Saturday, June 30, 2007

Booting Up a Chromosome System

Wow. Right here in Rockville, these guys are really starting to understand the very most basic essence of life. What they will eventually do is to create new life-forms by engineering new chromosomes, but that's still a long time off. For now, this amazing breakthrough lets a scientist take a chromosome out of one kind of bacterium and put it into a cell of another type. The transported chromosome then takes over the operation of that cell, and when it divides and reproduces you end up with a whole population of, basically, the first type.

There has been a lot written in the last couple of days about this experiment. Here's how The Edge has it:
In a news cycle dominated by Paris Hilton and the Apple iPhone, Craig Venter has announced the results of his lab's work on genome transplantation methods that allows for the transformation of one type of bacteria into another, dictated by the transplanted chromosome. In other words, one species becomes another. This is news, bound to affect everyone on the planet...

The day after the announcement, Edge talked to Venter, who had the following to say about the research underway:
Now we know we can boot up a chromosome system. It doesn't matter if the DNA is chemically made in a cell or made in a test tube. Until this development, if you made a synthetic chomosome you had the question of what do you do with it. Replacing the chomosome with existing cells, if it works, seems the most effective to way to replace one already in an existing cell systems. We didn't know if it would work or not. Now we do. This is a major advance in the field of synthetic genomics. We now know we can create a synthetic organism. It's not a question of 'if', or 'how', but 'when', and in this regard, think weeks and months, not years. Changing One Species Into Another

You also might enjoy this nice radio interview with Dr. Venter and a Stanford professor who considers ethical aspects of the research. It's very clear, good listening: Science Friday (links are on the righthand side of the screen).

He explains what is actually new and surprising in this research. For instance, he talks about the possibility of a chromosome being introduced into a cell in nature, producing a new species. He describes the cholera bacterium as having one chromosome that is just like e. coli, and then another other that is different -- where did that second chromosome come from? He talks about enzymes that have evolved in the cell to restrict the introduction of foreign DNA (the cell he used didn't have such a feature), saying these enzymes probably function to prevent this kind of event happening in the wild.

They are thinking about using a technique like this to create a new kind of fuel. Would that be cool, or what?

If you've got some time, I recommend the radio interview.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Smart Students Oppose Torture

If you're a kid or you've got kids, or if you ever were a kid, you'll be proud of these guys.
WASHINGTON - President Bush was presented with a letter Monday signed by 50 high school seniors in the Presidential Scholars program urging a halt to "violations of the human rights" of terror suspects held by the United States.

The White House said Bush had not expected the letter but took a moment to read it and talk with a young woman who handed it to him.

"The president enjoyed a visit with the students, accepted the letter and upon reading it let the student know that the United States does not torture and that we value human rights," deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

The students had been invited to the East Room to hear the president speak about his effort to win congressional reauthorization of his education law known as No Child Left Behind.

The handwritten letter said the students "believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions."

"We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants," the letter said. Scholars urge Bush to ban use of torture

He told her the United States does not torture and that we value human rights.

Look, I don't really have to editorialize much here. I think everybody sees who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. We see who speaks truth and who speaks with forked tongue.

I will be curious to see who volunteers to say in the comments section that torture is OK, or that we don't torture, or that "extraordinary rendition" is not used by the US, or that the Geneva Conventions are irrelevant, incosequential, or don't apply.

These are some smart kids -- fifty of them:
The designation as a Presidential Scholar is one of the nation's highest honors for graduating high school students. Each year the program selects one male and one female student from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Americans living abroad, 15 at-large students, and up to 20 students in the arts on the basis of outstanding scholarship, service, leadership and creativity.

"I know all of you worked hard to reach this day," Bush told the students in his education speech. "Your families are proud of your effort, and we welcome your family members here. Your teachers are proud of your effort, and we welcome your teachers. And our entire nation is proud to call you Presidential Scholar."

The scholars travel to Washington each June for seminars, lectures and workshops with government officials, elected representatives and others.

Do you think any of the President's advisors have mentioned to him that torture is wrong? He told these kids the US doesn't torture -- is it possible that he believes that?

Can you imagine that it takes an act of courage to tell the President of the United States that you don't think we should torture people? When will we wake up from this?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Just Think About It, That's All

The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference is going on out in California, and it sounds like they could blow the sad hoax of the "ex-gay" open once and for all.

Yesterday some former "ex-gay" leaders from Exodus Ministries read a statement at the conference. Here's how Box Turtle Bulletin describes these three (edited somewhat for brevity):
  • Darlene Bogle, a former assistant pastor who had directed Paraklete Ministries in Hayward, California until she met her partner at a 1990 ex-gay workshop.
  • Michael Bussee, who was a cofounder of Exodus International in 1975. He left Exodus after falling in love with another volunteer at an Exodus-affiliated ministry in 1979.
  • Jeremy Marks, who had founded Courage U, which began as a classic ex-gay ministry before evolving into a gay-affirming organization.

And what did they say?
As former leaders of ex-gay ministries, we apologize to those individuals and families who believed our message that there is something inherently wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change an integral part of themselves, bringing harm to themselves and their families. Although we acted in good faith, we have since witnessed the isolation, shame, fear, and loss of faith that this message creates. We apologize for our part in the message of broken truth we spoke on behalf of Exodus and other organizations.

We call on other former ex-gay leaders to join the healing and reconciliation process by adding their names to this apology.

We encourage current leaders of ex-gay programs to have the courage to evaluate the fruit of their programs. We ask them to consider the long-term effects of their ministry. Statement of Apology from Former Exodus Leaders

Nothing inflammatory, no accusations. They just say, think about the effect of what you're doing to people.

Public Shifting on Facts About Sexual Orientation

There are some kinds of questions that can be answered with a survey or poll -- questions like, What proportion of the people believe X? -- and there are questions that can't be answered no matter what, and there are questions that have real answers. But you can still ask people what they think the answer is, even if you already know. Think of it as Jay Leno's Jaywalking. Like, you saw this one the other day, right? Forty-one percent of people still think Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for 9/11, you saw that, right? So you put the two kinds of questions together and you get a kind of measure of how informed/ignorant the population is.

I think of it as a measure of leadership and education, I guess. Are people being given accurate information? Are they well enough educated to make critical distinctions? You can't really blame people for not keeping up, there're only so many hours in a day, nobody can study every issue that comes up. If you give people accurate facts and good concepts for reasoning they'll come to the right conclusions, but lacking either of those we're in trouble. And lately ... we're lacking.

So this is interesting:
(CNN) -- A majority of Americans believe that gays and lesbians could not change their sexual orientation even if they wanted to, according to results of a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Wednesday.

It's the first time in a CNN poll the majority has held that belief regarding homosexuality.

Fifty-six percent of about 515 poll respondents said they do not believe sexual orientation can be changed. In 2001, 45 percent of those responding to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll held that belief. In 1998, according to a CNN/Time poll, the number was 36 percent.

In addition, 42 percent of respondents to the current poll said they believe homosexuality results from upbringing and environment, while 39 percent said they believe it is something a person is born with -- a close division that reflects the national debate over the issue.

However, those numbers are greatly changed from the 1970s and '80s, in which fewer than 20 percent of Americans said a person is born homosexual. In a 1977 poll, the number was 13 percent. Poll majority: Gays' orientation can't change

This is a major sea-change in just a couple of decades. Major.

Funny thing, what do you think? I'm guessing that the PFOXes of the world, by making everybody stop and think about these questions, got them to realize that it just didn't make sense to say sexual orientation could change. Like, why would anybody choose to be harassed and teased, beat up on the street and discriminated against everywhere they went? If you think about it, you realize it just doesn't make sense -- but that's the deal, you have to think about it. Before, like when I was a kid, when we had the old crank-handled video games before electricity, it was a kind of thing you heard mentioned a little bit, nothing was ever really explained, so you just believed what your buddies told you, which they got from their buddies. Nobody knew anything, actually, and we never gave it much thought.

And now, the Nutty Ones put it on the front burner, trying to polarize the country around the issue, and as people think about it, they're deciding for themselves.
Ten percent in the latest poll said they believe both factors play a role in someone's homosexuality. Three percent said neither, and 6 percent had no opinion.

Isn't that interesting?

On the question of gay marriage, 43 percent of respondents in May said they would not support same-sex marriage or civil unions, which provide many, if not most, of the same legal protections as marriage. Twenty-four percent said they supported same-sex marriage, while 27 percent opted for civil unions.

But a majority of poll respondents -- 57 percent -- said gay and lesbian couples should have the legal right to adopt children. Forty percent said they should not.

Marriage, civil union, I don't know, but they need something -- most people agree with that.

It's nice to see people coming around to our way of seeing things.

July Fourth -- Take A Picture in Silver Spring

A couple of days ago we talked about the ban on photography in downtown Silver Spring. Seems the city fixed the neighborhood up, condemned it, and sold it cheap to some corporation, who then decided you couldn't take pictures there. Because they said so, that's why. Downtown isn't a public place any more.

Some people didn't like the sound of that.

This Fourth of July at noon they're going to have a Downtown Silver Spring Photo Outing.

I mean, look at this, there's a whole web site about the fact that you can't take pictures in Silver Spring. This is what's great about the Internet, if you ask me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

There's No Gay Gene

The biggest thing upsetting the CRC-PFOX contingent right now is the idea that the Montgomery County schools would say that sexual orientation is "innate." There's no real argument otherwise, everybody knows it's innate, but this just drives them over the edge. They love to repeat the statement "there is no gay gene," over and over again, as if genetic and innate were the same thing.

The Toronto Star had a nice calm story this week about genetics and sexual orientation. How much of it can I include here? Let's see...
Gay men believe their sexual orientation is inextricably bound up with their very being. It is not a choice – let alone the "wrong choice," as religious and political critics have counter-claimed for years.

Many believe they simply were "born that way," and long for proof that their sexual proclivity is biological or genetic, a variation, not a deviation, of human nature. And how can an innate instinct be the subject of discrimination?

But just as many gay men don't want to know. It's a predisposition, they say, what does it matter what kind? If science delves into the cause, then bet on it, someone will set about finding a "cure." More to the point, they argue, determining the why of homosexuality won't end prejudice.

"The emphasis on finding a biological cause is much more widespread among activists in the U.S. than in Canada," says political scientist David Rayside, director of the University of Toronto's Sexual Diversity Centre.

"Most people here don't care or think the fight for gay rights shouldn't hinge on finding a cause." Hunting the gay gene

Interesting to contrast the US and Canada. I think we'll hear more about that in the comments.

I have talked to people who think this is a huge deal. I personally don't think it matters that much -- for instance, I think it is proper to respect a person's religion, even though that is obviously a choice and not something that is innate. It doesn't mean I should discriminate against them on the basis of their religion. But sexual orientation is different, it's not something a person chooses, it's clearly got a biological aspect to it, and that would, I think, entirely justify rejection of variation in sexual orientation as a dimension for judging people morally.
Theories have been floated for more than a century on what triggers homosexuality. Nurture – a psychologically troubled relationship between parents and child – held top billing until the start of the 1990s, when the tide shifted toward nature.

Two American scientists set the research and the debate in motion.

In 1991, Simon LeVay, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in California, examined the brains of 41 individuals; 19 gay men who died of AIDS, 16 heterosexuals of drugs-related AIDS and six women, of whom one had died of the disease.

Already aware that certain areas of the brain are bigger in men than in women, LeVay checked to see if there was a size variation with the gay men.

To his surprise, he found that one grouping of cells associated with sexual activity was twice as large in straight men as it was in both gays and women.

LeVay emphasized that his work didn't show "how or when sexual orientation is determined, only that it is an aspect of human nature that can be studied by biologists." But the media ran with it, playing down widespread criticism that he hadn't factored in the effect of AIDS on the brain.

Yeah man, that's just a start. One study with a few dozen subjects is not going to answer this question. For one thing, this is pure correlation, and you know what they say.

The story then talks about a study by Dean Hamer, who found some places on the chromosome that seemed to correlate with sexual orientation. The newspapers all went on about a "gay gene" being found.
Wrongly so, said the genetics community. The coverage was inflated, simplistic and misleading. No "gay gene" had been found, nor ever would be. Why? Because behavioural genetics is much more complex than "Mendelian" genetics. In other words, traits such as eye colour are 100 per cent inheritable but the genetic contribution to various behaviours, aggression, shyness, extroversion and so on, is considerably less, below 50 per cent.

Ruth Hubbard, Harvard emeritus professor of biology and biochemistry and author of Exploding the Gene Myth, has said that searching for a gay gene "is not even a worthwhile pursuit.

"I don't think there is any single gene that governs any complex human behaviour. There are genetic components in everything we do, and it is foolish to say genes are not involved, but I don't think they are decisive."

I saw the CRC's resident MD give a talk once where she showed data from a twin study that found that when a twin was gay he was ten times more likely than average to have a gay brother. She argued that the data actually showed that sexual orientation is not genetic, because if it was, they would both be gay a hundred percent of the time. Just goes to show you, people see things differently.

Ooh, there is something deliciously ironic in this next sentence:
By the end of the '90s, interest in the hunt for a gay gene had waned. Why, skeptics asked, would there be one when it plays no role in the evolutionary scheme of things?

This next guy has been at the center of a lot of the recent discussion; his name was first mentioned by a conservative writer as supporting their view that orientation is a choice, but he then explained: "The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality."
Since then, the scientific consensus is that sexual proclivity is influenced, but not hardwired, by DNA. Geneticist Francis Collins, head of the international Human Genome Project, has written that "whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations."

But the debate hasn't entirely gone away, or, indeed, all of the research. Next year at Northwestern University, 1,000 pairs of gay brothers will be studied to see if Hamer's X-chromosome findings finally can be reproduced. (Driven by AIDS, as well, critics would argue, by cultural bias, science has focused overwhelmingly on men, not gay women.) U of T's Rayside is leery about yet another study, concerned at society's increasing temptation to interpret all kinds of human behaviours in biological, particularly genetic, terms.

"These scientists think they're doing good, but they don't realize there's a political component to their work. It contributes to the trend toward genetic selection."

I suppose there's always the threat that knowledge will be used for foul purpose, but I don't see that as a good reason to remain ignorant. Who knows, maybe they'll find the gene that causes people to use knowledge for foul purpose, and use that knowledge to make people nice.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Citizens Advisory Committee Appointed

Last night the Montgomery County Board of Education named the new members of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. Here's how it breaks down:
  • Benjamin Elkind (student) representing the Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils
  • Tracy Fox representing Montgomery County Council of PTAs
  • Ruth Jacobs representing Citizens for Responsible Curriculum
  • James Kennedy representing
  • Richelle Meer representing NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland
  • Peter Sprigg representing Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays
  • Emily Wurtz representing Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Community at Large
  • Margaret Ellen Johnson (student)
  • DeBora King
  • Catherine Lane
  • Isabelle Melese-d’Hospital
  • Matthew Murguia
  • Esther Pinder
  • Carol Plotsky
  • Elinor Walker

Carol Plotsky: chair
Elinor Walker: vice chair

So, interesting. I'm on it again. CRC and PFOX people got re-appointed, even though I didn't think the legal settlement required it. Well, the wording of the Board's resolution seems to assume they are still bound by the agreement, so ... I don't know. There are a couple of new people ... Subash is gone, Victor is gone, Maria is gone. Elinor got promoted to "vice chair."

As I understand it, there is a new STD unit in the works. This term ends in June 2007, one year.

And the fun continues.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday at the Edge of Chaos

It's another ridiculously beautiful Maryland morning, sunny, warm. I slept till noon today. We were up late with the kids, talking till three or four in the morning. There were lots of hugs, lots of questions, I find I really like these young adults who live in our house.

This has been a tough fight, these two and a half years, and it looks like it could be winding down. The CRC's last appeal was nonsense, I'm not sure why they even bothered. America is changing, and Montgomery County ... has changed.

The big change is worldwide. It's not just gay rights, it's everything. It's like reading about the liberal and conservative moralities a couple of posts down from this one. The conservative morality makes sense in a small town. You have your ways, you have your reputation; whatever you do, everybody's going to know and you're going to have to live with it. Everybody's just like you, their people came from the same place, they're the same color as you, they talk like you. It's familiar and cozy and suffocating all at the same time.

But people have moved to the city. The whole economy has changed, it's like a mass migration, at least in America. Now you're dealing with all kinds of people. You can't assume anything, their people are from another continent, they look different and talk different from you.

And so you have to think about it all differently. You don't have to appreciate the differences, exactly, though that turns out to be a pretty cool way to handle it. But you do have to put up with people being different from yourself. You can't live like you're in a little town any more. In a small town, you can give somebody a dirty look when they step out of line, and it shames them, and they stop doing whatever they're doing. At least where you can see. In the city, that doesn't work. Some person on the street doesn't know you, and if you give them a dirty look they just assume you've got a twitch or something.

So we come to tolerate differences; there are so many different kinds of people, you just can't bother with it. The flipside of that is that "different" people have the freedom to express themselves. There's a kind of vivacious near-chaos in the city, with people from different ethnic groups bumping into each other on the street, different languages ringing out, different costumes. There's less pressure in the city for people to blend in.

Here in MoCo we've been talking about sexual orientation. Gay people. In a small town, if you're gay you pretty much have to keep it to yourself. It's just one dimension of differentness that you keep undercover, but it's an important one, because it determines who you're attracted to, who you'll date, who you'll fall in love with. In a small town, coming out can subject you to violence. Certainly there will be rumors, which can be just as bad. In the city, or in the new citified world, there's a different way to look at it. It's just another color in the swirl, another sound. There's no sense in giving gay people a dirty look, they'll just assume you have a twitch. In the city, in the new cosmopolitan world, it's just another way to be, something the person on the street can't control and wouldn't want to.

