The thought of a school banning any conversation about LGBT diversity is disconcerting, but teaching untruths about sexual identities is even worse. That’s exactly what has been taking place in seventh-grade classrooms in Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) system, just outside Washington, DC. Health classes have been showing a video called “Acception” that promotes harmful ex-gay therapy under the guise of an anti-bullying message:
The 21-minute anti-bullying video, called “Acception,” at first appears to promote the acceptance of gay children. In the video, four students are assigned a project on homophobic bullying, with the group splitting up to study the issues of bullying and the origins of homosexuality. Two of the students encounter a cavemen parable about the origins of bullying, but the teens researching same-sex attraction soon find themselves in a different kind of scientifically dicey territory. While the video initially explores gay teenagers being bullied and a young man coming out to his parents, it soon features a student talking about how his once-lesbian cousin used therapy to become attracted to men. Then, the students in the video “watch” an interview with a gay-to-straight therapist.
In the following clip from the film, a woman talks about how depressed she was when she was coming to terms with her same-sex orientation because she was too afraid to tell anybody. When she finally admitted to her family, they “helped” her, essentially by forcing her to not be gay if she wanted to be accepted by them. Then magically, her same-sex feelings went away:
Disturbingly, nobody in the school district seems to understand what’s problematic with this message. In fact, the infamous ex-gay therapist Richard Cohen, who was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002, sits on the PGCPS Health Council for some inexplicable reason. The district’s recently retired supervisor for health education, Betsy Gallun, thinks students deserve to learn about ex-gay therapy and she “feels very badly that it’s coming under scrutiny.” A district spokesman explained that the district has now pulled the video, but only “because there was too much focus on alternative lifestyles.”
Ex-gay therapy has been roundly condemned by all major medical organizations as being at best ineffective and at worst quite harmful. Encouraging young people to reject their own identities is tantamount to shaming them for being who they are. That proponents of this quackery are making decisions in a school district is inexcusable. Talking openly about LGBT issues has been found to make schools safer for LGBT youth, but educators have to actually be informed about what is valid support for sexual diversity and what is blatant anti-gay propaganda.