PFOX loses appeal of NEA discrimination case

In a confusing press release this morning, the Parents & Friends of Ex-gays (PFOX) claimed victory in a discrimination appeal to the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. However, in fact, their claim was denied. The National Education Association did not discriminate against them in 2002 when they denied PFOX exhibit space at the NEA national convention.

Here is the PFOX release:

Court Rules that ‘Sexual Orientation’ Laws Include Former Homosexuals

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 /Christian Newswire/ — In a precedent setting case, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia has ruled that former homosexuals are a protected class that must be recognized under sexual orientation non- discrimination laws. The Court held that, under the D.C. Human Rights Act, sexual orientation does not require immutable characteristics.

“We are gratified that the ex-gay community in Washington D.C. now has the same civil rights that gays enjoy,” said Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), which had filed the lawsuit against the District of Columbia government for failing to protect former homosexuals in the Nation’s Capital.

In a discrimination complaint filed by PFOX against the National Education Association (NEA) for refusing to provide public accommodations to ex- gays, the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) had agreed with the NEA that sexual orientation protection did not extend to former homosexuals. “By failing to protect former homosexuals, the sexual orientation laws gave more rights to homosexuals than heterosexuals who were once gay,” said Griggs. “So PFOX asked the Court to reverse OHR’s decision, which it did. The Court held that ex-gays are a protected class under ‘sexual orientation.'”

“All sexual orientation laws and programs nationwide should now provide true diversity and equality by including former homosexuals,” said Greg Quinlan, a director of PFOX. “I have experienced more personal assaults as a former homosexual than I ever did as a gay man.”

“PFOX calls on the NEA to add ex-gays to its sexual orientation resolutions which favor gays, bisexuals, and transgenders while denying equality to former homosexuals,” said Griggs. “The NEA must also stop its bias against the NEA Ex-Gay Educators Caucus by appointing an ex-gay caucus member to the NEA Sexual Orientation Committee. This committee is staffed with members of the NEA’s gay and transgender caucus, although the ex-gay caucus has asked for inclusion.”

The NEA successfully argued before the Court that it was not guilty of sexual orientation discrimination because its gay caucus would have protested the presence of PFOX’s ex-gay exhibit at the NEA’s annual conference. “Gay activists demand equality while denying it to others,” said Griggs.

This statement of Griggs is accurate but confuses the matter: “So PFOX asked the Court to reverse OHR’s decision, which it did. The Court held that ex-gays are a protected class under ‘sexual orientation.'”

On that point, the court said

Therefore, the Court reverses the OHR’s ruling that exgays are not protected from discrimination under the HRA because it directly contravenes the plain language and intent of the statute.

However, the court found that the NEA did not discriminate against PFOX. The way the press release reads, it sounds like a victory for PFOX against the NEA. Not so.

In fact, the DC court said that the DC Office of Human Rights did err by saying a protected class must demonstrate an immutable characteristic. Originally, the NEA did not want to give PFOX space because they felt their message was offensive to gays. PFOX claimed sexual orientation discrimination and appealed to the DC Office of Human Rights. The OHR said no discrimination occured because ex-gayness was not immutable (by definition I suppose). However, as Judge Ross pointed out the DC Human Rights Amendment protects many practices and preferences which are mutable.

the HRA [Human Rights Amendment] clearly does not limit itself only to immutable characteristics. The premise of the HRA is simple: to end all discrimination based on anything other than individual merit. Numerous protected classes listed in the HRA include mutable traits. Furthermore, the definition of sexual orientation defines an individual’s sexuality as a “preference” or “practice.”

The conclusion of the decision provides the real scoop. In fact, the main event was a denial of the discrimination claim.

PFOX asks the Court to reverse OHR’s final decision finding no probable cause that NEA discriminated against PFOX on the basis of sexual orientation when it denied public accommodation services to PFOX by refusing to provide PFOX with exhibit space at EXPO 2002. As a matter of law, OHR erred in determining that ex-gays are not a protected class under the HRA. Regardless of whether or not OHR erred in its classification of ex-gays, it correctly found that PFOX’s exhibit booth application was rejected for non-discriminatory reasons. Furthermore, while EXPO 2002 was held in Texas, OHR did have jurisdiction over the charge because the rejection of PFOX’s application occurred in D.C., where NEA was headquartered. Therefore, Petitioner’s request to reverse the OHR’s decision, the requested relief, is DENIED. An order denying PFOX’s request will be concurrently issued with this Memorandum Opinion.

The approach of PFOX is interesting. They want ex-gays to be a protected class in the same way gays are a protected class. However, many social conservatives might quarrel that gays are not (or should not be) a protected class. Has PFOX conceded this point?

At one time in the past, I defended PFOX in their fight to exhibit at the NEA convention. I regret that now. Not because I do not believe in free speech or the right to speak about identity change. I do. However, I know PFOX as an organization better now than I did then. I am not interested in supporting misleading messages such as today’s press release.

I was then and am now interested in defending a right to live in line with one’s values and beliefs. At heart, my interest in the ex-gay concept has been much more about congruence with values than about change in orientation, evolving since 2005. That is what I liked about some of the groups I supported at that time. At least I thought that is what they were about. In 2003, I saw the NEA as trying to stifle the message that people who did not want to affirm same-sex attraction were inferior in their life paths. It is the right of the NEA to do so. It is the right of PFOX and other groups to protest that decision but the government cannot compel the NEA to host a message they believe to be at odds with their mission and message. The problem with PFOX is not so much that they advocate for people who want to live in contrast with their homosexuality but the way they promote that idea. The NEA looking at those facts continues to defend their right to keep that approach away from delegates.

As the result of the protests back in 2003, the ex-gay educator’s caucus was created among NEA members. The NEA allowed this because it came from within the organization. I believe they met again this year and while I am not directly involved with the group, I am told that they promoted the congruence approach and not the change model at their booth.