City Desk

Video Touting Homophobic Gay-to-Straight Therapy Shown in, Then Dropped From, Prince George’s County Classrooms

A still from "Acception"

If you're attracted to members of your own sex, you can get therapy to change that. It's an idea mainstream medical organizations have described as dangerous—and, it turns out,  it's also a message that's been taught to some middle schoolers in Prince George's County since last year.

Starting last fall, some seventh grade health classes in the Prince George's County Public Schools system were shown an anti-bullying video that promoted gay-to-straight therapy as an option for LGBTQ youth. When City Desk started asking question about the video this week, the school system pulled it from classrooms. Despite the best efforts of a prominent therapist in the homophobic ex-gay movement who is also a member of the school system's Health Council, students learning about bullying will no longer learn about the widely discredited form of counseling.

The 21-minute anti-bullying video, called "Acception," at first appears to promote the acceptance of gay children. In the video, four students are assigned a project on homophobic bullying, with the group splitting up to study the issues of bullying and the origins of homosexuality. Two of the students encounter a cavemen parable about the origins of bullying, but the teens researching same-sex attraction soon find themselves in a different kind of scientifically dicey territory. While the video initially explores gay teenagers being bullied and a young man coming out to his parents, it soon features a student talking about how his once-lesbian cousin used therapy to become attracted to men. Then, the students in the video "watch" an interview with a gay-to-straight therapist.

"If someone wants to live a gay life, I respect that, and if someone wants to change from gay to straight and choose a different path, I respect that too," says the character, played by an actress. The success of "reparative therapy" is touted elsewhere in the video: In a portion of the video you can watch on YouTube, a woman who once felt attracted to other women says that growing closer to her mother and female friends—a trope of sexual orientation-switching theory—helped her become attracted to men. Discussion questions provided to teachers using "Acception" feature scenarios in which sexual orientation is changed through therapy.

The efficacy of that kind of counseling is a fantasy, according to experts and contemporary research. In 2008, the Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and several other medical groups endorsed the position that homosexuality isn't a disorder, and thus, can't be "fixed" with therapy.

The man behind the "Acception" video is D.C.-area filmmaker Christopher J. Doyle. "We break through the barriers of what I believe is being politicized in the education system," says Doyle, a prominent figure in the controversial ex-gay movement. Doyle, who says he felt same-sex attraction until he was in his 20s, claims that the opposition to presenting reparative therapy as an option to gay high school students is based on a false, binary concept of sexuality.

Betsy Gallun worked as the supervisor for health education in Prince George's County Public Schools until she retired last year, and she thinks information about gay-to-straight therapy should be available to Prince George's County students. "I feel very badly that it's coming under scrutiny, to be honest with you," says Gallun.

Gallun was introduced to "Acception" by Richard A. Cohen, who is a member of the PGCPS Health Council, according to a membership list provided by the school district. He is also a prominent ex-gay therapist as well as Doyle's boss at the Bowie, MD.-based International Healing Foundation, which offers sexual orientation therapy. In order to be shown in classrooms as part of the health curriculum, "Acception" needed and received approval from the Health Council, a group of experts and community members.

Cohen, who was written a number of books including Coming Out Straight and Gay Children, Straight Parents: A Plan for Family Healing, was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association. Cohen didn't respond to a request for comment.

Six health classes have shown "Acception" since last fall, according to PGCPS spokesman Briant K. Coleman—and more were expected to use it this year, says Doyle. State education regulators also approved the video, according to Coleman. But on Wednesday, PGCPS pulled the video pending further review, only to terminate the program permanently later that day.

But Prince George's County Public Schools still seems confused about why the curriculum was controversial in the first place. "We pulled the video because there was too much focus on alternative lifestyles," Coleman writes in email.

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  • Novatronic

    PG County - Its like another planet.

  • Wilhelm Ogle

    It would appear that PG County Schools and government is OK with ignorance and bigotry. (Not to mention outright theft.)

    Perhaps the FBI headquarters should be moved there. It would make it easier for them to keep an eye on their client base.

