Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Taking On The Ex-Gay Educator Caucus At 2017 NEA RA by Sue Doherty, MA BAT, in Consultation With Deb McCarthy and Graziana Ramsden


Tucked amongst the nonprofit exhibits for various state affiliates and member caucuses at this year’s NEA RA (Representative Assembly) in Boston, the NEA Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus table stood out as seeming peculiarly out-of-place. Under the caucus banner on the wall behind their table, they had two questions prominently posted: “Do you know someone who struggles with unwanted same sex attraction?” and “Do you know someone who struggles with gender identity?” Because we live in a society that still discriminates against the LGBTQ community, certainly most LGBTQ individuals have struggled with these issues at some point, yet the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus uses these difficult and painful questions to promote the harmful and discredited idea that being LGBTQ is a “choice” that individuals can overcome and change through “reparative therapy,” more commonly known as conversion therapy .

Conversion therapy has been rejected as ineffective and harmful in the position statements of fifteen reputable education, medical, and mental health associations, and the Southern Poverty Law Center is working to expose the dangers of the practice and get it banned nationwide. The “research” literature that was distributed at the Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus table comes from the legitimate-sounding American College of Pediatricians (ACP), but this group is far from reputable or legitimate. In a May 2017 Psychology Today article profiling the ACP, Harvard Medical School child and adolescent psychiatrist Jack Turban outlines the three main viewpoints this group advances: 1) reparative therapy is good; 2) gay parents are bad; and 3) affirming transgender youth is bad. Turban also reports that the “ Southern Poverty Law Center has “ repeatedly labeled the ACP as an anti-LGBT hate group that promotes false claims and misleading scientific reports.”

When first time Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) NEA delegate and MTA board member Deborah McCarthy came upon this exhibit, she was outraged and immediately began taking action. Because Deb has a daughter who is both an NEA member and gay, her reaction was initially anger at the shaming nature of the Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus name and exhibit, but her anger soon turned to righteous indignation that free speech claims were being used as a cover for hate speech. And when she took on the Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus and their exhibit, Deb took a fierce and relentless stand against the hatred and discrimination directed at the LGBTQ community being put forth under the cover of free speech while hypocritically using language about tolerance, diversity, and anti-discrimination.

The first thing Deb did was to write an NBI demanding that the exhibit be removed. NBI is short for New Business Item, which any RA delegate may submit for consideration by the thousands of other state delegates in attendance. If the delegates approve an NBI in a democratic vote, it becomes mandated business for the NEA officers and staff to implement over the course of the coming year.
NBIs are given numbers based on when they are turned in; Deb’s was given number 86:

NEW BUSINESS ITEM 86
Be it moved that the NEA implement its own rules and regulations on “Becoming an Exhibitor” to NEA caucuses Ex-Gay Educator and immediately remove the exhibit entitled “NEA Ex-Gay Educators” from the exhibit hall on the grounds that this exhibit violates existing NEA exhibitor
standards. These standards state that exhibitors may not distribute materials that are offensive, distracting, or discriminatory.
Rationale/Background
NEA Expo Rules and Regulations: Management reserves the right to deny any and all applications. Applicants must adhere to policies on nondiscrimination and can be defined as obscene, distracting, and disruptive. This exhibit meets all the criteria for an outside exhibitor.

Deb first presented this NBI to our Massachusetts delegation in a morning state caucus meeting, asking that we support it and submit it as a state delegation on her behalf. Another one of our other first time delegates, Graziana Ramsden, spoke eloquently on behalf of voting in support of this NBI:

"Yesterday I was in the exhibit hall at the convention center and I happened onto an exhibit called Ex-Gay Educators Caucus, which I take to mean gay conversion therapy or some such homophobic and transphobic agenda. Now, I understand freedom of speech, and liberty of expression and religion. However, it seems to me that gay conversion therapy is discrimination, and it stands boldly against the principles of diversity and inclusion that this union, and our parent union stand for. We can shrug our shoulders and look away because we are in Massachusetts, and Massachusetts is a blue state and all those things we tell ourselves to not feel so disheartened about the status quo. However, we have a duty to our students to teach them about diversity and inclusion, and repeal discrimination. Having these bold dissidents amongst us at a national teachers’ union conference calling themselves educators while advocating for inhuman treatment to ‘chase the gay away’ is not doing our message of inclusion any favors. Thank you."

But despite the clear reasoning in Graziana’s statement, this NBI didn’t receive unanimous support from our liberal-minded Massachusetts delegation. One of our NEA director delegates stated that although she fully supported the spirit of the NBI, she believed that it would be ruled out of order because of free speech issues. When debate ended and the vote was called, however, a majority of the Massachusetts delegates did vote in favor of submitting it.

After Deb submitted NBI 86 during the RA later that day, the fight to keep it moving forward began to intensify. As predicted by our Massachusetts NEA director, Deb was called to several meetings where NEA directors or other staff members tried to convince her to withdraw the NBI, saying it would be ruled out of order. Yet whenever someone tried to talk Deb out of pursuing the NBI using workers’ rights to free speech or other rationales, she came back with even stronger countering arguments, often using NEA’s own official documents.

