Coming to grips with being LGBT against societal, peer and parental pressures is hard. Hope lay in the belief that intolerance was bred from ignorance and once people understood the view and struggles of gay teens, a more accepting society would emerge. Organizations like PFLAG (founded in 1981 to support parents of LGBT children), Gay Straight Alliances in schools and now the 10th year of the Day of Silence which highlights the discrimination and bullying against LGBT students were making a difference. That is, until two years ago, when conservative Christians decided to declare war on gay teens, positioning the school as a battleground.
The sparking point was Gay/Straight Alliances: Particularly when students in some of the most conservative schools, such as Colorado Springs, where Focus on the Family and more than a hundred other Evangelical/Conservative Christian organizations are based, sued and won their right to have an official GSA. Conservatives countered that GSAs promote homosexuality and are the equivalent of a school funded gay recruitment and dating service. Victoria Cobb of Family Foundation: “Taxpayers should not be asked to fund homosexual dating services in our schools," (So, are we canceling the Prom?)
The Christian group PFOX (Parents and Friends of ex-gays) was formed to counter the perceived threat of parental acceptance of LGBT children through PFLAG’s outreach in schools. PFOX is a group which openly offers one solution: no gays. With a close connection to Exodus International, the leader in "converting" gays to straights, conversion therapy is the message they deliver. Using lawsuits, PFOX won a seat on the board of health curriculum in Montgomery County insert Conversion/Reparative Therapy in the school programs.
The new PFOX campaign launched three weeks ago, in conjunction with law group Liberty Council and is called “Change is Possible”. This program is supposed to counteract the “bullying” that straight students are receiving from LGBT students for simply telling them "the truth.” Straight students are encouraged to engage in the “Tolerance Test” which involves putting up “Change is Possible” materials (including an offensive and unreferenced “Health Statistics on Gays” pamplet) and start a Gay to Straight club in the school. If the student is stopped or hindered?: call this number for an instant lawsuit. PFOX also recommends for sympathetic teachers and staff to put up ex-gay posters and distribute material around the school including bringing books on reparative therapy into the library.
The use of straight students/teachers/parents to “confront” gay students with “truth” is the new strategy of conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family, Exodus and the Southern Baptist Conference. Their justification is consistent: That God hates homosexuality, that people can choose to not be homosexual through Conversion Therapy and that homosexuality is a social and personal health risk equivalent to drug addiction. The goal is the suppression and elimination of LGBT teens.
Conversion/Reparative Therapy is banned in Britain and condemned by every US professional medical body from the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association to the American Counseling Association. Dr Ariel Shidlo and Dr. Michael Schroeder did a seven year study of ex-gay's called "Changing Sexual Orientation: a consumer's report" that was published in a peer reviewed journal in 2001. Of the 202 individuals in the study, each had undergone, on average, 118 sessions of counseling with ex-gay ministries over a period longer than two years. The number of the 202 subjects who said they were no longer struggling and had fully transitioned to heterosexuality: 8.
Number of those eight which were currently working as counselors with an ex-gay ministry and where an admission of same sex attraction would likely cost them their job: 7
Number who, on a one year follow up who felt they had "failed": 176
Number who reported that "conversion" had given them long term significant harm: 155
Number who attempted suicide during therapy: 23
Number who attempted it in the 12 months following: 11
Number who reported spiritual harm ranging from leaving Christianity, complete loss of faith, or anger at and inability to trust God and the church: over 100
An in-depth study of 50 Mormons who underwent Conversion Therapy was conducted by Lee Beckstead who found "No substantial or generalized heterosexual arousal was reported, and participants were not able to modify their tendency to be attracted to the same sex." The reason conversion therapy is discouraged is that while you can try and pound a square peg into a round hole, that isn't going to do good things for the peg.
It seems odd that groups so concerned about the spiritual well being of gays would continue despite the fact that gay Christians are over 10 times more likely to receive spiritual harm including leaving Christianity than "convert", and are 3-4 times more likely to try and kill themselves. But then, as the leader of Love In Action, the oldest teen focused reparative therapy group, stated, “I would rather you commit suicide than have you leave Love In Action wanting to return to the gay lifestyle.”