The world has changed, it's just taking a little time for some people to catch up with it. Some of those people want to take it back to the way it used to be when we all lived in little towns, and some of us want to move it forward to the next phase. And so we fight over it.

In chaos theory they talk about "phase transitions" as a place where you see something called "the edge of chaos." The classic phase transition is when water goes from a liquid to a solid; you know how little fingers of frost form on the window. It doesn't happen all at once, one molecule freezes and then another, and the result is a pattern that is both random and orderly -- those little branching fingers of frost. This is a most interesting state of things, somewhere between order and randomness, it's the state where living things exist -- your heartbeat is not a perfect cycle, every beat is different, you can't predict exactly when the next beat will come, but at the same time it's regular and robust and it keeps you alive. So a society lives at the edge of chaos, there are always new things and surprises but at the same time we have the familiarity of our traditions. Sometimes things break off and new processes start; at the edge of chaos you can't predict what will happen.

Speaking of which, we have been surprised to have a beautiful goldfinch on our birdfeeder the past couple of days. He is very wary, and flies away if he sees you sitting at the kitchen table -- the sparrows and flickers and nuthatches don't mind, but this bright-yellow guy is jumpy. I've seen them in the trees across the street, along Rock Creek, their yellow catching the rays, I think they are a little shy for coming this close to the house. But we've got one now.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Post Wants Your Opinion

This isn't the kind of thing I want to make too much of, but it is something we should do. The Washington Post is asking people to send them comments about the new sex-ed curriculum that was approved on the 12th.

Here's what they're saying:
The Montgomery County school board last week approved new lessons on sexual orientation for all middle and high schools for the fall. The two 45-minute lessons introduce homosexuality and gender identity in health courses in the eighth and 10th grades, along with a 10th-grade lesson and instructional DVD on the correct use of a condom. Opponents have appealed to the Maryland State Board of Education and to State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

What do you think? Send your comments about whether you think such lessons are appropriate in the classroom, and why.

Send your letters, which may be edited for space and clarity, by June 29 to, or by mail to Letters to the Editor, The Washington Post, 51 Monroe St., Suite 500, Rockville, Md. 20850. Please include your name, address and day and evening telephone numbers so that authorship can be verified.

Typically, the other side gears up for these things: see AstroTurfing. You can expect letters from all over the world comparing MCPS to Satan. They like to say, the paper received ten thousand letters opposing the curriculum, but we'd be happy to say they received a reasonable number of articulate letters supporting it and giving good reasons.

Readers of this blog have an interest in this topic, and have knowledge and opinions. It would be a good idea to write a nice, lucid letter to The Post, explaining how you feel about the classes and why.

If you live in the county and/or have a kid in public school who will be taking the courses, it would be good to mention that.

If you're serious about supporting comprehensive and inclusive sex education, write a letter and send it to The Post.

The Morality of Liberals and Conservatives

You might find this lecture interesting. Jonathan Haidt, associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, has been studying the psychology
of morality. At a recent New Yorker conference, he presented a summary of his findings on the differences in morality between conservatives and liberals. The video of his talk is online HERE.

In general, he describes liberals as having a kind of morality based on two foundations:
  • do no harm and
  • be fair (don't cheat people)

He notes that this is a sufficient and reasonable moral basis for a diverse society, where you have to accept the differences between people. He also points out how the Blue counties are all either along the coasts and along the Mississippi River -- areas with shipping, with a lot of trade and a lot of different kinds of people.

Conservative morality includes those two foundations, he said, but also includes principles of:
  • in-group loyalty
  • respect for authority, and
  • purity

The five-foundation system of morality has been the prevalent one everywhere in the world where societies have remained distinct from one another and where it was possible to live your whole life within your in-group, he said. Note that until modern times, this was just about everywhere.

Of course he elaborates more in this presentation, as he makes the point that by understanding these differences in the foundations of morality, liberals can understand why conservatives feel the way they do.

It all sounds fine, that conservative people are just looking out for threats to their loved ones, trying to prevent disruption, hoping to preserve cultural values that have sustained people for a long time. I can see that.

But something about it started to bother me a little bit. Because I grew up in a Red State, in Barry Goldwater's own state of Arizona. And I never had any trouble with conservative people. I mean, I wasn't one of them, but they were my friends and neighbors, we just had a different way of looking at things. In November we'd go to the polls and vote and they'd win. No problem.

Haidt refers to the "culture wars" a couple of times in this talk, and I think I see what the problem is.

See, he's talking about conservative people, in the traditional sense. There has always been debate in the US about ... well, about everything ... and it's always had two sides to it, and one side gets called "liberal" and the other side gets called "conservative." Been that way for my whole life, at least.

But the culture wars, that's not just a new label for an old dialectical process. The culture wars are a recent phenomenon. And the problem isn't that "conservatives" want to protect their families from threats and maintain traditional values, the problem is that they have moved so far to the right that they have left real conservatives like Barry Goldwater looking like liberals. The problem is that the "conservatives" are convinced that their mission (whatever it is) is so important that they are entitled to lie, accuse, cheat, to declare wars and reinterpret the Constitution in any way they can get away with.

I don't see that in this "five-foundation" moral system. Where does it say it's OK to lie? Liberals and real conservatives reject that sort of thing equally, though it has become status quo among our political leadership and in the Family Blah Blah organizations and groups like the CRC that are trying to push their narrow value system on the rest of us. We're only just starting to see the indictments and convictions roll in at the highest levels of the federal govenrment. The standard behavior of our government officials has not just been unethical, it's criminal.

Hey, d'ya hear the guy on the news the other days, saying he didn't think it was right to send Scooter Libby to jail without DeLay?

The kind of Assault on Reason we have witnessed in recent years is not an ongoing debate between honest liberals and honest conservatives who just see the world with different priorities. The "culture wars" reflect an attempt by radical elements to remake the United States in their image, removing elementary Constitutional rights and institutionalizing bigotry and belligerence, to create a fundamentally different America based on authoritarianism and rejecting personal liberty.

This guy is correct in general, in describing, say, the difference between City Mice and Country Mice, between liberals and conservatives in ordinary times, but he isn't even in the ball park when it comes to understanding how things have gotten the way they are, where behavior that is outside the bounds of any system of morality has become status quo.

Reporting On The Latest Diversion

The Post yesterday had a little paragraph about the CRC's latest appeal to the state. The Gazette had a full story on it this morning.
A coalition of activist groups has filed another appeal with the Maryland State Board of Education to halt Montgomery County's sex-ed curriculum before it is implemented in all middle schools and high schools this fall.

In February, the groups — Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) and Family Leader Network — asked the state board to stop the controversial curriculum before it was piloted. State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick denied the request for a stay and allowed the pilot tests to continue. The state board has yet to make a ruling in that case.

On Wednesday, the groups asked the state board to throw out the curriculum before the start of the school year. If the state board does not stop the curriculum, the critics said they would sue the county school system, claiming it released factually inaccurate information and did not put out material for public review before approving the curriculum.

The groups also claim the lesson plans violate students' constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and the right to freely exercise religion. Activist groups try again to block Montgomery's sex-ed curriculum

You know ... what can you say? They can try, I guess.
"Montgomery County is showing incredible arrogance by voting to adopt the revised health education curriculum before the State Board renders a decision on the legality of this very controversial curriculum," John R. Garza, the groups' attorney, said in a statement. "We don't understand why Montgomery County is ignoring the process in this case, especially given Dr. Grasmick's opinion that both sides have equally matched arguments."

Man, they are trying to get some mileage out of that, aren't they? She didn't say the two sides were equally matched. The CRC's arguments lost, flat out, in two out of the three sections. In the third section, the state Superintendent said the CRC's arguments were matched by the county's. Of course the CRC tries to make that sound like it was really a tie. No, it wasn't: they lost.

And the idea that the schools should have just stopped and waited -- listen, who is he talking to? The school district knows that wasn't what they were supposed to do. The state Superintendent and school board wouldn't have expected them to stop; if they'd wanted that they would have ordered a stay, and they didn't. People in general, the newspaper-reading public, might pause and think that MCPS has done something wrong, but anybody following this story knows better.

So you see that Garza is not addressing the participants in this controversy here, he's talking to people who don't have any idea what's going on. Why would he do that?
Montgomery board member Patricia B. O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda, who has been involved with the sex-ed discussions for five years, said the board showed "courage in the face of bigots" in adopting the lesson plans.

"It's more of the same," she said. "I'm not surprised. When we adopted the curriculum, I said, 'Bring it on,' because we will fight you tooth-and-nail. I am happy we did what we did and confident it will stand up at the state board, in federal court, or wherever."

Yay, Pat.
"They're going to do everything they can do," said James Kennedy, president of, a group that supports sex education in schools. "There's no reason to think that the state board is going to override the local school board."

Board Vice President Shirley Brandman saw the new effort to stop the lessons coming.

"I still stand behind the curriculum," said Brandman (At-large) of Bethesda. "My further hope is that nothing will derail it at this point. This doesn't shake my confidence as to the appropriateness of the curriculum."

The CRC's plan succeeded. They got their name in the papers. This is just another in an ongoing string of great victories for the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Are They Out of Control Yet?

From The Blotter at ABC News:
Vice President Dick Cheney has asserted his office is not a part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, and therefore not bound by a presidential order governing the protection of classified information by government agencies, according to a new letter from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to Cheney.

Bill Leonard, head of the government's Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), told Waxman's staff that Cheney's office has refused to provide his staff with details regarding classified documents or submit to a routine inspection as required by presidential order, according to Waxman.

In pointed letters released today by Waxman, ISOO's Leonard twice questioned Cheney's office on its assertion it was exempt from the rules. He received no reply, but the vice president later tried to get rid of Leonard's office entirely, according to Waxman. Cheney Power Grab: Says White House Rules Don't Apply to Him

Do you remember seeing Alberto Gonzales sitting there in the Capitol, smirking at the Senate Judiciary Committee and telling them that "The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas?"

This is just amazing, watching this happen to us.

The Thing About the KKK

OK, I was wrong, sort of. An MCPS schoolteacher did say something about the KKK in an email.

To recap: yesterday the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum filed an appeal with the state school board to stop the implementation of the new sex-ed curriculum. This paragraph appears near the end of their complaint to the board:
In the Order of the Superintendent, the State Superintendent cites the proposed curriculum's attempt to address harassment problems relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. In subsequent submissions filed before this Board, Appellants have documented how the curriculum fails to provide instruction on tolerance and acceptance of the only sexual orientation/gender identity group that is actually the object of derision and rejection by the Montgomery County public school system staff and students, which Appellees do not deny. Appellants attach as exhibits further documentation of this failure of the curriculum. Attached are even more correspondence from another Montgomery County school teacher that misrepresents the mission of Appellants, stereotypes former homosexuals, compares ex-gays to the KKK, and warns the ex-gay community to stay out of Montgomery County public schools.

Hence, the proposed curriculum fails to satisfy the concerns of the Order of the Superintendent and should not have been approved as a final curriculum by the Montgomery County Board of Education.

I searched the CRC's web site and couldn't find any mention of the KKK or the Klan, and I figured they were just lying again. But the person who wrote the letter identified himself in yesterday's comments on this blog, and showed me where to find the letter in question.

The email was sent to the CRC, but is posted on the PFOX web site. That's why I couldn't find it.

Here's what the teacher actually said:
To: <>
Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2007 16:48:05 +0000

Yes, it is called Freedom of Speech unless it is hate-based and you people are sadly full of only that, hate.

You say we are not being "tolerant" of ex-gays... and PFOX says it is not anti-gay...yet you people seem to HATE anything and everything that has to do with the way God wanted gay people.


You people are like the KKK but only in the form of should be ashamed of yourselves! Only God has the right to judge others, not other people.

Now, I can't say that's a great letter. You should see the stuff we get -- whatever, we don't put it on the Internet, at least. The guy's blowing off a little steam.

Anyway, the CRC told the state Board of Education that this letter:
compares ex-gays to the KKK

Do you get that? Is there some reason to think that the phrase "you people" refers to "ex-gays?" No, the acronym "KKK" does appear in the email, but there's no reason to think it refers to "ex-gays." Again, it's apparently a reference to PFOX, which is Parents and Friends of "ex-gays." I don't think there are any "ex-gays" in PFOX, are there? If there are, they are clearly not who this letter was referring to.

I can't imagine why an email from a Spanish teacher would be the cornerstone of the CRC/PFOX/Family Blah Blah appeal to the state. But, just for the record, let me put some context around this.

There was a strange event at Thomas S. Wootton High School in early May or late April, which I just barely mentioned in a post HERE. Didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but it did deserve mentioning.

PFLAG -- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays -- is a group that promotes actual family values, they think people can love their own family members even if they're gay. They have occasionally sent home fliers in MCPS students' backpacks. Well, at Wootton High School, the fliers were all ready to go out, they had been passed out to the homeroom teachers, and the administration decided to call them back. They gathered up all the PFLAG fliers and threw them in the trash. I called the school when I heard about this, and a very rude and defensive administrator made it clear they weren't going to talk about it. I went through the main district offices, and they dismissed it, until I got a teacher from the school to call them. Then MCPS called me back, sweet as pie, apologetic and explaining how it was nobody's fault etcetera.

PFLAG talked to the school district, and they agreed not to make a big deal out of it. I mentioned it at the bottom of a blog post that nobody read, and that was that.

A teacher at Wootton who is a co-sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school met with the administration at his school about this incident and ended up satisfied that it was an honest mistake. In the meantime, though, he had sent a nasty letter to PFOX in response to their fliers, and the CRC published his letter on their web site HERE.

Actually, it was funny, he first mistakenly sent a nasty note to us, which I blogged about HERE. I think he got TeachTheFacts-dot-com mixed up with TeachTheFacts-dot-org. Then, apparently, he wrote to PFOX, and the CRC posted it online.

I'm leaving the teacher's name off of all this, but it's no secret.

After the CRC posted his email to PFOX, he wrote back to the two groups:
Good morning.

I understand why you posted my comment to your organization on your website. While you have all the right in the world to do this, I would like you to also know that I do not teach sex ed at my school nor do I discuss these issues with my students. I am a Spanish teacher and that is all I teach: Spanish.

While we all have our personal views and opinions, this is not something I discuss in class with my students nor do I press my personal or political views upon them, as that is not my job but rather that of the BOE and curriculum/policy makers.

I request that you kinly post this reply with the one you posted on your webiste or you take the post down from your website as it suggests that I discuss these issues and ideas with my students, which I do not.

All my best,


Naturally, they didn't post this letter.

This might be shocking to the CRC and to PFOX, but there is a rumor that some teachers are human beings and have opinions, and it has been revealed that there is no law against a teacher expressing his or her opinion, even in public.

He wrote another email to the CRC at the start of June, I don't know why, but that's the one quoted at the top, that mentiones the KKK. PFOX posted that one on their web site.

This had all gone to sleep until June 15th, when that same teacher received an email from a guy who apparently belongs to a group called "ValuesUSA." The subject line was "Crucufying Our Future With The Gay Gene," and the email was CC'ed to a bunch of people, including some big-time rightwing leaders. It said:

That any school would teach their students that there is a 'gay gene' without a shred of truth or scientific evidence is a betrayal of the public’s trust in them that educators teach the truth, in order to ensure a stabile future for America.

That confirms what I’ve suspected for a while, that radical homosexuals will say and do anything, sacrifice the well-being of any others, in order to advance their agenda of perversion.

It’s not only about genital worship, it’s also incredibly self-centered.

If you were infected with Ebola, would you teach children that we should be tolerant of it? So to promote a lifestyle that can result in a similar end as Ebola (and it often does) is almost beyond belief.

To promote homosexuality in any way is to crucify our own future.

Guy Adams

Dir., ValuesUSA [.net] Coalition

This teacher was upset to get this letter, which was about stuff he had never heard of, and he naively tried to respond to the guy. Anyway, that didn't work out well, you might say. The teacher reported this incident in an email to the school board.

This "gay gene" email was almost certainly inspired by a bizarre June 13 press release from PFOX, titled "Montgomery County, Md. School Board finds “gay gene”: Violates State Board of Education’s Order," which mentioned down in the middle that:
At Wootten High School, a gay teacher and co-sponsor of the school’s GSA club warned PFOX to stay out of the public schools, compared sexual preference to African-Americans’ skin color, and also compared PFOX to the Ku Klux Klan.

After this last letter, the teacher composed a nice, longish email, which he sent to the school board, the teacher's union, and his school's administration, with the subject line "MCPS teachers under attack." I won't quote it all here, but the gist of it is:
These organizations have used hatred, lies, and non-scientific based evidence to attack anyone or anything associated with the word “gay”. They believe that people who happen to be gay should not teach children as, for their belief, gay people are perverse and child molesters. We all know that these groups and organizations simply use these hateful lies to try to discredit reality.

They also have blamed MCPS for teaching that there is a “gay gene” in sexual education health classes, of which is also a lie invented by PFOX to anger religious organizations. These people will scoop to the lowest level possible and lie about anyone or anything to anger people.

While sometimes it is hard to not respond to these groups and their bogus ideas I have simply come to the conclusion to ignore their mean-spirited and harassing e-mails by simply deleting them without first reading them.

On Friday, June 15th, the last day of school for teachers, I received a random and hateful e-mail from Mr. Adams of ValuesUSA . It said it was addressed to “officials” of MCPS, although I really did not recognize any of their names. I, being completely taken aback by this e-mail, responded to him but have since then have stopped doing so as he seems to be a little “over-the-top” with his hate-based tactics.

Now the CRC and PFOX and another group have appealed to the state of Maryland to block the new sex-education classes that are scheduled for the fall. For some reason, they have chosen to feature one of the emails in this long and lurid chain of correspondences, apparently to prove that even teachers are harassing "ex-gays," even though the letter itself does not actually do that at all.

This is ugly business, all the way around.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

You - Yes You - Can Get Rich Without Working

While they're planning how to trim back the Smithsonian, what they can charge the public for ... we learn this:
Former Smithsonian secretary Lawrence M. Small took nearly 10 weeks of vacation a year during seven years running the vast museum complex and was absent from his job 400 workdays while earning $5.7 million on outside work, according to an independent commission report to be released today.

The Smithsonian's second-ranking official, Sheila P. Burke, was absent from her job as deputy secretary for 550 days while earning $10 million over six years on non-museum work. Report Slams Small's Tenure: Smithsonian Had 'Ill-Suited' Leader

Hmmm, I'm thinking ... Ill-suited leader ... ill-suited leader ... ill-suited leader... Why does that ring a bell?
"Mr. Small's management style -- limiting his interaction to a small number of Smithsonian senior executives and discouraging those who disagreed with him -- was a significant factor in creating the problems faced by the Smithsonian today," the report concluded. "His attitude and disposition were ill-suited to public service and to an institution that relies so heavily, as the Smithsonian does, on federal government support."

Yeah, I ride the Metro, and the tourists are back, blocking the escalators, standing in the doorways, their noisy kids swinging on the poles -- you bet they come from the Red States to see the beautiful museums.

[error removed: jk]

These past six and a half years have just been so sad.

CRC Files Another Appeal With the State

I suppose the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum needed to see their names in the papers again. There really wasn't any other reason for this one.

Their press release says:
Montgomery County, MD – Today, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, and Family Leader Network are petitioning the Maryland State Board of Education to reverse a June 12 decision by the Montgomery County Board of Education to implement its controversial sex ed curriculum in the county’s 8th and 10th grades this coming fall.

“Montgomery County is showing incredible arrogance by voting to adopt the revised health education curriculum before the State Board renders a decision on the legality of this very controversial curriculum. We don’t understand why Montgomery County is ignoring due process in this case, especially given Dr. Grasmick’s opinion that both sides have equally matched arguments,” according to John Garza, attorney for the groups...

... and so on.

They seem to think that when somebody files a spurious complaint against you, you're supposed to stop everything and wait months for a decision. I don't think so.

They asked for a stay of the pilot testing. They didn't get it. Nobody has told the school district not to proceed.

As for the "equally matched arguments" thing, we've already gone through that one thoroughly enough HERE. Dr. Grasmick was just softening the blow, the CRC lost in every way, but the Superintendent gave them a point for the Constitutional assertions because, well, I can't read her mind but I think it's because she's not a lawyer and it's not her place to judge those kinds of arguments.

Today's press release has a bunch of the same old junk in there, about how the team of pediatricians who designed the curriculum filled it with "politically correct misinformation," they repeat the lie about a statement by geneticist Francis Collins, which he himself has clarified as reported HERE, they wanted it to say more about anal sex ... it's really the same old stuff. They could write these things in their sleep. Any of us could, after this many years of hearing the same old same old.

The Request for a Stay itself is no better.

"Usurps the authority" "tramples on parents' rights" "ignoring the Order of the Superintendent" -- ooh, you'll enjoy this one: "In subsequent submissions filed before this Board, Appellants have documented how the curriculum fails to provide instruction on tolerance and acceptance of the only sexual orientation/gender identity group that is actually the object of derision and rejection by the Montgomery County public school system staff and students, which Appellees do not deny."

Get it? (Hint: it starts with an "x" and ends with "g-a-y" and the leader of the "ex-gay" movement says he doesn't think they exist.)

Then they apparently have attached a letter from a teacher that:
... misrepresents the mission of Appellants, stereotypes former homosexuals, compares ex-gays to the KKK, and warns the ex-gay community to stay out of Montgomery County public schools.

I kind of wonder about that one -- I've never seen this letter. Google doesn't find the word "Klan" or "KKK" anywhere on their website. They have posted a couple of letters and phone calls from mad teachers, but none that say anything about the KKK.

Hey, you don't suppose they were lying about that, do you? They wouldn't have meant THIS, would they? Because that letter doesn't stereotype "former homosexuals," it doesn't "compare ex-gays to the KKK" -- but it does, in capital letters, tell PFOX to stay out of our schools and leave our children alone. I'll second that one.

I don't know, maybe they meant a different letter from a different MCPS teacher.

A reporter asked me about this appeal today. What can you say? I said, "Well, I guess they have the right to do whatever they think they have to do."

People, do you figure the people over at the state board have figured out what's going on yet? I'm guessing they have.

Dogfight at the Ex-Gay Corral

The "ex-gays" are imploding after Exodus International President Alan Chambers' recent comments to the LA Times that sexual orientation doesn't really change and that there might not be any such thing as an "ex-gay."

Professional heterosexual Stephen Bennett jumped into the fray immediately. Here's how the Christian NewsWire puts it (I just love this language, just beautifully impartial):
HUNTINGTON, Conn., June 19 /Christian Newswire/ -- Stephen Bennett, President of Stephen Bennett Ministries, a pro-family organization advocating for the traditional family, the protection of children and proclaiming the truth about homosexuality, condemned the irresponsible and disturbing remarks attributed to and made by Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, an organization claiming to be "The largest information and referral ministry in the world on homosexual issues."

Bennett, along with many others pro-family leaders, were shaken Monday by Chamber's remarks and are eagerly awaiting Exodus International's official response to their President's misguided statements. Sorry Exodus, Homosexuals Can COMPLETELY Change

You ought to go read that one, it is over the top, a laugh a minute.

Then you had the the "leather-loving, undercover gay fornication investigator" Peter LaBarbera (to use Pam Spaulding's inimitable description), of Concerned Women for America ... listen, somebody tell me, why are all the concerned women men? Well, anyway, he wants you to know that Alan Chambers is wrong. And here's his take on it:
There is a whole homosexual activist cottage industry, led by [Wayne] Besen and ExGayWatch, that — like the enemy of our souls — essentially gloats over failure. This decidedly evil movement heralds the latest stories of failed “ex-gays” who return to homosexual behavior, while ignoring (or ridiculing) the obvious successes and the fact that many people who’ve overcome homosexuality don’t care to talk publicly about the sins they left behind. The Question Is Not ‘Can Gays Change’ but How Many Already Have?

That cottage industry. Like, you know, when they stop traffic on Rockville Pike so the ExGayWatch motorcade can pass, with the rainbow bunting draped over their pink Cadillacs. But you must agree -- the whole homosexual activist cottage industry is just ... so ... fabulous. And the cottages, they're so nicely decorated.

Look, you guys, here's the deal. Alan Chambers said there're no "ex-gays" for a simple reason: there are no "ex-gays." He's been right in the middle of the whole thing for many years, if there was one he'd know about it, and he says he doesn't think he's ever met an "ex-gay." I'm not saying the guy's not full of it, but in this case he's just saying what everybody already knows.

PFOX sued our schools, they send home fliers in our county's schoolchildren's backpacks, telling them that "change is possible." It's not. It's possible to learn to live without love, it's possible to be celibate, it's even possible to pretend you're attracted to somebody you're not. I don't know why somebody would want to do that, but you can if you want.

I'm going to go make some popcorn and come back and see how this turns out.

Euthanasia or Murder?

Tell me, what would you do here? You're a nurse taking care of helpless, terminally ill patients. There's a flood, the water is rising in the hospital, ten feet deep on the ground floor. There is no way to get medical supplies, there's no electricity in the suffocating 100-degree heat, no water to drink. With FEMA in charge, the hospital is a low priority for evacuation. Your patients are almost certainly going to die from dehydration, lack of medication, and overheating, a slow, painful way to go.

It appears that during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, some hospital staff gave their patients lethal doses of morphine to speed them to a quick, painless death.
(CNN) -- Two nurses accused in the post-Katrina deaths of four patients at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center have been offered immunity to testify before a special grand jury, sources close to the investigation tell CNN.

Sources also told CNN the grand jury has been told as many as nine patients may have died after being administered what Louisiana's attorney general called a "lethal cocktail" of medications by hospital staff.

Sources: New Orleans nurses offered immunity in deaths

Nobody knows how often this happens in regular hospitals, how many patients get a merciful shot that ends their lives. Of course it's not supposed to happen at all. But it does, without a doubt, it happens sometimes.
Attorneys for Landry and Budo did not immediately return calls from CNN regarding their testimony. Pou's attorney, Rick Simmons, provided a statement saying Pou has had no role in the grand jury proceedings.

"We remain confident that once all the facts are known, all medical personnel will be exonerated of any criminal charges," the statement continued. "The fact that certain witnesses may or may not be talking to the grand jury does not change that fact."

As you read this story, you see that the justice system is dragging its feet any way it can. Family members charge that the nurses wanted to kill the patients to they could flee the building, but nobody else believes that. For one thing, they didn't flee, they stayed and took care of people.
The investigation determined that the four patients -- ages 63, 68, 91 and 93 -- were given a "lethal cocktail" of morphine and midazolam hydrochloride, both central nervous system depressants, [Louisiana Attorney General Charles C.] Foti said.

None of the patients had been prescribed the drugs by their caregivers and none of the accused treated the four before the injections, Foti said.

"This was not euthanasia," Foti said at a news conference last summer. "This was homicide."

Pou, Landry and Budo have denied the charges, and their attorneys have said they acted heroically, staying to treat patients rather than evacuating.

The case has languished since. Foti said he turned his findings over to Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan, who by law must either file charges or reject the case.

This is a pretty long and fascinating story, you ought to follow that link and see what you think.

Sometimes people have to make decisions that they would never have dreamed of. This might have been one of those times.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What Is Going On?

You might remember about a year ago when I blogged about a schoolteacher who used to be a porn actress and got fired. She was all born-again and everything, and wanted her job back. Whatever, it was kind of an interesting twist, you could call it a Reverse Clinton. Somebody screwed up, and the radical religious right wanted to forgive her, they thought she should get her job back.

Anyway, that was a year ago.

I noticed yesterday we got a comment on that post. Somebody wrote something as if I had just posted the thing. Well, that does happen sometimes, somebody will come across an old post in Google or somewhere and read it, not realizing it's been there a long time. It's easy to forget, we put this stuff online every day, but it's available forever, at least forever in dog-years, or surfer-years, or ...

Also, sometimes the spam-bots will find a particular post and start peppering it with their nonsense. Sometimes I turn off the comments to that post, sometimes I just delete all the spam. I actually think the new Blogger must have something in it that blocks spam, it has been much better lately.

Anyway, today we just got another comment on that same post. Weird, huh?

So I went into our web-tracker log, that records all the hits we get at this site. And man, this is strange: probably three quarters of the recent visitors to our blog arrived here from some kind of search for this story. Here are some of the search strings that brought people here:
  • anderson&btnG=Google Search
  • anderson&btnG=Google Search
  • anderson porn&*:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7DKUS
  • anderson&spell=1
  • anderson&btnG=Google Search
  • anderson porn&*:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7DKUS
  • anderson&spell=1
  • anderson
  • anderson&sourceid=mozilla-search&start=0&start=0&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:officia
  • porn star teachers
  • anderson%22 pictures&hl=en&start=20&sa=N
  • fired for being former porn star&btnG=Google Search
  • andersen

That's just the first few ... really, more than half of our hits today come from people looking for this nasty schoolteacher.

And they're coming from all over the country -- all are American, as far as I can tell, but they're from all over.

I checked Google News and there's nothing recent about her. Regular Google doesn't show me anything recent, either.

Does anybody know what's going on here?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Downtown Silver Spring is Private Property?

I don't live in Silver Spring, I live in Rockville, but I go over there pretty often. My kids like to hang out in the new downtown area, go to the movies, shop, walk around.

So I was just reading at the Silver Spring, Singular blog about something weird that happened over there. I would quote the blog post, but the guy that it happened to actually told the full story in their comments section, so I'm going to use that instead -- he says he sent this letter to the papers, the city council, some officials.

I can see this turning into a real nightmare, where laws are overwritten with corporate rules and policies and we don't have any rights because we're always on private property. Let me know if this worries you any:
To Whom It May Concern:

I am a longtime resident of Silver Spring. Back in the mid nineties through my involvement with the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and what was then called the Silver Spring Urban District, I participated in many of the activities leading up to the development of the new Downtown Silver Spring.

I have many hobbies and one of them is Photography. One could describe the kind of pictures that I take as "Urban Landscape". Through the popular photography website Flickr, I participate in a photography group known as "DC Neighborhoods" where we pick a neighborhood, photograph its character and ambiance, and then post it to this site to share with the group and others.

This past Tuesday, I went to downtown Silver Spring, had lunch, and then took out my camera and standing on Ellsworth Avenue, I began taking shots of the buildings with the blue sky and clouds as a backdrop. Almost immediately, a security guard approached and told me "there was no picture taking allowed in Downtown Silver Spring." "What do you mean" I said, "I am on a city street, in a public place, taking pictures is a right that I have protected by the first amendment." The guard told me to report to the management office.

There, Stacy Horan informed me that Downtown Silver Spring including Ellsworth Avenue is private property, not a public place, and subject to the rules of the Peterson Companies. They have a no photography policy to "Protect them from people who might want to use the photographs as part of a story in which they could write bad things about us." And she told me that many of the chain stores in Downtown Silver Spring don't what their "concepts" to be photographed for security reasons. There was also a concern that I might sell my photographs and that is not allowed. I told her that I was well aware of my rights to take pictures on public property, any pictures that I take I have a right to sell, and questioned how they could
have a policy that limits our individual rights when Downtown Silver Spring was built with public money.

I found out later that it is true Ellsworth Avenue was turned over to Peterson Companies through the process of condemnation.

So now I'm wondering: If this is a $1.2 billion public/private investment as stated in Tuesday's New York Times article about the downtown renaissance, where do the public's rights end and the private corporations policies takeover?? In discussing this with fellow Silver Spring residents I have been told that we are not allowed to campaign, petition or protest in Downtown Silver Spring. These are basic American values, true to our beliefs, and in the Downtown Silver Spring they are banned?? In this age of eroding individual rights should the people of Silver Spring accept this??

It is my understanding that the county continues to spend public funds promoting Downtown Silver Spring and I wouldn¹t discourage this, but I think that the county should have a conversation with the Peterson Companies about their policies in regards to these basic American values and freedoms.

I don't think that the people of this county are willing to trade their rights of free speech or the right to petition assemble and protest in their own downtown for a Starbucks or a Potbelly's.

The comments are pretty good, some people have looked up some stuff, somebody suggests a "group photo tour" of maybe 100 people.

I don't get how this happened. I know we have a few Silver Spring people who comments here, maybe you can explain how this happened. Is this right -- that the city built up this property and then condemned it, and this corporation bought it?

I don't want to judge this before we find out the facts, I do hope somebody will explain.


This post doesn't say anything about sex-ed, I'm just talking for a second here.

Both our teenagers are driving now. It seems like I'm handing out twenties-for-gas like candy these days. They say they're looking for jobs but ...

It seems like the news recently has been full of teenagers and car accidents. Those four Virginia kids, killed after graduation, unthinkable. Really, I just can't think about it.

I'm a person who can't stand to watch the news stories about bad things happening to young people. I'm not usually like this about things, but that's something I just have to put out of my mind.

So you can imagine how I felt yesterday when my wife called me from Iowa to tell me that our daughter, who was over in Ocean City with friends, had just been in a pretty bad accident. Not that mothers are psychic or anything, but my wife "just happened" to call her right after the wreck.

I immediately called my daughter's cell phone. She was still standing there at the scene. They were flying the driver to the hospital in Salisbury. My daughter had been in the back seat with a seatbelt on, and had bumped her head a little bit, but she was OK. In a strange town, the girl driving had taken a wrong-way turn onto a one-way street, and they got t-boned and spun around into the median. The car was totalled. There was no drinking or anything involved, they were just going back to their room from the beach to get their stuff to come home. Youthful inexperience combined with bad luck.

My daughter, who's eighteen now, was very cool on the phone. She gets that from both sides. My wife goes into nurse mode when disaster strikes, she figures out how to stop the bleeding and triages everybody and then starts cleaning up the mess. She breaks down afterwards. Me, I get analytical in those situations, looking at what needs to be done and who can do it, and making sure everything is taken care of. Sometimes I break down afterwards, sometimes it's years later -- once I was on an airplane that landed with some mechanical problems after circling National about a dozen times, and I was a mess for about a week, just jumpy and strange. But at the time stuff is going on, I'm cool, my wife's cool, our daughter is cool. On the phone she spoke slowly and clearly, sentences were packed with facts, precise, concise; I was proud of her. Of all the flaws she could have inherited, at least she got something good.

My son is friends with the kid who owns the car, which he had loaned to these other kids. He was so proud of that car. He'd done the whole woofer, neon thing to it, he'd make you wipe your feet before he'd let you in. And now it's scrap.

The driver got CAT-scanned and x-rayed and she had a broken arm and chemical burns from the airbag, but otherwise it doesn't appear there were serious injuries. My daughter got home about three in the morning, she's got a bump on her head -- this was a convertible with the roof down, and she hit that with the back of her head. Can you imagine if they hadn't had their seatbelts on?

I'm not going to think about it.

PFOX Will Not Like This

To rehash for newcomers, the Montgomery County, Maryland, Public Schools came under attack a couple of years ago by a radical religious cell that opposed teaching about homosexuality. Besides the usual stereotype stuff -- that gay people are dirty, promiscuous child molesters who spread diseases and undermine decency, etc. -- the radicals claimed that gay people could become heterosexual. "Change is possible," their billboard announced, on 355 near the MCPS office building. It's their motto, their mantra, they repeat it over and over again, and some uncritical, wishful-thinking people seem to buy it.

In 2005, a lawsuit was filed by two groups, our local nuts and an organization based in Virginia called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays or PFOX, or, if you believed the "and Gays" part and used all the letters, PFOX-GAG. They were represented by a national-level legal group, based out of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

PFOX's mission is to make gay people think they can become straight. Their typical approach is to do something obnoxious, and then when people object, they claim that as proof of widespread discrimination against "ex-gays." Oh, and they claim there are tens of thousands of these "ex-gays" out there, though if you ask to talk to one you always get one of the same handful of them, guys who make their living being "ex-gays" or have some public investment in the whole hoax.

You might not remember last summer, I blogged a thing called "Ex-Gay" Label to be Retired. It reported on an interesting discussion on Warren Throckmorton's blog (wow, twice in a row), where a bunch of the originators of the "ex-gay" movement were talking about the obvious fact that nobody is really "ex-gay." You may be able to act straight or commit yourself to celibacy, but those who are innately homosexual will always be that way. Everybody knows that. And these "ex-gay" leaders were discussing among themselves the inadequacy of the term and the fact that it needed to be retired.

It looks like they're finally getting around to it.

The LA Times has an interesting article this morning, pointed out in the comments section by Orin.
Alan Chambers directs Exodus International, widely described as the nation's largest ex-gay ministry. But when he addresses the group's Freedom Conference at Concordia University in Irvine this month, Chambers won't celebrate successful "ex-gays."

Truth is, he's not sure he's ever met one.

With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he's a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he's come to resent the term "ex-gay": It's too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete," Chambers said.

His personal denunciation of the term "ex-gay" — his organization has yet to follow suit — is just one example of shifting ground in the polarizing debate on homosexuality.

Despite the fundamental gulf that divides them, gay-rights activists and those who see homosexuality as a sinful disorder are starting to reach agreement on some practical points.

Chambers and other Exodus leaders talk deliberately about a possible biological basis for homosexuality, in part to explain that no one can turn a switch and flip from gay to straight, no matter how hard they pray.

New ground in debate on 'curing' gays

I mentioned in a previous post, and other places. that PFOX represents Denial. Their Executive Monkety Monk Regina Griggs has a gay son, and she has to keep going "Lalalalalalalala change is possible lalalala" rather than accept him for what he is. Sad, delusional, but attractive to a certain kind of religious fanatic who insists that a certain handful of passages in the Bible -- especially those that seem to denounce homosexuality -- are literally God's word.

I don't know these other guys, Chambers for instance, and I do wish they'd just find a community that will let them live as they are, but that's not the way they want to do it. They want to try to suppress their natural feelings so they fit a religious expectation. Okay, it's a free country. I think that's kind of dumb, I wouldn't do that if I were you, but ... I can't see how it's entirely different from a Catholic priest practicing celibacy. Again, it'd drive me crazy, but for some guys it's worth doing.

And some of these guys, it seems to me, are very honest about their feelings and the difficulty of adjusting to the church's demands.
A leading conservative theologian outside the ex-gay movement recently echoed the view that homosexuality may not be a choice, but a matter of DNA. To the shock and anger of many of his constituents, the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that "we should not be surprised" to find a genetic basis for sexual orientation.

That's heretical to many conservative Christians. But it's a view increasingly embraced by the public at large; a Gallup Poll last month found that 42% of adults believe sexual orientation is present at birth. (Three decades ago, when Gallup first asked the question, just 13% held that view.)

Yes, the CRC and PFOX love to roll their eyes and complain that the school district tells students that sexual orientation is innate.

Well, it is.

And now we see that people on their side, evangelicals and fundamentalists, are realizing you can only deny reality for so long.

This article takes an interesting turn just about here ...
"Something's happening. And I think it's very positive," agreed Michael Bussee, who founded Exodus in 1976, only to fall in love with another man — a fellow ex-gay counselor.

Now a licensed family therapist in Riverside, Bussee regularly speaks out against ex-gay therapies and is scheduled to address the Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference at UC Irvine at the end of the month.

But Bussee put aside his protest agenda recently to endorse new guidelines to sexual identity therapy, co-written by two professors at conservative Christian colleges...

Skipping down ...
"It's about helping clients accept that they have these same-sex attractions and then allowing them the space, free from bias, to choose how they want to act," said Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist in Salt Lake City who uses this approach.

The guidelines for this type of therapy — written by Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University — have been endorsed by representatives on both the left and right. The list includes the provost of a conservative evangelical college and the psychiatrist whose gay-rights advocacy in the 1970s got homosexuality removed from the official medical list of mental disorders.

"What appeals to me is that it moves away from the total polarization" common in the field, said Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist.

In my perfect world, people just accept one another. Yeah, sure.

A guy goes to the shrink. He says, "Doc, I am attracted to guys but my religion doesn't allow me to be gay. What should I do?"

To me, the shrink should say, "Find a church that accepts you." But -- I am not King of the World. An alternative is, some shrinks might say, "You will always be attracted to men, but maybe we can work out a way that you can still live within the rules of your church."

Given that this is not My Perfect World, that might be reasonable. I don't know, tough call.
"For many years, mental-health professionals have taken the view that since homosexuality is not a mental disorder, any attempt to change sexual orientation is unwise," said Spitzer, a Columbia University professor.

Some therapies are widely considered dangerous, and some rely on discredited psychological theories. "But for healthcare professionals to tell someone they don't have the right to make an effort to bring their actions into harmony with their values is hubris," Spitzer said.

And I look forward to some good comments about how people feel about that.
Critics of Exodus note the group still sponsors speakers who attribute homosexuality to bad parenting and assert that gays and lesbians live short, unhappy lives.

And though Chambers has disavowed the term "ex-gay," his group's ads give the distinct impression that it's possible to leave homosexuality completely behind.

The Irvine conference, for instance, is being promoted with radio spots that talk of "sudden, radical and complete" transformation. (Chambers apologized for those ads in a recent interview, saying they were meant to urge church leaders to radically change the way they treat gays and lesbians, not to imply that conference-goers would magically transform their orientation.)

Yes, there has been some talk on the Internet about a possible contradiction between what Exodus believes and what they say they believe. This last "apology," for instance, does have the ring of bull-oney, don't you think? Chambers knows how people will take it when he says you can have a "sudden, radical, and complete" transformation.
The American Psychological Assn. set up a task force this spring to revise the group's policy on sexual orientation therapy. The current policy is a decade old and fairly vague; it states that homosexuality is not a disorder and that therapists can't make false claims about their treatments.

The new policy, due early next year, must help psychologists uphold two ethical principles as they work with patients unhappy about their sexuality: "Respect for the autonomy and dignity of the patient, and a duty to do no harm," said Clinton Anderson, the association's director for lesbian, gay and bisexual concerns. "It's a balancing act."

(By the way, one of the more thorough articles on this APA task force was written a couple of weeks ago by Josh Lynsen at the Washington Blade.)

The problem here is simply polarization; the right has used "ex-gays" as a wedge issue, intentionally. Some groups formed to help gays adjust to a church whose God requires them to live without romantic love. Then somewhere along the way, stupider people got hold of the concept and started saying you could stop being gay -- this meant of course that sexual orientation is a kind of choice, and that meant that gay people were that way because they chose to be, which makes it a moral choice, which is a bad choice because a couple of verses in the Bible can be interpreted to say men shouldn't have sex with other men (I don't think there's anything to discourage lesbians in the Bible, is there?). So then the whole "ex-gay" thing became a big hoax to badmouth gay people. Now it sounds like some of these guys are trying to de-polarize the situation and disentangle themselves from the nuttiness.

How about this: they stop trying to recruit people. If somebody wants to live their life differently, that's one thing, they'll look for help with that; going around putting up billboards and sending home fliers ... no, that's just rude.

By the way, the post immediately before this one talked about an "Ex-gay survivor" conference. I think this LA Times article is a direct consequence of that conference. See? Already some good has come out of it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I Wonder If This Will Catch On

For the last few years our Montgomery County schools have been under attack by anti-gay forces, including a strange organization called PFOX -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays -- that goes around saying that people can stop being gay. I think most people have never heard of this tragic hoax before, but PFOX turns out to be the tip of the iceberg, there are groups and ministries all over the place that try to convince gay people that they can and should become heterosexual.

There seem to me to be two levels of this business, though they are not distinct. One level is the Pure Denial approach epitomized by PFOX: they tell gay people flat out that they can overcome their homosexual feelings and live as genuine heterosexuals. Usually there's some praying and some counseling or psychotherapy involved. The other level is, I think, somewhat more honest about it. These groups seem to recognize the dilemma of being gay and participating in a religion whose God doesn't accept you. If it was me, I'd switch religions, but some people consider their religion so important that they decide to give up their sexuality; they might pretend to be heterosexual, or maybe just don't have a love life. They don't deny that they have feelings, they just try not to act on them.

Some of the therapy techniques that are used to try to change people are brutal, besides the fact that they don't work. The whole movement leaves a lot of heartbroken, disappointed people along the wayside, people whose hope was jacked up and then dashed.

From Warren Throckmorton's blog we learn that Beyond ExGay (motto: "An online community for those who have survived ex-gay experiences") is planning a conference later this month in California for ex-gay survivors.

From their web site:
The Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference
Undoing the Damage; Affirming our Lives Together

June 29th-July 1st, 2007. University of California at Irvine

(Please note: This will possibly be a one-time-only event)

The ex-gay experience is unique in many ways. No one understands it better than those of us who have been through it. Creating a communal space for ex-gay survivors to tell their stories allows us to share what led us into an ex-gay lifestyle and ways we have been able to recover from it.

This conference is for you
  • If you have ever been through an ex-gay experience.
  • If you been damaged by the message that God does not love and affirm you.
  • If you are confused about the Bible and homosexuality.
  • If you are currently in an ex-gay program and wondering if change is really possible.
  • If you are the spouse, parent or partner of someone who has been affected by ex-gay experiences.
  • If you are thinking about trying to change who you are.
  • If you want to stand in peaceful solidarity to lovingly confront the damaging consequences of the ex-gay movement.
  • If you want to learn how to be a powerful ally.
  • If you are a mental health professional and want to learn more to effectively help your clients.

Wow, it looks like they've got some good people coming to this thing -- Jim Burroway from Box Turtle Bulletin, Mel White from Soulforce, others who are probably more famous to those who have been around this stuff and I wouldn't know, there will be entertainment and even an "Ex-Gay Survivor's Film Forum" featuring five filmmakers showing clips from their work.

Interesting they say it might be a "one-time-only event." I'll bet we hear some stories afterwards; I'll be curious to see if there isn't more of a demand for this sort of thing than they realize.

National News

Just a little bitty quote from the Chicago Sun-Times:
BY DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press

CRAWFORD, Texas---- President Bush warned Congress on Saturday that he will use his veto power to stop runaway government spending ...

Bush says he'll use his veto pen on excessive spending bills

I'm just saying what's in the paper, yuh note amean?

A Postdecisional Sunday Morning Rumination

Another ridiculous Sunday morning. They say it's going to get hot today, but so far I've got the windows open and there's a little breeze, the sun is streaming in, Bela and Chick are jamming on PFW, what more can you ask for? Oh, yes, it's Father's Day, which I always figure they just added to be fair and balanced -- everybody knows Mother's Day is the big one. My wife is out of town, taking care of her sick father, and both my teenagers are at the beach with their friends ... so, oh, this is terrible, Father's Day and I have to suffer through the morning with the whole coffee-pot to myself, great music on the radio, a beautiful summer day on the other side of the glass. Just terrible.

We are in the postdecisional phase of the sex-ed process, waiting to see if any other shoes drop. There was a swell of intensity as we approached the school board's vote, a lot of phone calls, a lot of talk, anticipation. And then they voted. I talked to a reporter immediately afterwards, and I couldn't remember anything, what day anything had happened, who said what, where I was. Now we're in the settled-down phase that follows.

Oh, hey, Superintendent Jerry Weast sent a memo to the members of the citizens advisory committee, dated the day after the vote. He says:
The action by the Board of Education of Montgomery County yesterday in approving the implementation of revision to the family life and human sexuality curriculum of the Montgomery County Public schools reflects an important milestone that was achieved in no small measure by the contributions of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development..."

It's actually quite a nice letter, reminding us that our terms are up at the end of the month unless we re-apply, and expressing Dr. Weast's support for Carol Plotsky, the committee chair. And I have to say I applaud her, too -- she did a magnificent job of managing a situation that had train-wreck written all over it from the start.

Looking back, I still wonder why this is so hard. For instance, take the controversy over including the statements by the medical organizations. Richelle was absolutely right when she told The Post, "I can't explain it, and I don't understand it, and I wish I did, why they're not putting this information in the curriculum." These were common-sense statements with the support of scientific and medical researchers and practitioners, and clearly they were statements that most citizens of our county would agree with -- they accurately reflected our community's values. It should have been automatic, here's some good stuff, let's put it in.

I can't speculate on what they were thinking inside the school district. They say there was too much material already, but then at the same time they won't allow teachers to answer any questions or elaborate on the material at all. If these few documents were available, at least they would have given teachers the answers to the most likely questions.

Well look, there's no sense treating this like it was something that had logic behind it. The obvious reason the school district didn't want to include these statements was fear.

I understand that the taxpayers don't like to see their money flushed down the toilet in a lawsuit, and so somebody who threatens to sue has a certain kind of power, they can get somebody to pay attention. It is interesting in this case to note that the AMA, AAP, and APA materials would not have changed the chances of losing in court, but there was some chance that their inclusion would motivate the radicals to file a complaint they might otherwise not pursue.

It wasn't fear of doing something wrong, it was fear of making somebody mad.

The CRC has never had more than a dozen or so active members, in a county of nearly a million people. Oh, you can get people in church to sign petitions that say homosexuality is a sin, whatever, there are really only a handful of extremists fanatical enough to push their anti-gay message out into the public eye.

And the message those few people delivered was complete nonsense. "No unisex bathrooms," indeed. They lied, they twisted the wording of everything in the curriculum to make it sound like something else, they accused people of things that were purely false -- there really wasn't much in the actual curriculum itself to complain about, but that didn't stop them.

The poor folks at the school district are paid to do a job, and part of their job is to make sure there is community input to public school decisions. Unfortunately, that assignment assumes that members of the public are being honest and that they want to make the schools better. The school district can't screen out a group like the CRC who seek to undermine public education and will say anything, true or not, to promote that end. It just isn't set up that way, they have to listen to everybody.

Imagine if the school district could listen for a few minutes and then say, "You're an idiot, go away." Imagine how much faster things would go.

But you see what I mean? They can't do that. The ordinary person is bound by some norms of politeness to water down their message, but in the end you and I don't have to listen to idiots, we can walk away. A formal institution like MCPS, though, has to take them seriously. So when a group like the CRC lists a hundred totally fictional complaints about the curriculum, somebody over at Carver has to write a memo or a brief to address every one of them. They're doing this instead of working on the curriculum, which is what most of them would prefer to be doing.

This curriculum has been under development for five years, at least. Why would it take five years? It's not that there's five years' worth of stuff to talk about in a few health classes. All that time has been spent trying to find a nonexistent middle ground between what the CRC wanted -- bigotry in the classroom -- and what the rest of the community wanted.

The whole process is built on fear. The sad thing is that it's not fear of doing something wrong, it's fear of offending somebody who's just walking around looking for something to be offended by.

In the end, Jerry Weast made a wise decision, maybe a courageous one, when he decided the day before the vote to add the one statement about homosexuality not being a disease. It ain't much -- I mean, look, you're just stating the obvious. Why does this require an act of courage? See what I'm saying? Why in the world would anybody be afraid to say, in the year 2007, that homosexuality is not a disease?

We can't read Weast's mind, and don't know why he made the decision he did at the last minute. He explained it in terms of conscience, in terms of doing the right thing, but Steve Abrams' theory that there was political pressure is not entirely paranoid, either. I'm sure there was pressure on Weast, who would look very bad if the board adopted something against his will, or if they all adopted something that disappointed the good people of our community. He made the right decision, and we applaud him for that, but you wonder ... why is it like pulling teeth to get somebody to do the right thing? Why was it ever a question in the first place? The answer is: fear.

Well ... they were right. It is definitely getting steamy out. I have now turned the AC on for the first time in several days. I think it's time to fill my cup again and maybe crack an egg over a skillet.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Columbia Does the Right Thing

From Box Turtle Bulletin:
Columbia Recognizes Same-Sex Couples

The Congress of Columbia has passed a bill to provide same-sex couples with many of the rights of married opposite-sex couples. The Latin American country joined with Tazmania, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and nearly all of Europe as well as parts of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in providing protections that are denied by most of the United States.