  • http://www.mamaditto.com Linda Cebrian

    Hmmmm. This makes one wonder who the real bullies are.

  • name

    Until this year their were zero people with or capable of obtaining a college education on PGC school board. What else do you need to know?

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  • GCH

    A bunch of Right WINGNUT evildoers. Horse PUCKIES

  • Typical DC BS

    @GCH: Sorry to burst your bubble moron. PG County is OVERWHELMINGLY Democratic and left of center.

  • A-lex

    I don't understand this at all. In the last election P.G. voted predominately for President Obama and for legalizing marriage equality in Maryland. How did these morons make it onto our educational board? Well there are those Pro-life demonstrators I pass on Greenbelt Road every now and then. It looks like it's time to weed out some bad apples.

  • Kyle Markez

    I sincerely hope LGBT organizations and leaders hold them completely accountable for this damaging practice. Public schools selling kids on the false idea that their sexuality can be reversed, further confusing already vulnerable children, all due to anti gay (religious) bigotry is evil. I hope they find either a gay parent or gay child who was exposed to this video and a lawsuit comes forth soon. That's the only way these school districts will be taught a lesson that the promotion of homophobia in school setting is not going to be tolerated any longer.

  • Washingtonian

    Make an example out of this school board and officials for allowing this vile video to be shown, further stigmatizing what it means to be gay, and further fueling anti gay bullying. I hope Equality MD demands some answers from them and doesn't just let this slide.

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  • carlitos

    There are probably some professionals who believe in
    this stuff. They are of course poorly informed about the issue, but they seem to be blinded when searching for the truth.
    Those of us who really know the truth of the matter must
    continue to be both vigilant and assertive in bringing
    these people's ideas into disrepute. We need to have effective spokespersons for our mission to make people realize that gay is okay and is really not a choice like whether to choose an apple or an orange.
    --carlitos

  • noodlez

    YOU HOMOSEXUALS HAVE SOME FUCKING NERVE!
    YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!

    SOME OF THE COMMENTS MADE HERE WOULD QUALIFY AS HATE SPEECH TOWARD NORMAL FOLK IF ROLES WERE REVERSED AND JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T LIKE SOMETHING OR DEEM IT DAMAGING TO YOUR LITTLE CAUSE DOESN’T ACTUALLY MAKE IT SO!

    THEN YOU GOT IGNORANT COMMENTERS LIKE THIS KYLE JOKER SUBMITTING THAT BULLSHIGGADY WHICH IS AKIN TO CLEANSING HIS MIND LIKE AN ACAI BERRY COLON CLEANSE. WHO APPARENTLY DIDN’T READ THE ENTIRE DISINGENUOUS PIECE WILLY EARL POSTED FOR FOLK OF HIS ILK. THIS COLUMN IS SO SLANTED I HAVE VISIONS OF QUEER AYUCK DANCING IN PROTEST AT PGCPS HQ.

    ACCORDING TO THE ARTICLE IT’S AN ANTI-BULLYING VIDEO THAT INCLUDES INFO FOR FOLK, IF THEY CHOOSE, TO CHANGE THEIR LIFESTYLE FROM GAY TO STRAIGHT. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?? THE A.P.A AND PEDIATRICS OPINED THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT A DISORDER. AHHH TELL US SOMETHING WE DON’T KNOW!!! MOST SANE PEOPLE BELIEVE IT’S A CHOICE. THE TELLING SCIENCE IS WHY DON’T THEY ATTEMPT TO TAKE STRAIGHT PEOPLE AND TRY TO MAKE THEM HOMOSEXUAL TO GET A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THIS PHENOMENON?

    THE SOONER Y’ALL REALIZE THAT EVERYONE WHO DOESN’T WANT TO BOARD YOUR GOODSHIP LOLLYPOP IS ANTIGAY THE SOONER YOU WILL BE WIDELY ACCEPTED IN THE MAINSTREAM AND BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.

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  • http://WashingtonCityPaper Chad Smith

    To date, Prince George's County has refused to remove Richard A. Cohen from their School Health Council.

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