Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), headquartered in Fort Belvoir, VA, is a national nonprofit organization ostensibly advocating for the “ex-gay” community. The group was founded in 1998 as an effort to mock the successful pro-gay organization, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). PFOX tries to portray the “ex-gay” community as large group of unfairly maligned Americans, claiming that “each year thousands of men and women with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity.” Much like the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and the now defunct Exodus International, however, PFOX does not keep statistics and has failed to back up this claim through any substantiated quantifications.
The organization was jumpstarted in 1998 by an $80 thousand grant from the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization which also, upon the closing of Exodus International in 2013, created the “ex-gay” groups Voice of the Voiceless (VoV) and Equality and Justice for All. PFOX is listed as a partner in PATH, or Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality, a “non-profit coalition of organizations that help people with unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA) realize their personal goals for change.”
PFOX was founded by the late Anthony Falzarano, who claimed to have been a prostitute and the late Roy Cohn’s houseboy before his “transformation.” Falzarano was notoriously anti-LGBT, and was once quoted on CBS News saying, “AIDS comes directly from Satan. He uses homosexuals as pawns and then he kills them.” After Falzarano left PFOX over claims that the “ex-gay” movement was being used by the religious right for public relation purposes, Regina Griggs and Richard Cohen took over, with Griggs as the Executive Director and Cohen as the President of the Board of Directors. As of 2018, PFOX relies mainly on an unpaid group of staff and volunteers and has an annual budget of less than $25,000.
PFOX uses the idea that “sexual orientation and gender identity are largely fluid” to promote the idea that people can “leave homosexuality”, making comparisons between homosexuality and substance addiction. PFOX attempts to maintain a benign façade of advocacy, claiming they believe “those with unwanted same-sex attractions deserve the right to self-determination and happiness based on their own needs,” and call the rejection of the “ex-gays” by gay activist organizations “heterophobia”. They also, according to their brochure on “Gender Identity Confusion,” raise funds for reversal surgeries and breast explants for “former” transgender people.
PFOX’s message is confusing. At times it seems as if they believe they are an anti-defamation group, promulgating the unfair treatment of “ex-gays” and detailing the struggles of “ex-gays”. They compare ex-gays to recovering alcoholics and to “reformed porn addicts”, and state that “like other addictions, the process of overcoming a sometimes lifelong struggle is unique to each person.”
At other times PFOX seems to be a support group for people who know gay or ex-gay people and find homosexuality morally reprehensible. And yet at other times they seem to be a resource for those seeking help trying to change their sexuality. It makes sense that their ostensive message is muddled, though, when one considers the actual activity of the group.
PFOX also serves as a resource for highly-dangerous practice of so-called “conversion therapy.” They often refer people to discredited therapists. Most famously, Richard Cohen’s methods became somewhat infamous after several interviews in the national media. Cohen, who in 2002 was expelled from the American Counseling Association (ACA) for unethical practices, made embarrassing appearances on The Daily Show and CNN, among other new outlets, where he aired his unusual therapy techniques. These included beating a pillow with a tennis racquet while professing anger at your parents, and the decidedly homoerotic “holding”/”touching” technique, during which Cohen took male clients on his lap, held them, and repeated affirming words to them to recreate Father-son bonds. In 2007, Cohen was “let go” from PFOX, but was brought back into the fold behind the scenes as early as 2009. PFOX continues to offer his services at public speaking events.
PFOX also turned to getting materials and speakers into public schools. Assisted by Right-Wing legal groups such as Liberty Counsel, they filed lawsuits against both the Montgomery County school district (Maryland), and Arlington (Virginia) public schools so they could distribute their fliers to students.
PFOX’s fliers tell students that being gay is a choice and that people can change their sexual orientation. One letter they circulate, meant for district superintendents and penned by the mostly fake group American College of Pediatricians, says, “most adolescents who initially experience same-sex attractions, or are sexually confused, no longer experience such attractions by age 25” and that the longer students “delay self-labeling”, the lower risk they have for abuse, anxiety, and depression.
Although the group claims to “seek tolerance for all”, their literature often warns against gay people as agents of indoctrination, and continually promotes the pseudo-science of conversion therapy, which the psychological community has vehemently warned against as dangerous and inneffective. Moreover, the organization itself is associated with numerous virulent anti-gay crusaders. Current President Greg Quinlan, an “ex-gay”, was quoted at an AFTAH conference in 2010 saying, “I wasn’t your flaming faggot, you know…You know, the one whose wrists are so limp that when the wind blows they slap themselves in the face.” Board member Matt Barber has often called homosexuality a “sexual perversion” and has been quoted saying, “It boils down to this: there is nothing ‘conservative’ about one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it ‘love’.” Board member Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at Family Research Council (FRC), was a key player in the Southern Poverty Law Center naming FRC as a hate group in 2010, and has said, in reference to uniting gay partners during the immigration process, “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than import them.”
Richard Cohen’s book, Coming Out Straight, was also used to promote the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, after Cohen donated several copies to organizations promoting the bill. One of the major backers of the bill, Stephen Langa, got much of his information about homosexuality from Cohen’s book.
Most noticeably lacking from PFOX’s leadership and board are any actual “ex-gays.” The 10-member board has never included more than two “ex-gays”, with the majority of them identifying as “everstraights”. Moreover, parents of openly “ex-gay” children seem to be hard to come by. The closest the group comes to fulfilling its name is through Executive Director Griggs, who speaks openly about her loving, but disapproving relationship with her openly gay son. The events held by PFOX and other ex-gay organizations never seem to turn up many “ex-gays” either, such as the widely-publicized “Ex-Gay Pride Month” in 2013, which was canceled after no “ex-gays” turned up to buy tickets. Cancellations of other events have led many to believe that PFOX and other “ex-gay” organizations may not actually have any followers.
Although PFOX has become less active, they more recently turned their attention to transgender people, even arguing that part of the “problem” is that parenting has become “a lost lifestyle.” A program is Delaware that allows “gender confused children to be given pro transgender counseling along with puberty stalling hormones” has caused PFOX to argue that parents are trusting schools to guide their children and are instead becoming “badly surprised” by the school’s decisions. PFOX claims that the solution to this “problem” is more responsible parents who are not afraid to tell children “the truth—that they are created by a loving God who designed them as either a boy or girl in the womb with tremendous, unique worth.”