Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Successful Public School LGBT Curriculum Advocacy

Last month, I presented a workshop at the PFLAG National Convention in Nashville entitled Case Study in Successful Public School Curriculum and Guidance Office Advocacy

What is taught – and not taught – in our schools about sexual orientation and gender identity is extremely important.  Too often, there is a deafening silence about such matters.  Such silence too often allows misconceptions and unwarranted prejudices to fester and poison the atmosphere for our LGBT children.  

Efforts to change what is taught in our schools can be daunting. Such efforts demand hard work, wisdom, empathy, and determination.  But they can succeed.

On June 17, 2014, the Board of Education of Montgomery County, Maryland, unanimously gave final approval to a revised health education framework for secondary schools.  This revised framework is based specifically on the longstanding findings of every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, including the propositions that being LGBTQ is not an illness and that so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies are dangerous and ineffective. This action brought to a successful conclusion a dozen years of work by members of the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG and others to bring the wisdom of the mainstream health care professionals into the middle and high school health education curriculum.

The Montgomery County experience may be useful for others around the country who seek to make schools not only safe for our LGBT children and children of LGBT families, but to help create a climate in which all of our children understand and appreciate each other.

Based on that experience, as PFLAG Metro DC Advocacy Chair, I created this publication, Curriculum Victory in Montgomery County, Maryland: A CaseStudy and Handbook for Action. It may be found at the PFLAG website at https://www.pflag.org/blog/curriculumvictorymontgomerycounty and
https://www.pflag.org/cultivating-respect-safe-schools-all and is pasted below (but without the valuable hyperlinks in the website version). The campaign for curriculum revisions, and the lessons learned in the course of that campaign, was the basis for the October 18, 2015 workshop. The workshop was attended by PFLAGers from all around the United States.

I recommend that readers be aware, on the one hand, of the fact that this process took place in a relatively progressive community (which made it easier than it might be elsewhere); but also, on the other hand, of the fact that the culture in America has moved significantly in the last dozen years (which means that the dozen years it took from the start of the process in 2002 to the 2014 culmination could well be far longer than future efforts in other places).  

In some communities, there may be widespread opposition to change; in others, opposition may be limited to a very small group of people.  In some communities, political leaders may be very supportive; in others, they may be antagonistic or reluctant to “make waves.”  In some communities, there may be a pent up desire to make the needed changes; in others, there may be a great fear of even talking about sexual orientation or gender identity.  Within school bureaucracies, much may turn on the life experiences and hopes and fears of particular administrators.  Every community is different, but there are common threads, the main one being that, as PFLAGers, we advocate for our children's lives, and we do so with the support of the mainstream American medical and mental health community.

See, also, http://focusonthefield.blogspot.com/2015/09/curriculum-victory-in-montgomery-county.html




CURRICULUM VICTORY
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND
A CASE STUDY AND HANDBOOK FOR ACTION 

What schools do in their health education curricula and in their guidance offices
can be vital. The deafening silence of our schools regarding matters of sexual orientation
that was the near-universal approach in the recent past was never wise, and is certainly no
longer viable. A number of public school systems are demonstrating that providing
accurate information on sexual orientation is the appropriate way to proceed.
Yet, many school systems may be afraid to deal with these issues. School board
members and school administrators are often leery of getting into the middle of the
"culture wars" or seeming to promote some suspect "gay agenda." So in preparing to raise
these issues with your local school system, you should be ready to define the "gay
agenda" in education: It is simply to enable students to understand what our mainstream
medical and mental health care professional associations have concluded -- specifically,
that being gay is not an illness, that "reparative" or "conversion" therapies are dangerous
and destructive, that LGBT people can live happy and healthy lives, and that children of
LGBT parents do just fine.

We need to convey to school officials (and our communities at large) that these
conclusions are not ideological positions, but are, rather, the collective wisdom of the
mainstream scientific, medical, and mental health care community. In 2008, the
American Psychological Association distributed to thousands of public school systems an
excellent publication, Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for
Principals, Educators, and School Personnel, endorsed by a wide range of health care and
school professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American
School Counselor Association, the American School Health Association, the National
Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School
Principals. It is essential that local boards of education and school administrators be
aware of Just the Facts. It is vitally important to stress that the concepts set forth in Just
the Facts follow the conclusions of every mainstream medical and mental health
professional association, including the American Medical Association, which has come
out foursquare in opposition to "reparative" or "conversion" therapies. See AMA Policy
Number H-160.991 Health Care Needs of the Homosexual Population. See, also, the
American Psychological Association’s Answers to Your Questions for a Better
Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.
This is particularly significant in light of the efforts by groups like Focus on the
Family to oppose anti-bullying programs, which they argue are a way to press the “gay
agenda.”

Indeed, Focus on the Family typically ignores the mainstream medical
community conclusions, or pretends that “science is still out” on all these issues. Focus
on the Family and similar groups seek to create the impression that this is just a dispute
among “interest groups.” What the right wing groups seek to do is to create a scientific
dispute when, in fact, no such dispute exists. This is related to the right wing’s reliance
1
on statements from a group calling itself the "American College of Pediatricians," a tiny
ideological fringe outfit which objects to the conclusions of the American Academy of
Pediatrics (which is the mainstream professional association for pediatricians). It is
essential to show school officials (and the public at large) that the dispute is not between
contending "interest groups," but rather, between the mainstream medical community and
theologically-driven groups like Focus on the Family.

The experience in Montgomery County, Maryland – a suburb of Washington,
D.C. – provides a blueprint of how to make progress, as well as the game plan of those
who would seek to derail such progress.

On June 17, 2014, the Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously gave final approval to a revised health education framework for secondary schools. This revised framework is based specifically on the longstanding findings of every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, including the propositions that being gay is not an illness and that so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies are dangerous and ineffective. The framework was presented to the Board on May 13; the Board gave preliminary approval, triggering a month of public comments, the overwhelmingly majority of which were positive.

This action brought to a successful conclusion a dozen years of work by members of PFLAG Metro DC and others to bring the wisdom of the mainstream health care professionals into the middle and high school health education curriculum.

The Montgomery County experience may be useful for others around the country who seek to make schools not only safe for our LGBT children and children of LGBT families, but to help create a climate in which all of our children understand and appreciate each other. What follows is a comprehensive report on that experience.

We recommend that readers be aware, on the one hand, of the fact that this process took place in a relatively progressive community (which made it easier than it might have been elsewhere); but also, on the other hand, of the fact that the culture in America has moved significantly in the last dozen years (which means that the dozen years it took from the start of the process in 2002 to the 2014 culmination could well be far longer than future efforts in other places). We also note, however, that in some places, unlike in Maryland, state laws may limit what may be said in health education classes.
In some communities, there may be widespread opposition to change; in others, opposition may be limited to a very small group of people. In some communities, political leaders may be very supportive; in others, they may be antagonistic or reluctant to “make waves.” In some communities, there may be a pent up desire to make the needed changes; in others, there may be a great fear of even talking about sexual orientation or gender identity. Within school bureaucracies, much may turn on the life experiences and hopes and fears of particular administrators. Every community is different, but there are common threads.
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The two overarching themes are (1) that we are advocating not for abstractions, but for our children’s lives; and (2) that the policy dispute is not between pro-gay and anti-gay interest groups, but, rather, between the mainstream American medical and mental health community and those who, perhaps for theological or other reasons, are unable to come to terms with the proposition that being gay is just another way people are.

The report is based in part on a September 2010 series posted by the Human Rights Campaign and written by PFLAG Metro DC Advocacy Chair David S. Fishback. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 (And an enormous thank you to Teachthefacts.org President Jim Kennedy for archival material contained on the Teachthefacts.org website.)

