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Maryland high school distributes ‘ex-gay’ flier

Montgomery County parent objects after son brings home anti-gay literature

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Flier On Gay Choice Stirs Controversy: MyFoxDC.com

Students at a Montgomery County high school have received materials from an “ex-gay” organization that promotes the widely discredited theory that sexual orientation is changeable, according to a local D.C. Fox television affiliate.

Fox 5 TV reported students at Einstein High School in Rockville, Md., received the materials along with their report cards during homeroom last week.

The flier publicizes the work of the “ex-gay” organization, known as PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays), which claims it “promotes diversity for the ex-gay community.” According to their mission statement, the organization asserts “ex-gays demonstrate that those with unwanted same-sex attraction can seek help and information,” in order to “transition out of a homosexual identity.”

According to district policy, any organization that can prove that it is a non-profit “community entity” can send materials home with students quarterly when report cards are distributed.

According to Fox 5, licensed clinical social worker and Einstein High School parent Karen Yount-Merrell complained to the Montgomery County school district administration after she found the flier among others when her son brought home his quarterly report card.

“I don’t like it,” Yount-Merrell told Fox 5. “Everything in this flier make it sound like the goal is to be [an] EX-gay, [or an EX]-lesbian. It is not embracing of a different orientation. It reiterates a societal view that there’s something ‘wrong’ with you, if you’re not in the norm. If you aren’t heterosexual. And teenagers have a hard enough time dealing with who they are and feeling good about themselves.”

After Yount-Merrell’s complaint, Montgomery County public schools issued a response saying, “the board of education policy allows materials and announcements from non-profit community organizations to be distributed at four designated times during the school year.”

PFOX’s principles are enumerated at a third-party website called Positive Alternatives To Homosexuality, or PATH, which PFOX’s website links to prominently. On the site, PATH declares it has worked with thousands of “ex-gays” who are now living as heterosexuals, concluding, “[w]hatever their individual circumstances and life goals, they have found from personal experience that there are, indeed, positive alternatives that are right for them rather than living a homosexual life.”

Wayne Besen, founding executive director of “ex-gay” watchdog group Truth Wins Out, said he’s appalled that a school district would allow the PFOX materials to be distributed.

“I follow a lot of these groups, and PFOX is by far the most extreme of all of them,” Besen told the Blade. “They’re pretending that they’re experts when they’re just extremists.”

He continued, “I think it’s always dangerous when you have a group with no credentials to do so handing out junk science to young people telling them there is something wrong with them. I think they’re begging for a lawsuit by even allowing this organization near them.”

Besen says PFOX was established by a collective of anti-gay groups as a foil to the pro-gay PFLAG, but that the group is inappropriate for the school setting.

“The school district is grossly irresponsible, derelict in its duty to protect students from harm by allowing this organization to distribute these materials,” Besen told the Blade. “It’s dangerous, reckless and unprofessional and a threat to the students they’re supposed to be protecting. These are the people they’re going to allow talk to kids?”

PFOX, however, was on the defensive after the controversy erupted, telling Fox 5 that the flier calls for “tolerance.”

“If people were to actually read the content of the flier that we’re distributing, they will see there is nothing in here that is insulting or even critical of homosexuals,” PFOX board member Peter Sprigg told Fox 5. “All it is telling kids [is] that you don’t have to be gay if you don’t want to be.”

Besen says the group may be attempting to sound reasonable, but in his opinion, PFOX is anything but.

“They were started with an $80,000 grant by the Family Research Council as a front group in 1998 …as part of that million dollar ‘Truth and Love’ campaign by 15 anti-gay organizations,” Besen said. “[Their mission is] to try to bully schools into accepting ex-gay literature or even so called ex-gay speakers. They want to portray ex-gays as an official minority that are being persecuted by activists.”

Besen said the school district need look no further than one of PFOX’s preferred speakers, Richard Cohen, who runs the International Healing Foundation, and promotes ‘touch therapy’ and therapy that includes beating a pillow with a tennis racket, according to Wayne Besen.


Richard Cohen showcasing some of his techniques on CNN

“What does the school district say about a group whose guru and current main speaker was kicked out of the American Counselors Association, for malpractice — he was expelled for life,” Besen said. “I can’t imagine any school district official could see a video of Richard Cohen for three seconds and would still distribute that flier. Unfathomable. I challenge any of them to take a look at him and tell me that children are safe in his clutches.”

