, in our minds, that we are male or female. And over the past ten years neurological research has discovered that rooted in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus is composed of smaller regions called nuclei and subnuclei. One in particular, in humans, the BSTc, appears to be the controlling area. In males this is a particular size and shape, with a certain number of nerve cells; in females it is grossly different. Autopsy studies have shown that transsexual women, who were born with female gender identities and male genitals, have a female BSTc. Note: The size of the brain region correlates directly with gender identity, not the presence or absence of a penis.

Over the past thirty years medicine has come to recognize this. Psychiatrists tried, oh, did they try, to fix the brain to fit the genitals. Aversion therapy, electroshock therapy, shame, humiliation - whatever came to mind. Nothing worked. Eventually, a consensus developed that the mind could not be changed, and a new generation of neuroscientists logically chose to determine why. They discovered the brain results I've mentioned above.

So it is obvious that if you can't change the brain, you change the genitals. This is what Mr. Garza and his friends find so abhorrent. I don't suppose they would consider tumor excision to be "chopping off body parts." I haven't read anywhere that they feel cosmetic surgery, including hair transplantation, is against Biblical precepts. But there is something that really excites them about women having their penises fashioned into vaginas.

This is really no big deal today. The procedure is routine, done thousands of times annually in the US, even more often abroad. It is one of the most successful surgeries in medicine today, and the satisfaction rate is 95-98%. Few surgeries came that close. I know. I'm a surgeon.

Mr. Garza lists NARAL, PFLAG and other social action groups, ignoring the fact that American medicine approves of sex reassignment surgery overwhelmingly. That's why those groups support the transgender community. Based on the facts.

Now I will come to the core of his argument, the religious extremists' favorite poster boy, Dr. Paul McHugh. Dr. McHugh is a cuddly sort of fellow, beloved by his students and patients. He is no longer a Professor at Hopkins, but is an Emeritus Professor. That means he's retired. He has specialized in eating disorders. He advises the Vatican as well as President Bush.

But he knows little to nothing about sex and gender. He arrived at Hopkins in 1975 with the express desire to shut down its sex reassignment surgery. This he did, and he commissioned a study to justify it. The Meyer study, published in 1979, is well known as a hatchet job, methodologically flawed and useless, and ignored by everyone without a bias against trans people. All studies since that time have supported gender transition and genital reconstruction surgery. All. Which is why the extremists always call on Dr. McHugh, because he is the only person of note to take their position.

I'm sure he likes the attention. Given that he knows little about the subject, one must wonder why he's been obsessed with the issue for over thirty years. But I will give him some credit. Until last year, he refused to acknowledge the existence of a gender identity, and its source in the brain. But he was overwhelmed by evidence provided by his colleague, Bill Reiner, in his path-breaking study on physically intersexed children. Reiner's study conclusively showed that we all have a sense of our sex irrespective of our genitals, and, even if we have no genitals at all from birth. So maybe Dr. McHugh will finally face facts and join the rest of us. Until then, it is his madness that is on display, and his professional credibility that is in tatters.

And, by the way, for all of Dr. McHugh's titles and accolades, he's never published his ideas about sex and gender in a peer-reviewed journal. Sound familiar? Nor has he been willing to debate the issue. He just publishes where he can outrage and not have to face criticism, in Catholic journals like First Things.

What Do They Want, Really?

The three main local papers each delivered yesterday's news in their unique way. The Post was informative, accurate, thorough, they interviewed a couple of the players. The Gazette, too, was direct, factual, well-written, very concise (of all the media, I'd have to say their coverage has been the best through all of this). And of course The Times made it sound like ... well, here's their headline: Picking of sex-ed panel rankles family groups. Mmm, "family groups," sure, that's what this is about, rankling family groups.

But let's pick out the news here. All three reporters, it looks like, interviewed CRC President Michelle Turner. We want to figure out what's going on here, let's see what she said.

The Post has her like this:
But Michelle Turner, a parent and president of CRC, which submitted one nominee, said the board's request violates the terms of a settlement the two sides signed in June. Turner said the agreement allows CRC and PFOX -- not the board -- to designate whom they wish to serve on the advisory committee.

"We have a signed settlement that we would each be able to choose our representative," Turner said. "For them to change the rules -- what kind of ethical practice is that?"

She said the new conditions don't apply to their representatives because the board made the changes after the two sides signed the agreement. A representative for PFOX could not be reached for comment.

and there's a little more, toward the end...
For now, CRC is not budging, and Turner said the group would not submit additional names. It is unclear, however, whether CRC's nominee, Retta Brown, will be permitted to serve because she was a part of the original committee that worked with Montgomery educators on the previous curriculum. O'Neill said the board recognizes that CRC and PFOX are entitled to seats under the terms of their agreement, but if the two groups decline to follow the rules, their seats might go unfilled.

OK, so CRC wants to interpret the agreement as saying that they, and not the school board, will select their members for the committee. Even though the agreement itself says they will be selected by the board, according to standard policy.

And they want to call this a "change" of the rules. But of course the rules weren't made yet when the agreement was signed -- why would you have deadlines and qualifications and application procedures for a committee that you don't even know is going to exist? Are they really going to take that argument to court?

The Gazette had this from the same lady:
Reached by phone after the board’s decision, Turner responded to [board member] Abrams' comments, saying the settlement agreement did not include any mention that a nominee could not have served on the disbanded committee.

"He, having a law background, ought to know that if you sign an agreement, you are bound by that agreement," she said. "And writing a resolution or policy subsequent to the agreement cannot have bearing."

Turner said her group has no intention of changing its nomination, adding that the group was in contact with the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel, which provided CRC and PFOX with legal help when it sued the school board.

"If an organization changes an agreement, it could certainly lead to further litigation,” Turner said. "But I’m not a lawyer, so I can only speculate. ... We acted in good faith with the Board of Education and ask them to reciprocate."

OK, great quotes. This is as clear as it gets, they want to sue, they "have no intention" of following the rules. They think they only have to follow the settlement agreement, not the board's rules. Mmm, OK, good luck with that one.

And then The Times:
Michelle Turner, president of CRC, said the schools negotiated an agreement in June with the understanding that her group and an ex-gay group would designate one person each to sit on the committee.

Days after the June 27 agreement, however, the schools said each group would submit three names, and the schools would pick the representatives.

"We had a signed agreement with the schools in good faith, and as soon as we signed it, they designed a policy to undermine it," Mrs. Turner said.

"I think it's an underhanded little game to play," she said.

From The Times' quotes, we see that Ms. Turner feels that it was a dirty deal for the board to establish rules for application for membership on the new committee, or at least for the board to expect CRC and PFOX to follow them. Like they were trying to trick them or something.

In case their thinking is not clear, Ms. Turner read this statement at public comments in the morning session:
In order to ensure true representation on the new Citizen's Advisory Committee for Family Life & Human Development, the seat issue was very important to the CRC and PFOX during settlement negotiations.

For that reason, we (you, PFOX, CRC) agreed to one seat each for PFOX and CRC and that the CAC would be limited to 15 people. At no point prior to signing the agreement did the school noard inform us that there would be a change in the rules under which you have operated in the past. At the time we signed the agreement, the old practice existed where we -- CRC & PFOX -- would designate a person for that seat, and unless otherwise not qualified, then the nomination was to be accepted.

The agreement required CRC and PFOX to submit the designee by July 1. As of July 1- the new policy did not exist. Thus we cannot be bound to the new policy. The new policy did not come into existence until more than a month after the settlement agreement was signed.

I believe it is in the best interest of MCPS and you, members of the Board, to honor the agreement as it was originally intended and bring this matter to a close. It is up to you.

Well, all-righty now.

Here's the legal question, it seems to me: When MCPS and these two anti-school-district groups signed that agreement, was there any reason to believe, using common sense, that no other policies would apply to them?

I don't know a lot about this stuff, but I'll bet lawyers have a Latin phrase that means "This document does not imply anything that is not stated in this document." Don't know what that is, but I'll just betcha there's some fancy phrase for that idea, which must be common in contract law. This is our agreement, and we haven't agreed on anything else.

Look at the wording of the settlement HERE.

Section 6 is the relevant one -- here it is in full:
6. 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.

There is no other mention of limitations or privileges for the complaining groups. The committee will include one member from each group.

Oh, but there is this:
9. Nothing contained in this Agreement shall be construed to diminish or enlarge the legal right of MCPS to develop, revise or implement curriculum, including curriculum that provides information on sexual variations and promotes tolerance of others regardless of sexual orientation.

Yes, the school board retains all its regular powers to do what it needs to do to develop curriculum. Like define a process for applying, spell out requirements for membership, set some deadlines, stuff like that.

Sorry you lawsuit-lovin', gay-hatin' groups don't like the way this is working out. Really, I'm sorry.

Now dry your eyes, come up with three valid names, and try to make it look like you really do care about developing a curriculum for our kids.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Anti-MCPS Groups Fail to Apply for Membership: Board Gives Them One More Chance

I left work early today to attend the meeting, but the MCPS Board of Education did not announce the membership of the new citizens committee. Instead, they gave CRC and PFOX (plus a student group called MCR) two more weeks to apply.

Of course those groups knew when the deadline was, and they know what the rules are. They just don't think they have to follow the rules. CRC President Michelle Turner was very clear in public comments this morning, that they don't think they should have to follow the rules. They think that they only have to adhere to the legal settlement, and that the Board policies regarding application to the committee, including deadlines, qualifications, application procedures, etc., are only for other groups.

Just to document the progression of things, I am blogging here three letters that were sent by the school board to the President of the CRC. As you read these, you will see that there is no question they knew what they had to do.

Here’s what the President of the school board sent to the President of CRC back in July:
July 28, 2005

Mrs. Michelle Turner
President, CRC
***** Drive
Silver Spring, Maryland

Dear Mrs. Turner:

As you are undoubtedly aware, the Board of Education, at its meeting of July 27th, approved the enclosed resolution to reconstitute the Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development Committee, along with the charge to the committee. One of the seats on the committee has been reserved for a representative of the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum.

Please find enclosed a copy of the press release and the application form being utilized to solicit applicants for the committee. Pursuant to the terms of the adopted resolution, please submit to the Board your nominee and two alternate nominees, provided that they are bona fide residents of Montgomery County and have not served on this committee previously.

The Board anticipates making its appointment of the committee membership, from among those nominated, at its meeting of October 11, 2005.


