President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin

Council member Jones to be first cisgender reader at Houston Day of Remembrance

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

Houston City Council member Jolanda Jones is scheduled to be the first cisgender reader in the history of Houston’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, one the events sponsors, says that Jones was originally approached to be a speaker at the event because of her advocacy for trans children, but that she requested to read instead.

“I begged to read, I begged them,” corrects Jones, “they asked me if I wanted to speak and I begged them to read instead because it’s profound and it touches you. I think it’s better to read because it’s important.”
Jones said she was particularly moved at last year’s Day of Remembrance by the story of 17 month old Roy A. Jones who was beaten to death by his babysitter for “acting like a girl.” “I was so touched when they read about the baby that was killed,” said Jones, “the readers tell the story.”

Jones led efforts this year to encourage local homeless youth provider Covenant House to adopt a nondiscrimination policy that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. She used her position on City Council to threaten to cut Covenant House’s funding unless they addressed accusations of discrimination. That threat persuaded the organization to overhaul their policies and begin regular meetings with community leaders to discuss their progress in serving LGBT youth.
The Houston Transgender Day of Remembrance is Saturday, November 19, from 7-9:30 pm at Farish Hall on the University of Houston Campus.

—  admin

Perfect match

Bob Nunn and Tom Harrover have been a couple for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until a near tragedy that they realized they were truly meant for each other

LIFE GOES ON | Nunn, right, and Harrover stand before a project commissioned for the convention center hotel. Four years ago, Nunn was near death because of kidney disease. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Bob Nunn agrees with the adage that the longer a couple lives together, the more they begin to look alike. Nunn and his partner Tom Harrover might not look that similar on the outside, but they match in a way that few couples do.

Let’s start with some history.

The two have that classic meet-cute that began on the wrong note. As Nunn tells it, Harrover was the dullest person he’d ever met —the two just didn’t like each other. Then, following a spontaneous invitation to a midnight movie, they ended up hitting it off. That movie led to conversation and then dating.

Forty-two years later, they still watch movies — as Nunn puts it, “I couldn’t get rid of him.”

A job in Houston took Nunn away from Harrover for three months, but old-fashioned letter writing kept the newbie relationship afloat.

“Tom had been writing me letters. He’s a very good writer,” Bob boasts. “He basically proposed to me by letter.”

They committed to each other, moving in and pursuing their careers: Harrover in architecture and Nunn teaching art. For 37 years, they lived in “a fabulous house” in Hollywood Heights. Life was good.

Then their life took a sharp turn.

“When we got together, Tom knew I had a kidney disease,” Nunn says. “Nothing was really a problem until about 30 years after we met — my kidneys began to fail and I had to start dialysis.”

Nunn registered with Baylor for the national organ donor list, but the experience was frustrating:  They received little response or encouragement from the hospital.

“Bob was on a downhill slide and the frustration with Baylor seemed like they were stonewalling us,” Harrover says. “We talked about going to Asia even. It felt like they didn’t want to deal with a senior-age gay couple.”

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YOU | Bob Nunn is officially retired from teaching art, but continues to paint.

Then Harrover suggested something novel: He could donate his kidney to the organ list, with the idea that Nunn could get a healthy one.  Sort of a kidney exchange.

In desperation, they went back to their physician, who enrolled them in St. Paul Hospital’s then-new program for kidney transplant. The experience was a complete turnaround. Nunn was tested and processed immediately while Harrover prepped for his organ donation to an anonymous recipient.

Kidney transplants require a seven-point match system; a minimum of three matches is necessary for the recipient to be able to accept the organ into the body.

The tests revealed that Harrover’s kidney matched Nunn’s on all seven points.

“We assumed I would donate mine for use elsewhere,” Harrover says. “It never occurred to me that we’d be a match. The odds for that are off the charts.”

“See what happens when you live together for so long?” he chuckles.

Just six months after entering St. Paul’s program in 2007, they were on the operating table. They were the first direct living donor pair in the program. “It was all fairly miraculous,” Nunn understates.

Four years later, both men are doing well. Although officially retired, they both continue to work: Harrover does the occasional contract job while Nunn is currently on commission for an art project at the new convention center hotel. Outside of any official work, each interjects their quips about home, life be it cooking together or working on the lawn.

