GLBT Youth Advocacy Group to FRC: Cease and Desist

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 16, 2011

Lawyers for GLBT youth advocacy organization the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) have sent word to cease and desist to one of two hate groups that have attempted to link GLSEN with a safer sex pamphlet and claims that the pamphlet fell into the hands of underage students.

Those assertions are made in a film clip that is part of a larger video attack against GLSEN. In the clip, anti-gay groups the Family Research Council (FRC) and MassResistance insinuate that the youth organization created and distributed the pamphlet, which is intended for adult gay males, to schoolchildren.

An Aug. 9 ThinkProgress posting reported that the two groups -- both of which have been added to a list of hate groups by watchdog organization the Southern Poverty Law Center for disseminating untrue and inflammatory claims about gays -- had targeted GLSEN in the video. GLSEN and its founder, Kevin Jennings, have been the subject of volley after volley of wild claims from those and similar anti-gay, fringe right groups that suggest GLSEN and Jennings are not actually working in the best interests of children, but rather have a sinister agenda to "recruit" and exploit youths.

GLSEN took action with an Aug. 16 letter that was delivered to the FRC by GLSEN's attorneys, the youth advocacy group announced that same day.

"This morning, GLSEN's attorneys delivered a cease-and-desist letter to the Family Research Council (FRC) demanding that FRC cease distribution and publication of a video clip containing false and defamatory statements about GLSEN, as well as any other similar false and defamatory statements that may be contained in a longer video associated with that video clip," the media release said.

"FRC and MR are attacking GLSEN for a publication called the 'Little Black Book,' describing it as 'the most vile assault on teenagers ever concocted by homosexual activists,' " the Aug. 9 ThinkProgress posting reported.

"When MassResistance president Brian Camenker says it helps men find places to meet other men? He's distorting the fact that it merely lists community resources, health clinics, and gay bars," the posting continues. "Surely a booklet listing bars is not designed for '5th through 9th graders,' " ThinkProgress continued.

The FRC was co-founded by Alan Rekers, who has made a career of working against GLBT equality. Among other things, Rekers has testified in court against gays wishing to gain the legal right to adopt children. Rekers also has claimed to have successfully treated an "effeminate" boy he refers to in his writings as "Kraig." Based on his "success" with "Kraig," Rekers has claimed that homosexuality can be "cured."

CNN reported in June that in the 1970s, Rekers treated a boy named Kirk Murphy, whose parents were worried that he was too "effeminate." Rekers' course of treatment included having Kirk's parents beat him if he acted too much like a girl, and reward him for "masculine" behavior. As a young man in his 20s, Kirk came out as gay. At age 38, he committed suicide.

"As recently as 2009, a book Rekers co-authored, 'Handbook of Therapy for Unwanted Homosexual Attractions,' cites Kraig's case as a success," the CNN article reported. "That was six years after Kirk Murphy took his own life."

Rekers also generated headlines last year when it became known that he had hired a 20-year-old male escort from the website to accompany him on a European vacation. Though Rekers continues to deny that any sexual contact took place between him and the escort, the young man told the media that his duties included administering daily erotic massages to Rekers.

MassResistance has made GLBTs a target for an array of wild assertions, many of them promoting the idea that gays endanger children. Among other claims, MassResistance has repeated falsehoods concerning GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings, who went on to serve the Obama Administration as an assistant deputy secretary of education. Fringe right groups, including MassResistance, spread the fiction that Jennings promoted pedophile sex. Among the allegations was a widely reported rumor that when Jennings was a teacher in Massachusetts, he knew of a 15-year-old student who was having sexual relations with an older man.

The student in question, who is now in his 30s, stepped forward to clarify that he and the older man had not had sexual relations. He moreover pointed out that at the time in question, he was 16 -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

But the facts, once revealed, did not stop the allegations from being repeated, and no retraction or apology was ever offered.

Similarly, the suggestion that the "Little Black Book" was produced and / or distributed by GLSEN has long been disproven. A Dec. 10, 2009, Pam's House Blend posting reported that the pamphlet had been taken to a GLSEN event at a high school by a participating organization, Fenway Community Health, in 2005.