LESSONS LEARNED OVERVIEW

Before going through the actual events, it might be useful to discuss the lessons
we learned. They might be worth thinking about as one goes through the nuts and bolts of
the process.

1. As more LGBT people come out, more straight people are willing to talk about
their LGBT relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. Once you begin real
conversations about the challenges that society poses for gay people – whether with
school officials, reporters or members of the general public – more people will begin to
talk about their LGBT relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. As this happens,
more LGBT people may be more likely to come out. Always be ready to tell your stories.
Personal stories of real people, real pain, and real struggle often do as much or more than
abstract academic conclusions to help people understand the importance of action. This
openness breaks down the walls that have kept people from confronting the issues. Once
those walls break down, progress can be swifter.

2. School officials – both elected and non-elected – need information, not just
conclusions. This is important because when being asked to take steps in directions
previously not taken, and where there may be pushback from others living in the school
district, officials need to know not just the general conclusions about sexual orientation,
but also the fact that those conclusions are supported by the mainstream medical and
mental health care community. This will assist those who already agree with us, and can
bring along those who may not have thought about the issue enough to be ready to take
the needed steps. And, in the context of the emerging understandings about sexual
orientation and gender identity, such information may help bring along those who once
had been in the opposition.

3. Identify allies within school system. There may well be many teachers, guidance
counselors, administrators, and others who will be supportive of your efforts. They may
be able to provide insights into the ins and out of your school system. But, depending on
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the nature of the bureaucratic culture of a particular school system, they may or may not
be able to be public allies. Of course, if schools have Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs), the
GSA sponsors, and the students themselves, may be great partners.
4. Identify and work with allies outside the school system. Don’t think you have to go
it alone. Find other groups – both governmental and non-governmental – who may be
supportive. They may be part of the process of figuring out how best to proceed,
including entrée to decision-makers. They may also be invaluable in creating an
atmosphere of support in the community-at-large.

5. The media needs to be well informed. In the Montgomery County situation,
advocates educated local reporters about the reality of where the mainstream health care
professional associations stood, and why they held those positions. We did this not just at
the time of the onset of a big story, but, whenever possible, in advance of such events. By
sufficiently educating reporters in advance – just like we did for school officials and the
public at large – the reporters were more able to present balanced articles, rather than
simply writing on the fly.

6. Find forums in which to present your views and your evidence. Letters to the
editor, op-ed pieces, and presentations on broadcast media are important. Find those
outlets and use them. Always be prepared to make the best case for your position. Do not
limit your advocacy to matters specifically related to curriculum. We need to foster a
general atmosphere of understanding; such an atmosphere helps not only school system
efforts, but other advancements, as well.

7. Personal relationships matter. As in any community, personal relationships
developed over the years are very useful. In Montgomery County, for example, a
principal advocate had worked for years as a PTA volunteer, as a local PTA president,
and as a member of a number of other advisory committees and community school
advocacy committees. In those activities, he developed relationships and credibility that
made it easier to be an advocate for potentially controversial issues, like this one.

8. Never underestimate the depths to which the opposition will go to impose their
views. This may seem harsh, but sadly it is a reflection of reality. The opposition, at least
in our experience, does not simply reach conclusions by seeing the world through a
different side of the prism. Rather – perhaps because their views are ideologically and
theologically based – they often seem to take the view that the ends justify the means. We
always need to be prepared for that, and to be prepared for the most outrageous attacks
imaginable. Significantly, we need to be prepared to assist school systems in defending
against lawsuits the opposition may bring in order to intimidate, and to be able to
convince school systems that, if necessary, it is worthwhile to stand up to such
intimidation.

9. Be ready for wolves in sheep's clothing. More skillful members of the opposition
may couch their arguments in terms of respect for all without condoning or encouraging
what they view as immoral behavior, all the while focusing on the respect angle. We
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must always remember that generalized statements of civility are nice, but they do little
good if they are coupled with policies that marginalize our LGBT children. Also, keep in
mind that people may run for school boards, or other public offices, without revealing
that they have an anti-gay agenda.

10. Always be civil and dignified. It will be tempting to lash out in public against
outrageous attacks on ourselves and/or our children. But it is always more important to
channel that passion into effective public presentations. Anger may create a good news
story on some televisions stations, but it does not advance the ball. Over time, people of good will come to recognize the humanity of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

11. Efforts to reform our public schools take hard work and dedication. Activists
who care about educating children on the realities of sexual orientation must be prepared
to do the hard work of educating both school officials and the community-at-large. They
also must carefully cultivate allies, and develop a sense of when to push hard, and when
to give people in power the space to act. It is also important to understand which players
we can count on to be proactive – and how to help them be so.

2002-04: MOVING OUT OF THE SHADOWS1

In 2002, the elected Board of Education, on the recommendation of its Citizens
Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development (CAC), instructed the
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) staff to develop revisions to the school
system’s 8th and 10th grade health education curriculum to provide accurate information
on sexual orientation. Previously, teachers were forbidden to discuss the subject, unless
asked a direct question, and then they could only provide vague answers and then move
on. In order to facilitate the process, the Board appointed a group of new members to the
CAC, which, by state law at that time, had to review any recommendations regarding
sexuality education; those 25 members included a school nurse, a school health teacher,
representatives from the PFLAG Metro DC and a Unitarian Church, as well as from the
local Catholic Archdiocese and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) – a group about
which little was known in 2002. One of the new members was David S. Fishback, a
relatively new PFLAG dad whose children had graduated from MCPS, and had been
active in a variety of MCPS matters (including as a PTA Co-President) going
back to 1984. Asked, in 2002, by a local newspaper about the statement by the then-chair of the Advisory Committee that the appointment of a PFOX representative was a “slap in
the face,” Mr. Fishback commented that “[w]hen people of good will sit down together
with . . . open mind[s], a lot more can be accomplished than some people think.”
In late 2002, the then-chair of the CAC retired from his position, and Mr.
Fishback was elected chair. MCPS staff had decided to set up a working group of health
teachers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, etc. to develop additions to the 8th
For more details on this and the next section, including
5
examples of what went on during the CAC deliberations,
see the presentations made by Mr. Fishback to the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education (2005)
(Attachment A) and the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (2006) (Attachment B).
and 10th Grade health curriculum on sexual orientation in the Summer of 2003, and asked
the CAC Chair to appoint members of the CAC to join that working group. Mr. Fishback,
seeking balance, appointed a conservative member, Henrietta Brown as well as a PFLAG
representative to join the working group.

The working group developed a draft of the curriculum revisions, which included
descriptions of the mainstream health professionals’ consensus on sexual orientation.
During the extensive deliberations Ms. Brown presented materials from the National
Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a group with which
none of the other working group members were familiar; after examination of the
NARTH materials, all the other members of the working group rejected NARTH’s
assertions, which were not supported by any valid data.

The staff recommendations were presented to the CAC in the autumn of 2003.
Ms. Brown and the PFOX representative, along with Michelle Turner, an at-large
representative, vigorously opposed the recommendations. They were given every
opportunity to convince other members of the CAC that their views were valid. They
presented hundreds of pages of materials from groups like NARTH at each meeting.
Because the materials were so extensive, the CAC imposed a rule that all such materials
had to be presented in advance of the monthly meetings, so that other members would
have the opportunity to examine them. Mr. Fishback did extensive research into those
materials, and provided responses at the meetings. What the other members of the CAC
concluded was that the materials presented by Ms. Brown and the PFOX representative –
which focused heavily on the propositions that no one or hardly anyone was really gay, or
that if people identified themselves as gay that they could change their sexual orientation
-- were filled with misrepresentations, and did not warrant inclusion in the curriculum.