The obvious question for them might be “What’s the secret?” But they don’t see it just that way. Their relationship boils down to the obvious virtues of trust, respect and compromise.

“Selfishness doesn’t rear its ugly head in this relationship,” Harrover says. “You just have to be willing to accommodate, support and encourage what the other is interested in.”

Nunn agrees. “I would not be doing what I’m doing without his support.”

Nunn says if there is a secret, it’s akin to the dynamic on a playground: Like each other and share. If you don’t share your whole life, there isn’t a relationship, he says. At this point, Harrover says it would be impossible to separate. On paper, they are so intertwined with their house and financials, he jokes they are “Siamese twins.”

They’ve witnessed a lot in their decades together, including something they never expected to come to pass in their lifetimes: Same-sex marriage. Coming from a time when just being gay conflicted with moral codes set by their jobs, they wonder over the progress made in recent years. (They were officially married in Boston in October 2009.)

“I’m confident that it will happen for everyone,” Harrover says. “I’m sorry that it’s moving at a glacial pace, but it has that same inevitability as a glacier. We’ll get there.”

But nothing compares to the bond Harrover and Nunn already have, a shared intimacy few couples could imagine. Same-sex marriage was merely unlikely; what they have experienced is miraculous.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Progress begins in Hawaii on civil unions bill

In July of 2010, Hawaii’s then-Governor, Linda Lingle, who has been married and divorce twice, vetoed civil unions legislation. Fortunately, the state has a new Governor, Neil Abercrombie, who supports equality. In both the Democratic primary and the general election, Abercrombie was unequivocal in his support for civil unions — against opponents who would do what would Lingle did. Now, they call him Governor Abercrombie.

Equality Hawaii reports that the process to pass the civil unions bill in the new session has begun:

The Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee passed SB232 SD1, Hawaii’s new civil unions bill, by a 3-2 vote Tues., Jan. 25.

Equality Hawaii thanks Sens. Clayton Hee, Maile Shimabukuro and Les Ihara, Jr., who voted in favor of the measure.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for a second and third reading. The second reading is slated for Jan. 26 with the final reading anticipated Fri., Jan. 28.

Good work, Equality Hawaii.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin

Update from Gates and Mullen on DADT repeal progress

So far, sounds promising.

SEC. GATES: Well, everything having to do with the FY ’12 budget will go through the regular congressional budget process. So a lot of these program changes that I talked about clearly will have to — have to go through them.

Q: (Off mic) — “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it’s been a few weeks since the repeal. Can you give us an update on how anything has proceeded since then, given the promise was no foot-dragging?

SEC. GATES: Yeah. Our goal here is to — is to move as quickly but as responsibly as possible. I see this as a — as a three-step process. The first is to finalize changes in regulations, policies, get clearer definition on benefits.

The second phase is to then prepare the training materials for use first of all with the experts, if you will, the personnel people, the chaplains, the judge advocate generals; and second, the leaders, commanders; and then third, the troops. So there’s the policy piece, the training — preparation piece, and then the actual training.

We’re trying to get the first two phases of that process done as quickly as possible. My hope is that it can be done within a matter of a very few weeks so that we can then move on to what is the real challenge, which is providing training to 2.2 million people.

And we will — we will do that as expeditiously as we can. But as the — to use the term the chairman’s used, there’s just a certain element of physics associated with the number of people involved in this process.

But we are moving it as — and I have asked Under Secretary [Cliff] Stanley to accelerate the first two phases of this process as much as he possibly can so that we can get on with the training process. I was very struck by one of the chief’s comments that it’s better to — better to do this sooner rather than later. So we’re kind of approaching it with that — with that philosophy in mind.

