Thursday, May 04, 2006

Equal Humanity for Gays/Lesbians? Part II

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 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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elizabeth said...

I find it amusing that people think that sexual preference is just a choice you make one day --depending on your mood. You would think by now that people would be moving closer to reality. The thing I am most concerned about is targeting teens. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is - but then you try to change their sexuality and tell them that something is wrong with them - WHEN THERE ISN'T.
Someone asked me once if I would care if my child 'decided' to be gay. First of all - the word decided was dealt with and then - then I said that - of course I would care.... but only because of straight people and their issues with it- not because I'd have an issue with my child's sexuality. I would support them 100%. NO PROBLEM. Being gay is part of who you are - it isn't your entire identity and more than being 'straight' is my ENTIRE identity. People have a lot of work to do.

Kathleen said...

As a teen, I struggled with my sexual orientation and did try to committ suicide several times. I have always thought that aversion thearapy is bad, but looking at the statistics about it, I am deeply saddened by it.
On a lighter note, I was out to dinner with a friend of mine (Shoelust) and we got little plastic swords in our burgers. I challenged her to a duel right there in the restaurant. I would like to say I won, but we were both feeling quite silly at that point. But I thought of your blog, even though your swords are larger than 3 inches and not made of plastic.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Well if one thing this research has done, it has made me NEVER want to use the word "truth" again - as the whole focus is "Telling the Truth in love" which means: Telling you that you have a chance to not be picked on anymore cause you can be straight and that I love you NOT as you are, I accept you NOT as you are but based on that fact that you will CHANGE to BE JUST LIKE ME. Well, what kind of screwed up love is that? I didn't get a life partner based on some plan to change her so we would be identical - that isn't love, that's some sort of death. By the by, The Harvard Head of gay/lesbian Counselling said that of the hundreds of gays and lesbians he counselled - 1 was able to change orientation. You really want to bet your happiness on those odds?

elizabeth said...

" I didn't get a life partner based on some plan to change her so we would be identical - that isn't love, that's some sort of death."

B.V. Brus said...

If it weren't so problematic, I'd be tempted to start a proactive, competing "straight-to-gay" conversion group, just so those idiots could be confronted with the sheer stupidity of their position on a truly parallel level.

Aside from the hatred and bigotry (and, yes, I know how silly it sounds to try to set THAT aside), it bugs me a great deal to see those folks skew logic so that merely stating one's existence or preference is labled as "confrontation" or "harrasment."

If they really want to see their imaginary conversion efforts brought to life, I could go waaaaaay over the top just for the sake of making my point. You know I can. ... Please. Attend one of my Ex-Straight Support Group meetings. I'll give you a phone number to call everytime someone raises in your presence even a hint of their so-called "heterosexual lifestyle" or boy-girl agenda. ...

Stupid people. I hate stupid people.

kathz said...

A straight-to-gay conversion group sounds a brilliant idea. I've often heard women (usually as they emerge from difficult straight relationships) saying "All men are bastards - life would be so much easier I were a lesbian". I hope that doesn't sound a bit sick given the prejudice gays and lesbians face, but women escaping from abusive relationships with men often identify heterosexuality as the problem. And while sexuality doesn't work like that - we straight(ish) women have to learn to deal with male heterosexuality or take a vow of abstinence - I bet the number of women prepared to sign up for the straight-to-gay conversion group would really worry those stupid extremists. And worry might just set them thinking (which would probably given them very bad headaches because they don't seem to think very often).

In response to kathleen, I love fencing with tiny weapons found by chance - though my usual opponent is my 14-year-old son! (But this probably makes me a great embarassment - i should start acting my age!)

elizabeth said...

"All men are bastards - life would be so much easier I were a lesbian"
Funny.... just said that last night. How I wish I could. Women are soooo much more normal. (Sorry boys)

kathz said...

so it's not just a British thing. I wondered. Even my daughter says that - though not at the moment because she's happily in the throes of first love (being 17). Alas, she has much to learn.

GayProf said...

I wish the queer community had a quarter of the funding and a fraction of the organization as these Christian groups. We need a better organized fight.

kathz said...

