Maryland Middle Schoolers Encouraged to Seek Ex-Gay Therapy

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Under the guise of an anti-bullying campaign, seventh graders in six health classes have been subjected to a video promoting ex-gay therapy this school year, until media attention forced the Maryland school district to pull the harmful film.

The 21-minute film, Acception, portrays four students examining homophobic bullying for a school project. According to the Washington City Paper, which obtained a copy, the film shows a student suggesting ex-gay therapy and features an interview with a gay-to-straight therapist. California recently passed a law banning ex-gay therapy for minors, with State Sen. Ted Lieu, the bill’s sponsor, condemning it as “psychological child abuse.” The legislation is being challenged in court by the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a pseudoscience organization that promotes this “reparative” or “conversion” therapy,  represented by the Liberty Counsel, an antigay legal group.

In a clip from the film available online, a woman positively describes her process of becoming ex-gay:

The film was directed and produced by Christopher Doyle, director of the ex-gay group International Healing Foundation (IHF) and a self-identified ex-gay, who formed Acception Productions LLC in 2011. IHF and Acception Productions use the term “LGBTQIU,” where the “U” stands for “unwanted same-sex attraction,” pervasive language across the ex-gay movement. The non-profit’s website lists “Boys: no rough and tumble” and “Divorce” among its potential causes for same-sex attraction.

The film and its accompanying health education curriculum, which Doyle calls “IHF’s bullying preventing effort,” launched in March 2012 with a press release claiming that Acception “is expected to reach at least 25,000 students in its first year of implementation.” Elizabeth Gallun, Supervisor of Health Education in Prince George’s County at the time, was a featured speaker at the launch event. Gallun said that she heard of the film from Richard Cohen, who sits on the County Public Schools’ Health Council.

Cohen, a prominent ex-gay proponent and author of books such as Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality, founded IHF in 1990 and served as Director prior to Doyle. Cohen claims to be a psychotherapist, but was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002. Doyle and Cohen both worked for the ex-gay organization Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (P-FOX) as a board member and president respectively. P-FOX has been profiled in the 1998 PRA report Calculated Compassion, which detail the links between the ex-gay movement and the Christian Right.

In 2009, Rachel Maddow connected IHF’s work with propaganda used in Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill. Caleb Brundidge, a “Sexual Orientation Coach” and a Life Coach at IHF, joined Scott Lively at his infamous 2009 talk at an anti-gay conference. Not only influential in Africa, IHF launched a branch in Mexico in 2007 and offers ex-gay therapy services there. (PRA’s upcoming series on Latin America looks at the reach of the U.S. ex-gay movement.)

Doyle told the Washington Blade that he heard from the district that the film would be pulled “because of the controversy surrounding some of the messages.” County school officials, however, insisted that Acception was pulled because “there was too much focus on alternative lifestyles”–and anti-bullying wasn’t actually its focus. Doyle says that the film and curriculum has been used in over a dozen school districts across nine states. None of the other reputed school districts have been identified.

There are unanswered questions about where IHF received half-a-million dollars to promote its ex-gay agenda. According to the organization’s 2011 tax returns, when Cohen was still director and Doyle was vice-president, IHF’s annual revenue shot up from 2010’s $108,020 to $635,834, of which $540,000 came from an unspecified “Special School Project.” Acception is the only known new school program associated with IHF, though a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Public Schools told the City Paper that the school district had spent only $2,333 to show the film.

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