It was the oddest event in my fifteen-year activism career.
I had ventured to Orlando, Florida last summer to attend the National Education Association’s annual meeting. Crashing the conference was the so-called “Ex-Gay Educators Caucus,” a sham organization run primarily by anti-gay lobbyists, who are attempting to get the viewpoints of “former homosexuals” into public schools. To counter their presence, I staged a press conference outside the huge convention center.
Following the media event, I unassumingly straggled into the gargantuan showroom where there were booths as far as the eye could see, representing numerous causes and products. Eventually, I spotted the ex-gay booth, staffed by a man who ran a Focus on the Family offshoot, ex-lesbian Janet Boynes and a woman who claimed to represent Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX). I slowly walked up to the booth and began peering at the group’s literature.
Over the years, I have visited anti-gay booths or conferences dozens of times. In almost every case, we engaged in light banter, shook hands and politely agreed to disagree. They regularly come to our events and we, in turn, visit theirs — and there is an unspoken rule that the opposition will be treated courteously, if only because you don’t want to be harassed when in “enemy territory.”
This time it was different.
I asked one of the volunteers if any of the people in the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus were actually ex-gay educators. As far as I could tell, the contingent consisted of only one teacher’s assistant with the rest being right wing lobbyists with a political agenda. One older woman, who identified herself as the PFOX representative, became belligerent and accused me of starting trouble. Sensing I was not welcome, I turned around to exit, but was confronted by “ex-gay” Ohio lobbyist Greg Quinlan, who bumped my chest and got in my face. I sternly warned him to back off and let me leave in peace.
I turned to walk away, but was unexpectedly met by the police. Both Quinlan and the PFOX representative turned the situation around and began whining that they were victims and that I had tried to pick a fight. I was in complete shock, in that I had been totally set up. Fortunately, the cops let me go and that was, for the most part, the end of the situation.
Having lived through this surreal experience, it came as no surprise when PFOX recently outright faked a hate crime at the Arlington County Fair in Virginia. The unthinkable started on Aug. 28, after PFOX sent out a press release with the headline, “Gays Assault Ex-Gays At County Fair.” According to the release:
“As happens every year, gay activists disrupted our booth activities. They screamed obscenities, threw our materials from the exhibit table to the ground, insisted we recognize their same-sex ‘spouses,’ demanded that PFOX leave, and hit a PFOX volunteer because he is ex-gay.”
The website Ex-Gay Watch investigated the claims and found that a slight disagreement occurred between a woman and a male PFOX representative (much like what happened to me in Orlando). However, Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts contacted Jackie Abrams, Vice Chair of the Arlington County Fair. Abrams said that no physical altercation occurred, police were never called and no one was ejected from the fairgrounds, as PFOX had claimed.**
“I was in radio contact with the other board members during the Fair, and definitely would have known if the police had been summoned. It did not happen,” Abrams said.
Jay Fisette, a member of the Arlington County Board, backed this version of events.
“The alleged incident is a fiction,” said Fissette. “It makes for a good story, and possibly helps some with fundraising, but remains untrue. Both the Arlington County Police and the County Fair Board state they have no awareness or record of such an incident. Having spent quite a bit of time at the County Fair myself, I’m not sure the PFOX booth received much attention at all over that weekend.”
Indeed, PFOX used the bogus story to solicit funds telling members that, “…our brochures and flyers cost money to print. We also have to pay for exhibit fees and travel. If you would like to help with costs, please make a tax deductible donation.”
Predictably, The Big Lie was repeated by Focus on the Family. Unless PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs comes up with an explanation to justify what appears to be a sickening act of deceit, she ought to resign in disgrace. While her reprehensible organization never had much credibility to begin with, its remaining thread of respectability vanished the day PFOX cried wolf over a fabricated hate crime.
** Postscript: The police belatedly said a man from the PFOX booth did make a complaint. However, no report was filed, no arrests were made and no witnesses substantiated the incident. Meanwhile, Greg Quinlan of PFOX threatened to file a false complaint with the police a couple weeks later at a fair, after he was approached by Nick Benton, the award winning publisher of the Falls-Church News Press.