According to Right Wing Watch, PFOX “tells gay youth to “transition out of a homosexual identity” even though the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychiatric Association all deny the effectiveness, safety and ethics of reparative therapy.”

The full flier by the organization has been obtained by Fox 5 and can be found below:

Parents And Friends Of Ex-Gays Flyer to Einstein High School Students

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats backs Robert White over Bowser

LGBTQ group endorses Erin Palmer over incumbent Mendelson

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Council member Robert White won the backing of Capital Stonewall Democrats in his bid for mayor over incumbent Muriel Bowser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, announced on May 17 that it has selected D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) over incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and political newcomer Erin Palmer over D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson as its endorsed candidates in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

With Bowser and Mendelson as well as White having longstanding records of support for LGBTQ rights and Palmer expressing strong support for the LGBTQ community, local observers say the LGBTQ Democratic group’s 163 voting members appear to have based their endorsement decisions on other pressing issues facing the city rather than only LGBTQ specific issues.

In other races, Capital Stonewall Democrats, formerly known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which was founded in 1976, voted to endorse incumbent Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau over gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary and community activist Sabel Harris who are running against Nadeau.

In the Ward 5 Council race, the group has endorsed gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker in a five-candidate contest for the seat being vacated by incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of D.C. Attorney General.

The group has also endorsed Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is running unopposed in the primary; D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s favored to win re-election against two lesser-known opponents; and D.C. shadow U.S. Rep. Oye Owolewa, who’s also favored over a lesser known opponent.

Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it did not make an endorsement in the Ward 3 and At-Large D.C. Council races and in the D.C. Attorney General race because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote under the group’s longstanding rules for endorsements.

By not endorsing in the At-Large race, the group passed over incumbent At-Large Council member Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues. Bonds is being challenged by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Gore, former D.C. shadow House member Nate Fleming, and former D.C. Council staffer Dexter Williams.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 Council race, nine candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Mary Cheh, another longtime LGBTQ rights supporter.

In the race for attorney general, three prominent local attorneys — Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones, and Bruce Spiva — are competing for the AG position being vacated by incumbent Karl Racine, who chose not to run for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsements follow a series of five LGBTQ candidate forums the group held virtually in which most of the candidates running in the various races attended.
In the group’s mayoral form, Bowser was the only one of the four mayoral contenders that did not attend. Her supporters said she had a conflicting event organized by gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran that prevented her from attending the Stonewall event.

Those who attended the mayoral forum were Robert White, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and former attorney and community activist James Butler.
A detailed vote tally released by Capital Stonewall Democrats shows the vote count for each of the endorsed candidates as well as candidates in the races for which the group did not make an endorsement.

In the mayoral race, Robert White received 120 votes, or 74.5 percent. Bowser came in second place with 37 votes or 23.0 percent; Trayon White received just two votes or 1.2 percent, with Butler receiving just 1 vote at 0.6 percent. One vote was cast for no endorsement.

In the D.C. Council Chair race, Palmer received 89 votes or 60.1 percent, just surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. Mendelson received 48 votes or 32.4 percent. Eleven votes were cast for no endorsement.

In the Ward 1 Council race, Nadeau received 100 votes or 69.4 percent compared to gay candidate Czapary, who came in second place with 23 votes or 16.0 percent. Candidate Sabel Harris came in third place with 9 votes or 6.3 percent, with a no endorsement selection receiving 12 votes or 8.3 percent.

In the Ward 5 contest, gay school board member Parker received 91 votes or 64.5 percent. Candidate Faith Hubbard came in second with 31 votes or 22.0 percent. The remaining candidates received fewer than 10 votes each, including former At-Large and former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who received 5 votes or 3.5 percent.

“Since Capital Stonewall Democrats has only 221 members, and only 163 bothered to vote, this is clearly not representative of the LGBTQ+ community in the District,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who is supporting Bowser for mayor.

But longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among the local activists who view the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of lesser-known challengers – most of whom have progressive, left-leaning views – as a reflection of changes in the demographics of the LGBTQ community and the Stonewall group’s members.

“At the forefront for voters is who they feel can address core problems like crime, open drug transactions, and increased homeless populations,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade. “Just asking voters for support based on their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past does not cut it,” he said. “We are multi-faceted voters looking for new, more progressive and aggressive leadership.”

