Thursday, July 24, 2008

PFOX Statement On LGBT Youth Suicide

Portland, OR (July 19, 2008) -

TransActive works closely with children, youth and their families as well as with organizations such as GLSEN and the GSA Network to provide education and resources that will help overcome the ignorance, prejudice, harassment and violence directed at children and youth who may be, to one degree or another, gender non-conforming. This discrimination and bullying affects all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

As part of our advocacy and education goals, we make every effort to respond to misinformation disseminated by individuals and organizations opposed to equality, respect and supportive care for gender non-conforming children and youth.

On Friday, July 18th, 2008, an ideological Judeo-Christian news distribution service, published the contents of a press release from the organization Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX). In their preface to the PFOX statement, referred to “a recent study” that PFOX claims links an increased risk of suicide with young people who identify themselves as gay or transgender before achieving full maturity. They go on to imply that Gay/Straight Alliances (GSA’s), which they refer to as ‘homosexual clubs”, bear some degree of responsibility for this increased risk of suicide by “encouraging” young people to self-identify as gay, bisexual or transgender.

The “recent study” was actually a June 1991 article that appeared in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, vol. 87, pp. 869-875. It was written by Gary Remafedi MD, James A. Farrow MD, and Robert W. Deisher MD.

Their sense of what qualifies as recent/breaking news, while disturbing from a journalistic perspective, may be an accurate indicator of where they are at in their thinking. About two decades behind the rest of us.

In the PFOX press release, PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs references a recent article in the Washington Post about a 15-year old gender non-conforming youth and how Gay/Straight Alliances help teens such as him deal with discrimination and bullying in high and middle school.

"What the article failed to describe," said Griggs, "is the danger of young sexually confused teens self-identifying as gays at an early age. Research has shown that the risk of suicide decreases by 20% each year that a person delays homosexual or bisexual self-labeling. Early self-identification is dangerous to kids.”

The research referred to by Griggs is that “recent study” discussed above. While we strongly disagree with Ms. Griggs characterization of LGBT youth as ‘sexually confused”, we will set that aside for the moment in order to address her misguided interpretation about what the 1991 study by Dr’s. Remafedi, Farrow and Deisher indicated. In fact, the position stated by PFOX appears to be simply a regurgitation of a statement from James Dobson’s group, Focus On The Family earlier this year.

The following letter was sent by Dr. Gary Remafedi to James Dobson and Focus On The Family in May, 2008. This information originally appeared in an article written by Andy Birkey for the Minnesota Monitor (

"I want to draw your attention to a gross misrepresentation of our research at the website of Focus on the Family," wrote Remafedi. A section of the site called "Myths and Facts" makes the assertion that sexual orientation is easily swayed in adolescence and that "homosexual activist groups" and a culture supportive of gay marriage can influence teens to become gay.

Dr. Remafedi says his research doesn't say anything to that effect. In fact, he wonders if James Dobson [or PFOX/] even read his research.

"Had the authors of 'Myths and Facts' actually read the article, they would have found no support for their contention that 'many children experience a period of sexual-identity confusion when they can be influenced in either direction," wrote Remafedi. "The word 'confusion' does not appear in our article; nor did we find that anyone can influence a young person's sexual identity."

“The purpose of our study was to explore patterns of sexual orientation in a representative sample of more than 34,000 Minnesota students in grades 7 to 12. We found that the percentage of students who reported being "unsure" about their orientation steadily declined with age from 25.9% in 12-year-old persons to 5% in 18 year-old students (p. 716). Youth who were "unsure" were more likely than others to entertain homosexual fantasies and attractions and less likely to have had heterosexual experiences (p. 720). These and other data suggested that uncertainty about sexual orientation "gradually gives way to heterosexual or homosexual identification with the passage of time and/or with increasing sexual experience" (p. 720).”

Gary Remafedi,
M.D., M.P.H.
Professor, Department of Pediatrics
University of

Remafedi also sent his letter to Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, a watchdog group that monitors instances where research is used erroneously against gays and lesbians.

"Focus on the Family has engaged in a disturbing pattern of misrepresenting the work of legitimate researchers to further their anti-gay agenda," Besen said in a press release.

In the PFOX statement Griggs said, “"Schools should not be encouraging teens to self-identify as gays, bisexuals or transgendered persons… sexual attractions are fluid and do not take on permanence until early adulthood.”

We suggest to Ms. Griggs that unless she is referring a group of gay or queer youth, gay is not plural, nor is bisexual. And the word is “transgender”… no one has ever been ‘transgendered” - No more than anyone has been “straighted” or “Democrated”. It is not something that is done to someone, thereafter rendering them ‘transgendered’.

It should be pointed out that sexual attraction (and gender expression) is indeed fluid throughout adolescence and adulthood. There is no permanence achieved at some arbitrary point in one’s life. To imply otherwise flies not only in the face of accurately reported research, it perpetuates destructive stereotypes that can damage one’s self-esteem.

Ms. Griggs says, “Rather than affirming teenagers as 'gay' through self-labeling, educators should affirm them as people worthy of respect… to wait until adulthood before making choices about their sexuality. If teens are encouraged to believe that they are permanently 'gay' before they have had a chance to reach adulthood, their life choices are severely restricted and can result in depression."

We agree wholeheartedly with her opinion that educators (and others) should affirm teenagers and pre-adolescents as “people worthy of respect”. We hope to see PFOX, Focus On The Family, the Traditional Values Coalition and others take Regina Griggs plea to heart.