In one instance, Ms. Brown characterized the research of a University of
Pennsylvania medical school professor as concluding that gay men were generally
pedophiles and that children were “turned gay” by contact with such men. Mr. Fishback
read the entire study that was being cited, found that it did not say any such thing, and
contacted the professor, who confirmed this assessment and authorized him to convey
that to the CAC. Ms. Brown also cited “studies” done by allegedly objective researchers,
but the CAC discovered that the authors were not qualified experts and were publishing
in non-peer reviewed publications that were simply fronts for outfits like Focus on the
Family. By thoroughly examining their allegations, the CAC was able to determine that
all the attacks on the draft curriculum were bogus. Ms. Brown audio-taped every meeting,
presumably to provide evidence of bias in the event that she was unsuccessful; Mr.
Fishback then began taping the meetings, as well.

As the CAC was completing its work on the proposed revised curriculum in
Spring 2004, Ms. Brown, Ms. Turner, and the PFOX representative wrote letters to the
largest circulation local weekly newspaper (the Gazette) and the Board of Education
accusing the CAC generally, and Mr. Fishback in particular, of unfair bias. However,
even with every word of the meetings on tape, they were unable to cite any evidence to
support their allegations. The letter to the Gazette contained such vitriolic attacks that the
6
newspaper, rather than publishing it, contacted Mr. Fishback and other CAC members for
interviews and wrote a fair description of what had occurred. (The article also highlighted
another tactic of the opposition: to endlessly debate everything, and to re-raise issues that
had already been resolved. Since the CAC met for only for two hours, once a month, a
failure to conclude the curriculum review by the end of the school year would have
delayed any action, since, at that time, no action could be taken on sexuality education
changes without the review and recommendations of the CAC, and the staff report on the
recommendations was always completed over the summer. One CAC member described
it as “filibustering.”)

Over time, it became clear that the opposition’s attacks on any progress in this
area would be rife with ad hominem attacks and unsupportable allegations. After many
months of debate on the proposed staff revisions and some recommendations for
improvement by the CAC, Mr. Fishback was assigned the responsibility of drafting the
CAC report to the Board of Education, recommending adoption. Mr. Fishback offered the
dissenters on the CAC the opportunity to prepare a minority report. This offer was
declined. The MCPS staff’s recommendations, along with the CAC report, were
presented to the Board in the autumn of 2004. There was no full-scale revamping of the
curriculum. Rather, a few definitions of sexual orientations and gender identity were
added, along with a few basic statements, which were summarized in Mr. Fishback’s
testimony presenting the report
(Attachment C, 11/9/04 testimony):

That "all major professional mental health organizations affirm that homosexuality is not a mental disorder", that "most experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice", that "different religions take different stands on sexual behaviors and there are even different views among people of the same religion", that "having homosexual parents/guardians does not predispose you to being homosexual", and that there are families in our community headed by same-sex couples.

At the Board’s November 9, 2004 meeting, the Superintendent declared that these
additions to the health education curriculum were “long overdue,” and the Board
unanimously adopted them.

Immediately, there was an onslaught of criticism on right-wing talk radio shows
and in other venues, attacking the recommendations as a “gay agenda” conspiracy and
accusing the Board of developing it without any community notice or opportunity for the
consideration of dissenting viewpoints, even though this accusation was demonstrably
false.2
2
The attacks also included criticism of a proposed condom demonstration video, which the Board had ordered in
November 2002 for use in the high school health education classes, which had, for many years, included general
information on condoms; there was much concern about the dangers of unprotected sexual activity, including the
unwanted pregnancies and transmission of sexually transmitted infections.
7
One of the dissenting members of the CAC, Michelle Turner, established a group
first calling itself RecallMongtomerySchoolBoard.org, and later, after discovering that
there was no legal mechanism for recall, calling itself Citizens for a Responsible
Curriculum (CRC) to oppose the revisions. CRC held a community meeting at a local
high school, where the rhetoric was so inflammatory that a group of parents (who
previously had no association with LGBT issues) formed a rival group,
TeachtheFacts.org. CRC then grabbed the web domain name Teachthefacts.com to
redirect any searches to the CRC’s website, which was named MCPScurriculum.com; yet
another indication of the underhanded approaches it would take to the public debate.
Then a very interesting thing happened. Typically, people only write or call a
government agency when they object to something the agency has done. In this instance
the calls and letters to the Board ran something like 5 to 1 in favor of the proposed
curriculum revisions (and the condom demonstration video). Some of this came from
community mobilization, but much of it was purely spontaneous. And some of the
support came from groups that the opposition liked to think were its natural allies.

2005: COUNTERATTACK FROM ANTI-GAY FORCES

Throughout the winter, local right-wing talk radio tried to drum up opposition,
and our opponents were able to get items in the major local daily newspapers: the
Washington Post, the Washington Times, and the Washington Examiner.
In January, PFOX rented a billboard near the MCPS headquarters touting
“reparative therapy.” In February, petitions were circulated in Catholic Churches in the
County opposing the curriculum revisions.3

In March 2005, CRC sought to have a mass community meeting to oppose the
revisions, but could not find a single local public official to attend as a speaker. Instead,
they brought in officials from Focus on the Family-related groups like the Family
Research Council, Take Back Maryland, and Concerned Women of America (whose
representative, oddly, was a man), as well as a notoriously homophobic state legislator
from another part of Maryland. A CRC spokesman tried to distance the organization from
many of the comments made by the speakers, even though it was clear in advance want
the speakers would say.
The speeches may be found here.
For a useful response to the Archdiocese’s arguments against the curriculum, see Mr. Fishback’s response on the Teachthefacts.org blog.

(It is noteworthy that one of the speakers, Family Research Council executive Peter
Sprigg, several years later, stated on national television that consensual adult same-sex activity should be criminalized and that the United States should "export homosexuals.")

Through the winter and early spring of 2005, CRC argued that the Board of
Education should negotiate with it about the revisions before any piloting (scheduled for
8
May 2005) would start, and publically stated that it would not try to use the courts to
derail the process. Subsequently e-mails, that inadvertently were made public, revealed
that CRC was surreptitiously planning litigation from the outset.

What happened next was a shocking setback.

Just days before the curriculum revisions were to be piloted in six county schools,
CRC and PFOX, through Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel, filed a 43-page complaint in
the federal district court seeking a Temporary Restraining Order to halt the piloting. The
complaint was rife with factual misrepresentations about the revisions and the applicable
law. The complaint asserted that the curriculum included attacks on particular religious
beliefs, even though this was demonstrably untrue: The only thing the curriculum said
about religion was that “Different religions take different stands on sexual behaviors and
there are even different views among people of the same religion”; while one of the
background teacher resources provided by the MCPS staff – which teachers were
instructed to not bring into the discussion – said some critical things about anti-gay
theologies, it was clearly not part of the curriculum. See 8th Grade Pilot Curriculum and
10th Grade Pilot Curriculum. More significantly, the complaint asserted that the
plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights were abridged because their “side” of the
“controversy” about sexual orientation was not presented.

With only a few days to respond, the Board of Education was caught flatfooted
and the judge, who was also a Baptist minister, granted the order on May 5, buying into
not only the factual misrepresentations, but also the incorrect legal argument: the
unprecedented idea that the United States Constitution required all sides of any dispute to
be presented in a public school curriculum -- a doctrine which had been specifically
rejected a decade earlier by the United States Supreme Court. See Rosenberger v.
Trustees of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 833 (1995) (“When [a public
educational institution] determines the content of the education it provides, it is the
[school] speaking, and we have permitted the government to regulate the content of what
is or is not expressed if it is the speaker. . . . [W]hen the government along speaks, it need
not remain neutral as to viewpoint.”

