Can you imagine buying groceries if boxes of sugar were labeled "peanut butter" and ice cream cartons read "chicken noodle soup"? You may laugh, but our daily lives are often adventures in just such misinformation.
In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS)—like many school districts—provides opportunities for nonprofit community organizations to send printed materials home with students four times a year. Last week, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) took advantage of this policy. The group's flyer sported words we trust—words like tolerance and diversity—but the package belied its contents.
PFOX may label itself as it will, but its webpage reveals that it is an anti-LGBT organization promoting "reparative therapy," a pseudoscience intended to repress or eliminate homosexuality. Championing this discredited practice alone shows that PFOX’s members have little respect for LGBT students. But over the last eight years, the organization has also fought—and failed—to prevent MCPS from adopting a more inclusive health curriculum that included lessons on "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality."
How can educators, whose first duty is to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students, respond to such an egregious misrepresentation? And once you’ve separated legitimate information from propaganda, what can you do?
First, remind students and colleagues to look past the buzzwords and find the facts. PFOX does not label itself as anti-gay, but an article posted on their website states, "homosexual ideas and behavior are spiritually and physically dangerous." Organizations like PFOX love to cite "experts" who back their claims: people like Julie Harren, Ph.D., whose pro-reparative therapy article, "Homosexuality 101," is quoted extensively throughout the PFOX website—despite the fact that it has never been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The website does not, however, mention that the American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Counseling Association—all reputable scientific organizations—say that, “efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy … have serious potential to harm young people.”
PFOX and other organizations like it are conducting a concerted campaign to encourage local groups to deliver their dangerous misinformation to schools, particularly inclusive schools "with GSAs or other gay clubs." Is your school on their list?
If it is, we urge you to counter the propaganda with the most powerful tool at your disposal—facts. Teaching Tolerance is currently working with Equality Maryland to distribute a flyer that explains the disturbing truth about "reparative" therapy and offering resources to those striving to provide an inclusive educational environment that supports all students—straight and LGBT alike.
If your school is targeted, you can turn to Teaching Tolerance. We'll help you find a local community organization to partner with, provide model flyers and, of course, connect you with the anti-bias materials that are always available on our website.
Pettway is associate editor at Teaching Tolerance.