In a legal order released last week in response to a sexual orientation discrimination complaint, the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education announced that it will not take any action against its school superintendent, Joshua Starr, for remarks he made against a local gay organization. Starr had labeled the organization’s pro-gay flyers as a “really, really disgusting message” and called the group’s actions “reprehensible and deplorable.” Even though Starr publicly made these remarks at a student town hall meeting in his official capacity as school superintendent, the School Board ruled that his anti-gay comments were only personal remarks and therefore protected under the First Amendment.

What’s wrong with the above paragraph? Do you believe it?

Replace the word “gay” with “ex-gay” and then it becomes more believable, and is actually true.

The Montgomery County public school system (MCPS) is the largest public school system in Maryland, and the 17th largest in the United States.  As part of the schools’ flyer distribution program for non-profit organizations, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) distributed ex-gay flyers to the high school students.  PFOX’s flyers provided information on unwanted same-sex attractions, discouraged student name calling and labeling, and urged tolerance for former homosexuals.

Yet Superintendent Starr publicly denigrated PFOX and former homosexuals by calling the actions of PFOX “reprehensible and deplorable” and labeling the flyer’s ex-gay content as “a really…disgusting message.”

If Starr had made these same comments against the gay community when they distributed their own flyers, he would have been fired.  Other educators have been removed for less than this, and they were not acting on the taxpayer’s tab like Starr.

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But because Starr attacked an unpopular minority group like the ex-gay community, the School Board has denied PFOX’s sexual orientation discrimination complaint by characterizing Starr’s hateful remarks as mere personal comments protected under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech, even if those remarks violate the school board’s sexual orientation nondiscrimination regulations.

In its ruling, the School Board’s president, Shirley Brandman, went so far as to issue a concurring opinion holding that Starr’s bigoted remarks against former homosexuals did not violate the schools’ sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy because the comments were not directed against any particular individual. This means that if Starr or any other MCPS employee makes a presentation about student health and also mentions that homosexuals are dangerous because they spread AIDS, such remarks are protected so there’s nothing the School Board can do about it.

Indeed, when explaining the School Board’s racial nondiscrimination policy, Starr could disparage various racial and ethnic groups as long as he doesn’t comment about a particular individual by name. 

The good news is that Christians, heterosexuals, right wing conservatives, bigots like Starr, and any other employees of the Montgomery County public school system can now speak freely against homosexual behavior in their official MCPS capacity because their remarks are protected by the First Amendment, according to the School Board. Remember, as long as those bigoted remarks are not directed to any one individual, they do not violate the schools’ sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy.

So teachers and counselors, feel free to tell your students that homosexuals are dangerous because they spread AIDS – just don’t mention any specific names. You have the School Board’s full backing.

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) provides outreach, education, and public awareness in support of families and the ex-gay community.

Members of the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Education:
Shirley Brandman, Philip Kauffman, Christopher Barclay, Laura Berthiaume, Judith Docca, Michael Durso, John Mannes, and Patricia B. O’Neill.

Read PFOX’s sexual orientation discrimination complaint here.

Read the Board of Education’s ruling here.