’Ex-Gays’ Say Their Books Kept Out of Libraries, Cry Censorship

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Oct 23, 2009

Religious opponents of gays and lesbians say that with prayer and counseling, it's possible to "convert" to heterosexuality. But credible mental health professionals broadly reject such claims, and worry that so-called "reparative" or "conversion" therapies could be damaging, rather than beneficial.

"Ex-gays" also claim that books on the subject of such "reparative" therapies are conspicuously missing from libraries in public schools; the reason, they say, is due to censorship of their message that gays and lesbians can choose to become straight.

An Oct. 22 Fox News item reported that a support groups for individuals who claim to have been converted to heterosexuality--the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX)--claim that books advocating for the "curing" of gays are being systematically excluded from book collections at school libraries.

Such putative censorship has led to suits and threatened legal action against schools for not carrying "ex-gay" titles. Two years ago, a Maryland school district was warned by The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group representing PFOX, to accept leaflets and books from the group or face a suit based on a claim of violations of the group's Constitutional guarantees.

Anti-gay religious Web site LifeSiteNews said in a July 8, 2007 article that "a radical pro-homosexual sex-ed curriculum" was being favored over PFOX's materials, and quoted ADF attorney Jeremy Tedesco as charging that, "The school is not only engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, but clearly it has also displayed an obvious desire to indoctrinate students with a radical, pro-homosexual agenda."

One book refused space on school library shelves, the Fox News article said, is My Genes Made Me Do It!: A Scientific Look at Sexual Orientation, a title from 1999 by Neil E. Whitehead and Briar Whitehead, who posit that while there may be some biological basis to homosexuality--as scientists now believe--that in itself is not enough to account for why some men and women experience an innate and powerful attraction to others of the same gender.

The book's scientific accuracy in light of more recent biological findings has been questioned (for example, as pointed out by one reviewer of the book, the book's contention that identical twins of differing sexual orientations proves that sexuality is not a matter of genetics, because identical twins have identical genes, has been found to be incorrect: identical twins do not necessarily have identical genes, even though they do develop from identical chromosomes). Still, PFOX members say, materials that espouse their point of view should not be barred.

The Fox News story points out that books describing gay teens' coming of age are readily available in school libraries, including some that contain explicit material. But while books that speak to gay teens are embraced by school libraries, "ex-gay" books are regarded with skepticism, the article noted; based on the cautions voiced by mental health professionals, some libraries fear that such books will lead to harm. As a result, the article said, PFOX has found it to be an uphill struggle to get their message heard via school library holdings.

The group's executive director, Regina Griggs, insists that PFOX isn't out to force anyone into coercive or damaging forms of therapy. Griggs says that all PFOX wants is for gays and lesbians to know that they may have a choice. But schools--even universities--aren't interested. "We offered... books to Montgomery County, Maryland, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties in Virginia," Griggs said. "We e-mailed all publicly funded universities nationwide that have a GLBTQ center." The result: "Our offer to donate ex-gay books and brochures, we were rejected by all."

Griggs resorted to an appeal to the American Library Association, which monitors challenged and banned books and draws attention to book banning with an annual "Banned Books Week." Griggs was hoping that the ALA's Banned Book Week might make mention of the "ex-gay" titles, but there, too, she says, she was stymied. "We would have appreciated even a statement from the ALA's director of intellectual freedom, Debra Caldwell-Stone, that ex-gay books are included in their diversity policy - instead, she said that the policy 'speaks for itself,'" Griggs told Fox News.

Fox News reported that the ALA did not return calls after an initial exchange, and cited the ALA's own "Library Bill of Rights," which includes the statement that, "Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval."

The article quoted Hayley Gorenberg of GLBT equality group Lambda Legal, who compared the issue to schools refusing to teach that the earth is flat--even though that theory may still have its adherents who might claim that their views are being suppressed. "All of the leading medical, therapeutic, psychiatric and social work organizations have a fair unanimity here about claims relating to the so-called ex-gay movement or so-called reparative therapy where the central idea is that these groups would like to try to change people's sexual orientation or gender identity, and the consensus is that it's unnecessary and damaging and can be severely harmful to people," Gorenberg noted.

Griggs rejected that argument, noting that the cautions about "reparative" therapy were couched in non-definitive language. "They use terms like 'can' or 'may,' which is merely an opinion" and not scientific fact, noted Griggs, adding, "Most of these statements eminate from the gay divisions within those associations. These GLB sections have tried to get their respective associations to ban reparative therapy, but have been unsuccessful.... The most they can do is issue statements like these discouraging any kind of change therapy while promoting gay affirming therapy."

Griggs also denied that PFOX was looking to promote any sort of "cure" for gays, but rather simply wanted to ensure that a full range of opinions could be heard by those interested in hearing from all sides. Griggs also claimed that "ex-gays" warrant the same sort of tolerance that gays demand. "Therapy is not the issue--tolerance is." Warned Griggs, "Expect more lawsuits nationwide."

Griggs' group sued the city of Washington, D.C. last year for failing to extend specific non-discrimination protections to "ex-gays." As reported at EDGE on Oct. 15, 2008, the gorup brought suit against Washington, D.C.'s Office of Human Rights for not including "ex-gays" as a protected group under laws that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. A distinction was made between heterosexuals and "ex-gays" based on claims that "ex-gays" are targeted for harassment due to their claims of once having been--but no longer being--homosexual. Said Griggs at the time, "The ex-gay community is the most bullied and maligned group in America, yet they are not protected by sexual orientation non-discrimination laws."

