Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) was started in the late 1990′ as an effort to mock the successful pro-gay organization, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). The goal was to counter PFLAG by providing the media with parents who claimed to love their children — while rejecting their sexual orientation. Ironically, the group has never been lead by a person who is actually the parent of an ex-gay individual.
From its inception, PFOX was a tool funded and used by the religious right to deny equality to GLBT Americans. In 1998, the group was jumpstarted with an $80,000 grant from the virulently anti-gay lobby group the Family Research Council. PFOX spokespeople regularly appeared at Family Research Council press conferences and in the media.
The organization’ founder is Anthony Falzarano, a messianic Christian with a colorful past. Prior to his “transformation” he claimed to be a former prostitute and the late Roy Cohn’ houseboy. As an ex-gay leader, Falzarano was known for his inflammatory statements. He once called murdered University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard a “predator to heterosexual men.” He also said on CBS News that, “AIDS comes directly from Satan. He uses homosexuals as pawns and then he kills them.”
Falzarano departed the organization after a bitter dispute with the religious right. In a media conference at the National Press Club, he claimed that conservative political groups who sponsored a high-profile 1998 ex-gay ad campaign, had no use for ex-gay organizations other than for public relations purposes.
“Many of us in the ex-gay movement feel we are being used,” said Falzarano. “The [anti-gay coalition] is not coming close to the needs of homosexuals. We did that very successful newspaper campaign last year…the Christian Coalition did not send us a dime. All we’re asking for is possibly some money to pay for postage stamps.”
The organization was reinvigorated when Regina Griggs, a mother with an openly gay son, took the helm. Griggs teamed up with Richard Cohen, a counselor who founded the International Healing Foundation, and soon Cohen became president of PFOX’ Board of Directors. Cohn is the author of “Coming Out Straight” and “Alfie’ Home,” a disturbing animated ex-gay book marketed to children.
Before joining PFOX, Cohen was a prominent member of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Movement, where he met his wife. Prior to this, Cohen was a member of a cult, The Wesleyan Christian Community Church, which allegedly practiced nude “therapy” and had adult breast-feeding sessions known as “skin time.”
In his practice as a counselor, Cohen engaged in “touch therapy,” where a male client sits on his lap, while Cohen caresses him. He also tried to induce flashbacks, so a client can supposedly remember how he became gay. His method is having the client bang a tennis racket against a pillow while screaming his parents’ names. Cohen was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002. As a result of his expulsion, combined with several embarrassing television appearances, Cohen stepped down as PFOX president in 2007. However, he still plays a significant role behind the scenes for PFOX and they offer him as a public speaker.
In recent years, PFOX has turned its efforts to getting its materials or speakers into public schools. Backed by right wing legal groups, PFOX has taken legal action against school systems in Maryland and Virginia. This strategy has had a degree of success, as PFOX was able to get its flyers distributed in Montgomery County Maryland schools and Arlington County Virginia schools. No school board or court has yet to explain how referring students to counselors, such as Cohen, is healthy or in their best interest of children.
Former PFOX President Richard Cohen on The Daily Show