'Ex-Gays' May Have a Voice in the NEA, But Will Anyone Listen?

By Sarah Junk | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The presence of an "Ex-Gay Educators Caucus" at the National Education Association's convention doesn't mean that the NEA will be receptive to their views.

In February, the NEA recognized the caucus, providing former homosexual educators the right to lobby the teachers' union. Representatives of the caucus have an exhibit at the NEA's annual convention, which runs through July 7 in Washington, D.C.

"We want everyone who knows that gays exist to know that ex-gays exist," said Jeralee Smith, chairwoman of the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus. "There should not be just one side put forth with public dollars."

"It's harder to be an ex-gay than to be gay," said Chad Thompson, president of Inqueery, an organization dedicated to addressing the perspective of former homosexuals in high schools and colleges.

For the past two years, former homosexuals have asked the NEA to add "ex-gays" to any discussion of sexual orientation already included in resolutions and policies and to promote non-discrimination policies that support "ex-gays."

However, the NEA's representative assembly refused to consider the matter, declaring it too offensive for discussion.

This year, the Ex-Gay Caucus will present a statement to the representative assembly. "We're asking NEA to disengage from all organizations that contribute to a sexual environment," said Smith.

Former homosexuals describe the NEA itself as unreceptive to the "ex-gay" perspective.

"The NEA has historically not listened to this group," said Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology and exhibitor at the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus booth.

The teachers' union has endorsed a booklet about sexual orientation that is critical of attempts to modify or eliminate homosexual desires by "conservative organizations."

"The promotion of 'reparative therapy' and 'transformational ministry' is likely to exacerbate the risk of harassment, harm and fear," the booklet reads.

The NEA's booklet also suggests that "school officials should be deeply concerned about the validity and bias of materials or presentations that promote a change to a person's sexual orientation as a 'cure' or suggest that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is unhealthy."

In the past, the NEA has denied exhibit space to another "ex-gay" group.

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) has a pending complaint with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights after being denied exhibit space at the 2002 and 2003 NEA conventions. PFOX did not apply for space at this year's convention.

Despite the stance of the NEA itself, members of the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus described most teachers approaching the exhibit as curious and interested.

Crystal James, an elementary school teacher from California, approached the booth on Friday because she wanted to "see what this is all about."

Representatives from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus described "ex-gays" as advocates of electroshock therapy to the genitals as a way to change same-sex attractions.

But former homosexuals said genital-shock therapy is a treatment that disappeared decades ago, along with lobotomies, but is still being referenced by homosexuals to discredit the "ex-gay" perspective.

"We believe people need to be who they are and to change who you are is to destroy yourself as a person," said Thomas Carroll, a member of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.

Carroll likened the "ex-gay" perspective to creationism and said it is "ridiculous" to discuss "ex-gay" issues as part of classroom discussions about sexual orientation.

Cathy Figel, co-chairwoman of the GLBT caucus, even criticized the term "ex-gay."

"You're putting a negative in front of the word gay," said Figel. "You have a term that is negative-me....Would I create an ex-black caucus for people who bleach their skin?"

Berk said that the goal of "ex-gays" is not to convert people who are content with their homosexuality.

"If you're happy being gay, that's fine," said Elaine Berk, co-director of JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality) and an exhibitor at the ex-gay caucus booth.

"We deal with people who are unhappy being gay," said Berk.

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