Patricia O'Neill

The board was also kind enough to remind the CRC, the day before applications were due, that theirs had not yet been received. Just a friendly reminder, y’know. didn’t get any reminder, we had to mail our applications in, ourselves. CRC is getting red-carpet treatment here.
September 8, 2005

Mrs. Michelle Turner
President, CRC
***** Drive
Silver Spring, Maryland

Dear Mrs. Turner:

The deadline for the applications from both individuals and organizations to the reconstituted Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development is September 9, 2005, as set forth in the press release and application form previously sent to you. I wanted to take this opportunity to reaffirm that a seat on this Committee has been reserved for CRC and to request that you submit a nominee and two alternate nominees who are bona fide residents of Montgomery County and who have not served on the Committee previously.

You were formally advised by Board President Patricia O'Neill, by letter dated July 28, 2005, of the Board's action the previous evening establishing procedures to reconstitute the Committee and of the Board's charge to the Committee. This followed correspondences dated June 29, 2005, in which you were informed of the possibility that procedures, which had not been adopted at that time, could ask for multiple nominees and were requested to submit three names.

To date, the Board has not received any applications from individuals stating that they are the nominee or alternate nominee of CRC, nor a letter of endorsement from your organization. You attention to this matter would be appreciated. If it is more convenient for you, feel free to fax the information to me at (301) ***-****.


George Margolies
Staff Director

Several weeks after applications were due, the board sent CRC this extra-special pretty-please-with-sugar-on-it.
October 3, 2005

Mrs. Michelle Turner
President, CRC
***** Drive
Silver Spring, Maryland

Dear Mrs. Turner:

With the close of the application period having passed for those interested in applying for the Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development, I note that the only application which the Board has received from the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum was the one you signed on behalf of Henrietta Brown, and faxed to the Board office on September 8th. However, as Board President O'Neill advised you in her letter of July 28, 2005, pursuant to the Board's resolution of July 27th (a copy of which was provided you with the letter), individuals who served on the committee previously are not eligible to serve on the reconstituted committee. My letter of September 8th to you also referenced the requirement that applicants not have served previously on the committee. Inasmuch as Ms. Brown previously served on the committee, she is not eligible for appointment per the language of the Board's resolution.

As both Mrs. O'Neill's and my earlier letters stated, the Board's resolution also calls for the organizations to submit a nominee and two alternate nominees who are otherwise qualified (i.e. are bona fide residents of Montgomery County and have not served on the committee previously). Given that the Board is not scheduled to makes appointments until its October 11th meeting, I am requesting again that CRC submit a nominee and two alternate nominees that are fully qualified for consideration by the Board of Education for appointment.

The language of the resolution clearly states that a seat on the committee has been reserved for CRC. Therefore, it will not be filled until such time as qualified nominees are submitted to the Board of Education. Thank you for your consideration.


George Margolies
Staff Director

So, there we were, sitting in the board’s meeting room today, more than a month after the application deadline, and Mrs. O’Neill read a letter expressing the board’s intention for now. They’re going to give the CRC another two weeks.

This must be some kind of legal CYA, because everybody knows they have no intention of applying. It loses the county two weeks of time when we could have been working.
Statement by Patricia B. O’Neill
President, Board of Education
October 11, 2005

I want to thank the many residents and organizations of Montgomery County who submitted applications for membership on the 15-member Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. More than 180 individuals applied for the committee, and their willingness to serve reflects well on the citizens of our community and their support of our public school system. Among the applicants are many experienced and knowledgeable individuals who have expertise in the fields of health, education, public policy, and related areas, and many are parents of students in our school system.

These applications have been thoroughly reviewed and considered by the Board of Education. Today, in closed session, the Board completed initial work to identify applicants to be appointed to the committee. Representatives of four organizations, seven community members at large, and one high school student member have been tentatively identified, as has a potential committee chair. The Board plans to take public action to appoint the committee on October 24.

The Board had planned to take final action today, but we are still awaiting qualified nominations from three organizations that have reserved membership on the committee: Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (CRC), Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), and the Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils (MCR). The organizations were notified prior to today that the names of qualified nominees with two alternates have not yet been submitted.

In action on July 27, 2005, the Board of Education directed that the reconstituted Citizens Advisory Committee be comprised of 15 county residents who had not previously served on the committee including eight members at large, one of whom is to be a high school student; and seven representatives of organizations, including one representative each for CRC, PFOX, and MCR. All organizations were asked to submit one nominee and two alternate nominees.

The committee, which will serve in an advisory capacity to the Board of Education and superintendent, is to consult with professional educators within the school system in the course of their developing, implementing, and evaluating the family life and human development program, consistent with the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR).

Let me spell it out to you. The CRC wants to sue. They want to waste the people's money, they want to waste everybody's time, they want to drag this thing on in the boardroom and then go to court and drag it out there.

They are not going to follow the application procedures. Then, when the Board assembles the committee and leaves their seats vacant, they can sue and say that they were "promised" membership in their legal agreement. They can say the school board violated the agreement by starting the committee without them.

Even though the problem is really that they have never applied.

They need to submit names of three people from each group who live in the county and have never served on the committee before. We did it, according to the board over 180 people managed to apply for this 15-person committee, but CRC just can’t manage to get their homework turned in.

Why would they do that?

Because they know they'll never win by playing fair. They know that if there's an honest discussion, they'll lose it. This is the only chance they have.

Leave the Seats Vacant Until They Comply

I'm watching the school board meeting online. Only seven speakers in public comments, not much in the way of surprises ... where does Ruth Jacobs find these statistics? ... why is John Garza suddenly so concerned about transgender people? ...

CRC President Michelle Turner speaks last. Just as I thought, she is telling the board that CRC and PFOX think they should be exempt from the rules.

I'll say it again. There are two sets of rules, and that does make it a bit messy, but that's what they get for winning. One set did not over-write the other.

There was a legal agreement that guaranteed them seats on the committee, and set a deadline for submitting nominees. The board could not plan a new committee until they had signed an agreement that ended the lawsuit, and so of course the rules for applying could not have been established before that time.

After the agreement was signed, rules were written and voted on by the board, including deadlines and requirements for application, as is routine when a committee is created. Not just routine, it's necessary.

Those are the facts. There was a legal agreement, and once it was established that they could move forward, the board defined the process for doing so. And that process had requirements, too.

Can these groups really think that having a legal agreement exempted them from conforming to board policies? Do they really believe their legal settlement replaces the ordinary processes for establishing a committee?

In your dreams, people.

If little ole me saw this coming, then we must hope that MCPS' legal staff also anticipated this. They should have their arguments memorized, papers written up, suits pressed, parts parted, briefcases by the door ready to pick up and go. Last time, they seemed to be hearing about some things for the first time in the courtroom. This time, there are no surprises... right?

CRC and PFOX are refusing to follow the policies of the school board. Those allocated seats should remain vacant. If the board wants to be nice about it, they can relax the deadlines, and let the groups apply late, but that's just being nice. They don't owe it to them.

Well, I was going to stay at work this afternoon, but I think I'll have to leave early, go down to Carver and see what's going to happen.

Monday, October 10, 2005

US News; Big Article on Sex-Ed

The October 17th issue of U. S. News and World Report has a major article about sex education. I'd have to say they do as good a job as you can walkin' that line, presenting both sides of the issue in a fair and empathic way. It's quite long, spanning six web pages, so I'll just clip a little bit here, omitting the intro:
...Still, the question remains: Are we teaching our kids too much about sex? Or too little?

The answer depends on whom you ask. Sex may be a private matter, but sex education is a public one, especially since it is taught in public schools with public funds. The debate over what to teach has ratcheted up in recent years, but the topic has been around for decades. The arguments have remained much the same, but the recommended curriculum has flipped, flopped, and flipped again. The passage of the Adolescent Family Life Act in 1981 gave money to educational programs that would "promote self-discipline and other prudent approaches." But during the '80s and early '90s, as AIDS became an increasing threat, sex ed became "comprehensive." Often taught by educators associated with Planned Parenthood, the classes covered contraception, disease protection, and much more. Then in 1996, as part of the Welfare Reform Act, Congress established a federal program to exclusively fund abstinence-only curricula. "The abstinence-only program really stirred things up," says Deborah Roffman, author of Sex & Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide. Just Don't Do It! Are we teaching our kids way too much about sex? Or not nearly enough?

Of course we know Deborah Roffman, she spoke at the TeachTheFacts forum a couple of weeks ago. Gave a really engaging talk. We hope to have transcripts available before long, and we'll post them here. (It's a lot of work transcribing those things.)
Granting that this is a topic fraught with dueling statistics and conflicting studies, the generally accepted figure is that only 15 percent of parents want an abstinence-only curriculum. Nonetheless, the movement has steadily gained momentum. Backed by many conservative churches, a vocal group of parents, dozens of conservative organizations, an impressively organized PR campaign, and, since 1996, more than a billion federal and state dollars, the unambiguous message that postponing sex until marriage is the only option is being delivered in 35 percent of public school districts in the United States. (If birth control is discussed in these classes, the focus is on failure rates.) An additional 51 percent of school districts teach abstinence-plus, a course in which chastity is the preferred and safest option but in which information about contraception as a way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is also included. And 14 percent of school districts teach a comprehensive program that can include discussions on abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, oral and anal sex, and masturbation.

Which means, says Roffman, that no one is doing enough. "We give young people the organ recital, and we do disaster prevention, but we don't do good work helping young people prepare for their adult lives."

The disagreement is deeply ingrained in religious beliefs and ideas that, although discounted by the medical profession, are held as truth. Some abstinence-only advocates say that discussing sex acts can inspire experimentation and fantasies that would otherwise not occur. Some charge that they promote homosexuality. And many point out that some of those practices are contrary to their religious beliefs. Stepping on anyone's religious beliefs is a problem for many Americans. But so is failure to teach according to the accepted science...

Man oh man, we've covered this ground, haven't we?

I could tell you some stories...
An Alan Guttmacher Institute analysis of the teen pregnancy rate between 1988 and 1995 showed that 25 percent of the drop was due to delayed onset of intercourse and 75 percent was because more sexually active teens were using long-acting, ultra-effective contraception. A Columbia University study by Peter Bearman showed that it is true that for some young people virginity pledges can be a protective factor. But it also found that 88 percent of middle and high schoolers who pledge to stay virgins until marriage end up having premarital sex anyway. The bad news is that they are less likely to use contraception the first time they have intercourse. As for students who get comprehensive sex education, they do not have sex earlier or more often, but, although they are reported to practice safe sex more frequently, both groups had the same rate of sexually transmitted infections.