ADM. MULLEN: The only thing I’d add is, just to remind, you know, the law has not changed, won’t until it is certified; and there’s 60 days after certification. And so now is not — from my perspective, you know, now is not the time to “come out,” if you will. We’ll get through this. We’ll do it deliberately. We certainly are focused on this. And we won’t — we won’t dawdle.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin

GUEST POST: “Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part 3 of 4″

The following post is a guest post from David Fishback, Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, with opening comments from HRC’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn:

As voters across the U.S. prepare to vote in primary elections next week, and coverage of the critically important November mid-term elections permeates every news channel, a reminder about the importance of school board elections to our community is timely. LGBT voters and our allies have a vested interest in the outcomes of school board elections, whether or not you are parents or have any connection to you local public schools.  Why?  Through state legislative enactment, school boards give local citizens the authority to develop school policy, rules and regulations, to hire school superintendents and to make decisions about curriculum and extracurricular activities for elementary, middle and high schools in their district.  School boards serve an important purpose and ensure that schools are meeting the needs of the students in their local communities, but when school board members are guided by ideology, they can block implementation of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying programs, sexuality education and STI/HIV prevention programs. Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition once said that he would rather see his candidates win 100 school board elections than the White House.  This four-part series by David Fishback provides deeper insight into the role of school boards and the ways in which we can all advocate effectively for positive change in our schools.

Back to School: How to make progress in your local school system – Part Three of Four

By David S. Fishback

In early spring of 2005, the people leading the group that was unsuccessfully attempting to whip up public opposition to the Montgomery County, Maryland, school system’s plans to pilot health education revisions – including some simple, factual statements about sexual orientation – had publicly stated that they would not try to use the courts to advance their agenda.  This turned out to be a lie and a diversion.  Just days before the curriculum revisions were to be piloted in six county schools, CRC and PFOX, through Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel, filed a 43-page complaint in the federal district court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the piloting. The complaint was rife with factual misrepresentations about the revisions and the applicable law. With only a few days to respond, the Board of Education was caught flatfooted and the judge, who was also a Baptist minister, granted the order, buying into both the misrepresentations and the incorrect legal arguments.  The most notable error was the unprecedented idea that the United States Constitution required all sides of any dispute to be presented in curriculum.

But rather than fight the lawsuit – which, given the judge’s reputation for being very slow to issue final decisions that could be appealed, would have tied things up in expensive litigation for years – the Board of Education scrapped the curriculum revisions, dismantled its Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development – including both the supporters and the opponents of the revisions – and settled the case by agreeing to appoint representatives of CRC and PFOX to the reconstituted Committee while reserving its right to make curriculum decisions.

In another place and time this might have been the death knell for the revision effort in the face of the ferocious attack, but here the community regrouped.  The previous committee vice chair, a pediatrician, arranged with the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide expert consultants to the school system to develop a new curriculum. The Superintendent accepted the offer.  The Board appointed a new advisory committee, which, in addition to the mandated CRC and PFOX representatives, added very well qualified members – including members nominated by Metro DC PFLAG and Teachthefacts.org – and notably, a new chair – a respected pediatrician who was also trained as a lawyer. The previous chair shared his experiences of the previous years, including the earlier materials PFOX presented and the rebuttals.

As the process unfolded, the candidates in the next Board of Education election who publicly supported the revisions were elected by substantial margins. All letters to the editor in local papers from CRC and PFOX were responded to immediately with letters rebutting their assertions. The previous committee chair did a number of radio and television show debates, as well as presentations on local and national programs supporting the reform efforts.  Teachthefacts.org made similar media appearances and provided a stream of analysis on a blog that helped keep the wider community informed.

Having concluded that the biggest mistake in 2005 was the failure to anticipate a lawsuit filled with factual and legal misrepresentations, Metro DC PFLAG – working with Teachthefacts.org, National PFLAG, Lambda Legal, and attorneys from the law firm of WilmerHale – began to develop a comprehensive defense and established a working relationship with the school system attorneys.

The new revisions, rather than simply including a few basic statements about sexual orientation as had been done in 2005, now covered two entire classroom periods and went into great depth on the challenges faced by LGBT students, and drew on statements from the American Psychological Association and a textbook developed for the Los Angeles County School District.

When the Board unanimously voted to pilot the new revisions in January 2007, CRC, PFOX and a group calling itself the Family Leader Network asked the state superintendent of education to block the piloting as the federal judge had done in 2005. This time our side was ready, and both the school system and Metro DC PFLAG filed effective, comprehensive arguments in opposition to the CRC/PFOX/FLN request.  In March 2007, the state superintendent denied the request.  The opposition then asked the State Board of Education to block the curriculum, using the same arguments they made in 2005.

