Help Us Fight Harmful Propaganda About LGBT People in Our Schools

When a 14-year-old girl recently urged the Maryland legislature to vote against the freedom for same-sex couples to marry, she had reasons that probably left some people shocked.

She claimed that being gay is “a choice.” She claimed that children of same-sex couples are “confused about what’s right and OK.”

But no one should have been surprised to hear such views coming from a young person.

Through annual events such as the “Day of Truth,” groups like Exodus International and the Alliance Defense Fund have kept up a drumbeat of anti-gay misinformation that reverberates in our nation’s schools. One of the biggest and most dangerous lies promoted by these groups is the claim that gay people can change their sexual orientation through what is commonly known as “ex-gay” or “conversion” therapy.

For example, in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, which is the target of a current SPLC lawsuit, the Parent Action League has for decades pushed the district to provide “ex-homosexual” and “ex-transgender” materials to classroom teachers and counselors. Yet conversion therapy has been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. In 2006, the American Psychological Association stated unequivocally: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

During the past few weeks, the extent of the misinformation campaign by anti-gay organizations came into focus when 3,000 Maryland high school students received a flyer that claimed – just like the 14-year-old in Maryland – that being gay is a choice and that people can change their sexual orientation.

The flyer was distributed as part of a program where non-profits are permitted to distribute materials to students and parents. The flyer stated, without basis, that “every year thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attraction make the personal decision to leave a gay identity through non-judgmental environments.”

The source of the flyer? A group called PFOX – Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays.

PFOX is the ex-gay movement’s answer to Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. PFOX is blatant about its effort to target schools that have supportive environments for LGBT students. On its website, PFOX instructs its followers to “choose only those schools that need your services – schools with GSA or other gay clubs that celebrate Day of Silence or other gay events, etc.”

Although one might be tempted to urge school districts to ban the distribution of these types of flyers, such efforts can often backfire as they give ex-gay groups a platform to argue that their free speech rights have been violated. That’s why the SPLC is urging parents and community members to counter the false propaganda with the most powerful tool at their disposal – facts.

The SPLC's Teaching Tolerance program has created a flyer that explains the disturbing truth about conversion therapy and offers resources to those striving to provide an inclusive educational environment that supports all students – straight and LGBT alike. If your school is targeted, we’ll help you find a local community organization to partner with, provide model flyers and, of course, connect you with the anti-bias materials that are always available on our website.

Though the LGBT community has made great strides in this nation, we cannot forget that young people continue to face serious harassment, and often violence, because they are LGBT or are perceived to be LGBT. The SPLC is dedicated to helping ensure safe and supportive environments for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Join us in that effort.