Ex-Gays File Complaint Against School Superintendent for Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Montgomery County School Superintendent Joshua Starr spewed hateful comments against former homosexuals
Rockville, Md. – Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) has filed a sexual orientation discrimination complaint with the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education against its School Superintendent Joshua Starr.
After PFOX distributed ex-gay flyers to high school students as part of the schools’ flyer distribution program for non-profit organizations, Superintendent Starr publicly denigrated PFOX and former homosexuals by calling the actions of PFOX “reprehensible and deplorable” and labeling the flyer’s sexual orientation content as “a really, really disgusting message.”
“PFOX’s flyers provided information on unwanted same-sex attractions, discouraged student name calling and labeling, and urged tolerance for former homosexuals,” said Regina Griggs of PFOX.
“Starr does not respect diversity and is creating an unsafe school environment. As School Superintendent, Starr’s actions make it impossible for Montgomery County public schools to provide an atmosphere where differences are understood and appreciated, or where everyone is treated fairly and with respect free of discrimination and abuse, as mandated by its Nondiscrimination Policy ACB.”
“The School Superintendent is a vital role model. When the School Superintendent promotes intolerance of former homosexuals and organizations that support them, students and teachers will follow his example and learn to also disrespect sexual minorities like the ex-gay community.”
“Superintendent Starr cannot be allowed to use his official position to display hate against any group of people because he disagrees with their sexual orientation. Starr’s flagrant violation of the Nondiscrimination Policy demonstrates that he is a prime candidate to receive ex-gay tolerance training and diversity education.”
“I am sad that Superintendent Starr has called me and other ex-gays names like “deplorable” and “disgusting,” said Grace Harley, a former lesbian who testified before the School Board. “What saddens me more is that the Board of Education has not reprimanded Superintendent Starr. If he had said the same things about gays, they would have fired him by now. But because he hates people like me, they support him.”
“I have suffered more discrimination and intolerance as an ex-gay than I ever did when I was gay. Please stop hating us. Follow your own Non-Discrimination Policy. If you stop hating former homosexuals, our students will not learn to hate either. Starr’s behavior proves that our schools need diversity training on tolerance for the ex-gay community.”
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) files this MCPS Form 270-8 complaint with the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Education against its School Superintendent Joshua Starr and charges him with discrimination in violation of Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) Nondiscrimination Policy ACB, including sexual orientation discrimination.
On February 1, 2012, PFOX flyers were distributed to some MCPS students. PFOX’s flyers provided information concerning unwanted same-sex attractions, discouraged name calling and labeling, and urged tolerance for former homosexuals. In response to the flyers and in front of a group of students, Superintendent Starr publicly denigrated PFOX and former homosexuals by calling the actions of PFOX “reprehensible and deplorable” and labeling the flyer’s sexual orientation content as “a really, really disgusting message.” See video of Starr teaching intolerance and hate to students at http://youtu.be/KQurGgAtc48
Clearly Superintendent Joshua Starr has violated the mandates of the Board’s Nondiscrimination Policy ACB. In what could have been a positive teaching moment to demonstrate respect and appreciation of differences, fair treatment for all persons, and a safe school environment free of discrimination and abuse, Starr instead chose to exhibit verbal abuse, disrespectful behavior, demonstrated prejudice, slurs, illegal discrimination, and hate against PFOX and the ex-gay sexual orientation, all of which are forbidden by the Nondiscrimination Policy ACB.
Section C of the MCPS Board of Education’s Nondiscrimination Policy ACB states that Montgomery County public schools are to provide an “atmosphere where differences are understood and appreciated, and where all persons are treated fairly and with respect in an environment free of discrimination and … abuse.”
The Nondiscrimination Policy ACB also prohibits “acts of hate,” including “verbal abuse and slurs.”
The Nondiscrimination Policy ACB further mandates that schools are to be free of incidents involving “disrespectful behavior, prejudicial action, hate” and illegal discrimination, in particular those based on sexual orientation.
Starr’s actions demonstrate that he does not respect diversity and is creating an unsafe school environment. As School Superintendent, Joshua Starr’s actions make it impossible for Montgomery County public schools to provide an atmosphere where differences are understood and appreciated, or where everyone is treated fairly and with respect free of discrimination and abuse, as mandated by the MCPS Nondiscrimination Policy ACB.
The School Superintendent is a vital role model for all of our students, staff, and teachers. When the School Superintendent promotes intolerance of former homosexuals and organizations that support them, students and teachers will follow his example and learn to also disrespect sexual minorities like the ex-gay community. Superintendent Starr cannot be allowed to use his official position to display hate against any group of people because he disagrees with their sexual orientation. Starr’s salary is paid by all county taxpayers and they should not be forced to subsidize intolerance. Therefore it is essential that the Board of Education grant the remedy requested below.
The Board’s Nondiscrimination Policy mandates staff training to ensure its implementation (Section E3). Starr’s flagrant violation of the Nondiscrimination Policy demonstrates that he is a prime candidate to receive ex-gay tolerance training and diversity education. In accordance with the Nondiscrimination Policy, PFOX therefore requests as a remedy that:
- PFOX teach an ex-gay tolerance training session to School Superintendent Starr and his staff;
- Ex-gay tolerance and anti-bullying brochures provided by PFOX be made freely available to students and staff in each high school’s counseling office; and
- Ex-gay books donated by PFOX be placed in each high school library to ensure diversity and inclusion as mandated by the Nondiscrimination Policy.