In June 2007, the County Board of Education, following the piloting, approved the curriculum revisions for full implementation with the new inclusion of a specific provision allowing teachers to explain, in response to questions, that being gay is not an illness.  Later that month, the State Board of Education rejected the CRC/PFOX/FLN request without a single dissenting vote.

The opposition – now represented by the Thomas More Legal Center – brought suit in Montgomery County District Court, but the Court resoundingly dismissed the claims in January 2008.

Implementation went smoothly.  The health education courses dealing with human sexuality had always been opt-in courses under state law.  In other words, students could only take the courses if their parents chose to let them participate.  In the past, the opt-in percentages typically were in the upper 90% range.  This did not change with the implementation of the revisions discussing sexual orientation.  In the 2008 elections, as in the 2006 elections, Board of Education candidates who publicly supported the revisions were elected by large margins. In 2009, the school system guidance offices were directed to use Just the Facts, the publication from the American Psychological Association discussed in the first blog in this series, as a principal resource along with other materials, including the excellent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Guidance for the Clinician on Sexual Orientation, from PEDIATRICS, Vol. 113, No. 6 (June 2004), which can be found here.

There is still more work to do.  Last winter, PFOX distributed flyers among some county high school students touting the discredited reparative therapies for changing one’s sexual orientation.  While the materials in the guidance offices refute this dangerous snake oil, the curriculum currently does not address this issue.  Efforts are being made to have this omission corrected.

The author is Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, and served as Chair of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development in 2003-05.  He can be reached at FishbackPFLAG@gmail.com


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

GUEST POST: “Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part 4 of 4″

The following post is a guest post from David Fishback, Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, with opening comments from HRC’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn:

As voters across the U.S. prepare to vote in primary elections next week, and coverage of the critically important November mid-term elections permeates every news channel, a reminder about the importance of school board elections to our community is timely. LGBT voters and our allies have a vested interest in the outcomes of school board elections, whether or not you are parents or have any connection to you local public schools.  Why?  Through state legislative enactment, school boards give local citizens the authority to develop school policy, rules and regulations, to hire school superintendents and to make decisions about curriculum and extracurricular activities for elementary, middle and high schools in their district.  School boards serve an important purpose and ensure that schools are meeting the needs of the students in their local communities, but when school board members are guided by ideology, they can block implementation of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying programs, sexuality education and STI/HIV prevention programs. Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition once said that he would rather see his candidates win 100 school board elections than the White House.  This four-part series by David Fishback provides deeper insight into the role of school boards and the ways in which we can all advocate effectively for positive change in our schools.

Back to School: How to make progress in your local school system – Part Four of Four

By David S. Fishback

What lessons can we learn from the Montgomery County experience?  I suggest the following:

1. As more LGBT people come out, more straight people are willing to talk about their LGBT relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. Once you begin real conversations about the challenges that society poses for gay people – whether with school officials, reporters or members of the general public – more people will begin to talk about their LGBT relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.  As this happens, more LGBT people may be more likely to come out.  Always be ready to tell your stories.  Personal stories of real people, real pain and real struggle often do as much or more than abstract academic conclusions to help people understand the importance of action. This openness breaks down the walls that have kept people from confronting the issues.  Once those walls break down, progress can be swifter.

2. School officials – both elected and non-elected – need information, not just conclusions. This is important because when being asked to take steps in directions previously not taken, and where there may be pushback from others living in the school district, officials need to know not just the general conclusions about sexual orientation, but also the fact that those conclusions are supported by the mainstream medical and mental health care community. This will bolster the ability to act for those who already agree with us, and can bring along those who may not have thought about the issue enough to be ready to take the needed steps.

3. The media needs to be well informed. In the Montgomery County situation, advocates educated reporters on the beat about the reality of where the mainstream health care professional associations stood, and why they held those positions.  We did this not at the time of the onset of a big story, but in advance of such events.  By sufficiently educating reporters in advance – just like we did for school officials and the public at large – the reporters were more able to present balanced articles, rather than simply responding to the creaky wheel.

4. Find forums in which to present your views and your evidence. Letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and presentations on broadcast media are important. Find those outlets and use them. Always be prepared to make the best case for your position.