But rather than fight the lawsuit – which, given the judge's reputation for being
very slow to issue final decisions that could be appealed, would have tied things up in
expensive litigation for years – the Superintendent, on May 12, announced that MCPS
was scrapping the revisions, while entering into settlement discussions with CRC and
PFOX. In the meantime, CRC sought (unsuccessfully) to intimidate opponents into
silence and misused PTA resources to seek to mislead parents.4

Then, on May 23, the Board adopted the Superintendent’s recommendation to
discharge all members of the CAC and start the process over again. We then regrouped
and worked to make certain that this would only be a temporary setback.
4CRC’s misuse of PTA resources continued to be a problem in the ensuing years. 9

In late June, the Board entered into a settlement agreement, scrapping the
curriculum revisions and agreeing to appoint members of CRC and PFOX to the new 15-
member CAC (although there had already been members of PFOX and the CRC on the
earlier 25-member CAC). In the settlement agreement, the Board reserved the right to
make curriculum decisions. See here and here.

In the next several months, MCPS did nothing public, other than to pass a
resolution establishing the framework for a new Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) – a
CAC which could not, by rule, include any former members of the CAC.

Throughout the summer of 2005, the opposition brought in a series of speakers to Board
public comment periods to make presentations misstating what had been in the proposed
revised curriculum, saying scurrilous things about gay people, presenting then-PFOX
President Richard Cohen (who was subsequently exposed as such a fraud that he was
expelled from the American Counseling Association (ACA) and later became such an
embarrassment that PFOX removed him as its president), and presenting an alleged “ex-
gay” (who we eventually discovered was imported from New Jersey, where he was a paid
ex-gay organizer).

Mr. Fishback responded to the Board, pointing out that Richard Cohen had been
expelled from the ACA and presenting all the specifics on what the mainstream medical
and mental health professional associations say about sexual orientation. He also took on
Washington Times editorial, which had mischaracterized the events in Montgomery
County, and, after some back and forth with the Times, resulted in the Times
publication of his letter in response.

The opposition sought to use a local cable access show to present a one-sided
view of the controversy, including participation by Mr. Cohen, but when the line-up of
speakers became public, the producers invited Mr. Fishback and State Delegate Anne
Kaiser to balance the discussion. The opposition then backed out, and the taping was
cancelled.

The Teachthefacts.org Vigilance blog, written by Jim Kennedy, provided a
continuous stream of useful analyses, posted an article from The Nation on the
controversy, and at the end of the year presented a useful summary of what had
transpired. In September 2005, Teachthefacts.org sponsored a well-attended forum, at
which all the issues were fully aired. Among the speakers were Dr. Paul Wertsch, a
PFLAG dad from Wisconsin, who spoke about the American Medical Association’s
important statements on sexual orientation; Deborah Roffman, a prominent sexuality
education expert; and Robert Rigby, Jr., a survivor of “reparative therapy.” There was
extensive media coverage of the forum, which helped us to counter the messages sought
to be pushed by the opposition, and also enabled us to keep the issues before the Board
and the public.

Still, action from MCPS seemed, at least from the outside, to be slow, and it was
not at all clear that the Superintendent was taking any actions to secure experts to consult
10
on a new curriculum – something he had asserted publically he would do. Finally, in late
summer 2005, the former Vice Chair of the CAC, Dr. Lara Akinbami, a pediatrician,
arranged to have the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics offer its
services as consultant to MCPS, and that offer was accepted.

Then, on October 24, the Board announced most of the membership of the new
CAC. The CAC included, per the June settlement agreement, Peter Sprigg representing
PFOX, but also included Emily Wurst from PFLAG Metro DC and Teachthefacts.org
President Jim Kennedy. Dr. Carol Plotsky, a well-respected pediatrician (also trained in
law) was designated as the Chair. CRC objected that the Board had turned down the
nomination of Henrietta Brown, who previously had been on the CAC (and had been the
practitioner of the “filibuster” noted by another CAC member in April 2004, supra). The
Board, as noted earlier, made it clear that it would not appoint past-members of the CAC.
CRC threatened to sue, but finally relented and appointed another one of its members.
While the CAC’s new mandate limited its involvement to responding to MCPS
staff suggestions, the membership of the Committee assured that all issues would be fully
aired, and, over the next year, they were. Mr. Fishback attended, as an observer, all of the
new CAC’s meetings, sharing his experiences from the previous years, including the
earlier materials PFOX presented and the rebuttals, providing insights to allies as to the
tactics employed by the opposition, and providing the resources he had amassed over the
preceding two years.

CRC continued to attack our efforts, and we continued to respond to correct the record.

2006-08: THE ROAD BACK – PROGRESS, INCOMPLETE

Throughout 2006 and beyond, all letters to the editor in local papers from CRC
and PFOX were responded to immediately with letters rebutting their assertions. Mr.
Fishback appeared in a number of radio and television show debates, made presentations
on local and national programs supporting the reform efforts. Mr. Kennedy made similar
media appearances and provided a stream of analysis on the Teachthefacts.org Vigilance
Blog, helping to keep the wider community informed.

Having concluded that a major mistake in 2005 was the failure to anticipate a
lawsuit filled with factual and legal misrepresentations, PFLAG Metro DC – working
withTeachthefacts.org, PFLAG National, Hayley Gorenberg of Lambda Legal, and a
team of attorneys from the law firm of WilmerHale led by Jonathan Frankel (now
managing partner of Frankel PLLC) began to develop a comprehensive defense and
established a working relationship with the school system attorneys. Key to the defense
was the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (which includes
Maryland), which confirmed that public educational institutions are entitled to speak for
themselves in matters of curriculum, without having to present “all sides,” however
absurd certain sides might be.
11

In October 2006, the MCPS staff presented to the CAC its proposed new revisions
for the 8th and 10th Grade Health classes. The upside of the new revisions was that, rather
than simply including a few basic statements about sexual orientation as had been done in
2005, they now covered two entire classroom periods and went into great depth on the
challenges faced by LGBT students, brought in useful material on transgender people,
and drew on statements from the American Psychological Association and a textbook
developed for the Los Angeles County School District. This was a major step forward.
The downsides were that -- apparently to protect the school system from another
lawsuit -- the lessons were tightly scripted: teachers were instructed to follow a specific
script and not engage in discussion that might lead to saying anything that was not in the
script. And the specific statements set forth in the 2005 revisions – notably, that being
gay is not an illness and that reparative therapy has been rejected as dangerous by
mainstream medical professionals – were absent from what was permitted to be said,
again presumably to stave off a lawsuit.

In the autumn of 2006, Teachthefacts.org held a candidates forum, at which all
candidates for the Board of Education seats were asked whether they believed that the
2005 statements should be in the new curriculum. Four seats were up for election, and all
the winners, incumbents Patricia O’Neill and Nancy Navarro and open seat candidates
Shirley Brandman and Judy Docca, announced their support for inclusion of the
statements.

In November 2006, the overwhelming majority of CAC members voted to
recommend inclusion of most of those specific statements from the 2005 version (see
here and here – precisely what the winning Board of Education candidates favored (and
what we understood that all but one of the carryover members favored). Mr. Fishback
wrote to the Board supporting the CAC recommendations, explaining why they made
sense and why there was no legal impediment to their inclusion. (Attachment D, 12/12/06
testimony). But the Superintendent rejected the recommendations, presenting his
proposals without any of those recommended changes (see here, here, here, and here) and
inexplicably telling the Board that the statements did “not align with the target objectives
of the lessons” (at 115, 128-29 and 131).

