By Daniel Rubin-Marx, SIECUS Program Research Intern
Maryland's Montgomery County School District has been faced with a controversy regarding the distribution of flyers by the group known as Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX). The organization claims to spread awareness and support for people who experience same-gender attractions but desire a heterosexual identity. Groups such as PFOX describe this as being "ex-gay", in direct challenge to advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning (LGBQ) youth who view sexual orientation as a relatively fixed aspect of human identity. After PFOX distributed 8,000 flyers to five Montgomery County middle and high schools, many LGBQ youth, their parents, and allies protested that PFOX's message is inappropriate for teens. Karen Yount-Merrell, a mother of a student who received a flyer, says that the PFOX message is bad because it "targets teens that are questioning their orientation."1
At a town hall meeting, Montgomery County School District Superintendent Joshua Starr took a public stand against the PFOX message. According to PFOX board member Peter Sprigg, Starr used to the terms, "reprehensible…deplorable…disgusting," to describe the flyers distributed by the organization.# But Sprigg and PFOX executive director Regina Griggs insist that their message is not homophobic. The flyers "are simply designed to give information, particularly to those students who may feel a certain amount of confusion about their sexual feelings," says Sprigg. Griggs added that many LGBQ-activist groups wish to silence PFOX, thereby perpetuating the very intolerance they claim to oppose.2
After PFOX filed a formal complaint against Superintendent Starr to the local board of education, the board began to consider abolishing the flyer program altogether; according to a Montgomery County School District spokesperson, nonprofit organizations like PFOX have had longstanding legal rights to circulate information, and may distribute flyers up to four times a year. However, the policy requires a disclaimer stating that these views do not represent the School District of Montgomery County. Sprigg hopes the board will preserve the flyer program: "Ironically they're prepared to abolish this program altogether…in order to stifle our message of freedom and self-determination."3
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1NBC Washington, "Ex-Gay Flyer Distributed at Montgomery County Schools," NBC Washington, 7 February 2012, accessed 7 June 2012, <http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Ex-Gay-Flier-Distributed-at-Montgomery-County-Schools-138840674.html>.
2Bob Kellogg, "Ex-'gay' Flyers Not to Superintendent's Liking," OneNewsNow, 21 May 2012, accessed 7 June 2012, <http://www.onenewsnow.com/Education/Default.aspx?id=1601780>.
3Jim Brown, "PFOX Official: Homosexual Activists Want to Censor Ex-'Gay' Message," Agape Press, 16 November 2006, accessed 7 June 2012, <http://pfox.org/Calling_ex-gays_distribute_flyers_public_schools.html>.