Well, I can't quote all of this for you, you have to read it. If you're a parent trying to sort all this out, through all the crazy statements and allegations, then this article is a good starting place for thinking about what you want in your community. Remember, it's not just your kids, it's your neighbors' kids too, who go to these schools, not just your kids but the kids they go out with.

Naturally, they have a sterling comment from the President of the CRC:
"I didn't think homosexuality should be taught as something that is natural or the same as heterosexuality," says Michelle Turner, a Montgomery County, Md., mother of six. Last year, the county adopted a sex ed curriculum that included information about same-gender attraction and a film that demonstrated putting a condom on a cucumber. Turner and others objected so vehemently that they--encouraged by national supporters--formed a group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, took the school board to court, and won. The curriculum was dropped before it was ever taught.

Yes, we were there, I remember that. Why, some of us even heard those "national supporters" speak. Unforgettable. No matter how hard you try.

And just think: tomorrow we get to start it all over again.

There's a good discussion of abstinence-till-marriage, and they talk about the Unitarians' OWL program, which sounds like one of the most direct and comprehensive sex-ed programs in the country. Look, go back up and click on the link and see how they laid this out. The controversy is at once simple and complex, obvious and subtle. They've done quite a good job here of putting the pieces together in a fair and well-integrated way.

Peer Review: The End

I talked with the editor of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity this afternoon, and I have looked at a lot of papers and tables of contents and reference sections and vitas and things (today's Columbus Day, no work, I goofed off at the computer most of the day). I decided I am comfortable with what I said about peer-review a couple of days ago. Just needed to check some stuff to be sure.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Early Drafts Shed Light on Controversy

There is an interesting court case in Dover, Pennsylvania, where parents are suing the school board for trying to get Intelligent Design (ID) taught in the classroom. This trial will have implications for other subjects as well, across the country, including here in Montgomery County, where some people have been trying to force the schools to teach nonscientific stuff in the sex ed classes.

Proponents of ID insist that it is not creationism, but a new theoretical view about the origins of life. They are careful to avoid mentioning God or any Biblical details. By using scientific-sounding terms, they have been able to persuade some number of people that there really is a theory that is taken seriously by science, suggesting that the universe was designed by an intelligent creator.

At the center of the Dover controversy is a book called Of Pandas and People, which presents ID as if it were science.

Well, this is beautiful. In the trial, a witness has showed up with early drafts of the book. Here, the New Scientist picks up the story:
The early versions of the book were displayed to the court by expert witness for the plaintiffs and creationist historian Barbara Forrest of the Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. She suggested that they were strong proof that ID is indeed creationism by another name.

Forrest compared early drafts of Of Pandas and People to a later 1987 copy, and showed how in several instances the word “creationism” had been replaced by "intelligent design", and "creationist" simply replaced by "intelligent design proponent".

"Forrest's testimony showed that ID is not a scientific theory, but a Trojan horse for creationism," said Eric Rothshild of Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Evolving drafts
Matzke, who was at the trial, points out that the "switching" of the words is also suspicious because of its timing, which came just after the US Supreme Court's decision on 19 June 1987 that it was unconstitutional to teach creationism in schools.

The names of the drafts alone are incriminating, he says. The first draft, in 1983, was called Creation Biology, the next is Biology and Creation, dated 1986, and is followed by Biology and Origin in 1987. It is not until later in 1987 that Of Pandas and People emerges. Book thrown at proponents of Intelligent Design

Love it. Just cross out "creationism" and write in "Intelligent Design," and voila! They're different.

Throckmorton Update

Warren Throckmorton has responded to a TeachTheFacts member regarding the review of his recent paper in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. He says that the journal went beyond the editorial review board for reviewers for his paper, and got the opinions of experts in the topic area.

I have written to the editors of the journal to find out what the deal is, and will follow up with phone calls if they don't write back within a day or two. Their web site describes a system where "a board of referees evaluates and selects articles for publication," which is quite different from peer review as it takes place in scientific journals.

It is possible that the editors' description of the process they use does not accurately reflect what really happens. If the journal did use a true peer-review process, and this paper really was reviewed by leading scholars in the field of sexual orientation, then of course I'd be glad to apologize to Throckmorton for implying otherwise.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Winner's Treatment

Some stuff is approaching the fan, as the school board will be announcing the membership of the new citizens advisory committee in a few days, and we just might want to know which side to be standing on when it hits. I'm no lawyer, just a guy trying to figure out what's going to happen. Well, a guy with a bunch of pdf files on his computer. Let's look at what might happen.

The legal settlement between the MCPS school board and the suing parties says, in part, that the committee:
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.

This was part of what they won; each group got a member on the committee, guaranteed. It sounds pretty straightforward, but we know there is more to it, and that the anti-MCPS groups are unhappy about it. According to the board's rules for applying for membership, designated groups were supposed to have submitted three names each, and nobody on the new committee can have been on the old committee, but indications are that the groups have not complied with those parts of the rules. These other stipulations were not part of the settlement agreement. But it does not seem reasonable to argue that that agreement, which settled a lawsuit, spelled out all the details of the selection process, that there couldn't be more.

The legal settlement told the two groups:
PFOX and CRC will inform the Board of their nominees in writing by July 1, 2005

but we saw in the Washington Times on July 5th that the board had just notified them of the rules requiring three nominees and non-veterans of the committee. So they had to apply before the rules were announced.

In that Times article, we also learned that:
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.

Well, they know the only way they can ever win any of this is in court. They won last time, and that can only have encouraged them.

My guess is that they're going to complain that the rules were changed after they submitted their names. They could say that the board didn't like the people they nominated, and changed the rules so they could get somebody else.

But there is that little thing about "C(2)(a)(3) of Board Policy BMA" in that settlement agreement.

Rule C(2)(a)(3) of Board Policy BMA says:
In cases where the Board has determined membership on a committee will be by organization, the organization will be requested to submit nominees for vacancies. However, the final selection of membership remains the responsibility of the Board.

I am going to focus your attention on one little letter. That will be the letter "s" in the word "nominees."

Two organizations have been designated for membership, by a legal agreement. And thus, by longstanding policy, each "will be requested to submit nominees." Plural. "Organization" is written in the singular, and "nominees" in the plural.

Given that the Times piece lists the names of CRC and PFOX nominees on July 5th, we trust that the groups met their July 1st deadline. They submitted nominees, in compliance with the legal settlement. The board had not yet met to determine the process for choosing committee members.

The board voted on the selection process on July 27th. You can read the whole statement HERE. The rules gave a deadline of September 9th for groups and individuals to submit nominees for consideration.

Since the anti-Montgomery County groups had already submitted one name each, they may have felt that they had already done what they had to do.

It's true they had met the requirement of the legal settlement. But they had not met the requirements of the school board's policy for selecting committee members. That's because the board had not yet issued the policy.

I can see why the two groups may have been a little unhappy with the situation. By submitting names in compliance with the legal settlement, they had been forced to reveal their intentions before anybody else. When the rest of us applied, we already knew who they'd named, because we read it in the paper. Not that it made any difference, but they may have felt disadvantaged in some way. Also, I expect they felt that they could have other members of their groups apply for positions on the committee as individuals, rather than group members. These new rules kind of wrecked plans they may have had along those lines.

Of course, they could have prevented this situation by negotiating a later deadline in the legal settlement. Their lawyers knew that the board hadn't yet established the policy for resourcing this committee, and that of course some policy would be created. Instead of a July 1st deadline, they could have held out for one in August or even September.

The only reason there's any confusion is that they have to follow two independently developed sets of rules. The legal settlement says one thing about nominating people, but not everything. Submitting one name each by July 1st, they met the settlement's requirement, but the board's policy had a different deadline for complying with another set of requirements. It would be absurd to assume that there would be no process for selection, and when they submitted their names they knew that none had yet been developed. And when the process was voted in, of course it included stipulations beyond those in the legal agreement. And they have to adhere to those stipulations just like everybody else.

The two anti-MCPS groups might have felt trapped, and it's true, this is not a pretty way to do this sort of thing. Normally, groups would simply follow the board's selection policy, including deadlines, application procedures, necessary qualifications, etc. But remember, CRC and PFOX won the lawsuit. The extra rules come out of their own agreement with MCPS, which they got because they won. It's kind of uncoordinated-looking, with two sets of deadlines and two sets of requirements, but ... that's just special treatment for winners.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Peerless Review

Warren Throckmorton is the psychologist at Grove City College who makes a living telling people that gay people can become straight. He works with groups like the CRC and PFOX to promote anti-gay causes, goes around the country speaking, writes articles and maintains a web site. His contribution to the ugliness is worse than some, because he has a PhD and a professorship and he gives these hateful things an appearance of legitimacy.

So now the PFOX website has a big page announcing:
Peer-Reviewed Study

and it goes on with a press release apparently written by Warren Throckmorton to announce that he has had a paper accepted by a journal.

Now, you must know that "publish or perish" is the rule in real universities. You don't get tenure without publishing. Even though an apparently self-written online bio says "His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association," there seems to be a bit of inflation in those esses at the end of "article" and "journal." He did have an article published in 2002 in the APA journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. And I think that's it. Somebody can write in the comments here if they know of anything else -- Throckmorton is not the kind to keep quiet about these things. I think he has published one article in a minor APA journal. He also published one in 1998 in The Journal of Mental Health Counseling, which is not an APA journal.

The press release for his new article says:
The Journal of Psychology and Christianity is a peer-reviewed journal published by the Christian Association of Psychological Studies. Edited by American Psychological Association Fellow, Peter Hill, PhD,the journal publishes only 28% of the articles submitted making it a highly selective journal of scholarship and research for scholars in psychology and religion.

Now, I don't have any issue with Christian psychologists. There are certainly some very rich psychological traditions surrounding the church, and these might serve to inspire hypotheses worthy of scientific research. Further, spirituality is a psychological factor that is often overlooked, and I would be glad to see more research done regarding that. And not this stupid what-part-of-your-brain-is-God-in stuff, I mean to study the parts of the human psyche that transform life into something worth caring about.

I went to the Journal of Psychology and Christianity web site. Here's what they say about themselves:
The Journal of Psychology and Christianity (JPC) is an official publication of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, Inc.(CAPS), designed to provide scholarly interchange among Christian professionals in the psychological and pastoral professions. Journal articles focus on clinical topics, research, theoretical issues and special theme areas. A book review section is also included in each issue. The journal is published quarterly in March, June, September, & December. Both solicited and unsolicited manuscripts must be submitted to the Editor. A board of referees evaluates and selects articles for publication.

Again, it sounds like a nice journal, they don't claim to publish "scientific research" but rather "provide scholarly interchange" among professionals.

That last sentence asks to be repeated, though:
A board of referees evaluates and selects articles for publication.

This is not peer review.

"Peer review" is a term you hear, but it is rarely explained. Oh, good, WikiPedia -- which I just love, by the way, it's such a cool idea -- has a chapter on Peer Review. They define it like this:
Peer review (known as refereeing in some academic fields) is a scholarly process used in the publication of manuscripts and in the awarding of funding for research. Publishers and funding agencies use peer review to select and to screen submissions. The process also forces authors to meet the standards of their discipline. Publications and awards that have not undergone peer review are likely to be regarded with suspicion by scholars and professionals in many fields.

All of this sounds quite accurate to me -- I review articles for more than a dozen different journals, and this is what it's like:
Peer review subjects an author's work or ideas to the scrutiny of one or more others who are experts in the field. These referees each return an evaluation of the work, including suggestions for improvement, to an editor or other intermediary (typically, most of the referees' comments are eventually seen by the author as well). Evaluations usually include an explicit recommendation of what to do with the manuscript or proposal, often chosen from a menu provided by the journal or funding agency. Most recommendations are along the lines of the following:
  • to unconditionally accept the manuscript or proposal,
  • to accept it in the event that its authors improve it in certain ways,
  • to reject it, but encourage revision and invite resubmission
  • to reject it outright.

During this process, the role of the referees is advisory, and the editor is under no formal obligation to accept the opinions of the referees. Furthermore, in scientific publication, the referees do not act as a group, do not communicate with each other, and typically are not aware of each other's identities. There is usually no requirement that the referees achieve consensus. Thus the group dynamics is substantially different from that of a jury. In situations where the referees disagree about the quality of a work, there are a number of strategies for reaching a decision.

Traditionally reviewers would remain anonymous to the authors, but this is slowly changing. In some academic fields most journals now offer the reviewer the option of remaining anonymous or not; papers sometimes contain, in the acknowledgments section, thanks to (anonymous or named) referees who helped improve the paper.

That may be more than you wanted to know about the subject, but this is a very accurate description of the process. I don't know about the part about revealing reviewers' identities to the authors, I've never seen that. I mean, you always try to figure out who they are, and sometimes somebody'll say something at a conference, like, "Hey, I reviewed your paper," but generally you never know.

OK, so that is peer review.

Going back...
A board of referees evaluates and selects articles for publication.

It doesn't sound like the same proceess to me, does it to you?

PFOX and similar groups would just love to be able to point to some piece of science that supports their viewpoint. They can't. There isn't any. So when a guy gets a paper published in a friendly little journal for "scholarly interchange" among professionals, they have to try to make it sound like real science.

It'd be funny if it wasn't such such nasty business they're up to.

New Study Finds Girls Gone ... Wilder Than They Were

A study that came out this week seems to document a sort of second wave of the sexual revolution, one that is growing in the darkness of hypocritical abstinence-only sex-education programs. Even as the federal government spends billions teaching kids ... nothing ... about safe sex, teens are experimenting with one another, trying things, and some traditional reluctances are dissolving. Interestingly, it is the girls who are leading the way. This, from a San Diego State University press release:
A landmark new report on teenage sex in America shows teenagers are not only having more sex at much younger ages, but becoming dramatically less prudish about it. And young women are leading the way in dismantling old taboos.

The report from researchers at San Diego State University analyzed 530 studies spanning five decades and involving more than a quarter of a million young people. The report appears in the most recent issue of the Review of General Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

"To my knowledge, it's the most comprehensive study of changes in sexual behaviors that's ever been done," said co-author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State.

Between 1943 and 1999, the report shows the age of first intercourse dropped from 19 to 15 for females (18 to 15 for males), and that the percentage of sexually active young women rose from 13 percent to 47 percent.

Feelings of sexual guilt plummeted, especially among young women. Attitudes toward premarital sex became dramatically more liberal over the same period. Approval of premarital sex increased from 40 percent to 79 percent among young men, according to the report, and from 12 percent to 73 percent among young women. Landmark New Report on Teenage Sex in America
Tracks Dramatic Changes over Last Five Decades

Now, I have teenagers, and I hear the stories. If you have kids in high school none of this should surprise you. But I am not sure how to interpret it.

In the Old World when I was growing up, the game was very complicated, and in the long run I think everybody got what they wanted, but the basic paradigm was boys-chase-the-girls.

Now, if these results are to be believed (and why not?), the girls are doing their share of the chasing, too.
"The change in young women's beliefs about premarital sex was enormous," said Twenge, who co-authored the report with Brooke Wells, a former graduate student at San Diego State now at City University of New York.

"Cultural influence was so much stronger for women than men, and that was true across behaviors. The attitudes that parents have is also an influence," Twenge said about the report that tracked Baby Boomers, Generation X and the current generation of young people, whom Twenge calls Generation Me.

"Baby Boomers were having sex for the first time in college, but Generation Me started having sex in high school; there's been a major shift there," she said. On the flip side, in this age of AIDS, young people also are reporting fewer sexual partners. As the AIDS epidemic escalated, young people reported fewer numbers of sexual partners, according to the report.

This change in girls' attitudes about sex is probably the latest repercussion of a long train of events that have re-shaped our nation's economy and mores. Remember, a hundred years ago women couldn't vote. Fifty years ago women tended to stay home. Today Mom goes to work just like Dad. It seems reasonable to interpret these data as showing that the economic empowerment of women may be resulting in a sense of sexual empowerment as well. Not that we've figured out how to deal with that.
Certain sexual behaviors are becoming more acceptable, too. "Oral sex has become so popular. In previous generations, oral sex was considered disgusting. Now young people see it as another way of being sexual," Twenge said. "It's also part of the general trend of sexual behavior moving away from marriage and reproduction and toward pleasure."

The percentage of teenagers and young adults having oral sex increased from 48 percent in 1969 to 72 percent in 1993 among young men, and from 42 percent in 1969 to 71 percent in 1993 among young women.

A shift in emphasis from sex for "marriage and reproduction" to sex for pleasure... Modern technology has made it possible to split the pleasurable part from the reproduction part. And, it appears, the softening of some traditional constraints is resulting in exploration of the pleasurability of sex.

This survey raises some important questions. Where are these changes headed? How do we as a society manage this tidal transition? Is there something morally wrong in engaging in sex for pleasure? Is it possible, once the cat's out of the bag, to re-bag it? Is that even desirable? How do these findings affect the determination of the best way to talk to students about sex?

This is a time for serious consideration of some important issues. Norms are changing very fast, and American teens are finding sex on their own, either not receiving any guidance from adults or simply ignoring it as boring and old-fashioned. The pleasure is alluring, the social exchange is rewarding, and the risks are real.

They'll Win When Written Permission Is Just Too Tough

I loved the way blogger Pat Hayes put it over at Red State Rabble. This guy over in Kansas keeps a pretty lively site going. Here's how he sees it:
Bob Corkins, the new Kansas education commissioner, thinks parents should be required to give written permission for their children to take sex education classes.

Some people think this is no big deal.

Red State Rabble, on the other hand, suspects the conservatives on the board of education -- all opponents of factual information about condoms in the public schools -- standing shoulder to shoulder now with our new lobbyist/education commissioner are just learning to play the game a bit more subtly than they have in the past.

Rather than break all the china by going for a quick victory, as they did with evolution. They now seem to be playing the long game, betting, in effect, that if they can stay in office long enough, the next generation of parents will no longer be able to write.

No parents able to write letters giving permission for their children to attend sex education classes. No problem. Subtle Strategy

I've said before, the thing that scares me the most about these anti-MCPS groups is the anti-education aspect of it. Not only do they believe that schools should teach by withholding information from students, but their lack of respect for highly educated researchers is very dangerous. It's a negative feedback loop, when ignorant people seize control of the schools they will produce ignorant students, who will control the next generation of schools, which will produce ...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bad News in Nutsville

Terrible bad news today. Tests of a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), a widespread virus that can be spread sexually and causes cervical cancer, are showing very good results. From MSNBC:
Efforts to develop the world's first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer took a key step forward Monday with test results suggesting that it can provide long-lasting protection.

Four years after getting the vaccine, 94 percent of women were protected from infection with the virus that causes most cervical cancers and none had developed worrisome precancerous conditions, a study showed.

"We're thrilled about these results. The immune responses seem to be really long-lasting," said Dr. Eliav Barr, who leads development of the vaccine for Merck & Co. The company plans to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval next year for an expanded version of the vaccine that also could be used to prevent genital warts in both women and men.

"They showed clear effectiveness," said Dr. Scott Hammer, a Columbia University infectious disease expert who reviewed the work but has no ties to Merck or the study. "This is a very important issue for women's health around the world." Study: Cancer vaccine protects for years: Test results suggest shots prevent cervical disease in women

About 20 million Americans have HPV right now, it is very common. It is estimated that 50 per cent of sexually active people will eventually get it, and by age 50, eighty percent of women have the genital form of HPV. Thus, that 94 per cent success rate is very high.

Personally, I think this is great news. But some on the dark side don't see it that way. Remember this story? From the New Scientist magazine, earlier this year:
In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus. Will cancer vaccine get to all women?

I remind you, also, that PFOX wants Peter Sprigg, who is Senior Director of Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, to serve as their representative on the MCPS citizens advisory committee that will review the next sex-ed curriculum.

Is this what you want?

The Board Keeps the Applications Secret

A little item from this morning's Washington Post.
The Montgomery County School Board is slated to make appointments on Tuesday to the citizens advisory committee that will work with staff on revisions to the health education curriculum tossed out last May.

More than 175 county residents applied to sit on the 15-member board, but the identity of the applicants will remain a mystery, it seems. The school system has declined to release the names of prospective committee members or the applications that detail their reasons for wanting to be a part of the public advisory group. Officials say the privacy of citizens who apply for a spot on a public board trumps the public's right to know who they are and why they want to serve.

