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Schools required to distribute 'ex-gay' literature; Truth Wins Out slams move

by Michael Rogers

With additional reporting by Kyle DeVries from Fort Collins, CO

WASHINGTON -- Some suburban Washington, DC high schools are being forced to hand out anti-gay literature from a group that aims to "cure homosexuals," PageOneQ has learned.

The flyers, produced by Parents and Friend of Ex-Gays (P-FOX), will be the sole information distributed to students on February 1st. Wayne Besen (r.), president of Truth Wins Out an organization that dispels myths of the so-called 'ex-gay' movement, immediately condemned the move.

Besen called upon the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Education to stop the flyer's distribution. "It is unacceptable that these schools are steering students to a website with strong ties to an organization that believes Africans were better off as slaves," Besen said in an interview with PageOneQ. He was referring to a controversy last year when an organization repeatedly referred to on the soon-to-be distributed literature as a credible source of information was roundly condemned for posting an apparent justification of slavery on its site.

"There is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America," wrote Gerald Schoenewolf on the website of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization advocating that gays can be "cured" with therapy. "Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle…Life there was savage… and those brought to America, and other countries, were in many ways better off," he asserted.

As a result of the storm, NARTH’s President, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, announced he would resign his position. Dean Byrd will replace him this year. Byrd is the CEO of the Thrasher Research Fund, a foundation operated by the Mormon Church.

In an additional controversy, the president of P-FOX, author of the flyer, Richard Cohen, was ejected from the American Counseling Association over malpractice. With 45,000 the association describes itself as "the world's largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings."

Flyer obtained

Although not slated to be distributed for over a week, a source inside the Winston Churchill High School, one of the district's schools, provded PageOneQ with a copy of the flyer submitted by P-FOX. (To open a new window with a larger sized version, click here or on the image.)

Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Brian Edwards said that it is the school district's policy to distribute flyers from any non-profit or religious institution, regardless of the flyer's content. "The situation is brought to us by a Fourth Circuit of Appeals ruling declaring parts of the previous flyer policy unconstitutional. The Board of Education had little choice but to allow flyers to be distributed in the manner in which they decided," Edwards said.

The school district, based in an affluent suburb of the nation's capital, has a policy regarding the distribution of informational fliers. This policy, obtained by PageOneQ, is meant to provide an avenue for community groups, especially non-profit organizations, to inform students about events and activities taking place in the community. While school-sponsored organizations such as PTAs can distribute materials any time of the year, non-profit organizations are given only four specific days during the year to distribute flyers.

"Any organization meeting our guidelines may participate in the program," Cathy Pevey, of the district's Office of School Performance, told PageOneQ. The office is responsible for the development and administration of the policy. The organizational chart for the school's flyer policy has been obtained by PageOneQ and is reproduced below. The chart describes which organizations may distribute flyers at any time of the school year. Those groups are school clubs, government entities and educational related organizations like Parent Teacher Associations.

The policy specifies how the flyers are to be distributed (through take-home folders, backpacks or similar manner) and how often schools are required to distribute the printed material (at least twice a year but no more than once each marking period). Organizations may also place materials and announcements on tables and magazine racks designated by the schools.

More detailed regulations were written by the Board of Education. All materials distributed by organizations must include the disclaimer "These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this School."

In and email sent to the Montgomery County Education Association's staff and board, President Bonnie McCullison explained, "I cannot legitimately say that principals or teachers have the ability to choose which literature can be sent home with students. Other than local school based information and newsletters, that decision is totally within the purview of the Board of Education."

McCullison added that when the Board debated this issue last fall, "Most, if not all, Board members do not support this kind of information being sent home with students in public schools."

The email explained that any school staff member who did not comply with the policy could be charged with insubordination. She explained that a flyer from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or Teaching Tolerance, two gay and lesbian supportive organizations, would be distributed "If it was not sexually explicit or religious in nature."

When asked about participation by religious groups, Edwards, the school spokesman gave a statement in conflict with McCullison's assertion about religious groups. Edwards told PageOneQ that religious groups could distribute flyers provided they were "registered nonprofit as describe in the policy." Messages left for McCullison and Edwards asking for clarification were not returned by press time.

In three email exchanges between faculty and two between students obtained by PageOneQ, each expressed outrage at the distribution of the literature. One student, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said "the next time we should print tons of flyers for gay groups."

Truth Wins Out's Besen offered to pay for the printing of a flyer dispelling the myths of the P-FOX. "We can educate students about the many supportive organizations out there," Besen said, "I don't want money to be an obstacle to getting the truth out there and I will be happy to work with the local community to help make this happen."

Mr. Pevey, of the school's administration, said non-profit organizations had two options of demonstrating their status. "They can submit an IRS letter of 501(c)(3) designation or they can submit a notarized letter declaring their status," she said. When asked if the self-written notarized letters were verified in any way, Pevey said, "No, we trust that the letter is enough." According to Besen, Truth Wins Out is a 501(c)(3), and is eligible under the policy to participate.

The Board of Education's policy may be seen here. The school district's regulations implementing policy may be seen here.

The organizational chart for approval of flyers in the school's program:


Originally published on Tuesday January 23, 2007.

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