Conservative Christian groups have moved their training focus from gay Christian teens to the straight Christian teens who can take the fight into the school against LGBT classmates. Exodus International, leader of reparative therapy, lunched a new movement October 2005 entitled Groundswell. These conferences (strangely reminding me of Hitler Youth) are directed solely at straight Christian teens, teaching them “practical ways of promoting the traditional (traditional=God hates you) view of homosexuality in schools and reaching out to gay-identified students.” “Gay Identified”? That’s right, because as Joseph Nicolosi, head of the Research arm of Narth, testifies at Groundswell, “there is no such thing as a "gay child" or a "gay teen."”, only teens tempted by homosexual behavior. Exodus also provides free materials entitled “Truth and Tolerance” which give teens the “truth” they need to confront gay peers. For example how one of the “causes” of homosexuality is being called homosexual names like “fag”, while the “solution” is “CHRISTIAN counseling (and for lesbians) connecting to our femininity and our “god-given” gender role with skirts and...a makeover.”
These groups offer no solution to the epidemic bullying and harassment of LGBT youth in schools, which according to a US report released last month, has 76% of LGBT students hearing derogatory remarks and just under 40% being physically harassed. In a Canadian study 46% of the LGBT students have attempted suicide. Conservative Christian organizations instead choose to oppose “sexual orientation” harassment protection, as Focus on the Family representative Marc Fey explains: “We do not support special “safe school” and anti-bullying legislation because of the way it opens the door to advance an aggressive, pro-homosexual agenda in public school classrooms.”
Marc Fey also tells students that the feelings of hatred against gay students is not wrong, only the loss of control when expressing them: “When one student spits on another student because he thinks his schoolmate is gay, tolerance isn't the issue so much as is self-control.”
In 2004, Christian student Chase Harper came to school on the Day of Silence with a shirt telling his gay teen peers to “Be ashamed.” When separated from other students due to the shirt's message, the American Defense Fund and Conservative Christians used this event and the following lawsuit to launch an annual “Day of Truth” following the “Day of Silence.” And while the Day of Silence” was to promote ending harassment and condemnation of others, the “Day of Truth’s” purpose seems to be to tell everyone that gays are bad, as the ADF leader states: "What homosexual advocates are saying is that homosexual behavior is not sin...it is sin, and the behavior carries dangerous and destructive consequences to both the individual and society."
Last week’s Day of Silence was an empowering experience for many, but for many others the day was one of name calling, harassment, having to leave school due to harassment, 200 students skipping school in protest to a “Day of Silence”, no one keeping it out of fear of classmates and other negative experiences. One school was so toxic that I could only think, “I’m glad I don’t live there.” Turned out, the school is less than 50 miles away from me.
Linda Harvey of Mission America states without irony: "While no one doubts that some bullying of students who believe they are homosexual does occur, these are sad, yet isolated incidents with no uniform characteristics. They are not the fault of Christian values."
The same Linda Harvey of Mission America last month released the “Risk Audit” for schools, a program approved by the 2005 Southern Baptist Conference. This is the view that “School are failing “do no harm” by allowing homosexuality to be seen as acceptable.” The Risk Audit calls for Christians to go into the school and rate the school according to its homosexual risk. High Risk schools include: Those with anti-bullying or harassment policies on “sexual orientation”, Requirements for teacher/staff training on “diversity,” “tolerance,” “sensitivity”, lessons on “Tolerance,” “Diversity,” Anti-Bias, Anti-Bullying or “Multi-Culturalism.” Or those with HIV/AIDS and “safe sex” education programs as “these lessons assume all students are at risk of AIDS; that all students need to be taught about use of condoms for “safe sex.””
The risk assessment states: Any district with a homosexual club, any program or curriculum that would tend to influence children to regard homosexual behavior as in any sense normal or acceptable, should be identified as a clear and present danger to children and society and should receive a failing grade. And as Focus on the Family enjoins: “if the school is cooperating with homosexual groups, take your kids out.” And of course, call the Christian legal group, American Defense Fund. What you can’t bully, sue. Already, in Lexington, two parents have filed a lawsuit over a gay-friendly book being used in class.
These Conservative tactics are based on bullying, threats and fear. Why people loving someone of the same sex creates such hatred is a mystery. Though, to attack vulnerable teens through their teachers, peers and parents is despicable in every respect. As the “Day of Truth” site assures: “All Day of Truth resources are designed to fall within constitutional limits.” This underwhelming statement points to their desire to serve their own pleasures at the expense of others. Appropriate, as the last time I saw a line like that, it was advertising child pornography.
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