The Capital Stonewall Democrats list of endorsements as well as races with no endorsement can be viewed below:

• Mayor: Robert White, with 74.5% of the round one vote
• DC Attorney General: No Endorsement
• DC Council Chair: Erin Palmer, with 60.1% of the round one vote
• Ward 1 Council: Brianne K. Nadeau, with 69.4% of the round one vote
• Ward 3 Council: No Endorsement
• Ward 5 Council: Zachary Parker, with 64.5% of the round one vote
• Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen, with 83.2% of the round one vote
• At-Large Council: No Endorsement
• Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives: Eleanor Holmes Norton, with 69.7% of the round one vote
• U.S. Representative: Oye Owolewa, with 66.1% of the round one vote

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District of Columbia

Pannell resigns in protest from Ward 8 Council member’s LGBT Commission

Says Trayon White has no out member of his staff

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Phil Pannell resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights activist Phil Pannell announced on May 6 that he has resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) on grounds that White does not have an LGBTQ person on his Council staff.

White’s office has said the Council member created the commission to “focus on the specific needs of this community” in his role as a supporter of LGBTQ equality.

“For me, this is a major issue of inclusion, affirmative action and diversity,” Pannell said in an email message announcing his resignation. “I as a Black Gay man cannot in good conscience continue to be a member of my Councilmember’s LGBT Commission when he has no one from my community on his staff,” Pannell’s announcement message continues.

“This is hypocritical at best and structurally homophobic at worst,” he said. “I deeply resent and refuse to be used as anyone’s homosexual prop for any purposes. Therefore, I resign from the commission effective immediately.”

In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on Pannell’s resignation, Julia Jessie, White’s director of communications, said White’s Council office “follows all legal HR procedures and hires based on experience and skillset.” Jessie added, “As an employer, we do not discriminate or consider a person’s race, color, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, when making decisions about employment qualifications.”

According to Jessie, “We do, however, harvest a safe and inclusionary work environment where employees who wish to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation of gender identity feel comfortable doing so.”

White’s office released a statement from the Ward 8 LGBT Commission’s chair, Marvin ‘Rahim’ Briggs, saying the commission “regretfully accepts” Pannell’s resignation.

“The Commission will continue to focus on and address issues affecting Ward 8 LGBTQ,” Briggs says in the statement. “We’ll continue to organize to promote acceptance of LGBTQ community diversity and to foster respect and appreciation for each member of the community residing in Ward 8.”

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District of Columbia

Two gay candidates disqualified from D.C. primary ballot

Republican, Libertarian activists withdraw from races

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(Blade archive photo by Aram Vartian)

A member of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest LGBTQ local political group, mounted a successful challenge before the D.C. Board of Elections earlier this month that resulted in a gay Republican and a gay Libertarian Party activist withdrawing as candidates for public office in the city’s June 21 primary.

James Harnett, 24, a member of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a member of the staff of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), filed challenges to the candidacy of gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors, who was running unopposed in the June 21 primary for the office of both D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House and chair of the Libertarian Party of D.C.

The Board of Elections upheld Harnett’s challenge claiming that Majors failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot for both offices, according to elections board spokesperson Nicholas Jacobs. Majors withdrew his candidacy for both offices rather than contest the challenge.

The Board of Elections also upheld a challenge filed by Harnett against the candidacy of gay Republican and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans organization member Andrew Desser, who was running unopposed in the primary for the position of Ward 1 Chairperson of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Desser told the Blade he acknowledged that he fell short in obtaining the needed number of valid petition signatures and would not contest the challenge.

Harnett, who appeared to be acting on his own behalf and not representing the Capital Stonewall Democrats in his challenges to Majors and Desser before the election board, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Board of Elections records showed that he also successfully challenged six other candidates seeking ballot placement in the June 21 primary, one of whom, Lori Furstenberg, was running for mayor as a Republican and another, Corren Brown, was running for mayor as a Statehood-Green Party member.

The others Harnett mounted a successful challenge against were GOP candidates running for the Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 7 GOP Chairperson positions; and Leniqua ‘Dominique’ Jenkins, a Democrat running for the at-large D.C. Council seat, who was the only Democrat challenged by Harnett.

Harnett, a former ANC commissioner in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the nonpartisan office of D.C. Board of Education for Ward 2. Among the candidates he ran against was gay education advocate Allister Chang, who won that race.

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