This difference created significant controversy. See here. During public comments at the Board’s January 9, 2007 meeting, Mr. Fishback, now a member of the PFLAG Metro DC Board, vigorously urged inclusion of the CAC recommendations, again explaining why there was no legal impediment. In response, Board member Steve Abrams, one of the carryover members, threatened to vote against the proposal if any of the CAC statements were added, thus depriving the Board of unanimity that Mr. Abrams asserted was needed to resist another lawsuit.  Board member Patricia O’Neill moved to include the statement that being gay is not an illness. The motion failed on a 4-4 vote, although some of those voting “No” said they would revisit it in June 2007, following piloting of the classes in a few schools. The Board then voted unanimously to pilot the new revisions. See here and here.
12

The debate continued through the winter and spring, and it continued to be the
subject of media attention. One illustration of the intensity of the discussion was a
locally-televised debate between Mr. Fishback and the head of CRC, John Garza. See
here and here. Another was reflected in an opposition March 2007 letter to the
Washington Post, and CAC Chair Dr. Plotsky’s response.

There continued to be concerns about the inadequacy of the proposed curriculum,
for while the new revisions went farther and deeper in many respects than the 2005
version (and this was a very good thing), it omitted key information, and the tight
scripting was problematic, to say the least, in terms of effective teaching and learning.
Through the month of May 2007 and into early June, Mr. Fishback engaged in vigorous private discussions with all the Board members except for Mr. Abrams (who
clearly was not going to budge) and other opinion leaders in the community, including
officials of the Montgomery County Teachers Association (MCEA, the teachers’ union,
which had developed a very cooperative relationship with the Board and the
Superintendent, and was supportive), urging inclusion of the 2006 CAC
recommendations. Following the piloting and comments from stakeholders in the Spring
of 2007, the Superintendent still did not make any changes, presenting his proposal to the
CAC only a short time before it was to be presented to the Board. The CAC reiterated its
2006 recommended additions, but, once again, the Superintendent declined to incorporate
them into the curriculum he submitted to the Board for its June 12 meeting.

The night before the June 12 meeting, however -- following individual
discussions by Board members with the Superintendent and a June 7 Washington Post
article on the Superintendent’s disagreement with the CAC -- the Superintendent finally agreed to propose an “extension” to the curriculum, in which, if a student asked if being
gay were an illness, the teacher should say that it is not – that the American Psychiatric
Association says it is not. This was a useful, albeit not sufficient, step. After a contentious
meeting on June 12, at which Mr. Abrams accused the Superintendent of going back on
an agreement to make no changes in the curriculum, and the Superintendent passionately
responded that the school system owed students this answer, the Board passed the revised
curriculum with only Mr. Abrams dissenting. See also here and here (Board minutes at
pp. 33-35)

PFLAG Metro DC supported the revisions, but made it clear that they were still
inadequate, and urged reassessment after the first year of implementation (Attachment E,
6/12/07 testimony). And PFLAG Metro DC continued to support the Board’s action
against attacks from those opposing any LGBT-affirming curriculum.

Unfortunately, the Superintendent made it clear, through his staff, that he had no
intention of dealing again with the curriculum during his term of office, which extended
through the end of the 2010-11 school year. Our assumption was that he was still afraid
of a lawsuit, even though we had demonstrated that the law and, significantly, the 2007-
08 litigation (discussed below) eliminated any danger of significant litigation, because the
legal issue was now settled. The tightly-scripted nature of the curriculum (unlike the rest
13
of the curriculum, which did not have such strictures) and the gaping absence of key
information about being gay as an illness (many students would be too afraid to ask, and
others needed to have that information even if they themselves were not gay) and total
silence on reparative therapies made these deficiencies quite serious. The “charge” to the
new CAC made it clear that it was barred from proactively suggesting anything, so any
action to improve or alter in any way the health education curriculum would have to be
initiated by the Superintendent, who simply refused to do so. Even though all members of
the Board of Education agreed with PFLAG substantively (Mr. Abrams was defeated in
his reelection bid in 2008), they did not want to challenge the Superintendent. And they,
too, may have been concerned about the expense of another round of litigation.

As is described below, PFLAG found ways to keep the issue alive during this
period of “benign neglect.”

2007-08 LITIGATION: LAYING TO REST ANY DOUBTS AS TO THE
LEGALITY OF HEALTH EDUCATION CURRICULUM BASED ON
WISDOM OF MAINSTREAM MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH CARE
PROFESSIONALS

In February 2007 (shortly after the Board approved the second revised health
education curriculum for piloting), CRC, PFOX and a group calling itself the Family
Leader Network (FLN) asked the state superintendent of education to block the piloting
as the federal judge had done in 2005.

This time our side was ready, and both the school system and PFLAG Metro DC
filed effective, comprehensive arguments in opposition to the CRC/PFOX/FLN request.
(Attachment F, 3/1/07 letter). In March 2007, the state superintendent denied the request.
CRC/PFOX/FLN appealed to the State Board of Education, using the same arguments
they made in 2005. PFLAG Metro DC again filed papers opposing the request.
Following the County Board’s June approval of the revised curriculum,
CRC/PFOX/FLN reasserted their request to the State Board of Education to block the
curriculum. Later that month, the State Board of Education rejected the CRC/PFOX/FLN
request without a single dissenting vote.

The opposition – now represented by the Thomas More Legal Center – brought
suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court. See here and here. As noted above, Hayley
Gorenberg of Lambda Legal and the attorneys from WilmerHale led by Jon Frankel
represented PFLAG Metro DC as an amicus curiae (Attachment G, PFLAG Metro DC
court filing), and Mr. Frankel ably presented oral argument before the Court. In January
2008, the Court resoundingly dismissed the claims (here and here), and there was no
appeal. This was a major victory, because it confirmed the very basic proposition that MCPS could decide to use material from mainstream medical and mental health professional associations as the basis for its health curriculum, without having to include PFOX-supported material.
14

Teachthefacts.org was honored at PFLAG Metro DC’s annual gala in March 2008. CRC and PFOX continued to try to make its case in the media, and PFLAG Metro DC continued to rebut it. And, on local television, PFLAG Metro DC continued to debate the “reparative therapy” advocates.

INTERLUDE: 2010 BOARD OF EDUCATION ELECTION

The opposition continued to fail to gain any traction in the court of public opinion
in Montgomery County. They did, however, take a run at getting one of its members
elected to the Board of Education, through a stealth campaign in 2010.

In Montgomery County, all Board positions are voted on “at-large,” even though
most candidates must reside in different districts. The District 5 member had resigned
when she was elected to the County Council, and the Board appointed a recently-retired
high school principal, Michael Durso, to complete her term. Mr. Durso was a supporter of
our position on health education. But he had never run for political office and had no
“organization” of supporters (although he was very popular and well-respected among
those who knew him). Mr. Durso decided to stand for election, and a number of others
also signed up to run. In the first round of voting, the Washington Post endorsed one of
the challengers, making Mr. Durso potentially vulnerable. That challenger did not make it
through the first round of voting. The two remaining candidates were Mr. Durso and a
former high school PTSA President named Martha Schaerr. Ms. Schaerr had a very
professionally-constructed website, saying nothing “controversial,” and campaigning as a
“fresh face.”

Mr. Fishback recognized her, recalling a conversation he had had with her after a
Board of Education meeting several years earlier, and then recalled that she had been the
PTSA President who, in 2007, had sought to have a “forum” on the health education
revisions at her high school by inviting – and only inviting – the CRC representative on
the CAC to speak. Jim Kennedy of Teachthefacts.org, who was then a member of the
CAC, was alerted to this event, and arranged to have other CAC members, including the
Chair, to attend, as well, thus diffusing a one-sided attempt to subvert the revisions.
Mr. Fishback also discovered that Ms. Schaerr was a board member of the Family
Leader Network, which had been part of the 2007-08 litigation against MCPS, and that
her husband was board chair of the Family Leader Network. (In 2014, Mr. Schaerr left
his partnership at a major Washington, DC law firm to go to Utah to head up Utah’s
defense of its unequal marriage statute.)

