(PFOX Sexual Engineer, Richard Cohen, ‘Healing’ Through Hugging)

National “ex-gay’ group appeals D.C. human rights office decision

Friday, October 24, 2008

Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, a national group known as PFOX, last week announced it was “suing” the D.C. Office of Human Rights to overturn a decision that ex-gays do not belong to a protected category under the city’ Human Rights Act.

An office spokesperson called the PFOX announcement inaccurate, though, and noted the group filed a petition, not a lawsuit, before the D.C. Superior Court to appeal the 2005 decision.

James Maloney, a PFOX attorney, called the petition “a lawsuit of sorts,” but acknowledged it was essentially a routine appeal of a decision that he said unfairly denied “ex-gays” protections under the Human Rights Act.

Maloney said the appeal is important because it could lead to a court order requiring the city to include “ex-gays” as a protected category under the Human Rights Act’ sexual orientation clause.

The clause lists gays, bisexuals and straight people as protected from discrimination under the act.

Regina Griggs, the executive director of PFOX, said that while “ex-gays” consider themselves heterosexual, they are often subjected to discrimination because of their status as “ex-gay” rather than as straight.

The PFOX appeal stems from a decision to dismiss a complaint that PFOX filed against the National Education Association. The complaint alleged that NEA discriminated against “ex-gays” as a class by denying a PFOX application to maintain an exhibit booth during a 2003 NEA convention.

NEA initially argued that the content of PFOX’ proposed exhibit was inconsistent with NEA’ mission because it promoted alternatives to homosexuality rather than acceptance of homosexuality.

NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin said last week that NEA has since agreed to allow a PFOX exhibit if a recently formed “ex-gay” caucus of NEA members organizes it.

In its 2005 decision, the D.C. Office of Human Rights says its determination that ex-gays are not covered under the human rights act as a class separate from heterosexuals is based on court rulings and legal precedent that define categories protected from discrimination as “immutable characteristics,” such as race and gender.

Whichever side loses the appeal before the Superior Court can appeal that decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, a gay rights group that disputes claims that gay people can be turned straight, called the PFOX legal appeal a “nonsensical” and “frivolous” attempt to draw publicity from the media.

“If so-called “ex-gays’ are now heterosexual, they are covered [by the Human Rights Act] under the basis of sexual orientation,” he said.