The October 2000 Inaugural Speech of

Dr. Arnold Drake,
PFLAG National President

On October 28, 2000, PFLAG convened for its National Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon, and inaugurated Dr. Arnold Drake as its new National President. This meeting came after over a year of intensive email letter-writing on a near-daily basis from Queer by Choice activists Gayle Madwin and Frank Aqueno to PFLAG National staff members and PFLAG chapter leaders throughout the United States regarding PFLAG's anti-choice policies on both the national and local level. That day marked the first sign of any significant progress for us, as PFLAG's Policy Statements Task Force finally repealed their "not a choice" policy of eleven years standing. In addition, the incoming PFLAG National President devoted a large part of his inaugural speech that day to exploring the issue of what it means for PFLAG to provide support to people who consider our queerness a positive choice. Although he stands in obvious disagreement with us on some points, his speech is noteworthy for its honesty and forthrightness about his own personal evolving attitudes toward the idea of choosing to be queer.

Excerpt from Dr. Arnold Drake's Speech

Webster defines education as "The process of training and developing the knowledge, skill, mind or character (of a person)." So when we in PFLAG attempt to educate ourselves and others, we are not only imparting facts to our audience; we and our audience are learning how to look at and evaluate those facts, and any future facts. But sometimes we don’t have very clear facts to impart.

Two brief examples: When Myrna and I first learned that our son was Gay, I was very happy to learn that he did not have a choice in his sexual orientation. Since he could not choose to be straight, he could not choose to be Gay. No one recruited him. He could not recruit someone else. I could not be recruited. This absence of choice was a big part of our early educational message to our friends and neighbors.

Fifteen years later, I still believe that we do not choose our sexual orientation. I do not know how much, if any, of our sexual orientation is genetic, and how much if any is environmental. I don’t know how much if any is fluid or changeable. I think whatever the cause, it is biological, although many of my PFLAG friends do not like the word "biological" because of its misuse by a certain notorious Orthodox Jewish talk show hostess who shall remain nameless.

But I still remember the talk by the late Leo Goodman (of blessed memory), husband of one of our PFLAG Presidents, who was a physicist. He argued that the exact scientific cause of sexual orientation, and the question of whether there was a choice, was entirely beside the point. Our children and friends deserve our love and admiration and respect whether or not they have a choice. And they deserve the same civil rights as every other American, no matter whom they choose to love.

So now I am uncomfortable when some of our friends defend our children because they "have no choice." But I am also uncomfortable when some groups claim they are "Queer by choice."

I agree with Leo Goodman: it doesn’t matter why you are Gay. We do not know the cause of sexual orientation. All that matters is that you are loved and respected.

Our education must emphasize that while there are a lot of questions about the cause of sexual orientation, there is no question about the validity of our children's claims to their equal rights. No matter who wins the election, our work in this area will not be over until our children are free to live their lives everywhere, out of the closet, and in peace and security.

And my second example: the ex-Gays.

If we do not know the cause of sexual orientation, how can we say it is not fluid, or changing, or can be changed? Haven't we seen famous people who became Gay? Why can’t someone become an ex-Gay?

Here I believe we must educate ourselves and our audiences. If a supposedly heterosexual person falls in love with someone of the same gender, does that make them Gay? Were they bisexual all along and did not know it? Or did their sexual orientation change?

Similarly, if a Gay man and a lesbian woman get married, and have their picture on the Cover of Newsweek, have they become ex-Gays? Were they bisexual all along and didn't know it? If not, why not? Or are they lying, or fooling themselves? And what do they say when he is caught in a Gay bar with a staff person from HRC?

We must teach our audiences to ask questions. Where is the long term data? What are the honest scientific facts about these persons? Where are the controlled studies? Answer: there are none.

So what is our PFLAG educational message??

In my opinion, our discussion with our friends and neighbors might include the following points:

The exact scientific cause of sexual orientation is unknown, and is not our major concern.

Science has determined that genetics probably plays a part in sexual orientation; how this happens, and to what extent, is unknown.

Most of our family members feel that they had no conscious choice in their sexual orientation, and we believe them. They have a choice in their "lifestyle," and we discuss that with them.

Most of our transgendered children say they are not Gay, and we welcome them. They are discriminated against just as our family members are.

A few people tell us that they have chosen to be Gay, and we accept them.

Some people tell us that they have tried hard to change their sexual orientation, and they have been unsuccessful. Some feel they have been harmed by the experience. They have "walked away from the ex-Gay lifestyle," and are much happier living their lives openly and honestly. We celebrate their honesty.

Some people tell us that they were Gay, and have chosen not to be Gay. We tell them that is fine for them, but that we have seen too many people in the past who have said that, and later recanted. This shouldn't matter to any one except them. But when the lives of supposedly ex-Gays are used to terrorize our loved ones, and deny them civil rights, then it is everyone's business.

We tell them that our PFLAG families have been, and will continue to be, cooperative in research about our GLBT families. We would suggest that if they wish to be believed, they should do the same.

We tell them that we are 80,000 households in various stages of acceptance, support, education and advocacy for our GLBT family members. We love them, and feel they should have their civil rights.

Perhaps you can think of other things we should say. If so, I want to hear from you.

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© 2000 by Gayle Madwin except where otherwise noted. All rights reserved.