Mr. Fishback publicized these connections – which were not disclosed in any of
Ms. Schaerr’s campaign literature or statements. He responded to discussions of the
election on community blogs; responded to reports on local on-line local newspapers that
had not pointed out (and likely were not aware of) her history; wrote letters to local
newspapers; brought up Ms. Schaerr’s history at campaign forums; enabled the MCEA to
15
inform the teachers about Ms. Schaerr; and presented the facts to reporters, leading to
accurate articles in the Washington Post, the local Gazette, and the on-line version of the
local ABC outlet.

On October 26, 2010, the Washington Post, which earlier had endorsed one of
Mr. Durso’s opponents, now endorsed Mr. Durso, noting that it was “troubled by [Ms.
Schaerr’s] involvement in a group hostile to gay rights. She is also a member of the board
of the Family Leader Network, one of the groups that sued Montgomery school officials
in an unsuccessful effort to block a new sexual education curriculum that dealt
forthrightly with sexual orientation.”

Mr. Durso defeated Ms. Schaerr overwhelmingly, and the other incumbents who
were supportive of LGBT-affirming curriculum were also reelected overwhelmingly.

2008-11: GUIDANCE OFFICES, FLYERS, AND EFFORTS TO HAVE THE
CURRICULUM REVISITED AND IMPROVED

While the Board was not prepared to challenge the Superintendent on the
curriculum, we did find an avenue to improve the MCPS climate. We had heard reports
that the Department of Student Services (DSS, the guidance counselors and school
psychologists) had removed useful resources on sexual orientation in 2006, following
complaints from the CRC/PFOX people, and that now there was significant confusion as
to what the guidance counselors could use.

So in the summer of 2008 (once it became clear that the Superintendent was not going to revisit the curriculum), we began working with a strong Board ally to assure that the DSS could use mainstream medical and mental health resources. In particular, we suggested the American Psychological Association’s Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth, the publication from the American Psychological Associationdiscussed at the beginning of this report, be a principal resource along with other materials, including the excellent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Guidance for
the Clinician on Sexual Orientation. This effort was successful, and we were able to
inform all the high school GSA sponsors of this development in April 2009. (Attachment
H, Metro DC PFLAG memorandum to GSA sponsors, 4/27/09).

In addition to this important step in making MCPS a safe and comfortable place
for LGBT students, the information provided by the DSS also established that the DSS
side of the MCPS house officially accepted the mainstream wisdom, thus heightening the
disconnect with the gaps in the curriculum. In 2012, when concerns were raised that pupil personnel workers were not aware of the resources or insufficiently trained, DSS hired an
excellent trainer, Sue Garner, a retired school psychologist from Howard County MD, who is also active in the PFLAG Columbia/Howard County Chapter, to provide training.

Still, the problems with the curriculum’s silence (or near silence) on key issues
was heightened by periodic distributions of PFOX flyers touting “reparative therapy”
16
notions in some high schools, starting in October 2006 and nearly every year for the next
six years. PFOX was entitled to do such distributions because, in another context, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had ruled that MCPS could not
discriminate based on viewpoint with respect to flyer distributions by outside non-profit
groups.

Initially, the flyers were quite specific in their advocacy of such notions; later,
they became more veiled, but the purpose was still unmistakable. At first, media coverage
was only in minor weekly newspapers, which noted how upset people were about the
distributions. There was always grave concern from schools about the PFOX flyers, and
many students made a point of throwing them out; in some schools, trash cans were set
up for that purpose. Mr. Fishback explained in public forums that the Board of Education
appeared to be bound by the Fourth Circuit decision, unless the distribution program were
eliminated; he also explained that those distributions made it all the more important that
the CAC recommendations about illness and reparative therapy be included in the health
curriculum. 

Understanding that the absence of an MCPS substantive response to the flyers
created a potentially grave and harmful situation, Metro DC PFLAG distributed flyers of
its own, rebutting the PFOX notions. In 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, PFLAG
Metro DC, working with Teachthfacts.org and a number of GSA faculty sponsors and
later the Rainbow Youth Alliance, countered the PFOX flyers (which had been
distributed at a handful of high schools) by distributing flyers at all MCPS high schools.
Indeed, each time such “flyer wars” took place, PFLAG Metro DC informed the Board
that the Board’s decision to continue the flyer distribution program made it incumbent on
MCPS to cure the deficiencies in the curriculum.

The Washington Post covered the PFOX flyer distributions for the first time in
February 2010. Resentment in the schools increased as more and more schools were
targeted by PFOX, and later that month Mr. Fishback for PFLAG Metro DC and
Stephanie Kreps (another PFLAG parent) for the Rainbow Youth Alliance wrote a letter
to the Board explaining the full nature of the potential harm caused by the flyers. In April
2010, Mr. Fishback wrote to, and testified before, the Board stating that because “MCPS has chosen to continue the flyer distribution program, we believe that it has a heightened
responsibility to deal with the PFOX misrepresentations,” and urging that the Board add
the CAC 2006 recommendations to the health education curriculum. As noted above, it
had become clear that the Superintendent would not act, and that the Board would not
challenge him. But it was also becoming clear that the Superintendent would not likely be
continuing at the end of his contract in 2011, so it was imperative to keep the issues
before the Board – all of whose members were in agreement with us on the substance.
In August 2010, the Superintendent announced that he would not seek renewal of
his contract. The next month, at the urging of Mr. Fishback and Dr. Akinbami, the
Superintendent’s own advisors the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of
Pediatrics (AAP) wrote to the Superintendent and the Board urging inclusion of the CAC
17

2007 recommendations, thus giving the Superintendent an opportunity to revisit the
curriculum (Attachment I, AAP letter, 9/28/10); but the letter was ignored.
In April 2011, with a new Superintendent scheduled to arrive in June, Mr.
Fishback worked with CAC members to reiterate their 2006 and 2007 recommendations,
in order to have those recommendations on the record for the transition. This was a
difficult process, since the rules imposed on the CAC theoretically prevented it from
taking any proactive steps – it could only respond to the Superintendent’s staff. After
some resistance from the staff, the CAC Chair, Dr. Plotsky, firmly asserted the CAC’s
right to recommend, and the staff did not prevent the CAC from making an affirmative
recommendation. Peter Sprigg of PFOX and the Family Research Council (who was still
a member of the CAC) made veiled threats of more lawsuits if such changes were made,
but the full CAC overwhelmingly approved the recommendation. PFOX then accused the
CAC of acting in an abusive and discriminatory manner, and particularly singled out Mr.
Fishback for harsh criticism, and concluded by urging that its views about “ex-gays”
should be included in the curriculum.

Mr. Fishback reported the CAC’s recommendations to the Board (Attachment J, 4/22/11 letter), since there was no official mechanism for the staff to provide it until the following autumn, and it was unlikely that the out-going Superintendent was going to pass the recommendation along before he left.

JUNE 2011 TO NOVEMBER 2012: PROGRESS AND DETOUR – FLYER WARS

In the spring of 2011, the Board announced the appointment of Joshua Starr, the
young superintendent of the Stamford, Connecticut public school system, to be the new
Montgomery County superintendent. Mr. Fishback contacted Stamford PFLAGers, who
were very positive about him. PFLAG Metro DC provided background materials to his
transition team in Summer 2011, but received no response. Taking over a large
bureaucracy like that at MCPS was clearly a big job, with lots of issues other than health
education policy, so we initially bided our time. We were assured by a strong ally on the
Board that this issue would be raised with him in early 2012.

Very quickly, there appeared to be challenges stemming from holdovers from the
previous administration who shared the former Superintendent’s fear of making any
changes to the curriculum. At the first meeting of the CAC in Autumn 2012, a top
holdover administrator, in briefing the new members of the CAC (Dr. Plotsky had
stepped down after nearly six years of service), boasted of how tightly scripted the
Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality units were. And it took considerable effort to
find a copy of the annual report from the staff to the Board, which included the 2010-11
CAC’s work. In the past, CAC recommendations were presented to the Board, but the
September 2011 report was so vague that it was impossible to determine on its face what
was being reported. Indeed, allies on the Board, having received it, reported to Mr.
Fishback that they were not aware that the staff had hidden the CAC suggestions. It
18
seemed very possible that the key holdover staff was simply not presenting the issue to
Dr. Starr.