The Fishbacks Address the BOE

The other day I alluded to David Fishback's statement at public comments on Tuesday, where he explained his personal reasons for being so persistent about getting the AMA, AAP, and APA materials included in the curriculum. Here is the full text of that statement:
Presentation by David S. Fishback to the Montgomery County Board of Education
June 12, 2007

I have spoken with you many times about health education, noting that every mainstream medical and mental health professional association has concluded that homosexuality is not an illness.

In November 2004, the Board unanimously voted to include this statement in the health curriculum. In the curriculum you will consider today, Dr. Weast recommends inclusion of this statement as a resource teachers may use to answer questions. This is a good step.

The curriculum also explains that it is important "to be educated about homosexuality [because such education] . . . is likely to diminish anti-gay prejudice. Accurate information . . . is especially important to young people who are first discovering and seeking to understand their sexuality."

Today, I really want to talk with you parent to parent. My sons both happen to be gay. They are marvelous young adults, and my wife and I are very proud of them. But the years before they came out were hellish. They kept their secret from everyone, including from each other, fearing that there was something wrong with them. Our younger son contemplated suicide, and our older son had anger we could not understand.

Mr. Abrams, you know our older son, Mike, and how accomplished he was at Richard Montgomery, where he was a classmate of your daughter. But what you may not know is that after he came out before his junior year at Yale, he told us that when he was in high school, he could never envision a happy life for himself. He told us that if, in health class, it had been explained to him that the medical profession had found that being gay isn't a mental disorder and that gay people can lead happy lives, it would have made all the difference in the world to him.

Your Citizens Advisory Committee recommended inclusion of several other important statements that are not in the proposal before you. I urge you to take the opportunity, following the first year of implementation, to evaluate the need for that information, as well.

Many community members look forward to helping in this endeavor. Attached is a letter my wife wrote to you on these issues. She is far more eloquent than I.

Thank you.

As mentioned, he also submitted to the board a letter written by his wife, Bobbi, which was not read in the public comments.

Here it is:
Attachment: Letter from Barbara Fishback to the Board

Sent: Sat, 9 Jun 2007 9:10 pm
Subject: Letter to Board from Barbara Fishback on Sex Ed Issue
June 9, 2007

Via e-mail (

The Honorable Nancy Navarro, President
Montgomery County Board of Education
850 Hungerford Drive
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear President Navarro and Members of the Board:

I know you know of my family and especially my husband, David, who has worked tirelessly on the sex-ed issue for years now. This is a personal plea, from my heart, as a mother, to your hearts as parents, because I have looked into my sons' eyes and seen pain that no parent should ever have to see. This is pain that can be alleviated for children in the future by your inclusion of the Citizens Advisory Committee's recommended additions to the new curriculum, most importantly the statement that homosexuality is not a disease or mental disorder.

Both of our beloved sons realized they were gay when they were just 10 years old, in the 5th grade at Cashell Elementary School. For years each of them dealt with the knowledge of their same-sex attraction alone and in fear of themselves. One of my sons contemplated suicide, and that is what leads me to write this letter.

Our family was so fortunate that our son chose to live. But the fact is that many of our County's gay children needlessly suffer in silence, perhaps contemplating suicide, but more often suffering from depression, stress and anxiety, negatively impacting their learning and their overall well-being.

Of the many missions you have as a School Board, the most important is to safeguard and protect our community's children. Somehow the question here became how to prevent another lawsuit or minimize controversy. But that is not the right question. Your primary job is not to prevent lawsuits. If they come, so be it. Your job is to protect our children - - in this case, in particular, gay children in our schools - - and to do what is in their best interest. At issue, here, are but a few quotes from mainstream medical and mental health associations, but they will go a long way to alleviating the pain and anxiety of our gay children.

This is not an abstract issue. It is a real problem, for real children, with a real solution that you can easily implement.

Please do the right thing for the right reasons and vote to include the Advisory Committee's recommendations in the curriculum.

Thank you.

Barbara Fishback

Massachusetts Makes History

While we're arguing about whether it's OK to tell teenagers that homosexuality is not a sickness, Massachusetts made history yesterday when senators and then House members voted to reject a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage in that state as only a union between a man and a woman.

Here's the Boston Globe's editorial on the matter:
AFTER WEEKS of intense lobbying and endless speculation about who might vote how, a joint session of the Legislature made blessedly quick work yesterday of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In a State House mobbed with revved-up campaigners on both sides of the issue, lawmakers took a quarter hour to dispatch the proposal by a decisive margin. The vote was a victory for decency and civil equality, and underscored Massachusetts' long history of protecting individual rights.

Advocates of the constitutional ban needed only 50 of 200 votes to advance their cause to the ballot; they mustered only 45. More significantly, 151 legislators voted no on the amendment, leaving no doubt that proponents lacked the required 25 percent of the constitutional convention. Taken with the significance of the moment, legislators embraced after the vote, and some shed tears on the House floor.

House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, Senate President Therese Murray, and Governor Deval Patrick all deserve credit for their efforts to rally opposition to the ban. But the honor roll includes the names of all 151 lawmakers who voted against the measure. (Please see the roll call on page B7.) Lawmakers in much of the rest of the country have sought to outdo each other in the virulence of their opposition to same-sex marriage. Supporters of marriage equality should be proud of this Commonwealth, where a three-fourths majority of lawmakers recognizes that committed same-sex couples, like their opposite-sex counterparts, deserve the protection of the laws.

After the defeat of the amendment became evident, the cheering among supporters gathered in the State House went on and on and on; the sense of relief was palpable, because the stakes were so high. Had the amendment gone to the ballot, an ugly, bitter battle was inevitable. Had the measure passed, the damage to the rights of gay and lesbian residents of this state would have been grievous.

Meanwhile, people who dislike same-sex marriages have suffered no personal harm whatsoever from the defeat of the ban. Even so, yesterday's vote is unlikely to resolve the issue for good. Proponents of the marriage ban could well mount another petition drive. But amending the nation's oldest constitution is an arduous process by design, and it generally takes a couple of years at the least.

Time is on the side of equality. The state's first same-sex married couples have already celebrated their third wedding anniversaries. With each year that passes, it becomes ever clearer that the sky will not fall; that the institution of marriage has been strengthened, not weakened; and that giving everyone the right to marriage makes Massachusetts a happier place overall.

A Good Day for Marriage

That is a great editorial.

New Voice, Same Old Stuff

It seems that there is some possibility that RoseMarie Briggs of the Family Leader Network will become the next voice of the Montgomery County anti-gay brigade, now that a series of CRC leaders have more or less burned out. She's written a couple of articles for Mormon publications about our controversy, and she spoke at the Board of Educations' public comments session this Tuesday. Let's see what she had to say -- this isn't the whole thing, I'll cut out the blah-blah-blah about how much she loves her kids' teachers and stuff and also the several pages of CRC's cliched recommendations at the end. She phrased her comments in the form of questions.

Here's her first question from public comments to the board:
What provisions have been made for teachers who are ethically opposed to the new curriculum or simply uncomfortable with the controversial subject matter? Can teachers opt out of teaching "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality" without losing their jobs? What's the policy?

Hmmm, I don't know what the policy is for teachers who are "ethically opposed" to teaching. If I were to propose one, I suppose it would be -- firing them.

I mean, man, how do they think of this stuff? Teachers teach. Health teachers teach about health. If they are really opposed to that, then doesn't it kind of make sense that they should find something else to do? (This is sort of like the pharmacists who feel they have a right to judge whether people's prescriptions meet a certain moral standard. Same thing -- fire them if they won't do their job. It seems easy to me.)

I just thought of an example, let's see how you feel about this one. I know someone who is a nurse, and she is also Catholic. When she was pregnant with her first child she was working in a hospital where one of the things she had to do was gather together all the little pieces of aborted fetuses for disposal. She did it, weeping.

So, do you think a teacher can read a couple of definitions in class?
What happens to the teacher who is asked "how do you know sexual orientation is innate? Can you tell me what studies prove it? My uncle happens to be Francis S. Collins head of the Human Genome Project in Rockville, and he says sexual orientation is NOT hardwired by DNA. How do you know that it is?"

OK, this is weird. This lady has a real smart uncle who helped unravel the human genome. But it sounds like she doesn't actually know the guy. He was quoted out of context on a NARTH web site, and afterwards he cleared it up with ExGay-Watch. He told them:
The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.

Ms. Briggs needs to go chat with Uncle Frank a little more at the next family picnic -- he does not appear to be on-board with her gay-hating ways.

Oh, hey here's a question she should have known the answer to:
What happens to the teacher who is asked "why does the condom video say to use condoms for anal and oral sex when the condom box says that condoms are only intended for vaginal intercourse?"

The answer is this: if a teacher is asked that question, she is supposed to say, "Go ask a trusted adult."

Listen, I have a stepladder that says on the top rung: "Do not sit or stand." I take that to mean that I can't sue the ladder company if I fall off their stepladder. The label on the condom box is like that. They are designed for vaginal sex, and that's all the company will take liability for. But the mainstream medical advice is that if you are going to have anal sex, you should wear a condom. That's what the doctors recommend, it's what the government recommends, it's what's in the lesson.
What happens to the teacher who is asked "why do so many news reports say that most of the people dying from AIDS are gay men? Is this an unhealthy lifestyle?"

Unfortunately, if a teacher is asked a stupid question like that, they are not allowed by the school district to give the correct answer, which is that the vast majority of HIV and AIDS patients are not gay men at all.
What happens to a teacher who is asked "does ONE sexual attraction with a person of the same gender mean that a teen is gay or lesbian according to the lesson the answer is yes? My mother is a psychiatrist and she says that few traits are fixed in the teen years especially sexual orientation."

First of all, no psychiatrist would ever say that. The history of psychometrics is built around the measurement of traits that are reliable, meaning the measures are consistent over time, and there are plenty of them that extend over the lifetime. Didn't you ever take the Myers-Briggs test? Second of all, the research really does show that most people know, by the time they are adolescents, what their sexual orientation is; so if your psychiatrist tells you this, you should find another psychiatrist. Unless it's your mother; don't try to find another mother.

But back to the topic, the sex-ed classes have a part that says, "Children who have fleeting same-sex attractions may assume incorrectly that they are gay or lesbian. Mere fleeting attraction does not prove sexual orientation." No, wait, that wasn't included in the classes. That was one of those statements that the CRC and PFOX voted against, that the citizens advisory committee wanted to have included in the curriculum, but the school district was afraid to use it.

Oh, and I love this one -- for some reason I really do just l-o-v-e to see the CRC people go red in the face when they consider that vignette about Portia, the transgender girl. Here's an example:
What happens to the principal who is suddenly confronted by MCPS students who decide to cross dress, ask for new student IDs and expect a key to a private bathroom? After all in one 10th grade lesson, a boy begins to wear dresses to school, calls himself 'Portia,' and wants to be known as a girl. The principal gives this boy a key to a private restroom and a new student ID identifying him as a girl. The lesson implies that schools should create new student IDs and unisex bathrooms for cross-dressing students. Is this ethical when the American Psychiatric Association says transgender is a gender identity disorder?"

Woo-hoo! Pass the blood pressure meds! These guys just can not stand the fact that some people's gender identity differs from their plumbing. Why in the world does that bother these people so much? Guy lives his life feeling like a woman inside, let him be a woman, what does it hurt?

I mean, this goes to the core of it all. What does it hurt? Why would they want to force somebody into a role that feels completely unnatural to them? I just don't get that. Because, look, I myself do not feel like a woman inside, and I have no desire to become one. So if I was a kid in school reading this vignette, I might find it vaguely interesting or weird, and that's that; I will have thought for a minute about what that's like, and when I meet someone like that I'll have some idea about it. But some people really do experience incongruity between the way they feel and the way they look, I can't tell you why, there are a lot of reasons and it doesn't matter. What matters is that it doesn't hurt me a bit if somebody decides to go ahead and live the life that will fulfill them personally -- I don't have to understand it or feel like they do, it comes down to this: it's none of my business.

This whole CRC assault is just a big exercise in people sticking their noses into other people's business. If you are "morally" opposed to something, then just don't do it. You don't get to decide how other people will live.

And keep this under your hat: we have learned that some members of the CRC have unisex bathrooms right in their own houses.
Not only am I extremely concerned about how the inaccuracies in this curriculum would affect students, I am equally concerned about the credibility of our teachers and principals. Are students going to lose respect for their educators when they ask legitimate, medical and scientific questions and the teachers have little medical and scientific data to respond intelligently?

This is kind of funny, when the CRC and PFOX have consistently voted against including the information from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association.

If students are going to lose respect for their teachers, it won't be for misinformation, it will be because their teachers will not be able to answer their reasonable questions, even when they know the answers.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Story Behind the Story Behind the Story

Now that the smoke has cleared somewhat following Tuesday's school board meeting, the Washington Post has some insights into what happened in the last few days before the school board's vote. In the meeting Steve Abrams accused Jerry Weast -- or somebody, anybody -- of putting pressure on the board to include the AMA, AAP, and APA materials. In the hallway afterwards, it was my impression that Abrams was saying that the citizens advisory committee had applied the pressure.

Well, I'm on that committee and I'll tell you what we did. When MCPS presented us with the results of the pilot testing, the committee members agreed that the major problems that were identified -- specifically, teachers reading a script and no chance to answer questions -- could be solved by doing something we had proposed a long time ago, which was to include some literature from the leading medical and mental health organizations. A committee member -- Matthew Murguia -- moved that we recommend inclusion of the materials, and we voted. CRC and PFOX of course voted against it, the rest of us voted for it.

That's all. The committee voted on a motion.

It did not seem that the MCPS staff who were present at the meeting were that excited by the idea, you might say, I'm sure they were hoping things would go peaceably and smoothly; but they wrote it up and presented it to the Superintendent and he sent it to the school board. Woo, big pressure. I'm almost falling asleep talking about it here.

Here's The Post this morning:
The addition of one bit of guidance for teachers to the new sex education lessons for Montgomery County public schools was a small 11th-hour victory for members of a citizens advisory committee who had felt shut out of the educational process they were empaneled to advise.

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast on Monday told school board members that his staff would add a brief passage to the new sex education lessons that also instruct teachers on how to answer a specific question if asked by a student: "Is homosexuality an illness?" The answer: It is not, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Board members Tuesday approved the lessons, with that addition, effectively expanding the two 45-minute lessons from a six-school pilot program to full implementation in eighth- and 10th-grade health classes this fall.

The last-minute tweak was a concession to the advisory committee, and it might have helped Weast and his staff keep control of the curriculum.

Members of the committee, a group representing parents, educators and a variety of other stakeholders, lobbied Weast and board members intensely late last week to make additions to the lessons, which they said offered students too little information to counter misconceptions about homosexuality and homosexuals, such as whether sexual orientation is a choice and whether homosexuals can lead happy lives. Late Gain For Sex Ed Committee

I know there was a last-minute flurry of emails and phone calls, and these were provoked, I think, by the committee's recommendation. I think a lot of people realized this was our one and only chance, and realized that the curriculum was too compromised. The committee didn't really lobby people ourselves, as far as I know, we just set the wheels in motion.

It is an interesting observation, that the last-minute tweak let Weast's staff "keep control of the curriculum."

Look, before the citizens committee meeting I talked with some people about exactly what compromises would and would not be acceptable. For instance, the ideal thing would be: teachers have the three articles for reference so they can answer questions and students are given a handout with the five bullet points. But -- it would've been OK if teachers had the bullet points for answering questions and gave them to students. We decided we would be happy if they just made a handout with the bullet points for students: no discussion, no articles.

We would have been happy with just about anything.

In the committee meeting, it came out that the members wanted to re-state the recommendation we had made earlier. It was moved, seconded, voted, and that was that: just send the Superintendent the same thing we sent him before. We wanted to make sure he understood that we considered that a serious recommendation.

When I first heard what Weast had proposed, my first response was: this is thinner than any compromise we had even considered. He really offered almost nothing: teachers would have one of the bullet points to use, and only if a student asked one specific question.

But guess what -- we were elated. He was conceding the very least imaginable, but at least it was the most important bullet point. So in a sense it was a very smart move for him, because he got to march at the front of the parade instead of being trampled, and the cost for him was negligible.
Committee members said the lessons, which define various terms related to sexual orientation and teach the virtue of tolerance, offered little information to answer such basic student questions as whether homosexuality is normal and healthy. The lessons are tightly scripted, and teachers are told to direct student questions to a "trusted adult" if they stray from the material in the lessons.

"I can't explain it, and I don't understand it, and I wish I did, why they're not putting this information in the curriculum," said Richelle Meer, a member of the citizens committee who has a daughter at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. "We feel that these are things that kids are talking about even before eighth grade."

Sadly, even this innocuous curriculum was a fight every step of the way, with the CRC and PFOX whining and arguing over every little obvious point. You had a handful of radicals trying to disrupt this thing, and though they had no chance of actually succeeding, they did make it twice as hard for everybody who was trying to concentrate on the actual task at hand.

I share Richelle's inability to comprehend how this could happen, especially in a county like ours.
School board members faced similar lobbying in January, when the classroom materials came up for initial approval as a pilot program. After first pushing for the addition of a raft of statements more supportive to gay, lesbian and transgender students, committee members retreated to requesting the addition of a single sentence, instructing that mainstream medical and mental health organizations have concluded that homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness.

The suggestion divided board members, who split 4 to 4 on a motion by board member Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) to instruct teachers to provide the statement upon a student's request. The motion died.

O'Neill said this week she "felt it was not sufficient to say, 'If a student asks the question, send them to a trusted adult.' . . . That's not an answer. That's punting."