On the final day of RA, I was with another delegate from Massachusetts waiting to talk with an NEA director about a different NBI. We were right behind Deb in line, so we sat with her and listened in on the conversation. The director said again and again that he completely agreed with her that the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus shouldn’t be there, but that there was really nothing he or others could do about it. But Deb refused to take that for an answer and just go away. We saw all the paperwork and NEA documents she had pulled together, all her notes, and all her determination up close. As she was

leaving that meeting, she was also confirming a lunchtime appointment with Alice O’Brien, head of the NEA Office of the General Counsel.

Deb took the issue all the way to three separate meetings with Alice O’Brien. As Deb reports: “The first discussion centered on violations to the NEA exhibitors booth area being different for outside exhibitors and recognized NEA caucuses because of a federal law that protects a worker’s rights to free speech. The second conversation involved my NBI being ruled out of order and steps I would take to challenge the Chair ruling my NBI out of order, and the final conversation centered on my stance that Ex-Gay is not recognized as a protected group of citizens, that it was hate speech, and I intended to pursue avenues available for NEA members to file a lawsuit in regards to accepted hate speech in our work space.”

In addition to the work she was doing engaging with NEA counsel, staff, and directors around her NBI, Deb connected with the NEA’s LGBT and Science Educators’ caucuses. Both of these caucuses have been concerned for a number of years about the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus exhibit, and the Science Caucus was formed in 2014 specifically to push back against two other exhibits that promote teaching creationism. Toby Spencer, the Science Caucus chair, had also submitted an NBI this year that targeted the creationist exhibits:

NBI 154
The NEA will enforce its Sanding Rules 12.B.(d) as related to creationist exhibitors,specifically the Creation Truth Outreach and Creation Science Educators booths, which violate the offense clause and external vendor clause.
Rationale/Background
Creationism in public schools is illegal and unconstitutional. Evolution is the foundation of biology and such curricular attacks are truly offensive and in bad taste. Their message is unfit for an education exposition.

Ultimately, the discussions Deb had with Alice O’Brien, allies in other caucuses, and several progressive NEA directors resulted in a completely amended NBI 86 , which consolidated the original intent of NBIs 86 and 154. Deb and Toby presented the new version of NBI 86 on the last day of RA:

NBI 86 (consolidated version):
For the 2018 RA, NEA will thoroughly review and evaluate RA exhibitors’ materials for information that is offensive, obscene, or in bad taste. Based on the findings of the review the NEA will enforce its standing rules 12.B (b) and 12.B (d) as they relate to exhibitors found in violation of the aforementioned rules. Because of concerns brought by 2017 RA delegates, special scrutiny will be made to the following exhibitors:
  • ●  NEA Ex-Gay Educators
  • ●  Creation Truth Outreach
  • ●  Creation Science Educators

After Deb and Toby presented their consolidated NBI, there was very little floor debate. One delegate spoke against targeting the creationist exhibits, but no one spoke up for the ex-gay exhibit. When it came time to vote, the delegates overwhelmingly approved NBI 86. NEA president Lily Ekelson gave her word from the dais that she would personally make sure that this review takes place. This means that these exhibits will be scrutinized carefully in the coming year and will hopefully not be approved next year.

The successful adoption of NBI 86 at 2017’s NEA RA is a testament to what someone with passion and determination, driven by a sense of justice and love, can accomplish in concert with allies. People have been trying for years to get both of these exhibits removed, but free speech has always been brought up as a reason nothing could be done. However, as both Deb and others have shown, these groups were being allowed to exhibit despite the fact that they contradicted many of NEA’s own policies, resolutions, and core values.
This was Deb's first NEA RA, and some of our own MTA members advised her that taking this issue on was too difficult and should not be pursued because of her lack of experience writing NBIs and the issue of free speech. So good that Deb McCarthy and people such as her newest allies do not give up or listen to the naysayers!

Sue Doherty is a middle school library media teacher in the Needham Public Schools and NEA delegate.
Deb McCarthy is a fifth grade teacher in the Hull Public Schools, MA BAT, President of the local MTA Hull Association, Chair of MTA Government Relations Committee, MTA LGBTQ Committee member and NEA delegate.
Graziana Ramsden is Professor of Modern Languages at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams and NEA delegate. 

5 comments:

  1. I have had the misfortune to know Arthur Abba Goldberg, a convicted felon and a mastermind behind the "ex-Gay" movement. He is a con artist.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am curious why the anti-choice group was not included in this NBI. Advocating against women's rights seems like it should fit in perfectly with the spirit of this NBI.

    ReplyDelete
  3. THANK YOU! Thank you from the depths of my heart for your passion for inclusiveness in our union. I have been an active member of the NEA for 17 years and I have a gay son. I am very moved by this article and the actions of Deb McCarthy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Amazing work Debbie McCarthy! I have had the pleasure of working with and serving under Debbie in our local and as always, Debbie doesn't do what's easy, she does what is right!! A remarkable, dedicated, selfless individual!

    ReplyDelete
  5. All thanks to this great man called Dr Agbazara the great spell caster that bring back the joy in me by helping me to bring back my lover who break up with me Four months ago but now with me with the help of Dr Agbazara the great love spell caster. All thanks goes to him you can also contact him for help if you need him in times oof troubles via: ( agbazara@gmail.com ) you can also Whatsapp on this Number +2348104102662

    ReplyDelete