For six years PFOX has targeted the Montgomery County, Maryland School District with fliers advertising their success at gay reparative therapy. This year, the County’s Board of Education finally said “Enough!” and PFOX is crying “Censorship!” Today, the cost of doing right thing is On Our Radar.
There is an episode of Rod Serling’s old Twilight Zone series that scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid. An entire town is transported off the planet by predator aliens with a cauliflower-like creeping crud growing all over them. I can’t remember why the aliens wanted the humans. I was a little kid; if they didn’t want to eat them, it probably went over my head. But I do remember the aliens said if this group of humans didn’t contract the creeping crud, they were coming back for the rest of us.
The abducted humans realize they aren’t ever going home again, yet at first they do everything they can to keep from developing the cauliflower bumps. But when a woman contracts the disease, one of the town’s leaders talks the group into sacrificing themselves to save the people of Earth. If they all get the disease, the aliens will find humans unsuitable, and leave them alone. So the leader takes the hand of the infected woman, and then holds out his other hand asking “Won’t somebody take mine?” One by one the rest of the group shuffles toward him, hoping to save us innocent little kids back home on planet Earth. I vividly remember a mother running her hand over her infant’s blanket. Then the story ends. I’ve been waiting ever since, hoping their plan worked, but fearful the cauliflower aliens will return.
The Montgomery County, Maryland School Board made just such a sacrifice on behalf of their students this summer. An organized band of predators with their own virulent form of creeping crud, is stalking their gay and questioning middle school and high school students. The group, known as PFOX, Parents and Friends of Ex Gays, is actively targeting at-risk kids who are confused about sex and sexuality. PFOX not only tells kids who feel an attraction to someone of the same-sex that something is wrong with them, they tell their parents that sexual preference is a choice, and if they would just turn their children over to the tender mercies of PFOX, they will put them straight; and they do this at the very time in the teen’s life when psychologists say the support of the parent is critical for his (or her) successful future.
The Montgomery School District did not want to be complicit in that message, in fact they required a disclaimer saying nothing about the PFOX program was endorsed by the school, but PFOX had burrowed itself into a legal loophole. Montgomery County schools had a longstanding community outreach program that allowed local businesses and non-profit groups to send home fliers with the students four times a year. It was envisioned as a way local businesses could offer special deals, or groups could organize after school activities. But for six long years, PFOX used the program to send out it’s misinformation fliers, trumpeting their “success” while doing who knows what damage to gay and questioning kids and their families.
Parents complained. Students complained. The local media would run stories about PFOX every time they sent out one of their fliers, causing even Montgomery County residents without school-aged children to complain too. Joshua Starr, the new Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools, called the PFOX fliers “reprehensible” and “deplorable” when a student challenged him on the subject at a meet-the-new-boss town hall meeting. There seems to have been a general consensus building that something had to be done. But what?
The problem is the school district is in a legal straight jacket. In 2006 a born-again sect called the Child Evangelism Fellowship, (CEF), who say their mission is to “evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,” took Montgomery County Schools to court for refusing to send home their literature. The National Education Association and Americans United, a nonpartisan group dedicated to the separation of church and state, supported the school district, but the 4th District Court found in favor of CEF. The court told the School Board they had to allow everyone in the program, or no one in the program. The school district then tried to redraft the program so that only school-related fliers could be sent home, but CEF again went to court and again got their way. The Court said the program was unconstitutional because the school board had the sole power to decide what was “school-related.”
PFOX has been hiding their cauliflower lumps behind that CEF ruling for six years. The pro-LGBT group, Parents Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, (PFLAG), made it their mission to carpet the area with competing fliers whenever PFOX struck, giving families the true facts about the destructive nature of gay conversion therapy, hoping to save some poor questioning kid a load of heartache. But this June, the Montgomery school board finally decided it was better that no one be allowed to send out fliers than to continue to allow PFOX to plague the families in the district for another school year. On a 6-1 vote, the school board ended the flier program for all the middle schools and high schools in the district.
Now we wait for the PFOX response. Their leadership is angry. Peter Sprigg, who sits on the group’s board of directors, sniped, “I don’t think censorship is the message that we should be teaching students in a free society.” Sprigg says with a straight face the PFOX message is not homophobic nor is it hate speech, which is the only thing the federal judge told the schools they could reject. He insists PFOX is “reaching teenagers who are learning a different lesson via the school curriculum, that sexual orientation is innate.” To Sprigg’s mind, those who would stop PFOX are the ones against diversity.
Will PFOX seek revenge by targeting 5 to 11-year-olds? The school flier program is still operating in the elementary schools. In fact, it is in much more demand in that age group, with notices for T-ball and scout troops and summer camps. Last year 232 groups used the elementary school flier program compared to 84 in the middle schools and 14 in the high schools, and younger kids actually bring these fliers home, while older kids are more likely to stuff them in their lockers, never to be seen again. If they choose to go this route, PFOX could conceivably do even more damage to even more families.
The Montgomery School District hopes PFOX will not attempt to disseminate their message through the elementary school flier program, but there is a Supreme Court decision known as Good News, that says the age of a child is not a” relevant factor,” so the law might still be on the side of PFOX. If they sink so low as to harass the elementary schools, the board must be ready to once again join hands and infect the baby for the good of the community.
So make your predictions. Will PFOX attempt to send their garbage science home through the grade-schoolers? If they try, will the Montgomery County School Board again take a stand to protect the vulnerable kids in their charge? We will certainly be watching when the school bell rings in the next round of this prize fight come September. PFOX and the resistance of the Montgomery School Board, will remain On Our Radar.
Radar image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter at @uncucumbered.
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