5. Personal relationships matter. As in any community, personal relationships developed over the years are very useful.  In this instance, the author – who was the chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development from 2003 to 2005 and later played a role as a member of the Metro DC PFLAG Board and as Advocacy Chair of Metro DC PFLAG – had worked for years as a PTA volunteer, as a local PTA president, and as a member of a number of other advisory committees and community school advocacy committees.  In those activities, he developed relationships and credibility that made it easier to be an advocate for potentially controversial issues, like this one.

6. Never underestimate the depths to which the opposition will go to impose their views. This may seem harsh, but sadly it is a reflection of reality. The opposition does not simply reach conclusions by seeing the world through a different side of the prism.  Rather – perhaps because their views are ideologically and theologically based – they often seem to take the view that the ends justify the means. We always need to be prepared for that, and to be prepared for the most outrageous attacks imaginable.

7. Be ready for wolves in sheep’s clothing. More skillful members of the opposition may couch their arguments in terms of respect for all without condoning or encouraging what they view as immoral behavior, all the while focusing on the respect angle. We must always remember that generalized statements of civility are nice, but they do little good if they are coupled with policies that marginalize our LGBT children. Also, keep in mind that people may run for school boards without revealing that they have an anti-gay agenda. For example, this autumn a member of the board of directors of the Family Leader Network – which brought suit against the Montgomery County Board of Education in 2007 –whose husband is chair of the FLN board, is running as a fiscal conservative, but is omitting any mention of her role in the litigation. Be prepared to “out” such candidates.

8. Always be civil and dignified. It will be tempting to lash out in public against outrageous attacks on ourselves and/or our children. But it is always more important to channel that passion into effective public presentations. Anger may create a good news story on some televisions stations, but it does not advance the ball. Over time, people of good will come to recognize the humanity of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

9. Efforts to reform our public schools take hard work and dedication. Activists who care about educating children about the realities of sexual orientation must be prepared to do the hard work of educating both school officials and the community-at-large about these issues. Progress in our society in the last decade has been enormous. Montgomery County is not the rule, but the exception, so far.

The author is Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, and served as Chair of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development in 2003-05.  He can be reached at FishbackPFLAG@gmail.com


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

GUEST POST: “Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part 2 of 4″

The following post is a guest post from David Fishback, Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, with opening comments from HRC’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn:

As voters across the U.S. prepare to vote in primary elections next week, and coverage of the critically important November mid-term elections permeates every news channel, a reminder about the importance of school board elections to our community is timely. LGBT voters and our allies have a vested interest in the outcomes of school board elections, whether or not you are parents or have any connection to you local public schools.  Why?  Through state legislative enactment, school boards give local citizens the authority to develop school policy, rules and regulations, to hire school superintendents and to make decisions about curriculum and extracurricular activities for elementary, middle and high schools in their district.  School boards serve an important purpose and ensure that schools are meeting the needs of the students in their local communities, but when school board members are guided by ideology, they can block implementation of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying programs, sexuality education and STI/HIV prevention programs. Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition once said that he would rather see his candidates win 100 school board elections than the White House.  This four-part series by David Fishback provides deeper insight into the role of school boards and the ways in which we can all advocate effectively for positive change in our schools.

Back to School: How to make progress in your local school system – Part Two of Four

By David S. Fishback

The experience in Montgomery County, Maryland – a suburb of Washington, D.C. – provides a blueprint of how make progress, as well as the game plan of the right-wing to derail progress in presenting the wisdom of the mainstream medical and mental health professional associations regarding sexual orientation.

In 2002, the elected Board of Education, on the recommendation of its Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, instructed the Montgomery County Public Schools staff (MCPS) to develop revisions to the school system’s  8th and 10th grade health education curriculum to provide accurate information on sexual orientation.  Previously, teachers were forbidden to discuss the subject, unless asked a direct question and then they could only provide vague answers and then move on.  In order to facilitate the process, the board appointed a wide group of new members to the committee, which, by state law, had to review any recommendations regarding sexuality education, including representatives from Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and a Unitarian Church, as well as from the local Catholic Archdiocese and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) – a group about which little was known in 2002.

In the summer of 2003, a working group composed of school health care professionals and both a progressive and a conservative member of the committee developed a draft of the curriculum revisions, which simply added a few items to the existing curriculum, noting the mainstream health professionals’ consensus on sexual orientation.  The conservative member of the committee (who represented the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution on the committee) presented material from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), but, after examination, all the other members of the working group rejected the conclusory assertions of NARTH, which were not supported by any valid data.