Then PFOX came back into the picture. The Board declined to appoint Peter
Sprigg to another term on the CAC, and he received, as did other outgoing members, a
form thank you letter signed by Dr. Starr. PFOX then, in a website post (later taken
down), characterized the form letter as an endorsement by Dr. Starr of Mr. Sprigg’s
views (and also misrepresented an action of the CAC). When this was brought to Dr.
Starr’s attention, his chief of staff wrote to PFOX’s executive director as follows:

     We have received a number of emails from people who are concerned about
     information you posted on your blog regarding the standard letter that Dr. Starr
     sent to Mr. Peter Sprigg thanking him for his service on the Citizens Advisory
     Committee on Family Life and Human Development. Some are concerned that
     Dr. Starr’s letter is singling out Mr. Sprigg for praise and is being misinterpreted
     as an endorsement of PFOX and its beliefs and issues.

     Let me be clear, Mr. Sprigg received the same thank you that Dr. Starr sent to all
     members of the committee who completed their service this spring. Dr. Starr
     was in no way singling out Mr. Sprigg for special recognition. Any effort on your
     part to portray this simple thank you as an endorsement of PFOX or its
     perspective is misguided and should cease.

     Dr. Starr does not endorse nor agree with the views represented by PFOX.

On February 4, 2012, the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights’
Committee on Hate Violence, held an event entitled Bullying in Schools: A Community
Symposium on Prevention and Intervention Strategies, with Dr. Starr, other MCPS
officials, and a high school GSA leader on the symposium’s panel. PFLAG Metro DC
attended with a table with information (including a flyer explaining the need for
curriculum improvements (Attachment K, Metro DC PFLAG flyer, 2/4/12) and raising
the issue during the questions and answer period (although Dr. Starr left before that
period). In post-event discussions, it became clear that MCPS Department of Student
Services (DSS) leaders agreed with us.

Then, before members of the Board were able to urge prompt action on health
education curriculum changes, a new round of PFOX flyers – and Dr. Starr’s public
response to PFOX – dominated the discussion. Around the first of February 2012, PFOX
distributed flyers in several high schools, and there were a number of parent and student
complaints. Then, a few days after the distributions, Dr. Starr was asked about the flyers
by a student during a televised forum at Wootton High School, and responded as follows:

     I find the actions of PFOX to be reprehensible and deplorable, but we are bound
     by law to enable non-profits to distribute fliers four times per year. We can’t
     really do much about it unless we cut off all flier distribution. This group has
19
     figured out a way to use that law to spread what I find to be a really disgusting
     message.

(In addition to local Montgomery County coverage, this was also reported by the
Washington Post.) 

The story quickly hit the national media.

The Board of Education immediately decided to consider whether to cut off the
flyer distribution program, and then decided to investigate how much the program was
used before making a decision. 

PFLAG Metro DC used the opportunity to point out that there was, in fact,
something that MCPS could do other than end all flyer distributions: On PFLAG Metro
DC’s blog and in e-blasts, in Mr. Fishback’s Letter to the Editor in the Gazette, and in his
letters and testimony to the Board of Education (Attachment L, 2/17/12 Testimony and
letter, 2/27/12), PFLAG Metro DC explained that MCPS could and should add material
to the health education curriculum that would rebut the PFOX message. The Gazette
published a letter from another PFLAG Metro DC Board Member explaining why the
PFOX message was so dangerous.

PFOX, of course, attacked Dr. Starr in a letter to the Gazette. As did Peter Sprigg
in an op-ed in the Washington Times.

On March, a local television program, News Talk, had Mr. Fishback and Mr.
Sprigg discuss the issues surrounding the PFOX flyer and message. In a spirited half-hour
debate (which was then covered in some local media), the arguments of both sides were
clearly set forth. A shorter version of the debate was illustrated in Letters to the Editor of
the Washington Post by Mr. Sprigg and Mr. Fishback, also in mid-March.

Through March and April, PFLAG Metro DC took the lead in working with the
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Equality Maryland (EQMD) Foundation, The
Trevor Project, Rainbow Youth Alliance, the Rockville Open House to develop, produce,
and then distribute nearly 50,000 flyers in all 25 of Montgomery County’s high schools.
The considerable cost for printing of the flyers was defrayed by SPLC, EQMD
Foundation, and PFLAG National. The distribution was done by a team of Montgomery
County residents, including PFLAGers, Teachthefacts.org members, Rainbow Youth
Alllance members, and GSA sponsors. This effort received positive media coverage in
the Washington Post (see here and here) and in the Gazette. (Note that the PFLAG flyer
sets forth the basic information that advocates can use in efforts in their own
communities.)

A Board of Education committee did a survey of the MCPS schools, and
discovered that the flyer program, while used widely in the elementary schools, was used
only sparsely in the secondary schools. As a result of that survey, it decided, in June
2012, to eliminate the flyer distribution program in the secondary schools. See also here.
20

In May, PFOX continued its harassment of Superintendent Starr, filing a
complaint against him with the Board of Education, alleging that he had violated the
MCPS non-discrimination rules by his statements about PFOX that February. The
frivolous complaint was dismissed. And in December 2013, PFOX filed similar
complaints with the federal Departments of Justice and Education; those complaints went
nowhere.

We had hoped that this discussion about PFOX would help stimulate the school
system to finally grapple with the curriculum. In addition to our continued advocacy in
the winter and spring of 2012 (Attachment M, 5/20/12 letter), the Montgomery County
Commission on Children and Youth, after conducting a symposium on the problems
faced by LGBT youth in the County, invited Mr. Fishback and Ms. Kreps of the Rainbow
Youth Alliance to address it. At the end of the meeting, the Commission sent a letter
(Attachment N, 6/15/12 letter) to MCPS urging the curriculum improvements.
But the staff responses were variations of the responses made under the previous
Superintendent, essentially declining to make or consider any changes. (Attachment O,
6/25/12 testimony with attachments).

What we discovered later was that the flyer dispute essentially absorbed all the
oxygen, and that holdover bureaucrats from the ancient regime were still controlling the
message. Our challenge was to figure out how to proceed.

One Board member privately explained that it would be easier to deal with the
issue once the Maryland marriage equality referendum, which was up for a vote that
November, had been won. Indeed, PFLAG Metro DC was part of the statewide coalition
working on the referendum, and Mr. Fishback gave us visibility in a WUSA television
debate with a conservative talk show host on the day that President Obama announced the
completion of his evolution, and in rebutting a prominent Gazette columnist.5

So we focused our efforts on the Marriage Equality Referendum until the
November 2012 victory in Maryland. (In Montgomery County, 66% of the voters
approved Civil Marriage Equality). We also attended a Board of Education candidate
general election forum, and received confirmation from all the candidates (not only the
two incumbents who won, and the winner of an open seat, but also the losers) that they
substantively agreed with us.

It seemed clear that Superintendent Starr also substantively agreed with us, but we
did not know whether, with so much on his plate, that he had made sufficient progress in
placing like-minded people in key administrative positions, thus removing bureaucratic
impediments, to take the next steps; or whether, if there were still holdovers who shared

Indeed, through this entire period, PFLAG Metro DC took advantage of opportunities to use local media to advocate on other LGBT issues and to foster a general atmosphere of understanding. See, for example, letters to the editor
on local candidates' support for civil marriage equality, Fairfax County VA library decisions, and testimony on Montgomery County government contracting rules; and television appearances on "reparative therapy", civil marriage equality, Apple Apps, and a local sports figure's statements about the sexual orientation of another sports figure.
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the mind-set of the former Superintendent, Dr. Starr was ready to expend internal
political capital to act.

JANUARY 2013 TO JUNE 2014: THE FINAL PUSH AND VICTORY

So, after years of pressing for an adequate curriculum, getting close, and then
being stymied, we approached 2013 with a combination of anticipation and trepidation.
The question was whether this would be a priority for the Board and the Superintendent,
and what kind of pressure, if any, would be needed to get movement.

Our friends at MCEA, who likely were better plugged into the internal MCPS
dynamics, featured LGBT issues at its January 5, 2013, “Legislative Breakfast,” attended
by County politicians in advance of the upcoming General Assembly session in
Annapolis. MCEA invited Mr. Fishback to attend. The Breakfast included an award to
the Blake High School GSA for its "Allie the Ally" program, and the GSA sponsor
mentioned the need for curriculum improvement in her presentation. There was ample
opportunity for networking. Mr. Fishback brought up the curriculum issue with the new
Board of Education President. And Mr. Fishback spoke at length with MCEA officials,
following up with a comprehensive e-mail to the MCEA executive director, laying out
the history of the curriculum struggles, and noting the following:

"At present, health teachers may address the [question of whether being gay is an illness] only
if asked, and they may not say anything regarding ['reparative therapy"], since the curriculum is
so tightly scripted.  As [a teacher from one of the high schools] pointed out to me at the 
Legislative Breakfast, we now have a bizarre situation in which guidance counselors and school
psychologists may discuss these matters with students (as may individual teachers who students
might speak with -- like GSA sponsors), but the health teachers are severely limited in class. ****
   
"From the discussions I have had over the years with the elected Board members, I am confident
 that every one of them agrees with the substance of the CAC/AAP/Commission recommendations
 It may well be that key people in the MCPS administration -- all of whom, I believe, also agree
 with the substance -- are still scarred by the 2005 litigation and would prefer not to deal with the
 issue again.  They may not fully understand that any possible legal impediments to further action
 were swept away by the 2008 decision of the Montgomery County Circuit Court, affirming the
 right of MCPS to place information from mainstream medical professional associations in the
 health education curriculum.

 "I believe it is time for Board members and MCEA leadership to speak with Dr. Starr."

At a subsequent meeting with the new Board of Education President, who had been supportive, but not, as far as we could tell, been an activist within the Board on the issue, Mr. Fishback made it clear, as gently as he could, that he had gone out of his way
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to be supportive of the Board for many years, even when it did not take the steps that it knew were right – and that his patience was about to run out if action was not taken soon. The Board President told Mr. Fishback that he planned to bring the issue up with his fellow Board members and with the Superintendent in the near future.

Mr. Fishback continued to speak with other community leaders, including Bonnie Cullison, a former MCEA President who was now a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, conveying the need for prompt action and suggesting that he would go public with his concerns in a very vigorous way if no action was forthcoming.

Fortunately, we began to see movement for the first time since 2007. In late April, an MCEA staffer asked Mr. Fishback for a summary paper on why action could be taken now, which Mr. Fishback provided. (Attachment P, Memorandum) In May, Board Vice President Patricia O’Neill, who had been a vocal supporter from the beginning of the effort in 2002, introduced Resolution 247-13, providing that the superintendent and his staff perform a comprehensive review of the Grade 8 and Grade 10 Health Education Curriculum, benchmarking with other districts, reconsider the requirement for the scripted lessons and the recommendations from the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development [CAC] report, and bring to the Board of Education proposed changes so that they may be in place no later than Fall 2014.

The resolution passed unanimously. See here at pp. 26-29. What apparently had occurred was that the Superintendent and Board members reached a consensus that the best way to proceed was to have the Board send a clear message to the Administration that the Board wanted a revised approach to health education classes and sexual orientation and gender identity, eliminating the strait jacket of tight scripting and including the CAC substantive recommendations. This portended a complete victory.6

In the ensuing months, the relevant curriculum staffers did all the right things. They consulted with the new community advisory committee (made up of members of the most recent CAC) and took into account the background resources used by the Department of Student Services and background resources Mr. Fishback provided to a member of the new community advisory committee. They engaged in discussions with students and health teachers, who uniformly criticized the scripting as pedagogically unsound.

What factors led to this action, after so many years of failure to make improvements after June 2007? One may well be that the recalcitrant holdovers from the previous administration had retired or had moved to different positions, so no longer presented an internal bureaucratic problem. We never had the sense that any of these people opposed the substance of what we proposed, but, rather, that they were so afraid of another lawsuit that they felt it was best not to take up the issue again. For them, and perhaps for members of the Board, as well, “the time was just not right.” And it may well be that the Montgomery County results in the Civil Marriage Equality referendum assured them that now it was safer to act. There is a school of thought that suggests that failure to take any steps to improve the curriculum between 2007 and 2013 was driven by resource allocation issues – i.e., the reluctance to risk going to the expense of litigation a third time. While, from the outside, it is hard to see how that litigation concern would be any less in 2013 than following MCPS’s resounding court victory five years earlier in 2008, that was how some saw it.
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On May 13, 2014, the Superintendent presented his proposed new health education curriculum framework. That framework wisely moved up the first discussions of LGBT matters to 7th Grade, eliminated the tight scripting, and specifically noted reliance upon a document from the American Psychological Association that referenced the longstanding findings of every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, including the propositions that being gay is not an illness and that so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies are dangerous and ineffective. When the revised framework was presented, PFLAG Metro DC gave its full support. The Board gave preliminary approval, triggering a month of public comments. PFLAG Metro DC alerted supporters to the comment period. The overwhelming percentage of the comments were positive.

At the Board’s June 17, 2014 meeting, Mr. Fishback presented PFLAG Metro DC’s support and thanks (Attachment Q, 6/17/14 testimony). Peter Sprigg of PFOX and the Family Research Council presented a statement in opposition. The Board then voted unanimously to give final approval. The changes went into effect in September 2014 – this time without any legal challenge.7
This action brought to a successful conclusion a dozen years of work by members of PFLAG Metro DC and others to bring this wisdom into the middle and high school health education curriculum.8

                      ****************************
PFLAG Metro DC is happy to assist anyone in developing their own strategies and
tactics. Advocacy Chair David Fishback may be reached at fishbackpflag@gmail.com.

In anticipation of a possible legal challenge like the ones in 2005 and 2007, Lambda Legal and Jon Frankel again agreed to represent PFLAG Metro DC if needed, and we arranged with the Board’s new General Counsel to assist in
the defense of any new lawsuit. Fortunately, that was not necessary.
The baseline resources now being used by the Montgomery County Public Schools for the secondary school health curriculum on LGBT matters are the American Psychological Association's Answers to Your Questions For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality and its Answers to Your Questions About Transgender
People, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression.
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4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. This week, in June 2016, PFLAG is updating its website, so some of the old links may not work. The basic material may be found at
    https://www.pflag.org/blog/curriculumvictorymontgomerycounty and
    https://www.pflag.org/sites/default/files/Curriculum%20Victory%20in%20Montgomery%20County%202.pdf Some of the hyperlinks are not yet back up.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have edited the post above to reflect the current locations for the Curriculum Handbook: https://www.pflag.org/blog/curriculumvictorymontgomerycounty and https://www.pflag.org/cultivating-respect-safe-schools-all All the hyperlinks are not yet back up.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have edited the post above to reflect the current locations for the Curriculum Handbook: https://www.pflag.org/blog/curriculumvictorymontgomerycounty and https://www.pflag.org/cultivating-respect-safe-schools-all All the hyperlinks are not yet back up.

    ReplyDelete