In Washington, D.C., discrimination based on several categories is banned, including "sexual preference," "sexual orientation," "gender identity," and "gender expression," but "ex-gays" are not distinguished from heterosexuals by the law and are not included in the protected categories. The theory behind such laws is that GLBT people should not have their rights abrogated because of their sexuality; in other words, they should not be denied the same rights as heterosexuals.

Griggs mirrored this notion in asking, "Shouldn't ex-gays enjoy the same legal protections that gays enjoy?" Griggs claimed that "ex-gays" saw their rights violated based on their sexual history: "Former homosexuals and their friends have been fired from their jobs, repeatedly ridiculed, assaulted, and intimidated. This harassment is most often perpetrated by the same groups who demand protection under sexual orientation laws but work to deny ex-gays the same respect."

Griggs also referenced controversy that arose when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama featured gospel singer Donnie McClurken, who claims to have formerly been gay, at rallies. "On CNN Prime News, former Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Wayne Besen insisted that Obama should fire McClurkin just for being ex-gay." But, said Griggs, "Former homosexuals should have the right to be out, open and safe in society."

Besen, who heads Truth Wins Out and works to counter the claims of "ex-gay" groups, responded to news of the suit at his blog, in an item that called the PFOX suit "bizarre" and asserted that claims of discrimination against "ex-gays" were "invented" and "exaggerated."

Stated the text at Besen's site, "PFOX has never offered any evidence and has long invented or greatly exaggerated potential cases.

"PFOX is a political organization that sells the idea that people can 'pray away the gay,'" continued the text. "It was founded by lawyer Roy Cohn's ex-boyfriend, Anthony Falzarono, and bankrolled by the [anti-gay, Colorado Springs-based] Family Research Council."

Added the text, "It was later run by therapist Richard Cohen, who was banned for life by the American Counseling Association."

The text continued, "The current leader is Regina Griggs, who has an openly gay son."

One comment posted at Besen's site by a reader noted, "So PFOX is finally admitting that 'ex-gay' means something other than 'heterosexual'?"

Added the commentator, "I suppose I'd be happy about that, if they weren't still insisting that 'ex-gay' means something other than 'homosexual' too."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. 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.


  • BB, 2009-10-24 08:00:07

    Censorship by ANYBODY, and that includes GLBT advocates, is a sorry thing and indicative of weakness. If the people who believe one can switch one’s sexual orientation by power of mind are wrong, then let time prove them out rather than pretending if we just shut them up we have won the argument. Nazis did the same thing and we know how well THAT turned out.

  • , 2009-10-24 15:01:16

    They should no more have that ex-gay garbage than other cultish semi-political propaganda. And it is just that. PFOX doesn’t even allow supposed ex-gays to be involved with their lobby. And no, a library doesn’t have to stock the books of every small fringe political group, even if they yell loudly ... and especially if their only goal is hurting people (the higher ups pretty openly don’t even believe the smut they are peddling).

  • , 2009-10-24 15:01:54

    They should no more have that ex-gay garbage than other cultish semi-political propaganda. And it is just that. PFOX doesn’t even allow supposed ex-gays to be involved with their lobby. And no, a library doesn’t have to stock the books of every small fringe political group, even if they yell loudly ... and especially if their only goal is hurting people (the higher ups pretty openly don’t even believe the smut they are peddling).

  • , 2009-10-24 17:01:25

    It’s pretty simple. Get some ACTUAL proof the scientific community can agree upon that shows the therapy works. Everybody else has to do it in the scientific community, so Fox News can try to spin that any way they want but the reason it’s not in schools is because it lacks any basis in fact.

  • , 2009-10-27 21:17:19

    Perhaps the reason PFOX and the ex-gay authors have had difficulty getting their publications into libraries because they forgot to list them as ’fiction’ . . . or perhaps ’mythology.’ As a licensed professional counselor who has worked with many individuals struggling to come to come to terms with their sexuality or gender, it is mind-boggling to see otherwise intelligent people giving credence to these quacks. Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC

  • , 2009-10-29 10:23:30

    As a librarian, I have to bring up the important issue of selection policy... Every library has a selection policy, based on professional reviews of materials. If a book is being considered for addition to the library’s collection, it is always researched for credible, positive reviews by a variety of professional book reviewers (and I don’t mean the head of the publishing company or the author’s mother). Barring special circumstances, a book is simply not considered for addition to a library if no one can prove that it’s a good book. This is regardless of content. Assuming that librarians choose books based on their personal convictions is ridiculous; we base our selections not only on the communities we serve but also on the need to provide credible materials. I, personally, have found no professional reviews of the book, and the book’s website states that the book is "under constant revision." This isn’t a case of censorship; it’s a case of a political group grasping for publicity for its shoddy work.

  • , 2009-10-29 11:07:56

    Are books about reparative therapy and ex-gays backed by reputable publishers? Are they reviewed in professional journals and promoted by publishers sales reps that librarians rely on to find out about titles to add to their collections? Are the books available to buy through "jobbers" like Baker & Taylor where libraries and book stores get most of their stock? If the answer to these questions is NO then these books are not on a librarian’s radar. Librarians are also not in the business of evaluating every single donation delivered, imagine how time consuming this would be. If there is censorship of ex-gay titles, it is being done by reputable publishers and reviewing journals.

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