Board members will meet in closed session to go over the applications and will vote on their choices in open session.

What is known about the prospective committee is that two seats have been set aside for representatives from the groups that filed a lawsuit against the school system -- Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. Two other spots will be reserved for student representatives. In addition, representatives from four community groups will have seats at the table, leaving seven seats for citizens at large.

The previous curriculum, which allowed teacher-initiated discussions about homosexuality at the eighth-grade level and the screening of a video on condom use in the 10th grade, drew criticism from some members of the community who felt that it was not balanced and that its teacher resource materials favored the beliefs of some religious denominations over others. School Board to Appoint Members To Citizens Advisory Committee

The interesting thing is that they won't release the names of people who applied. It was my understanding that those applications were public record. I know that a Freedom of Information Act request was filed, someone wanting to see the applications, and that the school district has not yet come up with the documents. From this article, I would guess that they don't intend to.

They can say they're protecting "the privacy of citizens who apply," but what can that mean, really? These aren't personnel records, this isn't a job, there's no pay. The board is just seeing if they can get away with it, if they can avoid controversy by failing to comply with the law. Because we do know how the CRC and PFOX love to go to court -- and you can be sure they'll squawk over something if they can see those applications. Let me guess -- there is probably some nutty extremist who applied and didn't get picked, and they'll scream for the next year about how "unfair" it all has been. Yes, I understand the board wanting to avoid that, but ...

I know what I'd like to see in that stack of papers. I'd like to know if the two anti-MCPS groups who are guaranteed seats on the committee followed the rules. Did the CRC and PFOX submit three names? A Washington Times article earlier this year suggested they each submitted one, in violation of the rules. Were the names they submitted former members of the citizens committee, and therefore ineligible? That same Times article suggests that one of those groups' applicants was a former member.

What will the school board do on October 11th, if the CRC and PFOX violate the rules for applications? This will be a test for them. They could let those groups' representatives join the committee, even though they violated the rules, and I can easily understand the temptation to let them. I mean, who needs the hassle and expense of a big fight over something as uninteresting as the membership of a committee? On the other hand, they could simply hold those positions open until the groups both submit names of three people who have not been on the committee previously. In which case, I'd bet money the groups will sue.

In my view, it is most important for the board to retain control over the process. If they put ineligible people on the citizens advisory committee, they can't really kick when more demands are made. They might save a few bucks of taxpayer money off the top, but in the long run the whiners are going to feel empowered to drag the whole system down from the inside.

The citizens committee should reflect the community. By definition, that puts the anti-gay, anti-safe-sex groups in the minority. And like before, they will be outvoted when they try to introduce their ridiculous stuff into the classroom. So ... OK, they're outvoted, that's fair. It was fair before, and it will be fair now.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Self Righteousness Flares Up in Potomac

There's something interesting going on over at Winston Churchill High School, in Potomac. A couple of weeks ago, the Gay-Straight Alliance there put up some posters in honor of GLSEN's (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) Ally Week. Ally Week is a nationwide event in the schools, "empowering students to be allies against anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) bullying, harassment and name-calling in K-12 schools," according to the web site.

The Churchill posters had quotes, like:
"Every human being has a sexual orientation--homosexuality is just one of them"

and some by famous people:
"There is no such things as a Homosexual or Heterosexual person. There are only homo or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices...Gore Vidal"

Whether you agree or disagree, whatever. It's posters in the high school.

Anyway, most of the posters were about sexuality and tolerance, because, well, that's what the Gay-Straight Alliance is about.

According to a Churchill student:
As far as I've seen, the posters are just thought provoking but there has been a few incidents of vandalism. Someone wrote "God hates fags" on the corner of one poster and another poster has been repeatedly ripped down. A group of parents called in to get the school to take down one of the posters. Apparently a parent took a word, "slippery," out of context (why is it that our opponents are the ones with the sick minds?). The posters were definitely approved by school administrators. Before any club is allowed to put up posters, they need to be revised, approved and signed by an administrator. The objective of the posters was not to offend or impose was just to create a safer haven and let students know that the Gay Straight Alliance exists.

Can you imagine? I thought God Hates Fags was just some Deliverance extras out in Kansas. But this is Potomac, Maryland, people. Home of big-time athletes, politicians, rock stars.

And that "slippery" thing. What do you say when you call up the school to complain that somebody used the word "slippery" on a poster? That seems to get you started down a s******* slope.

Well, I guess the reason you have something like a Gay-Straight Alliance at a school is to counter this sort of thing. These kids seem pretty plucky about it. They keep putting the poster back up.

At work, we have a little bulletin board near the microwave, where people can put up signs. Retirement parties, selling the old car, stuff like that. Once I put up a sign that just said "Do Not Remove This Sign."

Naturally, somebody removed it.

I put it back up. They took it down again. We went through that a whole bunch of times. I never knew who took it down, and they never knew who put it up.

But it made me wonder. Can you imagine walking around thinking that it's your job to take down other people's signs? Some people really do think they've been chosen to make the rules for everybody. Some people really can't just let people do what they do, they actually believe that they know what's best for everybody.

You kids keep hanging up those posters. supports you, and so do lots of other people.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

CRC Potty-Mouth

Like a moth drawn to a flame, I checked the CRC's online discussion site this evening, and discovered that Biance, er, Retta, er, CRCPrecious has posted a piece titled "TTF Forum." Now we know that Retta didn't come to our forum, so I was a little curious to see what her take on it would be.

Ah, this, of course.

In his lecture on the scientific and medical aspects of sexual orientation, Dr. Paul Wertsch, the Chair of the American Medical Association's Advisory Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues Concerning Patients, Medical Students, and Physicians, mentioned the research of Alfred Kinsey. Of course, modern sex research began with Kinsey, you can't really talk about it without mentioning him, but ... well, y'know, the extremists really really hate Kinsey.

Here, you can see Dr. Wertsch's Powerpoint presentation: CLICK HERE. Three of Dr. Wertsch's thirty-five slides describe Kinsey's work.

But all of Retta's, er, CRCPrecious's synopsis of the TeachTheFacts Forum -- which had five featured speakers plus two expert panelists, and lots of important statements from the audience, is about Kinsey. All of it.

And none of it is about his research, which is what we heard about. It's just about his personal life.

She says things like this:
he masturbated…with a foreign object inserted up his penis. By late adolescence, his masochism was well advanced. He had progressed beyond straws and was inserting a brush back up his penis.

and this:
It's absolutely vital that American's know the truth about this disgusting degenerate for his 'research' has been propagated throughout our society..

and so on.

We held our forum EXACTLY to rise above this kind of thinking. We were not there to gossip about rumors of curious sex practices by people we disagree with. Dr. Wertsch was there to discuss research on sexual behavior, and some of it, yes, was conducted by Kinsey.

The CRC has treated the MCPS sex-ed curriculum as pornography from the start, they have a kind of weird Midas Touch that makes everything ugly.

Before Kinsey, no one had dared study sexual behavior in the laboratory, and now the field of study he initiated has resulted in thousands of peer-reviewed studies published in dozens of scientific journals. Knowledge of human sexuality has increased steadily over those intervening decades, and knowledge is bad for the CRC, it undermines their arguments.

It is embarrassing to see what passes for discourse among these sad people who oppose the Montgomery County Public Schools. It is embarrasssing to me personally to be put on this level. But you can't just abandon our community to these Philistines, you have to fight. And you just pray you aren't contaminated by their filth.

Earlier today I posted the full text of Glenn North's discussion of comprehensive sex education at the forum. I hope to be able to post the text of the lecture by Deborah Roffman, and others. It is important for us to talk about the issues, not make potty-mouth about people we don't know.

I can't tell you how discouraging it is to see what we're up against here.

We learned a lot at the forum, and it was a pleasure not to have our heads pushed into the toilet, as happens when we listen to the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum.

Shipping Them In From New Jersey

I heard it with my own ears, Peter Sprigg at the CRC Hate-Fest back in March, telling us that "tens of thousands" of people have given up their homosexual orientation and gone straight. Just flipped the switch from AC to DC and kept going, happily ever after. We have seen the pressure that anti-MCPS groups are putting on the school board to include teaching about "ex-gays" in the new sex-ed curriculum. It will become the biggest issue in future discussions, unless the whole thing gets tied up in court.

To hear them talk, you'd think it was a big deal or something. You oughta be running into these "ex-gay" guys just about everywhere you go, if there are so many of them. Just about everybody should know a couple of them.

Do you?

It has always seemed odd to me that you never find just a regular guy claiming to be "ex-gay." They're always promoters, they're always somebody who's pushing the idea, somebody with a stake in it. The guy on the billboard, the guy that some big organization sends on the road, or the small-time hustler like Richard Cohen, trying to milk this thing for what it's worth.

A guy I had never seen before spoke in public comments at the last school board meeting. Giving his name a Lee B. Brundidge, he said, "I am here to tell you that ex-gay people exist, and I am one of them."

I know that these Internet phone books are not perfect, but I can't find any Lee Brundidges at all in the whole state of Maryland. Several Brundidges, none start with "L", none at all in this part of the state.

I do find a Lee Brundidge at Agape Family Worship Center in Rahway, New Jersey -- a Christian church with more than 4,000 members. He leads something called "New Creation Ministries," with this description:
This ministry is aimed at helping those individuals who are struggling with homosexuality to break free from bondage and begin living the life that God has in store for them. In a loving and safe environment, this ministry seeks to teach what God says about homosexuality and help individuals understand that they do not have to continue in that lifestyle.

I also find a phone number and address for a Lee B. Brundidge -- an exact match -- in Passaic, New Jersey, about twenty five miles from Rahway.

If there are so many of these characters running around, then why do the same ones go from town to town, telling their stories? If there are tens of thousands of these guys in the US, then there must be hundreds, or at least dozens, of straight-guys-who-used-to-be-gay right here in Montgomery County -- why do you suppose they had to ship somebody in from New Jersey?

Who do you suppose paid for his trip?

Glenn Northern's Talk at the Forum

The forum that was held on September 25th featured nationally-known experts and individuals reporting on their real-life experiences. Over the next week or so, I would like to post the full text of some of the talks given at the forum.