Yes, that's punting. Think about real teenagers in a real classroom, with real lives that they are trying to understand. When they have questions about sexuality, it's important to them, this is the stuff they're thinking about all day long. They need answers. Good answers. What are they going to think when the school is afraid to answer their simple questions?
In advance of this week's meeting, the advisory committee again urged Weast and board members to augment the lessons with several statements: That fleeting same-sex attraction does not equate to homosexuality, that homosexuality is neither a disease nor a mental illness, that it is not a choice, that homosexuals can live happy lives and be successful parents and that children raised by same-sex couples do "just as well" as those who are not.

O'Neill said she planned, at the least, to renew her motion of January. But O'Neill received word late Friday that Weast planned to add that language to the lessons himself. Members of the citizens advisory committee said they were pleased with the slight addition to the lessons, although they would have preferred that all of their recommendations be adopted.

That's good to know she was planning to do that. Her remarks during the meeting were inspirational and right on-target.
David Fishback, the former chairman of the committee, termed it "a very, very important step," although he said the provision of a specific answer to a specific question from a curious student would do no good for "the child who is afraid to ask."

This issue is very near to David for personal reasons, as he revealed in his public comments to the board on Tuesday morning. More than any one person, David kept this topic alive. He made sure everyone within hearing distance knew why the medical material should be included, knew all the arguments for including them and all the holes in the arguments against it. You can't say he applied "pressure" to anyone, because he is not in any position of power to do that, but he kept this on the front burner.

Now, these last couple of lines are interesting.
Opponents of the sex education lessons, who generally said that homosexuality should not be taught as a topic in sex education, said they had no objection to the added language.

"We have never claimed homosexuality to be a mental illness," said Michelle Turner, spokeswoman of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, the lead opposition group.

The material is not being presented in the classroom to counter claims by the CRC, it's there to teach students the facts about sexual orientation. A kid in a classroom doesn't know if it's a mental illness or not, he might feel like there's something wrong with him, and it's a good idea to tell him that's not it.

But now I'm wondering, since CRC and PFOX both voted against including these materials ... what part of it didn't they like?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bifurcation in the Blogs

It's been fun reading the blogs as they react to the latest news in our MoCo sex-ed controversy.

There are, as you might imagine, two types of them.

The first type just takes PFOX's press release quoted in a previous post here, "School Board Finds Gay Gene," and prints the whole thing -- examples are:

The other type quotes one of the news articles about this (usually Daniel de Vise's excellent story on page A-1 of today's Washington Post) and then, when they get to the part where teachers can say that homosexuality is not a disease, the writer says -- "that's news?" or something to that effect:
  • All Points In Between says: "And here I thought it was common sense."
  • inRich Blog says, "If Pressed, They Can Also Explain That African-Americans Are Not Really 'Mud People'"
  • Straight Not Narrow said, "Congratulations to the Montgomery County School Board and the organization Teach The Facts, which worked very hard to educate people and rally support for this progressive curriculum."
  • Free State Politics said: "The school board approved a final set of revisions to the curriculum, now allowing teachers to say, for example, that homosexuality is not -- repeat, not -- a mental illness (I can't believe I had to write that)."
  • A Taste of Ipecac said: "Wow. What a huge leap. The American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality was not a mental disorder in 1974. The World Health Organization came to the same conclusion in 1992. It's taken the school curriculum only 33 years to catch up."

Well, look, we're glad to get what we've got.

I heard myself telling one reporter yesterday after the vote: "I just don't know why this is so hard."

But the fact is, it is hard. The school district is a sprawling bureaucracy, board members have to keep their image in mind, and the whole thing is just very hard to budge. The system is sensitive to publicity and to the rise and fall of public opinion -- this is not a rock-n-roll situation where "bad press is better than no press," this is one where a hint of bad press scares them to death.

Some people in our group have made somewhat skeptical comments about the tiny concession made by the superintendent at the last minute, but we were glad to get it. Everybody in the county knows this curriculum falls far short of the values we live by, but at least it moved in the right direction.

PFOX Comments

Somebody pasted PFOX's response to the new curriculum into our comments this morning. Not surprisingly, PFOX doesn't like the new curriculum.

But the way they put it is fascinating, in the same way that a gory traffic accident makes you look.

From their web site:
The board has demonstrated its bias and arrogance in ignoring the March 7, 2007 Order of Maryland State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick that states that the Maryland Board of Education will render a decision in July on the legal appeal of the curriculum. PFOX, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and Family Leader Network had filed an appeal of the proposed curriculum, citing factual inaccuracies and violations of state and federal law. The local board’s action in adopting a final curriculum without waiting for the state board’s decision as to the legality of that curriculum tramples on the rights of parents and violates the intent of the Superintendent’s Order.

In her Order, Grasmick cites the curriculum’s attempt to address harassment problems relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. PFOX has documented how the curriculum fails to provide instruction on tolerance of ex-gays -- a group that is the object of harassment encouraged by Montgomery County public school staff and students, a fact which the Montgomery County Board of Education does not deny.

First of all, come on, don't treat the world like they're a bunch of idiots. There's no way the Montgomery County schools were going to sit around doing nothing while they waited for the state to rule on the ridiculous complaint by CRC, PFOX, and that other group. That complaint is riddled with lies and misdirections -- the chances that the state will reverse the county's decision based on that is minute. It would be dumb to wait.

The second paragraph, now we're getting somewhere.

First of all, "how the curriculum fails to provide instruction on tolerance of ex-gays." Yes, the schools fail entirely to mention "ex-gays." There is no "instruction on ex-gays," and no "instruction on tolerance of ex-gays." Also, nothing about unicorns.

Second, the good part: "a group that is the object of harassment encouraged by Montgomery County public school staff and students, a fact which the Montgomery County Board of Education does not deny." (Note: the Montgomery County Board of Education also does not deny the harassment of unicorns.)

There is a quick sleight-of-hand here that would be, I guess, clever, if it worked. PFOX wants you to assume that harassing them is the same as harassing "ex-gays."

If I was "ex-gay," I'd resent that. It's like if somebody said something bad about the President, and I was supposed to think they were harassing me as a straight person.

Let's be clear. Let's say a person used to be gay, and now they're straight. I don't know if that happens, but plenty of people do go the other way: it's called "coming out of the closet." So, let's assume some people go into the closet, too. Now the question is: who is against that? Another way to phrase the question is: who cares? A gay guy wants to be straight, it's his business. Really. Nobody cares. Why would anybody harass him?

How would anybody even know?
When PFOX distributed flyers to the high schools urging tolerance of the ex-gay community, the faculty at multiple schools cooperated with Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) student clubs to oppose our message of tolerance.

A typical example was Winston Churchill High School where GSA students were allowed to place trash cans in the school hallways and carry trash bags labeled “PFOX” to urge all students to trash their ex-gay flyers. The principal, Dr. Joan Benz, stood by the trash cans to ensure that the protest against ex-gays would not be disturbed.

At Wootten High School, a gay teacher and co-sponsor of the school’s GSA club warned PFOX to stay out of the public schools, compared sexual preference to African-Americans’ skin color, and also compared PFOX to the Ku Klux Klan.

OK, they have given two examples of people showing a lack of appreciation for PFOX. None of these acts are against any "ex-gay" person, people just don't like PFOX. That is a b-i-g difference.

For one thing, the acronym "PFOX" doesn't stand for "ex-gay people." That would be "XGP," if you kept the "X" for "ex" like they do. Otherwise it would be "EGP," which is at least almost pronounceable. The people who put out these fliers aren't "ex-gays" themselves. They are supposedly "Parents and Friends" of "ex-gay" people, though both of those words can be questioned.
This discriminatory treatment is not corrected by the curriculum on teaching tolerance for sexual orientation because former homosexuals are not included in the curriculum. Why did the Board approve a curriculum that is supposed to teach respect for diverse sexual orientations when it excludes former homosexuals -- the only sexual orientation that is subject to intolerance by both students and teachers?

We wait for the Maryland State Board of Education to correct the failings of the local board and protect the civil rights of all groups, and not just gays, bisexuals and cross-dressers.”

The fact is, nobody is fooled by this. There is no evidence of anybody ever being harassed for changing from gay to straight. People don't like PFOX because their message is a direct insult to those who are open about their sexual orientation. They say "You can change," but you can't, and you wouldn't want to, if people like PFOX weren't trying to make you feel like there was something wrong with you.

I would like to see where anyone, ever, has reported an actual case of harassment or mistreatment of a person because they were "ex-gay." I don't mean somebody standing on a soapbox preaching about it, I mean a person who changed their sexual identity from gay to straight and then was harassed because of that.

Come on, that's an invitation -- point us to a case of "harassment of ex-gays."

Actually, while we're at it -- can anybody tell me the name of one person who belongs to PFOX who is actually a parent of an "ex-gay" person?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Curriculum Is a Go

The great news -- the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Education voted 6-1 to implement the new sex-ed classes for 8th and 10th grades in the fall. There was passionate debate, beautiful oratory, glamorous heroes and angry villains: it had everything.

I want to get this news on the Internet, so I'm not going to go on and on about it. Steve Abrams, who recently claims to have switched from Republican to Democrat, voted against it. He seemed to be making the point that he was voting against it because the Superintendent had recommended a change after the board members had had their briefings. He didn't accuse the Superintendent of lying. He did say things about "political games" and "pressure" applied to the Superintendent and board, both in the meeting and in the halls afterwards. So there's politics? So he votes against it for that reason? He claimed to agree with the content of the classes, even the last-minute statement, but he voted against it because he was angry about the process. Tell your kids to thank him next time they see him.

Dr. Weast gave an eloquent speech, explaining why he had decided at the last minute to include the statement about homosexuality not being an illness. Waving his finger across the board table at Abrams, he pretty much struck everybody in the room dumb, I don't know how else to put it. It was one of those moments. (Of course, the cynic in me notes that there were cameras present from all the networks, and the lighting was perfect.) You'll want to watch that one again on streaming video, once they've gotten it up.

Aw, OK, I'm thinking about it, and I shouldn't be so cynical: Jerry Weast kicked ass.

One of my favorite parts of the meeting was Pat O'Neill's heartfelt and obviously unrehearsed remarks. Her homespun presentation always surprises me, she has a way of speaking that is conversational and colloquial, but there's no beating around the bush; she says what she means to say, clearly and with a ring of honesty that you can't fake, and her vision is clear. She was very effective today, sometimes referring to the obvious where other might have been afraid to; she was the only one to use the word "bigotry" and she referred to the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum by name.

I didn't see any CRC people around the boardroom when the board voted, which is interesting. They put out their press release and showed up in the morning hoping for press coverage, but when the real story broke they couldn't be bothered to be there.

A lot of people seem to think it's all over. Keep reminding yourself we have a State board ruling to wait for, and then the CRC has threatened to sue again in federal court, so we'll probably have to slug through that, if they have the heart for another beating.

This was definitely a big milestone, though -- let's give ourselves that, people. MCPS developed a new curriculum, evaluated it, tested it, and voted to implement it, all with the constant howling of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum in the background. I think it was possible because the good people of the county stuck together and kept their sense of humor and kept on fighting the good fight.

In a rational universe, this would be over.

PS I'm sure I'll write more about this after I've had a chance to go through the video a little bit. It was a very rich lot of interactions, often emotional, some of it done on a high-wire without a net, some of it in the mud.

Following Up

I should say that it sounds like some more people showed up for the CRC's protest after I left, estimates range as high as twenty who came in the next half hour or so, before public comments started at 10:30. Sounds like there was some excitement as they tried to interrupt a TV interview with David Fishback, and so on.

Whatever, I'll report on the meeting as soon as I can, just didn't want to leave this hanging.

CRC Protests School Board

The anti-gay Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum held their protest this morning, as scheduled, outside the Montgomery County Public Schools Carver Center, where the school board will meet today to decide whether to implement the new sex-ed classes.

Their mass emailing said:
Please JOIN OUR family friendly PROTEST on the morning of June 12th at 9:30 a.m.! We will meet outside the Carver Educational Building on Rockville Pike in Rockville, Maryland at If you have young children, put them in strollers and come hold a sign that says "Health Before Politics" or "No Unisex Bathrooms." The signs are already made. We want the media to have plenty of footage for the TV newscast and plenty of pictures for the newspaper!

(Yes, I know, I already told you that, some people didn't see it the first time...)

Christine and I were there. She came to get a seat for public comments, I stopped by on my way between places, shopping for my wife's birthday.

We were there about 9:15, looking around. Is that one of them? Is that?

There were no TV antennas, no reporters.

About 9:25, the CRC's President John Garza and another man got out of a car and walked into the building. We went up there. They were standing in the air conditioning.

Two ladies with strollers came up the hall where Christine and I were standing. "Are you looking for something?" we asked them, thinking they might be part of the protest, since they had the strollers and all.

"Yes. Do you know where the ... get-together is supposed to be, at nine thirty?"

"The CRC, you mean?"

They looked at each other. "I guess."

We pointed to John Garza and the other guy, who had just walked outside. "That's John Garza," we said, "Follow him."

"Oh, OK, we didn't know what he looked like."

We stayed in the cool and gave them time to group. Around 9:30, we went outside.

We stopped by where the group was standing, Garza and the other guy and the two women, and we all small-talked for a minute. Garza would have to leave to play golf with a client. Some cracks about it being perfect golf weather. He ended up saying, "Somebody's got to do it."

A young guy walked up to us and said, "Excuse me, do you know where the protest is?"

"This is it," we said. Then we figured we'd better move on, so we didn't accidentally inflate their numbers.

Christine and I stood in the parking lot and talked for five or ten minutes. I took a picture of the protest:

There they are.

Since no reporters or TV crews showed up, I guess we'll give them the publicity they were looking for. They get to be featured right at the top of the Teach the Facts blog, at least until this afternoon, after the school board votes.

In all fairness, after a while somebody else did show up.

No Michelle.
No Retta.
Neither Steina.
No Ben.
No Theresa.
No Steve.
No Ruth.
No Peter.

I didn't even see the yellow signs, which would have made my photographs even better. (Somebody did have a piece of orange cardboard that may have had some writing on it.)

Oh, we ran into Reverend Grace inside the building. She wanted to get where it's cool. We talked with her for a while. I like her, I think she's probably good people. Well, I don't really know her, but she goes out of her way to be nice. We pointed to where the CRC was having a protest. She told us she had ridden two buses to get here, and she was hot. Maybe she went out later, it did not seem that she planned to.

It's possible the crowd swelled even bigger than this, I don't know. It was hot, I had to go.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The CRC Has a Nightmare and It Is Us

I was looking around the Internet to see if there was anything good to blog about. Thought, hey, maybe the CRC's got a new rant about the curriculum, how it makes liberals happy by promoting abortions or something. At the least I thought they'd have something fun about the big demonstration they have planned for tomorrow morning outside the Board of Education offices, so I went to their web site.

Nah, nothing like that. But there was something new. A link titled: "The Shape of Things to Come?" Thinking maybe it had something to do with the Yardbirds, I clicked on the link.

And lo and behold, the coolest thing the CRC can find to put on their web site is a quote from our comments section. Here's what they are featuring on their web site right now -- right now, while the school board is preparing to vote, the Superintendent is changing his mind, while the sex-ed controversy is breaking all around us, they have this:
The Shape of Things to Come?

“I agree with Jim [Kennedy] that this curriculum [MCPS Sex-Ed Curriculum] is very much a baby step, with fairly minimal impact. The next step is mandatory inservices for all MCPS staff on the characteristics and needs of LGBT students; the step after that are trainings for the students; then, employeeing a teacher for LGBT youth concerns, or including them in the job description of a general diversity coordinator. The real work of making schools safer and more accepting for LGBT people in MoCo is done by non-profits such as PFLAG. It's time that the public schools themselves stepped up to the plate. It's good as a first step that the MCPS BOE has not caved to PFOX (as did Fairfax), but they have a much broader responsibility. I agree with Jim: half-way between fairness and bigotry is not neutrality; it's cowardice.”

Robert Rigby, Teacher

Fairfax Co., VA June 8, 2007

This was something our friend Robert wrote in our comments section HERE.

Well, they left off two parts, and added something. Robert's post actually started with:
I repeat, Anonymous blogs here primarily to irk people, not discuss.

Referring, of course, to our Anonymous blogger who, uh, blogs here primarily to irk people.

Then at the end he had written:
BTW, on Sunday I'm throwing a birthday party for myself, and inviting 300,000 of my closest friends. All are welcome. Noon to 6, Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 3rd.

Inviting us, of course, to the Pride Festival.

They also added the part at the end, Robert's last name and profession. Whatever, I know PFOX has done this sort of thing to him before, and I'm not surprised that the CRC would try to, I don't know what, get him in trouble for being idealistic?

You see, this is the CRC's nightmare. They post this because their readers will recognize it as a nightmare: teaching teachers about the needs of gay students, training students in same, employing somebody at the school to work with students to make schools safer and more accepting.

I admit, I'm proud to be mentioned in their nightmare.

Late Breaking News

We have just now received a copy of a memo sent out by Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast to the Board of Education. It's a couple of pages long, and I don't want to type out the whole thing, but here are some of the important parts.
The CAC [citizens advisory committee] recommended adding five specific statements that were part of the original recommendations in their final report. Staff did not recommend including this material in the field-test lessons and does not support including them in the final lessons. I concur that the plan for direct classroom instruction should not be altered at this point beyond the revisions staff has already made based on field-test results.