Last year PFOX met with Kevin Jennings, former Assistant Deputy Director of the U.S. Department of Education. Jennings affirmed the right of ex-gay organizations to have equal access in the nation’s public schools and agreed that former homosexuals should not be discriminated against during outreach efforts for students with unwanted same-sex attractions.
The National Educators Association (NEA) Ex-Gay Educators Caucus and the American College of Pediatricians also support ex-gay equal access to schools.
PFOX has also met with Joseph Wheeler, Attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Wheeler agreed with the District of Columbia’s Superior Court (2009) ruling that ex-gays are a legally protected class. PFOX had brought this lawsuit to ensure equality for the ex-gay community.
According to Public Schools and Sexual Orientation Consensus Guidelines developed by the First Amendment Center, school officials are urged to include the viewpoints of all participants, including ex-gays and their supporters, in order to develop policies that promote fairness for all. Actions by educators to exclude some views merely because they disagree with them constitute viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. Therefore, the ex-gay viewpoint in public schools is protected by the First Amendment and should be heard. These guidelines were endorsed by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), American Association of School Administrators, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
PFOX also attended the Federal Partners in Bullying Summit held by the Department of Education. As only 175 attendees around the country were invited, PFOX was among the leaders in the field of bullying prevention invited to convene with the federal government and other national leaders to help stop bullying.
PFOX has exhibited at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) national convention and the Connecticut Conference on Multicultural Education, among others.
Ironically, Peter Sprigg of PFOX received a letter of commendation from Superintendent Starr for serving six years on the Board of Education’s Family Life and Human Development Committee.
We ask the School Board to read a newspaper editorial written by a student at Walter Johnson High School who received PFOX’s ex-gay flyer. See editorial at http://pfox-exgays.blogspot.com/2012/02/students-more-tolerant-than-mcps.html She writes, “We cannot call ourselves tolerant while sealing off our schools from groups that we disagree with…we cannot make the right decisions unless we hear all sides of the story.” Let’s learn from our students.
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays
VIA FACSIMILE 301-279-3860
Members, Board of Education
c/o Shirley Brandman, President
Montgomery County Board of Education
850 Hungerford Drive
Rockville MD 20850
Indeed, Starr now emphasizes that “no matter what their orientation is,” including the ex-gay sexual orientation, he believes all children have a place in our school and that every school must be a welcoming environment.
While we are gratified to learn that Starr’s tolerance of sexual orientation extends to the ex-gay community and their children as well as ex-gay students, a careful reading of the transcript clearly shows that Starr did indeed label PFOX’s ex-gay message as “reprehensible and deplorable” and “disgusting.” e has not amHe Starr did not utter these remarks against gay flyers distributed in the schools, only towards our ex-gay flyers. The Board’s sexual orientation non-discrimination policy prohibits the Superintendent from doing exactly that -- choosing those sexual orientations he agrees with to the detriment of other sexual orientations. See Board of Education of Montgomery County Policy ACB, Section A. The Superintendent has violated Policy ACB, which mandates that public education be provided in an atmosphere “where differences are understood and appreciated.” See Board of Education of Montgomery County Policy ACB, Section C. Yet Starr asks the Board to disregard the purpose of its Nondiscrimination Policy and make believe that disparaging remarks against an unpopular sexual minority do not constitute hate or verbal abuse.
Starr argues that PFOX has no standing, yet PFOX filed its complaint under MCPS Form 270-8, Complaint from the Public, and thus has full standing to make a complaint. In addition, subsequent to Starr’s disparaging remarks, Starr and the Board heard testimonies from concerned citizens and ex-gays with children and grandchildren enrolled in Montgomery County Public Schools, outraged at the Superintendent’s discriminatory behavior. One witness pointed out that PFOX’s flyers included language that “PFOX supports tolerance for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.”
Starr contends that he can make personal viewpoint statements about PFOX and the ex-gay sexual orientation because his statements are of public concern and protected by the First Amendment. If we accept Starr’s reasoning, the Superintendent of Schools would also be able to make personal racist and sexist remarks while acting in his official capacity, and the School Board could do nothing about it. Starr attempts to cite two legal cases in his favor. Yet these cases have been distinguished by Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), where the Supreme Court held that statements made pursuant to one’s position as a public employee have no First Amendment protection. See Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006) (Statements made by public employees pursuant to their official duties are not protected by the First Amendment from employer discipline.) Starr made his statements during the course of his employment as MCPS Superintendent, while speaking to students at an MCPS high school in his official capacity as MCPS Superintendent. Accordingly, Starr’s statements are not legally protected as he claims.
The Board’s refusal to reprimand Starr will result in more ex-gay bashing and send the wrong message to MCPS students and staff that unpopular sexual minorities like former homosexuals are not entitled to protection or respect. We urge the Board to reprimand Starr and for Starr to meet with members of the ex-gay community to discuss the value of full diversity in MCPS schools, in accordance with the Board’s Non-Discrimination Policy, which commits the Board to “ensuring that [s]chool system staff work together and with … community members to ensure that each school and unit is free of illegal discrimination and acts of hate/violence.” See Board of Education Policy of Montgomery County Policy ACB, Section C(4). Among other venues, PFOX has exhibited at the New England Conference on Multicultural Education (NECME) and we work well with others on diversity issues.
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