Below is the full content of the talk by Glenn Northern, who is the Sexuality Education Policy Manager at Planned Parenthood. He talks about comprehensive sex education, which is a phrase that we have heard but perhaps not thought completely about. I am including a couple of the notes that he had available in case certain questions came up, as they are also informative. We hope to have sound files available soon, they will need a little processing to make the sound clear.
Comments by Glenn Northern.
Montgomery County Community Forum, September 25, 2005

Why Support Comprehensive Sex Education:

Thank you. My name is Glenn Northern – I am the Sexuality Education Policy Manager at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. I help communities across the nation implement balanced and effective sex education curricula and programs so that youth can make responsible decisions. But I am also coming today first and foremost as a concerned parent and resident in Montgomery County. I am so glad you are all here today. It is great to see so many parents and community members involved and concerned about the sex education that students are receiving.

I believe we all want our children to grow into happy, healthy adults free of the negative consequences of sex and capable of enriching relationships and all the positive aspects of sexuality. For that, we need programs that work. We need programs that have proven track records. We need programs that can help young people grow into sexually healthy adults who make responsible, considerate, compassionate decisions about their sexual health. We need programs that build on the work of parents. We need programs not based on fear and distortion of information. We need programs with honest answers.

Those kinds of programs are comprehensive sex education programs.

1) First, I will talk a little about what comprehensive sex education is and how the video fits in
2) Then, I'll review what the research says about the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education,
3) Third, I'll talk a little about who else supports comprehensive sex education

Lets start with the video and put it in context.

This video is an example of a single tool within the much broader toolbox of comprehensive sexuality education. Comprehensive Sexuality Education is not simply talking about contraception. It is much broader and aims to create sexually healthy individuals who are capable of preventing the negative consequences of sexual intercourse, and who are also facile in a broad range of life-enhancing skills such as assertiveness, effective communication, critical thinking, decision-making and the capacity to build rewarding relationships. It seeks to assist young people in understanding a positive view of sexuality, provide them with information and skills about taking care of their sexual health and help them acquire skills to make good decisions now and in the future. Comprehensive Sex Education achieves these ends by providing honest, comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate information. Too often, the sex education debate devolves to one of false dichotomies about abstinence versus contraception. The video is a casualty of that debate when it should instead be seen as one segment in a much larger picture.

What's Good About the Video -

First the video addresses abstinence – it mentions abstinence at least seven times as, I counted it as, the most effective means of protection. This is not simply lip service to abstinence given that that specific video was about how to use a condom. We even saw the moment when the narrator mentioned talking to one's partner and said "if you can't talk about sex then maybe you should not be having it." Certainly this once again sends a message that refraining from sex makes sense.

Second the video also addresses the needs of those students who ARE sexually active. It provides information that they might not get anywhere else and could provide a moment for open dialogue with teachers, or with parents. I know we all would like our youth to refrain from sexual activity until they are truly ready (whatever our values as parents determine that criteria to be), but the difficult reality is that 45.6 percent of high school students (48.5 percent of males and 42.9 percent of females) reported having had sexual intercourse. That is a lot of sexually active students. No abstinence program – or comprehensive one for that matter – will ever have a 100% success rate. Therefore, students who are sexually active need more than just an abstinence message. They need to know how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and disease. The video provides important information to the many youth who are sexually active.

Third, the tone of the video addresses condom use in a matter-of-fact manner that still manages to maintain credibility among youth. Given how easily a discussion like this could devolve into bawdy joking among students, the perfunctory treatment of the subject matter is a strength.

Those are three of the positive aspects of the video, but it is important to remember that the video is only one tool. It is important to view it in that context. Comprehensive sex education is not simply about providing information about abstinence and contraception, as important as they are. Let me explain a little more about comprehensive sex education. Balanced, responsible sex education recognizes that the most important sexuality educator is the parent. At Planned Parenthood we believe that parents are – and need to be – the primary sexuality educators of their children. Comprehensive sex education programs aim to assist parent-child communication, and help youth understand that the family is an important source for guidance in developing responsible, honest and respectful values about sex and sexuality. But we also know that parents feel like they need help. Most parents want schools to share the responsibility for helping their kids learn to make healthy choices that protect themselves and others. Ninety-three percent of all Americans support the teaching of sexuality education in high schools, while 84 percent support sexuality education in middle/junior high schools. (Hickman-Brown Research, Inc., June 1999.)

Teaching abstinence, or ways to delay sex until maturity, is an integral part of Comprehensive sex education programs. Let me repeat that, abstinence and delaying sex until maturity ARE an integral part of comprehensive sex education programs. No one wants youth who are not ready to have sex. Comprehensive sex education programs teach young people to say no, and then provide the skills and assertiveness training to help them negotiate those encounters. Comprehensive sex education programs also address the needs of those who are already sexually active. If someone is already sexually active they need to know that there are other options such as refraining from sex, but they also need information about where they can get tested, and how not to spread potential diseases. They also need skills for how to talk to their partner, they need to understand how their bodies and feelings are changing, and they need compassion and understanding. They also need to know about contraception and how to protect themselves. The bottom line for most parents is that if their child did become sexually active and was at risk they would at least want them to be as safe as possible. Condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy when used consistently and correctly. They are less so when used inconsistently or incorrectly. Out of 100 users who do not use a condom every time, or who do not use it properly each of those times, 16 will get pregnant in a given year. Without using any method 85 will. Of course, all it takes is one improper usage – or failure to use – to get pregnant. That is why it is important that users understand correct and consistent use. That is why the video went into such detail about proper use. Condoms have been proven to offer protection against most serious sexually transmitted infections, including bacterial infection, Chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, syphilis and HIV/AIDS. Condoms do not completely prevent skin to skin contact and are therefore not 100% effective against STIs, but short of not engaging in sexual activity, they do offer the best protection possible against STI's including HIV. In fact, condoms are the ONLY technology currently available that can effectively protect people against the sexual transmission of HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "a number of carefully conducted studies, employing rigorous methods and measures, have demonstrated that consistent condom use is highly effective in preventing HIV transmission". For students who are sexually active that is important potentially life-saving information. Comprehensive sex education programs offer this information in honest, unbiased manners and do not try to hide or distort the facts.

So now you should have better understanding of what comprehensive sex education is trying to accomplish, and that it is much broader than just teaching about abstinence and contraception. Body image, negotiating peer pressure, assertiveness skills, biology, decision making, communication, media literacy, interpersonal relationships, gender roles, affection, critical thinking and others are all topics and skills that comprehensive sex education addresses in an attempt to help youth learn to make responsible decisions and lead healthy happy lives.

So What Does the Research Say About Comprehensive Approaches:

The evidence is very clear. Comprehensive sex education programs should be supported because they work. Comprehensive sex education programs can get adolescents to change their behaviors, not just their attitudes and can help delay having sex or increase the use of protection for those that are sexually active.

Numerous peer-reviewed studies over the years have shown that various comprehensive sex education programs can change students' behavior. In Science and Success, researchers describe the effect of 12 programs that demonstrated a statistically significant delay in the timing of first sex, and 17 programs that demonstrated increased risk reduction among sexually active youth including increased use of condoms and other contraception, reduced number of partners and frequency of sex, and reduced incidence of unprotected sex. Eight (8) programs demonstrated statistically significant declines in teen pregnancy, births, HIV and other STIs. In each of these programs – as well as in Doug Kirby's work which also looked at successful programs – the effects were long term, lasting from 12-31 months.

The seminal work Emerging Answers by Douglas Kirby also concluded that as of 2002 "there do not currently exist any abstinence-only programs with reasonably strong evidence that they actually delay the initiation of sex or reduce its frequency. Other programs may get youth to "say they are going to change their behavior" or may change student's attitudes temporarily, but comprehensive sex education programs have demonstrated that they can change students' behavior in the long term.

Furthermore, there are numerous studies that show that comprehensive sex education program DO NOT INCREASE SEXUAL ACTIVITY. The Surgeon General cited in his Call To Action of 2001 that "providing information about contraception does not increase adolescent sexual activity, either by hastening the onset of sexual intercourse increasing the frequency of sexual activity or increasing the number of sexual partners." Similarly, most parents correctly believe that it is not a mixed message to talk about both abstinence and contraception and most parents want programs to do exactly that. Even a January 2004 poll conducted by Zogby for ardent opponents of balanced sex education (Focus on the Family) found that 75% of parents wanted programs that included information about both abstinence and contraception.

Poll after poll after poll show similar results. The issue cuts across party lines, across racial, socioeconomic and geographic lines. People support programs that include both abstinence and contraception and are displeased if either is omitted.

Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, The American Public Health Association, The American Federation of Teachers, The American Association of School Administrators, The American School Health Association and over 125 other major organization all support balanced, responsible sex education.

Yet despite overwhelming support for programs that teach both abstinence and contraception, and despite the profusion of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of comprehensive programs to help youth achieve positive behavioral results, there is no dedicated federal funding for comprehensive sex education in the classroom.

On the other hand, over a billion dollars has been funneled into programs that have yet to produce long term behavioral results, and which have been shown to be replete with misinformation, factual errors and distortions. Ten different individual state evaluations since 2002 have all have suggested less than stellar grades for programs that focus exclusively on abstinence. None of them managed to find long term behavioral changes, and none managed to delay initiation of sex, though some did find attitudinal changes.

But to make matters worse, a recent study by Congressman Waxman from California found that over 80% percent of the most popular curricula funded the by the federal government through the Special Projects of Regional and National Significance Community Based Abstinence Education Grants contained "false, misleading or distorted information" including errors like "HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears."

Even Maryland spent over a million dollars on these programs last year while others that have been proven to work, languish. That does not seem like a very good investment. We do not want programs that are rife with errors. No, let us support honest, truthful, medically accurate programs. Let us support programs that teach about assertiveness, body image, gender roles, sexual orientation, decision-making, communication, interpersonal relationships, dating, both abstinence and contraception and that encourage family communication, Let's support programs that have been proven to change adolescents' behaviors, and that can delay teens engaging in sex for the first time, and increase their use of protection if they do become sexually active. Let us support programs that the major teachers' and medical associations support as an approach to sex education. Let us support what the overwhelming majority of parents know to be the best approach. Comprehensive sex education can do all of the above. Let us support comprehensive sex education. Montgomery County has a rich history of providing education leadership – let us not falter in this important arena. The young people of the county are counting on us.

Thank you.

Sidebar Stats on Teen Sexual Activity:
For twelfth graders its 60.5 percent; 11th graders 51.9 percent and 40.8 percent for tenth graders, even 34.4 percent of ninth graders reported having had sexual intercourse.