However, as a result of the CAC feedback and comments from field-test teachers, we feel it is prudent to give teachers a statement they can use to respond to the question, "Is homosexuality an illness?" If the Board approves, the following language will be included in the directions to teachers:
In the Grade 8 Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality Lesson, session two, at the end of the Instructional Delivery, page 3, in Extend by and after the second bullet, add a third bullet:
  • Answering questions for clarification
    • If students ask, "Is homosexuality an illness?" say, " No. The American Psychiatric Association does not include homosexuality in its listing of psychiatric or mental disorders." (APA)

In the Grade 10 Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality Lesson, session one, at the end of the Instructional Delivery, page 4, in Extend by and after the first bullet, add a third indented bullet:
  • If students ask, "Is homosexuality an illness?" say, "No. The American Psychiatric Association does not include homosexuality in its listing of psychiatric or mental disorders." (APA)

We believe this change, reviewed by legal counsel and consistent with one of the CAC's recommendations, provides the appropriate guidance to teachers should they receive this question from students during the lessons.

The CAC also asked that Ms. Elinor Walker represent the CAC at the Board table during the discussion of this topic at the Board of Education meeting on June 12, 2007. I have asked that Ms. Walker be present in the audience during the staff presentation and Board discussion

Not sure what that last little thing means -- in the audience?

I won't comment at this time, let's digest this for a while.

What Will Happen Tomorrow

Teach the Facts has been fighting for comprehensive and inclusive sex-ed for two and a half years now. We've kept up on the blog, we've had forums, we've talked to officials and addressed the school board at public comments, we've worked with reporters and media people from the big networks and the smallest local newspapers to make sure the story got out straight. On this blog I personally have cajoled and annoyed the school board members collectively and individually, the press collectively and individually, the PTA, the CRC and all the weirdos who support them, the lady who says she is not a Nazi, Republicans, Democrats ... uh, who'd I miss?

This is important to us: we can't fight the "Assault on Reason" at the national level, but we can do something about it locally, in our little county. So when a band of extremists tried to recall our school board and corrupt our educational system in 2004, we stood up to them. They pulled it off in lots of places, not here.

Tomorrow, Tuesday June 12th, the Montgomery County Board of Education will receive a recommendation from the Superintendent of Schools, proposing acceptance of the new classes: two 45-minute classes in 8th grade and two in 10th grade about sexual variation, and one condom usage class in 10th grade. The school board unanimously voted in January to adopt this curriculum for pilot testing, and we expect them to vote to adopt it this time, too, for full implementation in the fall.

The citizens advisory committee that evaluates the curriculum, a 15-member panel selected by MCPS, strongly recommended last winter that materials from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association be included in the classes. The Superintendent's staff decided not to include those materials in the pilot test; from a comment this week in The Post it appears that the materials may not have seemed "neutral" enough for them. There is no other explanation -- you can't be sued for using literature produced by the dominant professional organizations in the fields of medicine and mental health, and you won't be wrong citing those experts. These are very carefully crafted statements reflecting the current opinions of the leading experts in the field. But no, they are not neutral, they are unambiguous about sexual orientation.

It's impossible to guess what will happen tomorrow, exactly. Let me sketch out the possibilities.

Public comments are scheduled for 10:30 in the morning. This is where anyone can call in and sign up to address the board. There is room on the list for fifteen people, as I recall, and sometimes it fills up. It might tomorrow.

I don't know who will speak at public comments, but I expect both sides will see it as a last chance to make a statement. Our side will ask the board one more time to reconsider the inclusion of the experts' materials, and the CRC and PFOX will probably have people saying that the curriculum ... I don't know, it causes promiscuity or suicide or makes kids turn gay or something. I wouldn't try to guess. Whatever, they'll be against it. Maybe they'll want to remind the board that they have threatened repeatedly to sue. Maybe they'll tell them again how much they love them.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum sent out a call for people to come protest the vote. Their mass-emailing lists a bunch of fake complaints they have with the curriculum and the process, and concludes:
Please JOIN OUR family friendly PROTEST on the morning of June 12th at 9:30 a.m.! We will meet outside the Carver Educational Building on Rockville Pike in Rockville, Maryland at If you have young children, put them in strollers and come hold a sign that says "Health Before Politics" or "No Unisex Bathrooms." The signs are already made. We want the media to have plenty of footage for the TV newscast and plenty of pictures for the newspaper!

So there will likely be a bit of a circus outside in the morning. Maybe Dr. Jacobs will be holding her football, so she can say, "Don't use our kids as a football." Which is so effective.

It's always interesting to see which media outlets give them publicity.

The agenda item "Final adoption of the revised health education curriculum" is scheduled for 2:10 until 2:40. This is where it will be interesting.

As I said, all the board members will probably vote to accept the classes as they are, as they were tested. During testing there were two major problems: teachers are required to read the lectures exactly as they are written, and they are not allowed to answer students' questions about the material. Both of these problems are easily solved: give the teachers the articles by the AMA, AAP, and APA as background materials, and give a set of "bullet point" statements to students as a handout. Then teachers will be able to discuss the topic in an educated way, they will have the knowledge to answer students' questions, and importantly, students won't have to ask some questions, they'll already be answered.

The citizens advisory committee voted last week, again, to recommend inclusion of these materials. We have been assured that there is no legal impediment -- it won't make the school district more vulnerable to lawsuits. The material is informative, authoritative, and up to date. Why is there even hesitation here?

We shouldn't try to guess how anybody will vote. The questionnaire from our Candidate Forum with Equality Montgomery County and the Interfaith Fairness Coalition might have a clue. This question was asked of all the 2006 candidates for school board:
Do you support a comprehensive sex education curriculum in Montgomery County Schools that, while stressing the importance of abstinence for teens, provides students with information on sexually transmitted diseases based on established scientific evidence, and recognizes, again based on established scientific evidence and the conclusions of every mainstream medican and health professional association (including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association), that sexual orientation is not a choice, and homosexuality is not a medical or other disorder?

OK, that is clear. People who responded "Yes" to this question do support recognizing the conclusions of the AMA, AAP, and APA.

Winning candidates who responded "Yes" to this item were:
  • Pat O'Neill
  • Judy Docca
  • Nancy Navarro (current Board President)
  • Shirley Brandman (current Board Vice-President)

(Of course, it is possible that a member would not keep their campaign promises. I will not comment on the implications of that for anyone's political career.)

That gives four board members who promised to support recognition of the professional organizations' views in the curriculum. Five votes make a majority. Several other members have indicated support the recommendation, but we can't read their minds; we hope at least one other will vote for it. Well, let's not guess how anybody will vote. We'll just cross our fingers.

The chair of the citizens advisory committee is going to be out of the country for this meeting, and she appointed a committee member, attorney Elinor Walker, to represent the committee at the table during the Board's discussion of this topic. Superintendent's staff who were present at the committee meeting suggested that the committee express itself at public comments, rather than during the Board's discussion of the curriculum. The chair responded that the committee was appointed by the Board and is responsible to them, and should be represented during the discussion.

So there will be an interesting moment tomorrow, when the Board of Education should ask for a representative of the citizens advisory committee to come to the table. It is clear that the Superintendent doesn't want to encourage that -- will the Board ask for committee representation anyway? They really should want their own committee's opinion expressed. We'll see how this is handled.

The board has allocated a half hour to discussion. I'm sure by now everybody knows what they're going to do. This is a high profile decision, there will be the television trucks in the parking lot with their tall antennas, cameras all over the place, CRC waving those stupid yellow signs. The school board will choose whether to go all the way and provide the progressive education Montgomery County residents expect, or sign off on the neutralized version that got through pilot testing.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What Neutrality Gets You

Biology is the science of living things. A central question in that field is why species are so diverse, in other words, how to account for the differences among species. Why does the rabbit have big ears, why does the fox have such a repertoire of tricks? Why are flowers colorful, why do cicadas sing, why do humans use language? There is a theory that ties it all together, the theory of adaptation of populations of organisms. This theory was proposed in its current form more than a hundred years ago, and has been central to the science of biology since at least the 1930s.

The theory of evolution has been studied at many levels. Some look at genes, the pattern of DNA on the cell chromosome that provides the mechanism for evolution; some look at statistical measures of change in populations; some look at the specific characteristics of specific species. The various operators have been studied -- natural selection, mutation, sexual recombination, and other features of living things that allow the generation of variation and bias the reproductive process toward higher average fitness.

The theory is not in question. It isn't new. It isn't that hard to understand, at least a simple version of it is accessible enough. There is no controversy about it among biologists.

And humans are not exempted -- one thing the theory of evolution does is to explain the place of human beings in nature. Yes, we are primates, there's no question about it. It might not be flattering, it might not fit easily with our inherited mythology, but once it's said, once you look at the form of our bodies relative to other primates, the structure of our DNA, there's just no question about it.

We find that Americans lag behind every other country in the developed world, except Turkey, in their understanding and acceptance of this foundational scientific concept. Why would that be?

The answer can be seen by looking at American education. A recent article in Science reviewed the developmental psychology of Americans' backwardness at understanding science, and concluded:
These developmental data suggest that resistance to science will arise in children when scientific claims clash with early emerging, intuitive expectations. This resistance will persist through adulthood if the scientific claims are contested within a society, and it will be especially strong if there is a nonscientific alternative that is rooted in common sense and championed by people who are thought of as reliable and trustworthy. This is the current situation in the United States, with regard to the central tenets of neuroscience and evolutionary biology. These concepts clash with intuitive beliefs about the immaterial nature of the soul and the purposeful design of humans and other animals, and (in the United States) these beliefs are particularly likely to be endorsed and transmitted by trusted religious and political authorities. Hence, these fields are among the domains where Americans' resistance to science is the strongest. Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science (requires subscription)

This is a direct challenge to the American educational system -- we're losing our place in the world because other countries take the trouble to educate their young people, even where the state of contemporary knowledge contradicts the popular common sense of tradition. Schools in the US though have been intimidated by fundamentalist finger-waggers, and back down from the difficult task of bringing real knowledge to students.

Even where schools don't have laws blocking the teaching of mainstream scientific theory, educators often devise policies to play it down so they don't offend anyone's religious views. An American kid will learn how to dissect a frog, they'll learn what those guts are called, but they won't learn that in the context of evolutionary theory, they won't learn why the frog's part are arranged the way they are. School administrators don't want controversy, they don't want to upset people, they don't want their names in the newspapers all the time, sounding like atheists or worse, trying to teach kids science even when it contradicts fundamentalist Christian assumptions.

Americans don't know basic science because educators have neutralized our science teaching. In order to avoid controversy, in order to pander to those who believe traditional biblical myths over the hard evidence of science, the topic is dumbed down in the classroom. This is what puts the USA second-to-last in science knowledge.

USA Today/ Gallup just released a poll about how Americans consider evolution.

Here are some results:

A. Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over
millions of years from less advanced forms of life
Definitely Probably Probably Definitely No Total Total
true true false false opinion true false
18 35 16 28 3 53 44

B. Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings
pretty much in their present form at one time within the last
10,000 years
Definitely Probably Probably Definitely No Total Total
true true false false opinion true false
39 27 16 15 3 66 31

If a presidential candidate stated that he or she DID not believe in
the theory of evolution, would that make you -- [ROTATED: much more
likely to vote for that candidate, a little more likely, not make a
difference either way, would it make you a little less likely,
(or) much less likely to vote for that candidate]?

Much more A little more Not make a A little less Much No
likely likely difference likely less likely opinion
voters 8 7 53 14 15 3

adults 8 7 54 13 15 3

Educators should be appalled by these numbers. Americans have little respect or appreciation for science. Big woop, more than half believe that human beings might have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life -- 53 percent, that's pathetic. That means 47 percent got through our school systems without learning this basic scientific truth.

Two-thirds of Americans believe that God put humans on the earth in their present form within the past 10,000 years. What can that mean? That means that Americans have no conception of ourselves in the web of nature. We don't see ourselves as part of life on Earth, we see ourselves as having been dropped here by a special hand, we're something different and better than other living things. Other policies follow from that belief. Americans don't care if the guy they vote for trusts in science, just don't care. Believes the facts or believes whatever he's told -- hey, why would that matter? Let's just vote for the guy we'd like to hang out with.

The superintendent of MCPS and his staff told a Post reporter this week that they want the new sex-ed classes to be "as neutral as possible." They have rejected recommendations from the citizens advisory committee to include materials from the leading scientific and medical research groups of our time -- the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association -- because they might not be "neutral" enough.

True that, the recommended articles take the side of science.

We don't need "neutral" educational policies, we need to channel the experts' knowledge into the classroom. Silence is not a compromise between traditional bigotry and modern science, it is permission for bigotry.

"Neutral" just means more of the same. Montgomery County isn't a "more of the same" kind of place. People here want the world to be a better place, not the same place. If we're going to change the curriculum, we should be making it better, not just different.

On Tuesday the board will vote on the new classes. The material passed on a unanimous vote, going into pilot testing, and I don't doubt that it will pass again. But this is a last chance for the school board to follow up on the citizens advisory committee's recommendations. All it takes is for one board member to move that the materials be included, and five members to vote aye. It's a last chance for Montgomery County to lead the country toward excellence -- let's not pretend that neutrality is our goal.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Neutrality and Other Dimensions

The Washington Post this morning reported on the recommendation by MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast to the Board of Education that the new sex-ed classes should be implemented as they are.
Montgomery County schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast recommended yesterday that new health lessons on sexual orientation and condom use be expanded to all middle and high schools in the fall with only minor revisions, based on the results of field tests at six schools this spring.

The lessons are the fruit of five years of debate on how, if at all, homosexuality should be addressed in sex-education classes. Approved in January and piloted in March, the teaching materials will reach all eighth- and 10th-grade health classrooms in the fall if Weast's recommendations are adopted Tuesday by the school board.

In a memo delivered yesterday to board members, Weast wrote that students and teachers seemed mostly satisfied with the lessons. He suggested no change to their content. New Sex-Ed Curriculum Is Urged for All Schools

Generally the testing went pretty well.

One difference from the usual was the fact that teachers were forced to present the script verbatim and were not allowed to answer questions about the course content. The school district is so afraid of letting a teacher say something wrong that they won't let them say anything.

There is an easy remedy for that.
Board members will have to weigh conflicting recommendations. Weast wants the lessons to go forward essentially as written, but a citizens advisory committee wants board members to add passages stating that mainstream medical and mental health organizations have concluded that homosexuality is neither a disease nor a mental illness.

Weast and his staff oppose adding the material and say they have sought to keep the lessons as neutral as possible. Members of the citizens committee contend that the extra passages would help students cope with their sexuality and help teachers answer their questions.

In January, a divided school board rejected adding such language to the lessons.

The citizens committee made those recommendations last winter, and the Superintendent's staff decided not to include them. The school board had a lively debate on the topic, and in the end decided to leave them out at that time, before the testing, but to wait and see if there were questions that teachers couldn't answer. There were.

Since the school district did not collect questions that were asked in class, we don't know how many there were, but from teachers' and students' comments on questionnaires and in focus groups it is obvious that these were significantly non-zero.

Upon being presented with the pilot test results this week, the citizens advisory committee again voted to urge inclusion of materials from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatric, and the American Psychological Association. The original recommendation had been that there would be a handout for 8th graders and the materials would be available as teachers' resources in 10th grade, and this was reasserted in the committee meeting.

The committee members were unanimous, except for the CRC and PFOX members, who are on the committee as part of a legal agreement, and who unsurprisingly voted against including the AMA, AAP, and APA recommendations.

With these resources, first of all a lot of students' questions would be answered without them asking -- and there is a concern that students who most need this information may be the most reluctant to embarrass themselves by asking. Further, if teachers had the three articles available to them, they could answer almost all likely questions, giving answers that are supported by the authoritative organizations in medicine and mental health.

I want to go back to the word "neutral."

Neutral implies a midpoint on a continuum. In some situations it implies a balance. Generally, for a politician, the concept of neutrality is good thing, as it implies nonpartisanship, compromise, fairness. You're less likely to make enemies in the short run by being neutral.

There are times when it doesn't mean that. Sometimes it means that you're afraid to take a stand for what's right.

The medical and psychological establishments have investigated the question, and have made their statements. All three of these organizations have released very clear policy documents, easily readable by ordinary people, explaining their official position on sexual orientation, in particular homosexuality. They did that because, having studied the matter, they drew certain conclusions. They concluded there is no rational reason for trying to oppose homosexuality, which is not a choice anyway, and that homosexual people can have perfectly normal, healthy lives.

The neutral position between science and bigotry is not acceptable. It is not a compromise, it is a concurrence that the bigoted view has some validity.

On Tuesday, the school board will vote on this curriculum. As it is, it represents a baby-step forward. At least sexual orientation will be mentioned in the classroom, and some concepts will be taught. But hand-cuffing teachers and keeping students in the dark is not the goal we were hoping for. The school board has one last chance to make it clear that Montgomery County is not neutral when it comes to right and wrong.
Teachers and students who participated in the field tests chafed at the tightly scripted structure of the lessons, and teachers reported confusion about their authority to answer questions posed by students. Teachers were instructed to answer no questions that strayed outside the health curriculum and to refer such inquiries to "a trusted adult," such as a parent or counselor.

But they could easily answer those questions, with a few pages of articles from the medical and psychological experts.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Committee Wants Expert Medical Opinions: CRC, PFOX Oppose Them

Last night MCPS staff presented the citizens advisory committee with the results of the pilot testing of the new Montgomery County, Maryland, sex-ed lessons for 8th and 10th grade. The committee heard the results and learned that the school district is not planning to add materials from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association to the curriculum.