The gay-straight alliance sounds a good thing too - I haven't come across anything like that in Britain. Prejudice and homophobia shouldn't be seen chiefly as the problem of LGBT people (though they have to deal with its effects) - the real problem is with the straight people (and probably some people who aren't straight but want to seem so) who can't cope with difference. I reckon it's time to see those who manifest homophobic prejudice as sufferers from a severe psychological disorder which ought to be addressed - they're the ones in need of therapy and re-orientation. Time they learned the value of love and shared humanity.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Yes! Yes! Reorient them! I think the trick to a Straight to Gay organization is to find the right poster people: I nominate Johnny Depp and Angelina Joline (or maybe the woman who played the androgynous angel Gabriel in Constantine).

Elizabeth McClung said...

Katz - This is where UK, Canada, Europe and the US differ - the question of what limits are placed on individual behaviour - for instance the anti-social orders is what the police use in Britian and used for me to get rid of a few stupid teenages who would hang around work to call me names. Now in the US, that would likely be "freedom of expression" - in Europe that would be a criminal act and in Canada, it would be poor taste if you were in a city and normal life if you were in a small town.

I have found with Christians who believe in "conversion" therapy that they are actually quite terrified of changing thier mind - becuase it would destroy thier whole lives to give up the reason they allow themselves to hate; it would be like finding that you have been the owner of a slave ship - and I thing many would rather hold tight to the hate and not thinking than take the risk - some groups, like the UK ex-gay group Courage are different (Courage turned from an evangelical ex-gay group to a evangelical gay support group).

kathz said...

I have problems with anti-social behaviour orders which are susceptible to abuse and which have problems which other sanctions don't have. They're a newish creation and the civil liberties organisation, Liberty, has agood website explaining why they're a bad idea. (ASBOs can be used against people who haven't actually broken the law and have been used against, for instance, kids with Asperger's syndrome and people attempting suicide - they could be used against gays and lesbians as well as to protect them.) I'd rather the horrid and offensive kids had been threatened with something else; there's a lot of other laws possible, like behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace, and these are laws which apply to everyone equally, while in ASBOs laws are effectively written outside parliament for the occasion. However, I'm really glad the police saw that protecting you was their responsibility - things really seem to be improving in that respect.

I hadn't heard of the group Courage - that's really cheering. The analogy with Christian slave-owners scared to acknowledge what they are doing seems about right.

kathz said...

This is the website of Liberty which explains why I'm uneasy about ASBOs:

Elsewhere on the site you can see that Liberty took up the case of a lesbian couple who wanted their marriage recognized under British law:

They have a proper commitment to equality as well as to civil liberties.

NOTHING said...

i dont thinkm it a bigg deal if some1 is gay or not, i dont see anything wrong with some1 ibeing gay or a lezbien,(then agen iv grown up having a gay oncle),lol that reminds me this friend of mine, loren, 1 of her friends is a lezbien and she didnt no till she started hitting on her(loren was kinda creaped out by it)

Peterson Toscano said...

Thank you for this thoughtfully presented post.

In essence PFOX will create safe spaces for bigots and bullies who feel that same-sex attraction and gender differences are wrong.

Hopefully these straight teens will reveal their integrity by not falling for these ploy to oppress other young people.

Elizabeth McClung said...

"Only eight of their 202 interviewees claimed complete reorientation, and seven of those eight were counselors in change therapy organizations (four paid staff, three volunteers)."

Cleveland K. Evans, Ph.D.
Lecture given May 23rd, 2003

CrackerLilo said...

My only correction is that the "war" didn't begin two years ago. I was a bisexual teen over 10 years ago, and feeling tons of pressure from the Assemblies of God church and my youth group.

That said, VERY good. I think a lot of this is sheer desperation--they're close to losing, and they know it, and they want to keep their ideas alive by going after the young.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks for the encouragement - I appreciate the war didn't start just two years ago, but there does seem to be a more unified and nasty out and out attack as oppose to the old style of "divide and conquor" - where like you, I was made to feel seperated and then harrassed out.

Autumn said...

As a transgender news archivist, I am amazed by what you've documented in this piece -- It's lucidly written as well. Thank you for the time and energy you put into this.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks - I hope I can do other pieces on LGBT issues as time permits.