Sidebar If anyone asks about HPV & Condoms
Condoms do provide some protection against HPV and HPV-associated diseases such as cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer. In fact, recent studies showed that 1) newly sexually active women who used condoms for all sex acts were significantly less likely to acquire HPV than their peers who did not use condoms consistently;[19] and 2) women already diagnosed with a pre-cancerous cervical condition and who used condoms consistently were much more likely to have a healthy cervix at follow-up and/or to have cleared HPV from their system than were inconsistent condom users.[20] Among men, consistent condom users were less likely than inconsistent users to have penile HPV or HPV lesions.[21,22]

Sidebar on Polling
A 2004 poll by Kaiser/NPR and Harvard showed that 85% of parents supported broader forms of sex education that included information about both contraception and abstinence.

Hey -- Teach All Sides, Not Just Two

Here at we are a one-issue group ... for now. We support the introduction of a common-sense sex education curriculum in Montgomery County, Maryland. It's a small thing.

But there are larger reasons why we have to do this. Our little school district is under attack on this one issue by extremists who oppose the imparting of knowledge as it is understood in the scientific community. They want to indoctrinate students with their religious values, regardless of the facts.

One, this isn't the only place that is happening. We see the news from all over the country, nutty groups trying to undermine the teaching of safe-sex practices, undermining any teaching that supposes the homosexuality is natural and acceptable.

And, two, this isn't the only topic that has come under attack. These same kinds of groups are attacking Biology curricula, trying to get teachers to promote religious beliefs about a Creator who is in control of the development of biological systems. The President and other high-ranking politicians have made fair-sounding statements to the effect that "both sides of the issue" should be taught. And, yes, it sounds fair, teach not only the correct but the incorrect perspectives, yes. Good thing for a politician to say, I suppose.

I just came across this cool article from the Daily Herald (motto: "Central Utah's Newspaper"). Not only is this a great idea, but it takes the "teach both sides" argument to its logical conclusion. Here's the whole thing:
As kids return to school this year, there is an undeniable excitement in the air.

No longer will they be stuck learning old-fashioned, intellectually bankrupt sciences such as physics, geology and evolution. They have the president's permission to learn "different schools of thought" about creation.

Such as the fresh, modish sounding theory of "intelligent design."

With the help of think tanks such as the Intelligent Design Network, the Access Research Network and the Discovery Institute, the theory that holds that an intelligent designer decided to give fish legs is finally beginning to get a fair airing in our classrooms.

That version of intelligent design, however, is just the tip of the alternative-science iceberg. If we're going to follow the president's dictum and let kids hear all the options, we need more.

For instance, ancient Ghanaians called the intelligent designer Mangala. Before creating our world, Mangala created another, but he didn't like it and so destroyed it. (Come to think of it, this might explain how dinosaurs existed before the Christians' intelligent designer got around to making His universe.)

When Mangala tried again, a trickster named Pemba was born. Pemba committed incest with his mother (we could gloss over this part; kids don't need to know everything). Mangala fixed things by castrating and sacrificing Farro, Pemba's twin brother, and then brought him back to life as a human being. And there you have it, the beginning of human life. Scientists have not even begun to consider how many human mysteries could be solved if we'd only understand mankind as the spawn of a castrated god.

Next door in present-day Nigeria, the ancient Yoruba had an artist-deity, Obatala, who they believed intelligently designed the human body, and an even more intelligent designer, Olodumare, who breathed life into it -- sort of; he actually breathed life into the "little head" inside the human head. Every one of us, it turns out, goes to the workshop of the heavenly potter Ajalamopin and chooses an "inner head" that Olodumare has pre-vivified. Then we finish our nine-month incubation. Armed with this knowledge, perhaps doctors could do something about infant mortality in Africa besides fiddling around trying to vaccinate them.

The Hopi also have multiple intelligent designers. The sun god Tawa and the goddess in charge of Earth, Spider Woman, worked together to make all the creatures in the world, bringing them to life by laying an intricately woven white blanket over them. I'm not sure what scientific conundrum this could solve, but I believe our kids should know about it in the interest of comprehensive objectivity.

In ancient Baghdad, Babylonian scientists were pretty sure that the world was intelligently designed by Marduk, god of gods, after he smashed the skull of Tiamat, primordial mother of all things, so that her blood ran streaming to the ends of the Earth.

Then, resting, he pondered what to do with her enormous carcass. He split it in half, and with the upper part he held up the arc of the sky (a useful idea for plasma physicists?) and used the bottom half to hold down the seas, just the sort of idea that our shortsighted oceanographers, with their blinkered faith in "scientific method," have never considered.

So is this science, myth or faith? Ask the Yoruba or, better yet, your kids. It is only fair to give them all the theories and let them decide themselves. That's what Arizona Sen. John McCain, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and President Bush think. Only by being "properly taught" different ways of thinking, the president says, "can people understand what the debate is about.... People ought to be exposed to different ideas."

So bring on the Hopi blanket and that Yoruban breather and Tiamat from Babylonia. Add in the Flat Earth theory, witchcraft black and white, and while we're at it, white supremacy and the edifying effects of sacrificing virgins.

And soon I hope to have my own theory ready, the theory of Malevolent Design, which I think may go further than these others in explaining human life. I don't see how children can decide on the value of scientific method if they haven't been exposed to that one. Like our president and senators, I'm only thinking of the children.

Tom Lutz is visiting professor of critical studies and interim director of the Master of Fine Arts writing program at California Institute of the Arts and a professor of English at the University of Iowa.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A5.

Why not expose kids to all creation theories?

(I apologize in advance about the author's omission of the Great Spaghetti Monster. I do think a prompt letter to the editor of the Daily Herald would be appropriate.)

OK, everybody should agree about this, right? Let's teach students all sides.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Should Absurdity Be Taught As Fact in the Classroom?

A well-written article in the Boston Globe a couple of days ago has gotten a lot of play around the Internet. The author, Jeff Jacoby, works up, slowly and deliberately, winning you over as a friend first, casually setting the context for his case. He wants to argue that, whereas in the 1920s Darwinisn represented liberal enlightenment and was opposed by closed-minded fundamentalists, today the Darwinists have become the close-minded ones, the "thought-controllers," opposing the liberal and open discussion of diverse ideas. It is very clever indeed. In his words:
When John Scopes went on trial in Tennessee in 1925, religious fundamentalists fought to keep evolution out of the classroom because it was at odds with a literal reading of the Biblical creation story. Today, Darwinian fundamentalists fight to keep the evidence of intelligent design in the diversity of life on earth out of the classroom, because that would be at odds with a strictly materialist view of the world. Eighty years ago, the thought controllers wanted no Darwin; today's thought controllers want only Darwin. In both cases, the dominant attitude is authoritarian and closed-minded -- the opposite of the liberal spirit of inquiry on which good science depends. The timeless truth of creation

It really sounds unfair, doesn't it? Those mean old scientists won't let anybody believe anything different from what they believe.

Let's take another theory, one that was just as controversial in its time. Let's say that some scientists insisted on teaching that the world was approximately spherical, and followed an elliptical path around the sun. But another group believed the earth was flat, and that the sun moved through the sky, up in the East and down into the West, to be reborn day after day. Those round-earthers insisted they were correct, and refused to even debate those who differed from them. They fought tenaciously to see that the schools taught their version, and kept the other guys' story out of the classroom.

This writer would call those Copernicans "thought controllers," wouldn't he? Why, they had no tolerance at all for other people's beliefs!

This is an exact analogy to the present time.

We will see the same thing in Montgomery County, when the Ones Who Sue will try to insist, in court, that the schools should teach that sexual orientation is a choice, and that it can be changed. The scientific evidence is accumulating, day by day, and it is showing that there is not a choice. Nobody believes it is a choice, except for those who must believe it for reasons other than the inherent correctness of the idea. The facts say it's not a choice, the logic connecting the facts says it's not a choice, but if your pastor insists that God says it's a choice, well, there you go, you have to believe that.

I sympathize with those who are put in the situation of having to believe things that are obviously just plain wrong, because of their religion. But you know, they will argue it passionately, they will want you to agree it's "unfair," that it's "intolerant" not to teach their absurd beliefs alongside factual ones.

No, it's not, it's neither fair nor tolerant. It's just wrong to teach absurdity as fact in the classroom. Just wrong. Flat earth, intelligent design, "ex-gays."

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sixth Grade Coming Out ... of a Teaching Career

Two sixth-grade boys in Florida were talking in class. So the teacher made them sit in front of the class and hold hands and tell the class they were gay. That teacher is currently unemployed.
ORANGE PARK, FL -- The Clay County School Board says a Swimming Pen Creek Elementary teacher has resigned due to some inappropriate comments made in the classroom.

Two boys claimed their teacher, Larry Eager, humiliated them in front of classmates Friday in reading class.

The 6th grade boys say they were mouthing words to each other while the teacher was talking.

"He made us sit in the front touching knees and then he kept trying to make us hold hands," said Vinny Fuller.

The boys said Mr. Eager told the other students they were gay. Fuller and Jones said it went on for about 15 minutes while the six other students looked on.

"I was feeling embarrassed and wondering what he was going to do next," said Fuller.

"I was mad and I was sad," said Malcolm Jones. Clay County Students Say Teacher Humiliated Them

Now let me tell you why this is here.

Just last week, the President of the CRC sent an email to a PTA group, repeating some stuff they had sent before about the sex-ed curriculum that was nearly implemented. She included the statement:
While encouraging children to determine their sexual identity – heterosexual, homosexual, bi-sexual - all material from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) that discusses the health risks of homosexual behaviors was excluded. That is irresponsible.

The same person's presentation at the March CRC Town Hall meeting (commonly known as the Hate-Fest) said something similar:
The new curriculum encourages students, beginning in 8th grade, to "develop your individual sexual identity," i.e., to begin to question their sexual orientation.

On their web site, the CRC tells the world that the curriculum that was proposed:
encourages students to develop their individual sexual identity, i.e. to identify themselves as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

and so on.

This has been one of the CRC's hottest talking points, the allegation that the school district was going to get children to somehow declare publicly, in sex-ed class, whether they were gay or straight. They derived this talking point through misconstrual of an item that was in an early draft of the curriculum.

See what you think here. Let me show you what the curriculum actually said, and you see if you think they're being ... accurate ... in their portrayal of it. The November, 2004 draft of the eighth grade curriculum (but not the final version) had teachers telling their classes:
As we study human sexuality we will discuss how you develop your individual sexual identity.