The committee then voted to adopt a resolution urging the Superintendent and Board of Education to add the materials. The vote was 8 to 2, with the members representing the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and PFOX voting against it.

In the pilot testing, students were asked to write questions on index cards at the end of the class period and submit those anonymously to the teacher. Teachers reported that questions were asked verbally during class, too, but those were not recorded.

Most of the complaints about the classes had to do with the fact that they are tightly scripted, and teachers were not allowed to answer questions about the course content. According to MCPS staff, the teachers could have answered more questions than they thought they could, and some training will be conducted in order to make it clear to teachers that they can answer some questions -- "What is behavior?" was an example of a question they could have answered.

The school district staff noted several times the presence of a reporter, the threat of a lawsuit reiterated in yesterday's Gazette, and the fact that several committee members were taking notes -- this is an intense process, and everyone sympathizes with their sense that they need to be very, very careful. It also became apparent during the discussions that there will not be any opportunities for substantial changes, once the new classes have been implemented. So even though the school district understandably does not want to risk controversy or criticism or lawsuits, it is important to get this right. The instinct might be to pull back, to be extra conservative -- everybody knows that feeling. But the reasonable thing is to produce an excellent curriculum the first time out -- and how can there be any risk in including materials from the experts in medicine and mental health?

The committee had recommended inclusions of statements from these three documents:
The information in these documents is secular, mainstream opinion from the authoritative organizations representing physicians in general, pediatricians specifically, and psychologists. If teachers had the knowledge contained in these few, easy-to-read pages, they would be able to answer almost all non-silly questions in the classroom.

Even giving students a handout with the statements from these documents would go a long way toward clarifying some important points. Students who have questions about their sexuality will be especially likely to look these things over outside the classroom.

The statements that the committee wanted to include were these:
Children who have fleeting same-sex attractions may assume incorrectly that they are gay or lesbian. Mere fleeting attraction does not prove sexual orientation.

All mainstream medical and mental health professional associations have concluded that homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most experts have concluded that "one's sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual." Moreover, according to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation is not a "conscious choice that can voluntarily be changed." Similarly, the American Medical Association opposes "therapies" that seek to change sexual orientation that are premised on the assumption that homosexuality is an illness and that people should change.

Homosexuals can live happy, successful lives; they "can be successful parents."

Children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as those raised by heterosexuals, and are no more likely to be homosexual.

It's simple, it's straightforward, it's authoritative, it answers the important questions that students are likely to have.

It is telling that the CRC and PFOX both voted against inclusion of the expert opinions. The CRC's representative on the committee is actually a physician -- you would think she would have supported inclusion of AMA policy statements. They complain when some little sentence, taken out of context from an antiquated government web site, is not included, but oppose the public policy statements of the most prominent organizations in the fields of medicine and mental health. Go figure.

The pilot test results will go to the school board on Tuesday, and they will vote on whether to implement the new curriculum in the fall. Somewhere in that process they will also be informed of the committee's resolution. The Superintendent's office could decide to add the professional organizations' statements to the curriculum before presenting it to the board, or if that doesn't happen the board could vote to add the materials.

It's a last chance to do the right thing. The curriculum as it is developed is a step in the right direction; things will be discussed in the classroom that are long overdue. There can be nothing wrong with making the message very clear, and there is nothing to gain by keeping the information vague. The fact is, the doctors have spoken, without ambiguity, and students deserve to know what the expert medical opinion is on these important questions.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cameron Collaborator List Getting Huge

One thing we have had to deal with for the past two and a half years is the citing of fake research by the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and their allies. They will pull statistics out (I'm not saying where they pull them out of) that prove every negative stereotype of gay people. And then when you go to the actual research, you find there is just no correspondence. The real science, real medicine, don't support the anti-gay stereotype; there are people, and some of the them are gay. If they have a special medical problem or need special attention, OK, so do all groups -- men, blacks, women, immigrants, short people, they all need special consideration of some kind.

And you think -- where do these guys find this "research" that they refer to?

The answer is usually pretty straightforward: Paul Cameron. This one guy has been responsible for more anti-gay fake-facts than anybody. For decades he's been distorting the data or simply making it up; his writing is a travesty of real research and an embarrassment to the scientific establishment. He has been expelled from the American Psychological Association, and had a resolution passed against him by the American Sociological Association. The Canadian Psychological Association approved a position statement disavowing Cameron's work on sexuality, saying that he had "consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism." He quotes extensively from Nazi tracts and his organization, the Family Research Institute, is labeled by the Southern Povery Law Center as a "hate group."

Our friend Alvin McEwen, who sometimes comments on the Teach The Facts Yahoo group, is about to publish a book revealing the sources and the stories-behind-the-stories of many of the "studies" cited by the CRC and others to support their anti-gay viewpoints. His book, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, which dwells extensively on the influence of Paul Cameron, should be out this year.

Meanwhile, Box Turtle Bulletin started a list of people and organizations that have relied on Cameron's work. Mentioning Cameron's writing, citing his words as factual, is a very solid clue that somebody has disengaged from reality in order to advance the cause of anti-gay bigotry. I checked it out when he first started it, and it was impressive.

But wow.

Go look at that page. This is a real eye-opener. I'm not counting, but there must be a close to two hundred articles cited here.

It is amazing that one hateful guy can have this kind of effect in the world. I mean, OK, Cameron hates gays, quotes Nazis, thinks everybody who is HIV-positive should be tattooed, he's a nut. One guy. So why are all these people quoting him?

Unfortunately you can't just wait for this kind of thing to go away on its own. Reasonable people have to speak up.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Explain This to Me, Please

Here's the new chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, Dennis Milligan:
“At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001 ], and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country,” Milligan said. GOP chief: New strategy key

I'm hoping somebody will help us understand the logic of that.

Blogging for Sex Education Day

Certain waves of ideas pass through the blogosphere occasionally; sometimes one sticks, and sometimes they just pass by. Like "Friday cat blogging." I don't know why, but a lot of bloggers post pictures of their cats on Fridays. It's a nice thing, but not one that has a good explanation, except that you're burnt out after a week of fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, and you just want to spend some time with the kitty.

September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, when all bloggers have to say "arrgh matey" somewhere in their post. It's about the least effective impression of a pirate imaginable, but everybody does it and it's good fun. Well, I don't do it, because I'm a cranky old contrarian and too cool for that sort of puerile silliness.

Today, June 4th, is official "Blogging for Sex Education Day." A blog called "Renegade Evolution" (motto: more volatile than Vesuvius") (second motto: "The rants and raves of a live nude girl") has proposed this idea, and I don't think it's really going to take the world by storm, but you will see more than the usual number of blogs today about sex education.

Here at the Vigilance blog, every day, more or less, is "Blogging for Sex Education Day." We're a one-topic web site, all we care about in the whole world is the Montgomery County, Maryland, sex education curriculum. That's weird, huh?

There's an explanation.

A few years ago, certain agents of the religious right decided that they were going to draw the line right here in our Blue county. A new curriculum was being developed, because according to state policy there was supposed to be something in our schools about sexual variation, and there wasn't. So they worked for a couple of years on a new curriculum, and it was really nice. It mentioned sexual orientation in a few places, in a fair and objective way, like it was supposed to do, and these extremists came unglued.

Seems from their point of view, if you're going to say something about gay people, you've got to say something ugly. You should talk about what a dirty and disease-ridden bunch of promiscuous child-molesters they all are, you should take every aspect of the negative stereotype and teach it as fact (is this what the term "gospel truth" means?) in the classroom. You should tell students that sexual orientation is a choice, and that gay people can change if they want to -- oh, and be sure to include as many lurid details of sex practices as possible, especially if they can be made to sound disgusting.

There were only a few of them, but the newspapers and (especially) the TV news loved them. And this all boiled over about the time of the 2004 elections, when the radical right felt they had a chance at taking over the whole country. They wanted to recall the entire school board for adopting this curriculum. That didn't work out, you might say, so they tried one thing after another -- letter campaigns, petitions, billboards, phone calls, picketing. After all their plans failed, they finally won a last-minute temporary restraining order that put them in a position to negotiate with the school district, and so the schools had to start over.

Turns out the extremists -- mainly a group called the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, or CRC -- dislike the "new new" curriculum even worse than the "old new" one. It was developed by a team of pediatricians, and has been studied in depth by gangs and gangs of lawyers, making sure there won't be anything when the CRC files another lawsuit. A citizens committee went over it, month after month, hour after hour, reviewing every aspect, every nuance, and approving it (though some recommended materials have not been included). This curriculum will not offend anyone, but it does include some important information for students about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The curriculum has been pilot tested, and we hear that went well. The CRC tried to undermine the testing, but that failed like everything else they try. People in our county want a good sex-ed curriculum, that's why they voted in these new school board members. There was nothing unclear about that statement, people here are progressive, they support both truth and fairness, and they have put the school board in place to reach those goals.

The citizens advisory committee will receive a report in a couple of days from the Superintendent's staff, reporting on the pilot testing and what their recommendations will be to the school board, who needs to vote on whether to go ahead and implement the classes.

There is one thing we will be watching for. The citizens advisory committee had strongly recommended the inclusion of some statements by the major medical and mental health organizations. These statements would clear up a lot of confusion, and they would also give teachers a way to answer some of the inevitable questions (though it would be better not to wait for a kid to ask the question).

Right now the whole thing is scripted, teachers can't really answer questions, and that's not only uncomfortable for students and teachers alike, it also sends the wrong message. If a kid says, "Teacher, is homosexuality a disease?" and the teacher says, "You'll have to ask your doctor about that," it does imply an incorrect answer to the question. Why would you ask a doctor if that's not what it is? It would be much better for teachers to have the answers to those easy questions in front of them, so they can give an honest and accurate answer.

The CRC has threatened another lawsuit, and so we're watching for that, too. There is no legal opening for them this time, the whole thing is so legally sanitary you could eat off it. But they'll sue, and the TV stations will put it on the news, and then ... they'll lose.

Get around the Internet today, and let's see what people have to say about sex education.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

News You Will Not See in the US

I don't know, it just struck me funny. From the UK's Daily Mail:
Channel Five is facing angry protests after it screened a Mormon recruitment advert in the middle of programmes watched by infants.

Under broadcasting regulations, religious advertising is banned during children's programmes and now a broadcasting watchdog is investigating why the channel allowed the religious group to screen the commercial during Milkshake!, a morning show watched by children as young as two.

The commercial, which featured a crucifixion scene, included a phone number to ring for a free DVD outlining Mormon beliefs.

The group, which is formally known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is associated with the practice of multiple marriage, professes not to target its teachings at under-18-year-olds.

But when a ten-year-old boy, acting on behalf of The Mail on Sunday, called the number on Friday and requested a DVD, the operator sent one out to him despite being clearly informed of his age.

The one-minute advert was shown at 9.30am last Saturday, in a break between animated shows Fifi And The Flowertots and Jane And The Dragon. Parents' fury as channel Five screens advert for Mormons in middle of children's show

See the offensive ad HERE (you might need to be running Windows to see this).

The Times They Have Changed

Some people are expressing indignant outrage because the California prisons started allowing gay conjugal visits, like that's a big deal to let a guy who's been busted see the person he loves. Strange how things catch on slowly. Here's the Washington Post this morning, reminding us that it wasn't that long ago that people thought it was obvious that a white guy should not be allowed to marry a black girl.
In June 1958, Virginia residents Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter traveled to the District, got married and returned home. An unexceptional story but for one fact: Richard was white and Mildred black. Their marriage therefore violated Virginia's Racial Integrity Act. The Lovings were convicted in Virginia court and sentenced to a year in jail, with the sentence suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia and not return together for 25 years.

They got back sooner. On June 12, 1967 -- 40 years ago next Tuesday -- the Supreme Court struck down Virginia's ban on interracial marriages. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated that the restriction served no purpose but that of "invidious racial discrimination" and therefore violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment Marriage, Loving and The Law

The Racial Integrity act. That's unimaginable now. Now it's "Defense of Marriage," or whatever some politician thinks up. Some things don't really change, you just substitute some words and there you go.

Our idea of prison is nuts. Do you know why we put so many guys in prison? Right now, more than two million Americans are in prison. Tens of thousands of them didn't do anything wrong really, they got high or did something that didn't hurt anybody, but somebody else made the rules and there they are, in prison. It doesn't turn out that the US imprisons more people than any country ever, but we're in the running. And does this make them better people? Does it prevent crime? Does it make us safer in any way? It seems to me that we are unbelievably punishment-oriented. We like to punish people, never mind if it ends up improving the situation any, it doesn't actually matter if we solve our problems by it, we just like to do it. Serves them right and all that. Well, whatever, it's too crazy to change at this point. It's just how we are, we've got two million of our fellow citizens locked up, depriving them of their own lives; I guess most Americans think this is a good idea.

And then, we just shrug and accept the fact of rape in prison. Like people think that's just part of the punishment. Fifty percent of guys in prison have sex with another guy. Do you suppose that means that fifty percent of prisoners are gay? Of course not, they're just ... guys. It's not shocking that they'd do that, but it is shocking how we react to it, like it's a joke or something. And can you imagine being a gay guy prison? Man, that's not going to be an easy way to go.

So now, at least in California, a guy's going to get to have visits from his partner, even if that is another guy.

This Post piece, written by a University of Pennsylvania law professor, goes on:
The past few decades have brought a dramatic change in social attitudes about homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association, which once classified homosexuality as a mental disease, abandoned that position in 1973. Public opinion polls show an increasing acceptance of homosexuality, and state legislatures are beginning to follow. Restricting the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples is increasingly seen as invidious, an inequality inflicted for no good reason.

If the trend continues, this view eventually will find expression at the Supreme Court level, just as it did in Loving. This is not judicial activism. It is how we make the Constitution ours.

(I am not going to take this opportunity to comment on the Supreme Court's recent decisions, but this law professor might be more optimistic than he ought to be.)

Public attitudes matter. When homosexuality was seen as an immoral decision that some bad people made, the public would have accepted discrimination written into the law. But things aren't like that any more. People know a little more about sexual orientation now, they realize it isn't a choice, it isn't something you decide to do, it's how you are.

It's time to get over it. This argument has already been decided, people have had their eyes opened. Our gay neighbors are just some neighbors, it's not a secret and it's not a crime, it's just how they are. If they fall in love and decide to spend their whole lives together -- who would be against that?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Goose and Gander, Cuts Both Ways, Etcetera

I just love it when this happens.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State have a blog that frequently has interesting stuff on it. I intended to cut and paste parts of this, but the whole thing is just too good, so here it is:
We commented last December on a Pagan group in Albemarle County, Va., that took advantage of a Religious Right-sponsored move to open a public school’s “backpack mail” system to religious promotions.

The backlash was swift and harsh when parents received flyers announcing a Pagan holiday celebration at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation. One mother was livid that the school would send home in her child’s backpack anything it did not endorse. A “pagan ritual” is “an educational experience my children don’t need,” she fumed.

“Backpack mail” systems are common in public schools. Albemarle uses it to advertise extra-curricular activities such as children’s theater, summer camps and recreational sports events.

The Albemarle School District previously had a sensible policy barring “distribution of literature that this for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes,” but it was revised at the behest of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel to allow religious content.

Liberty Counsel relied on a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling earlier in 2006 that public school districts do not have “unbridled discretion to deny access to the oft-used forum” because that would not “ensure the requisite viewpoint neutrality.” Backpack Blowback: Religious Right Activists Want Preferential Treatment From Public School Forum They Created

Yes, we have the same situation in Montgomery County. Once per quarter, PFOX sends their information home with MCPS high school students, hoping to lure some gay teens into calling them. Nobody likes it, but they have the right. Apparently there's not much you can do about it, either let everybody do it, or don't let anybody.
So, the Religious Right got want they wanted from the federal courts (the same federal courts they accuse of “kicking God out of the public schools”) and now they’re hopping mad... again.

World Net Daily reports that the Albemarle School District is under attack by a Religious Right group for sending students home with flyers for Camp Quest, an overnight summer camp for young atheists, agnostics and freethinkers.

This time, however, the problem has been exacerbated by a handful of teachers who have refused to send the flyers home. The group assailing Albemarle School District, Rick Scarborough’s Vision America, says “it’s outrageous to force teachers to distribute these flyers.” He’s urging members to contact the district to protest its “establishment of disbelief.”

An anonymous spokesman for the rebelling teachers told World Net Daily some teachers refused to hand out the Camp Quest flyer because they were “disgusted” and were concerned parents would think the school was endorsing the camp. Even though there is a disclaimer distancing the school from all extra-curricular information sent home, “it’s still coming from me and my classroom,” he said.

Mr. Anonymous is partly right. Anything that comes home from a public school, no matter how strong the disclaimer is, may be perceived as having the school’s stamp of approval. But that’s water under the bridge. Religious Right activists, through the 4th Circuit ruling that they sought, have forced public schools to allow their religious messages in the “backpack mail” system.

Now that they have opened the forum, they can’t close it to perspectives they don’t like. Although these religious conservatives demand people listen to them, they appear unwilling to listen to others.

If public schools allow private groups to use “backpack mail,” they must prohibit teachers from deciding which messages are and are not worthy. It is absolutely unacceptable for public school teachers to decide that one religious belief is “offensive” and “outrageous” but others are not and then promote that perspective in their official capacity.

This is the big problem with "freedom," isn't it? If you want it, you have to share it.

It's going to be a hard lesson for some people to learn, I'm afraid.