The Pam's House Blend referred to a May 19, 2005, Boston Globe article that reported that the pamphlet was produced by the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. Although the pamphlet was designed and intended for gay men 18 and older, an individual affiliated with Fenway Community Health took about 10 copies of the pamphlet to the event. School officials said they did not believe any students had taken a copy.

"Fenway Community Health regrets accidentally making available a small number of copies of the Little Black Book, an HIV-prevention publication for gay and bisexual men over the age of 18, at an event where young people were present," the head of Fenway Community Health, Dr. Stephen Boswell, said at the time in a statement.

Facts Don't Matter?

But the facts of the matter have not slowed down MassResistance and the FRC.

"The false statements in the FRC video can do real and lasting harm to our work," the GLSEN release noted. "FRC has made those false and defamatory statements in an obvious effort to raise money, undermine GLSEN's work, and maintain the status quo: School systems where LGBT students face unacceptable levels of harassment and violence and where anti-LGBT bias is a weapon of choice for bullies.

"We must respond forcefully and aggressively to defend our ability to fulfill our mission, and to protect ourselves and our partners in this critical work -- the countless people in school communities across the country who work with GLSEN and our chapters to ensure safe and affirming schools for all students, utilizing our resources, attending our trainings, advocating with us for urgently needed change to make a positive difference in schools," the GLSEN release added.

Research by GLSEN shows that an overwhelming number of gay youths face harassment, bullying, and even physical assault while in the care of public schools. Sometimes, the anti-gay bullying comes from school staff and teachers, and not just from other students.

The 2009 National School Climate Survey revealed that 9 out of 10 GLBT youths had encountered anti-gay harassment while at school. Also, "nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation," the survey found. "Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns."

At the same time, GLBT youth are up to six times more likely to engage in suicidal behavior than are heterosexual teens. The end result is a disproportionate number of gay youths who end up dying by their own hands, sometimes after years of intractable, relentless, and vicious bullying.

The problem has become a national crisis since last summer, when mainsteream media attention to GLBT youth suicides woke America up to the fact that gay teens are dying at far higher rates than heterosexual youth. Advocates for GLBT teens say that the trend is preventable, and stress a need for education and legislation to address the problem of anti-gay bullying.

But anti-gay groups protest that laws and policies intended to protect GLBT youth infringe on the rights of students who object to homosexuality because of their religious beliefs. Opponents also say that anti-bullying laws and policies, as well as gay-straight alliances at public schools, work to inculcate students into accepting gays and lesbians, rather than rejecting and condemning them as "sinners." Some groups go so far as to suggest that homosexuality is contagious, and straight teens might be "converted" into gays.

That line of thinking is contiguous with claims from religiously motivated proponents of so-called "reparative therapy," who say that gays "choose" their sexual orientation, and further assert that sexual and romantic attraction for someone of the same gender can be the result of early life trauma and abuse. Reparative therapy is based on the assumption that homosexuality is a pathological condition that can be addressed and "cured" through prayer and counseling -- as well as by individual choice.

Science disagrees. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable, and also suggests that gays are not abnormal or suffering from any pathology; rather, homosexuality is part of normal human sexual variation, and has also been observed in over 7,000 non-human animal species.

Moreover, reputable mental health professionals warn that attempts to "convert" gays through reparative therapy risk casting gays who are subjected to such treatment into shame and despair when the so-called therapy fails to produce any change in a gay person's sexuality.

The GLSEN also worries that messages that mischaracterize gay youth and the purpose of advocates such as the GLBT youth organization itself might further endanger young sexual minorities.

"An affront against GLSEN, such as the false and defamatory statements by FRC, is an affront against every educator who places a Safe Space Sticker outside their door to encourage a student who may face despair; every Gay-Straight Alliance member who takes part in the Day of Silence to raise awareness about anti-LGBT bullying; every person who intervenes when a student calls another an anti-LGBT name; and so many dedicated education professionals -- teachers, administrators and other school staff -- who do their best to bring positive change to our schools and our future every day," the GLSEN media release said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.