Neither sexual orientation or gender identity are choices that children or youth make. They are who they are. If there is a choice to be made, it is ours in that we can choose to nurture, support and, as Ms. Griggs stated, respect who these children and youth are, rather than harass and oppress them into becoming what some might ‘wish’ them to be. If we as a culture and society do that, then we can remove many of the restrictions and causes of depression alluded to in the PFOX statement.

Griggs also notes that, "GSA clubs and their teacher sponsors make schools unsafe for anyone who has rejected the 'gay' label in their lives or who believes in ex-gay equal rights. Former homosexuals and their supporters should have the same kind of access to public schools that GSA clubs currently enjoy."

Couldn’t that sentence also accurately be stated as “Heterosexuals and their supporters should have the same kind of access to public schools that GSA clubs currently enjoy”? And if so stated, isn’t the question itself ridiculous? The last time we checked, heterosexual and gender conforming children and youth (and their supporters) pretty much have free reign within our public schools. There is no discrimination (overt or covert) against straight/gender conforming children and youth in school activities, including sports, arts, academics, chess clubs, journalism or other events.

It prompts the question; is there something about the ex-gay lifestyle that we are missing? Do ex-gays get together and reminisce about the days when they were still gay? Do they compare notes on how much less discriminated against and victimized by bullying and violence they are now compared to when they were still gay? Do they critique each other on their gender conformity, or lack thereof?

Perhaps they talk about how difficult it is to keep up the pretense of being something they’re not, simply because they’ve been shamed, oppressed and coerced into believing there is something wrong with them? Maybe they discuss how they continue to get teased, bullied and harassed because others who don't know of or fully appreciate their ex-gayness still perceive them as overly feminine if male or masculine if female? If so, then we most definitely want to reach out to them compassionately and respectfully. If they are interested getting out of the destructive ex-gay lifestyle, they can contact PFLAG at Gender non-conforming youth can find support and acceptance by contacting us at For trans adults, there is the PFLAG-Transgender Network.

PFOX reports that an organization called the National Education Association Ex-Gay Educators Caucus (NEAEGEC) recommends diversity and inclusion of the ex-gay viewpoint in public schools. There is absolutely no mention of such a caucus on the NEA’s official website. In doing a Google search for the organization, TransActive staff was successful in finding only 6 entries referencing such an organization.

1. (This article)

2. (A 2006 article on this evangelical news website accusing the National Education Association of pushing the “homosexual agenda”. They quote the former chair of the NEAEGEC, Jeralee Smith. (As far as we can tell, Ms. Smith is the former chair and only member of the NEAEGEC.

3. This is the website for the Concerned Women For America, an organization which states as one of their goals “to bring Biblical principals into all levels of public policy.” The NEAEGEC is referenced in a letter as having published a piece of so-called “balanced literature” entitled “Respect and The Facts”. In following the link at to download the literature, I was taken to Dr. Warren Throckmorton’s website. Dr. Throckmorton is a well-known advocate of therapy designed to change the sexual orientation or gender non-conforming identity of children and youth. If you click on the link to this literature at his website, you are taken to another site which promotes a variety of health and medical related products…none of which are “Respect and The Facts”.

4. This personal website describes itself as a “Christian & American Heritage Resource”. This link quotes former NEAEGEC chair and member Jeralee Smith as accusing the NEA of engaging in a “big misinformation campaign”.

5. The lone reference to the NEAEGEC here comes in a reader response to a March, 2008 article by Amanda Godfrey in the Sandusky (Ohio) Register.

6. This is the site for Exodus International, an organization that claims to be able to “lead” people out of the “gay lifestyle”.

We encourage all organizations dedicated to improving the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth to challenge these purveyors of misinformation, misrepresentation, obfuscation and outright lies with the facts wherever and whenever possible. Our children are depending on us to protect them from those who would perpetuate intolerance, fear, religious bigotry and misogyny. If we remain silent in the face of opposition, then the voices of our children and youth may never be heard.

Peace & Unity,

Jenn Burleton
Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy

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  1. I have in the past been an advocate of change therapies and maintain a belief that clients should be informed that some people do report modest change, often via religious mediation. Often this change is in perspective and not sexual attraction. I am not a reparative therapist and advocate sexual identity therapy which does not promote sexual orientation change. My views have changed to incorporate research demonstrating that such change is infrequent. I believe clients should be informed of these findings. I also do not support the way PFOX used the Remafedi research.

  2. I'm a bisexual guy, and no matter how much I try to subdue the sexual to other guys, it won't work. So I figure oh what the heck, I'll be gay, and the same thing happens, I can't subdue my attraction women. When I see both or either a man and/or a women slowly undress, I go freakin' crazy and horny. So I don't know what she's talking about when she can alter her sexuality to be more heterosexual.

  3. Dr. Throckmorton, thank you so much for the clarification of your views. It seems that the main ethical difference between so-called reparative therapists and legitimate professionals is what you describe: honest information about the likely outcomes of therapy. People can't make informed consent to any care - cancer surgery or mental health counseling - without knowing what studies have found. The problem with studies of psychotherapeutic techniques like reparative therapy is that nobody gets randomly assigned and few studies have even followed patients longitudinally. So, as you say, there are simply a few anecdotal reports of people experiencing any real change of perspective (and even more rarely of actual attraction) and many -- also anecdotal -- reports of people becoming suicidal or otherwise experiencing tremendous harm from these approaches. Thank you for your honesty.