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05 March 2012

Repudiation: PFOX Student Brochure

In early February, the group that calls itself Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) distributed about eight thousand flyers to Montgomery County Maryland high school students.  Here's the local ABC coverage

Last week Peter Sprigg, who serves on the board of PFOX and writes for the Family Research Council (FRC), a hate group as determined by the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Times defending this hateful and lie-filled propaganda.
The controversy arose not because of its relatively innocuous content, but because of its source: an organization called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, or PFOX. The flier states, “Every year, thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity,” and asserts that such people should be able to “seek help and information on overcoming their feelings.”
No, the controversy arose because of content that is anything but innocuous.  Let's go through the flyer and correct the lies.  The full flyer can be found at the PFOX website.
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) promotes diversity for the ex-gay community.
Ex-gays demonstrate that those with unwanted same-sex attractions can seek help and
information on overcoming their feelings. All individuals deserve the right to self-determination
and happiness based on their own needs, and not the needs of others. PFOX supports tolerance.
The premise of people being ex-gay is flawed.  A person is straight, bisexual, gay, or perhaps asexual.  What one does sexually is healthy when it is aligned with their sexual orientation.  PFOX is encouraging young people to disregard their sexual orientation in favor of what PFOX considers normal.  The American Psychiatric Association published a brochure, Let's Talk Facts About Sexual Orientation which says:
The desire to change sexual orientation often is driven more by social stigma or religious concerns than by medical or mental health concerns. Some homosexual people are able to change their sexual behavior (albeit with great difficulty). A change in behavior, however, is only one aspect of homosexuality and does not imply that sexual orientation has changed, particularly if desire remains.
Back to the PFOX propaganda.
Who are ex-gays?
Every year thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity through non-judgemental environments or their own initiative. Their decision is one only they can make. However, there are those in society who refuse to respect an individual's right to self-determination. Consequently, formerly gay men and women are discriminated against simply because they dare to exist. Ex-gays and their supporters are denied equal access and support, forcing them to remain silent for fear of negative reactions and disapproval.
Let's be clear.  Someone who says that they are "ex-gay" is not going to be denied employment, housing, the services of businesses, a pay raise, or anything else for saying that they are formerly gay.  The only negative reactions that they are likely to encounter are when they endeavor to influence others to turn their backs on their natural sexual orientation.  It is only in response to evangelistic behavior that PFOX is ostracized.
But aren't some people born "gay"?
According to mainstream psychological associations, there are no replicated scientific studies to support that a person can be born "gay." No "gay gene" or gay center of the brain has been found. No medical test exists to determine if a person is homosexual. Sexual orientation is based on feelings and is a matter of self-affirmation and public declaration. Some teens are labeled "gay" or other names or other names even though they do not have same-sex attractions. Appearance is not a reliable means to know what another person feels. No one should be labeled based on the perception of others. Name calling is wrong because the victim may begin to believe what others tell them about themselves, which may be completely false labeling and cause gender confusion.
Back to the Let's Talk Facts brochure.
The causes of sexual orientation and homosexuality are unknown. Studies have suggested both genetic and nongenetic factors. Sexual attraction (whether gay or straight), in fact, might have several origins including genetic factors for some people, environmental factors for others, or some combinations of these factors for yet others. Most mental health professionals believe that sexual orientation is determined for most people early in life, or even before birth, and therefore is not chosen. No particular pattern or style of parenting has been shown to cause homosexuality.
So, it is true that there is no gay gene, but that does not mean that one isn't born gay (a word that does not need quotation marks around it).  Sexual orientation is not simply a set of feelings that are easily mutable and is not based upon public declaration.  That human sexuality is more complicated than can be explained by a single gene or synaptic cluster does not remove genetic factors.

PFOX is correct that appearance is not a valid indicator of sexuality.  Homosexuals, unless they are deliberately dressing for display, look like everyone else.  Most gays don't lisp and many people who do lisp are straight.

PFOX is wrong about why name calling is wrong.  It isn't just about whether someone begins to believe what is used as taunts, although that is one problem.  Name calling is wrong because it is intended to belittle and denigrate who a person is.  The truth, or lack thereof, of the taunt is not the point.  The point is to damage the self-esteem of the victim.  That is always wrong.

"Gender confusion" is not caused by name calling.  The correct term is transgender, which broadly refers to someone born with the wrong set of sexual organs.  The American Psychological Association has a great deal of information in Answers to your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression.  Here is a small section on how one knows if one is transgender.
Transgender people experience their transgender identity in a variety of ways and may become aware of their transgender identity at any age. Some can trace their transgender identities and feelings back to their earliest memories. They may have vague feelings of “not fitting in” with people of their assigned sex or specific wishes to be something other than their assigned sex. Others become aware of their transgender identities or begin to explore and experience gender-nonconforming attitudes and behaviors during adolescence or much later in life. Some embrace their transgender feelings, while others struggle with feelings of shame or confusion. Those who transition later in life may have struggled to fit in adequately as their assigned sex only to later face dissatisfaction with their lives. Some transgender people, transsexuals in particular, experience intense dissatisfaction with their sex assigned at birth, physical sex characteristics, or the gender role associated with that sex. These individuals often seek gender-affirming treatments.
Back to the PFOX propaganda.
If only one part of you has gay feelings, should your whole life be gay identified?
Many people would agree that just because one part of you feels a certain way, it doesn't mean your entire identity is that way. Having feelings of same-sex attraction may make you feel different. We all feel the need to fit in and be accepted. But no one should identify themselves based on sexual feelings alone. There is more to your identity than your sexual attractions. Thousands of ex-gay men and women had those very same feelings when they were in school. Get smart! Explore the origins of your same-sex attraction. Why do I have these feelings? Where do they come from? The decision of a prom date, a car, or whether to super-size those fries can be based on a feeling, but important decisions should not be made on feelings alone. In order to make an educated decision, you have to be informed! Sexuality develops over time. It isn't necessary to label yourself today.
As can be seen from the brochures of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, one's feelings are a reflection of who one is.  The purpose of PFOX is to encourage people to deny who they are.  Of course we are all more than our sexuality, but that is a crucial part of our identity as adolescents and as adults.

Telling teens to deny their feelings and deny their identity, implying that their feelings are less worthy than those of heterosexuals, is part of what leads to depression and teen suicides.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has studied the effects of the social environment on teen suicide.  PFOX is encouraging an environment that makes suicide more likely for LGBTQ youth.

When Peter Sprigg writes in his op-ed, "It is undeniable that some people experience same-sex attractions as unwanted" the part that he leaves off is that his organizations are creating the environment that makes people want to be rid of their natural feelings.  Mr. Sprigg complains, "The county curriculum on sexual orientation fails to even acknowledge that ex-homosexuals exist."  Ex-homosexuals do not exist.  One is gay, straight, or bi.  If one is gay and refrains from sexuality with others of the same gender, it does not change the fact that one is gay.  High school students, with the onset of adolescence, are just figuring out who they are; it is entirely inappropriate to be saddling them with guilt and encouraging them to deny feelings that are so new.

Mr. Sprigg and PFOX are wrong and their pamphlet is dangerous.

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