When the staff recommendations were presented to the committee in the autumn of 2003, the DAR and PFOX representatives, along with one at-large representative who later founded a putative grassroots group to oppose the revisions that eventually emerged from the committee’s deliberations, vigorously opposed the recommendations and were given every opportunity to convince other members of the committee that their views were valid. What the other committee members discovered was that the materials presented by the DAR representative were filled with misrepresentations. [Note: As far as can be determined, the DAR has no positions regarding issues of sexual orientation.  In 2002, most members of the committee were appointed as representatives of various community groups.  There is no reason to believe that the person who used her DAR membership to get appointed to the committee was acting in any way as a spokesperson for the DAR.  She is designated as the DAR representative here for identification purposes only.]

In one instance, the DAR representative characterized the research of a University of Pennsylvania medical school professor as concluding that gay men were generally pedophiles and that children were “turned gay” by contact with such men.  The chair of the committee secured the study that was being cited, found that it did not say any such thing, and contacted the professor, who confirmed the chair’s assessment and authorized him to convey that to the committee.  The DAR representative also cited “studies” done by alleged objective researchers, but the committee discovered that the authors were not qualified experts and were publishing in non-peer reviewed publications that were simply fronts for outfits like Focus on the Family. By thoroughly examining their allegations, the committee able to determine that all the attacks on the draft curriculum were bogus.

The DAR and PFOX representatives audio-taped every meeting, presumably to provide evidence of bias in the event that they were unsuccessful.  Indeed, the DAR and PFOX representatives wrote letters to a local newspaper and the BOE accusing the committee generally, and its chair in particular, of unfair bias.  However, with every word of the meetings on tape, they were never able to cite any evidence to support their allegations.  Over time, it became clear that the opposition’s attacks on any progress in this area would be rife with ad hominem attacks and unsupportable allegations.

After many months of debate and some recommendations for improvement by the committee, the committee chair, was assigned the responsibility of drafting the committee report to the Board of Education in late spring 2004. The chair offered the dissenters on the committee the opportunity to prepare a minority report. This offer was declined.

The MCPS staff’s recommendations to the board, along with the committee report, were presented to the BOE in the autumn of 2004. In November it was adopted by the board unanimously.  Immediately, there was a onslaught of criticism on right-wing talk radio shows, attacking the recommendations as a “gay agenda” conspiracy and accusing the board of developing it without any community notice or opportunity for the consideration of dissenting viewpoints even though this attack was demonstrably false.  One of the dissenting members of the committee established a group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) to oppose the revisions.  CRC held a community meeting at a local high school, where the rhetoric was so inflammatory that a group of parents (who previously had no association with LGBT issues) formed a rival group, TeachtheFacts.org.  CRC immediately grabbed the web domain name Teachthefacts.com to redirect any searches to the CRC’s website, which was named MCPScurriculum.com; yet another indication of the underhanded approaches it would take to the public debate.

Then a very interesting thing happened. Typically, people only write or call the board (or any government agency) when they object to something the agency has done. In this instance the calls and letters ran something like 5 to 1 in favor of the propose curriculum revisions. Some of this came from community mobilization, but much of it was purely spontaneous.  In March 2005, CRC sought to have a mass community meeting to oppose the revisions and could not find a single local public official to attend as a speaker. Instead, they brought in officials from Focus on the Family-related groups like the Family Research Council, Take Back Maryland, and Concerned Women of America (whose representative, oddly, was a man), and a notoriously homophobic state legislator from another part of Maryland to speak. A CRC spokesman tried to distance the organization from many of the comments made by the speakers, even though it was clear in advance the positions the speakers were publically taking.  (It is noteworthy that one of the speakers, Family Research Council Vice President Peter Sprigg, has, in the past year, stated on national television, that he believes that consensual adult same-sex activity should be criminalized and that the United States should “export” gay people.)