Now picture those two boys sitting in the front of a sixth-grade class, as embarrassed as anyone can possibly be. It doesn't matter if they really are gay or not (if that concept is even meaningful in sixth grade), that's actually got nothing to do with it, it's just as embarrassing either way. This is what they want you to believe MCPS intended for our kids. They want you to imagine that Montgomery County middle-school students were going to be forced to dress up in tu-tu's, hold hands (fingernails painted, of course) in front of the class, give each other a little "coming-out" kiss, and tell the whole class they're gay. That should be approximately what you picture as you listen to their letters and speeches. They want you to think that their lawsuit saved us from that.

Listen, this Florida teacher is beyond nutzoid. I have no idea what he thought he was going to accomplish with this stunt, if he thought it was funny, if he thought it was in-bounds, or if he'd just reached some existential flashpoint, exploded, and this was like pieces of emotional ash wafting down from the blue expanse of the career he once loved. Because, as parents know, sixth graders will do that to you. They will push you over the edge. That's part of what makes a teacher's job so very hard, you can't let them do that to you, you have to keep control of yourself and your judgment of what's appropriate.

Kids that age don't know if they're gay or straight, they fall in love with movie stars and rock guitarists, they can't tell if they "love" somebody or just want to be like them. The CRC wants you to think that MCPS was going to encourage kids to tell the world what their sexual orientation is, in eighth grade, and that's just dumb. The schools weren't going to do that. This Florida teacher lost his job, and that's appropriate.

Gay Couples in the Census Data

When I first saw this story it didn't really catch my eye. OK, gay couples are like straight couples. That can't be that much of a surprise, we all got the same stuff to do, wash the dishes, fight over the remote, walk the dog -- OK, the thing about the toilet seat might be different, but generally, this just didn't seem very surprising.

But then I started thinking about all those presentations to the school board by people opposed to the new curriculum changes. People go to the school board public comments and tell them about all the diseases that homosexuals get, tell them about feces-ingesting sex practices, try to suggest that high school kids are cruising the gay dating web sites on school computers. I thought about Peter Sprigg at the CRC Hate-Fest, with his "myths" about homosexuality, telling everybody how they molest children and how they make more money than the rest of us (his point being, that means there just can't be any discrimination against them).

The other side is really trying to build a case that gay people are weird and strange, a danger to society that needs to be eliminated, well, kept suppressed anyway. So I went back to this story, just to see how weird they really are.

The piece is called Same-Sex Couples and Same-Sex Couples Raising Children in the USA, and it was just published by a research group at the UCLA School of Law. It's really just an analysis of 2000 Census data, I suppose anybody could have done this. This is not a peer-reviewed study, just an analysis done by a think-tank, but it doesn't appear to have any fancy weighting or statistical modeling in it, and I would think anybody with a background in statistics could grab these same public Census files and check the results.

Here, I'll just paste in their Executive Summary:

  • We estimate, based on the best available studies of human sexuality, that there are approximately 4 to 6 million adults who self-identify as gay men or lesbians in the United States.
  • Approximately 594,000 householders identified themselves as living with a same-sex “unmarried partner” in Census 2000.
  • Census 2000 identified same-sex couples in every state and virtually every county in the United States. The four states with the highest percentage of same-sex couple households are Vermont, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
  • Individuals living in same-sex couples not only live throughout the country, but share all of the other attributes of the U.S.'s population -- they include every race, every ethnicity, the able-bodied and the disabled, citizens and non-citizens.
  • Individuals in same-sex couples contribute to the United States economy: 71% of them are employed compared with 65% of individuals in married couples.
  • Individuals in same-sex couples have served the United States in the armed forces: 15% percent of them are veterans compared with 19% of individuals in married couples.
  • Individuals in same-sex couples depend on one another economically in ways similar to married couples. Disparate income levels between partners provide evidence of interdependence, suggesting that one partner is caring for the other. Members of same-sex couples have higher disparities of income than different-sex unmarried couples, though not as highly disparate as married couples.
  • Similarly, in 65% of same-sex couples one partner is a homeowner. By comparison, one or both partners are homeowners in 43% of different-sex unmarried couples and 81% of married couples.

In analyzing parents in same-sex couples in the United States, we consider the population aged 22-55 since this is the group most likely to be raising children.
  • More than 39% of same-sex couples in the United States aged 22-55 are raising children; they are raising more than 250,000 children under age 18.
  • Same-sex parents are more likely than different-sex parents to be black and Hispanic. The children of same-sex couples are similarly diverse: over 46% are children-of-color.
  • Compared to different-sex couples with children, same-sex couples with children have fewer economic resources to care for their children. Same-sex parents have lower household incomes, lower home ownership rates, and lower levels of education than different-sex parents.
  • The median household income for same-sex parents in the United States is $10,000 lower than the median household income for different-sex parents; the average household income is almost $12,000 lower. In addition, the home ownership rate for same-sex parents is 15% lower than that for different-sex parents.

The picture of same-sex couples raising children presented by Census 2000 is quite different than the popular misconception that gay people are predominantly male, affluent, urban, white and childless. Many people in same-sex couples look like Americans generally. Individuals in same-sex couples raising children, however, do not fare as well as their different-sex counterparts: they are less affluent, more racially and ethnically diverse, and hence particularly in need of the legal, social, and economic benefits of marriage.

You might want to go back and listen to Peter Sprigg's (mp3) scary talk at the March Hate-Fest. Are any of his statements supported by this little study?

Listen, you CRC guys, a little advice from ol' Uncle JimK. You don't want students to learn about homosexuality in school. I really don't know why. Reporters have asked me what I think motivates you, but I can't answer it. I really don't get it. But let me give you a little suggestion. Don't try to convince us of the evils of homosexuality by saying that gay people are all that different from the rest of us. Because we live next door to them, we shop at the grocery store with them, our kids go to school with theirs. And, y'know, whatever your problem is with them, nobody really buys the scary picture you're trying to paint.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

PTA Delegates Considering Resolution Against CRC

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) is a group that opposes the teaching of safe-sex practices in Montgomery County sex education classes, and opposes teaching about sexual variation. Because they represent a tiny minority of Montgomery County citizens, they have to pull every trick they can think of, to have any impact at all.

Last year, shortly before the new health curriculum was going to be pilot-tested, the CRC sent letters to the families of eighth graders at Tilden Middle School, one of the schools where the curriculum was going to be tested, using the school's PTSA directory for address information. The letters, as would be expected, were full of distortions and were not appreciated by the parents who received them.

One of the CRC's officers has explained to a TeachTheFacts member how they laboriously transcribed all the names from the school's directory into a special database, to create the mailing list. Some CRC members deny that such a database exists, but ... this is not the place to get sidetracked listing all the things they've lied about. I don't know if they did this same thing at the other two schools that were scheduled for pilot-testing.

When this happened, the Tilden PTSA adopted a resolution demanding that CRC stop using the information inappropriately and return any copies of the directory that they have. The resolution formally listed the facts of the case, and demanded a prompt response, which of course never came.

The Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA) Executive Board proposed a resolution on June 2 similar to Tilden's, telling to them to stop the inappropriate use of the directories and to return all copies of them.

With legal assistance, the Executive Board made some changes to the resolution in August and adopted it. Now it is scheduled to be voted on by the MCCPTA Delegates, a larger group comprising representatives from all county schools, in their October meeting.

Think about it. You're a solicitor or a pedophile or a religious nut and you've got a database of children in a neighborhood, just great. Think of all the ways that could be used. The directories serve an important purpose for the members of those communities, they aren't for mass-mailing by weirdos and business interests.

A web page of upcoming MCCPTA Delegates' projects mentions "Revisions to the proposed directory resolution" to be discussed at their October 25th meeting. That item links to two other web pages. The "proposed directory resolution" links to the original draft of the resolution from June 2nd. The word "Revisions" links to a revised version of that resolution.

If I'm reading the legalese correctly, this is the version that was approved by the Executive Board, and which will now be voted on in the Delegates' October 25th meeting (changes can be introduced at that time):
WHEREAS each school year the local PTA units of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA) typically compile and publish student directories that include personal and potentially sensitive information such as the names, street addresses and telephone numbers of students whose parents have agreed to have such information included, and

WHEREAS by common knowledge and accepted practice these directories are intended exclusively for the private use of the PTA and the local PTA communities to facilitate communication within their communities, and are not intended to be used for any other purpose, and

WHEREAS it appears that an organization called the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (CRC) has obtained copies of selected directories and used the information in these directories to develop a mailing list for a purpose inconsistent with the intended or appropriate use of the directories, and

WHEREAS this use of student directories by CRC in a manner inconsistent with the directories’ intended purpose has caused substantial concern among parents within the affected PTA communities, and

WHEREAS the PTAs in the affected communities are justifiably concerned that fears about potential future misuse of student directories could lead parents to withhold student directory information, thereby impairing a critical PTA asset,

NOW BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the MCCPTA Executive Board expresses the sense of the Board that CRC has misused student directories and objects in the strongest terms to that misuse,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the MCCPTA Executive Board requests that CRC cease using information obtained from PTA student directories, and to return to the affected PTAs all copies of their directory information now in the possession of CRC, in whatever form the information may exist.

(I edited some weird capitalization in this, I think I'm right and it didn't change the meaning of anything, but look at the original if you doubt it.)

It looks to me like CRC thinks they can win everything by suing people. Notice how they've given up their web presence. They slapped a new user-interface on the web page, but with the same outdated content. Their blog's been dormant more than two months. Their forum is rarely updated, with no discussion at all. Now and then one of them fires off some impulsive, inarticulate message to a listserve, and somebody from their group usually shows up at the school board's public comments sessions, but generally they're staying out of view.

That's because their public relations campaign has been a failure. The public doesn't like them. The more they speak out, the more people learn what a negative force they are, and how ignorant they are. They won't win a public debate, as they have no point to make that can possibly stand up in the light of reason. That's why they made the message board private, and that's why they never allowed comments on their blog -- they knew how repulsive it was to people who learned their true beliefs. At one point, we understand, they even told their members to stop commenting on our blog.

Even the county PTAs, who usually stay neutral in these things, are coming out against them.

It seems to me that the only thing the CRC can do is to use their Florida lawyers to attack the school district, using the expense of legal defense to force the district to do what they want, whether the public approves or not. Watch for that.