Through the winter and early spring of 2005, the CRC took the position that the BOE should negotiate with CRC about the revisions before any piloting (scheduled for May 2005) would start, and publically stated that it would not try to use the courts to derail the process.  Subsequently e-mails, that inadvertently were made public, revealed that CRC was surreptitiously planning litigation from the outset.  What happened next was a shocking set back, but fortunately, a temporary one.  More on this in the next installment…

The author is Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, and served as Chair of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development in 2003-05.  He may be reached at FishbackPFLAG@gmail.com


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

GUEST POST: “Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part 1 of 4″

The following post is a guest post from David Fishback, Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, with opening comments from HRC’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn:

As voters across the U.S. prepare to vote in primary elections next week, and coverage of the critically important November mid-term elections permeates every news channel, a reminder about the importance of school board elections to our community is timely. LGBT voters and our allies have a vested interest in the outcomes of school board elections, whether or not you are parents or have any connection to you local public schools.  Why?  Through state legislative enactment, school boards give local citizens the authority to develop school policy, rules and regulations, to hire school superintendents and to make decisions about curriculum and extracurricular activities for elementary, middle and high schools in their district.  School boards serve an important purpose and ensure that schools are meeting the needs of the students in their local communities, but when school board members are guided by ideology, they can block implementation of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying programs, sexuality education and STI/HIV prevention programs. Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition once said that he would rather see his candidates win 100 school board elections than the White House.  This four-part series by David Fishback provides deeper insight into the role of school boards and the ways in which we can all advocate effectively for positive change in our schools.

 

 

Back to School: How to Make Progress in Your Local School System – Part One of Four

by David S. Fishback

As the school year begins, it is a good time to think about what is needed to protect LGBT children and the children of LGBT parents. What schools do in their health education curricula and in their guidance offices can be vital.  The deafening silence of our schools regarding matters of sexual orientation that was the near universal approach in the recent past was never wise, and is certainly no longer viable.  A number of public school systems are demonstrating that providing accurate information on sexual orientation is the appropriate way to proceed.

Yet, many school systems may be afraid to deal with these issues.  School board members and school administrators are often leery of getting into the middle of the “culture wars” or seeming to promote some suspect “gay agenda.”

So in preparing to raise these issues with your local school system, you should be ready to define the “gay agenda” in education: It is simply to enable students to understand what our mainstream medical and mental health care professional associations have concluded, specifically, that being gay is not an illness, that “reparative” or “conversion” therapies are dangerous and destructive, that LGBT people can live happy and healthy lives, and that children of LGBT parents do just fine.  We need to convey to school officials that these conclusions are not ideological positions, but are, rather, the collective wisdom of the mainstream scientific and medical community.

In 2008, the American Psychological Association distributed to thousands of public school systems an excellent publication, Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth:  A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel, endorsed by a wide range of health care and school professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American School Counselor Association, the American School Health Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.  It is essential that local boards of education and school administrators be aware of Just the Facts. It is vitally important to stress that the concepts set forth in Just the Facts follow the conclusions of every mainstream medical and mental health professional association, including the American Medical Association, which has come out foursquare in opposition to “reparative” or “conversion” therapies.  See AMA Policy Number H-160.991 Health Care Needs of the Homosexual Population, available here.

This is particularly significant in light of the efforts by groups like Focus on the Family to oppose anti-bullying programs, which they argue are a way to press the “gay agenda.” Indeed, Focus on the Family ignores the authorship of Just the Facts and instead incorrectly asserts that Just the Facts is a publication of GLSEN.  In so doing, Focus on the Family seeks to create the impression that this is just a dispute among ‘interest groups.” What the right wing groups seek to do is to create a scientific dispute when, in fact, no such dispute exists. This is related to the right wing’s reliance on statements from a group calling itself the “American College of Pediatricians,” a tiny ideological fringe outfit which objects to the conclusions of the American Academy of Pediatrics (which is the mainstream professional association for pediatricians).   See http://www.aap.org/featured/sexualorientation.htm and  http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2010/04/ideology-trumps-childrens-well-being/

It is essential to show school officials that the dispute is not between contending “interest groups,” but rather, between the mainstream medical community and theologically-driven groups like Focus on the Family.

The experience in Montgomery County, Maryland – a suburb of Washington, D.C. – provides a blueprint of how to make progress, as well as the game plan of the right-wing to derail such progress.  This case study will be discussed in this space the next two days, followed by a summary of lessons learned.

The author is Advocacy Chair for the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, and served as Chair of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development in 2003-05.  He may be reached at FishbackPFLAG@gmail.com


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright