Our Side of the Story

On August 22, 2000, Kirsten Kingdon, Executive Director of PFLAG National, sent out a letter to all of the PFLAG chapters which made a number of accusations against Queer By Choice activists and primarily against me, Gayle Madwin, regarding the contents of this website and the correspondence which led to its creation. On this page, I wish to respond to those accusations line by line. Statements in boldface are quoted from Kirsten Kingdon's letter. You can also skip to a particular accusation by clicking the links below:

Why weren't you forthright with chapters about conducting a survey for a queer by choice group?
Why did you quote chapters anonymously without their consent?
Did you quote PFLAG National without their consent?
What harm did Kirsten Kingdon's letter do to queer by choice people?

The following statement in boldface is an excerpt from Kirsten Kingdon's letter:

One Queer By Choice person contacted many PFLAG chapters by email and said that they wanted to send their mother to a meeting, but needed to know first how the chapter would respond on the issue of queer by choice. Now this leader has used PFLAG chapter responses, as well as private email correspondence with the PFLAG national office, to launch a website that is critical of PFLAG's stance on the question of choice.

While Queer By Choice people raise important issues for PFLAG to consider, unfortunately they have not been respectful of PFLAG's process nor were they forthright with PFLAG chapters about why they were soliciting information.

I was the one who sent out these inquiries to PFLAG chapters. First of all, I did not say that I wanted to send my mother to a meeting. I never claimed to be in any chapter's local area except my own, and I have never lied to any chapter in any way. A large number of chapters (nearly half, I think) inquired whether or not I was in their local area. In my replies, I told them the truth—that I was not. I also, whenever I had time, sent follow-up letters thanking the chapters for their time, explaining the reasons for my concern, and providing them with resources for further information on how to provide support to queer by choice people.

Secondly, however, it is certainly true that I was not "forthright" about why I was "soliciting information." Of course I wasn't—because it would be impossible for anyone to collect accurate information about the real situation in PFLAG chapters while spelling out exactly what kind of answer they wanted to hear. Imagine if I had sent out an inquiry saying the following:

Hi, I'm a representative of a queer by choice group concerned about whether PFLAG provides adequate support to queer by choice people. Does your chapter discriminate against us or not?

Obviously if I had told the chapters this, many chapters would have claimed to be supportive even if in reality they were not. No one can collect accurate information by spelling out exactly what answer they want to hear—so it was absolutely necessary to be less than entirely forthright. Even so, I was far more forthright than I could have been if I'd set out to deliberately embarrass the chapters. If I'd wanted to guarantee lots of offensive responses, I could have simply sent a query saying "I want to know whether your chapter thinks homosexuality is a choice," and given no indication at all of my personal leanings on the subject. Instead, I went out of my way to drop a considerable hint that I was looking for answers that didn't deny all possibility of choice. The final two sentences of my inquiry read this way:

If a parent comes to a meeting and complains that they and their child have trouble talking about homosexuality because the parent believes it's a choice and the gay/lesbian child believes they were born that way, how would the PFLAG members be likely to respond? Or if the parent and child have trouble talking about homosexuality because the parent believes it's inborn and the gay/lesbian child wants to convince them it's a choice, how would the PFLAG members be likely to respond to that? [Emphasis added.]

I feel that the sentences above should have given chapter leaders a fairly obvious hint that I might be concerned about the treatment of queer by choice identified people. The fact that so many chapters did not take the hint only indicates just how severely lacking many PFLAG leaders are in information and open-mindedness about queer by choice people.

I did receive complaints from 4 chapters (out of over 200 chapters total that I wrote to) saying that I should have identified myself in my first email message as conducting a survey. In retrospect, I do think that if I could do it over I would specify more clearly that I was "conducting a survey for an LGBT group." Please bear in mind, however, that hindsight invariably brings to light more options than the ones that came to mind when I first began my correspondence. Additionally, at the time I began conducting the survey, the main thing I knew about PFLAG was that my friend Frank Aqueno had for six years been given absolutely no response whatsoever to any of his numerous attempts to discuss queer by choice issues with his own local chapter in New Orleans. With that kind of a track record, the two of us (mistakenly) feared that the New Orleans chapter was representative of the organization as a whole and thus that if we said one word about a survey it might take six years to get a response from any other PFLAG chapters as well. (And in fact, after I identified myself as conducting a survey, a number of chapters did state that they were on constant alert for fear of being surveyed by the Religious Right. But why? If you're giving people accurate information that you're not ashamed of, what harm can anyone do by quoting you?) In any case, mentioning in my initial inquiry that I was conducting a survey would have affected the data—and it was very important to us to get a true picture of what the situation in PFLAG chapters is really like. If I had specified too soon that I was conducting a survey, PFLAG could even now be justifiably questioning whether my data accurately reflected the responses PFLAG chapters would give in a real-life situation. By not specifying the reasons why I was inquiring about the chapters' policies, I was able to guarantee that my data could not be challenged on the grounds that chapters knew it was only a survey and responded differently than they would have to a real queer by choice identified person in their area.

Here's the next accusation from Kingdon's letter to the chapters:

In addition, they have posted to their website excerpts from private communications exchanged between Queer By Choice representatives, PFLAGers around the country and the PFLAG National staff without our knowledge or consent.

Let's deal with the chapter level first, and then with the national level. The only "private communications" I had with any PFLAG chapter (except at the meetings of my local chapter, and this parenthetical reference is the only mention I make of those meetings anywhere on this site) were email messages. The only email messages from PFLAG chapters which are quoted on this website are the ones on my "Quotes from Safe Chapters" and "Quotes from Unsafe Chapters" pages. Some of the quotes on my "Quotes from Safe Chapters" page do specify which chapter is being quoted—but in every such case I obtained written permission before citing the source of these quotes. The remainder of the quotes from safe chapters, and all of the quotes from unsafe chapters, are certainly used without permission—but they are also all completely anonymous, with no indication whatsoever of which chapter is being quoted. I specifically avoided specifying which chapter was being quoted because I feel it would be very unfair to single out any chapter in order to hold them responsible for something they said in a personal email message. I do however feel it was necessary to quote a few chapters anonymously without their permission in order to give an accurate picture of the hostile environment that queer by choice people face in some PFLAG chapters. Without some quotes to include on my "Quotes from Unsafe Chapters" page, I could not possibly have given an accurate picture of the situation in PFLAG or explained the necessity of addressing these problems. I feel that by taking care to avoid specifying which chapter was being quoted unless I had the chapter's permission first, I treated the chapters fairly without compromising my need to present an accurate picture of the organization as a whole. I have never quoted any "private communications" with any chapter by name on this website without getting written permission first.

Furthermore, it is absolutely blatantly hypocritical of PFLAG National to criticize me for quoting chapters anonymously without the chapters' permission. In PFLAG National's own quarterly affiliate mailing, sent out September 1, 2000, PFLAG National itself quoted the private email responses sent to me by various chapters—and PFLAG National did not get the chapters' permission to quote them either! Even more disturbingly, PFLAG National included one quote which identified its source as the PFLAG Jackson chapter—without getting PFLAG Jackson's permission to quote it by name. I have never ever named the specific chapter who provided me with a quote used on this website without first getting the chapter's written permission to do so. So PFLAG National has shown far greater disrespect to its own chapters than it accused me of showing.

Now about the national level. Have we posted excerpts from "private communications" with PFLAG National on this website? First of all, let's consider the statements from PFLAG National that are included on this website. First, a Position Statement, which was posted on PFLAG's website (and remained posted there until 2005), which is obviously very public. Second, a formal statement addressed to us from Kirsten Kingdon, forwarded to us from the Central Field Manager, written in an extremely official looking manner and apparently also distributed to others. These two things seem to be very obviously not "private communications," and when I pointed this out in a conference call with Kirsten Kingdon and two other representatives from PFLAG National on August 29, 2000, none of them claimed otherwise. The only remaining statement from PFLAG National included on this website (except for the letter in which Kingdon made all these accusations against me, which obviously was not included on this website until she made the accusations in the first place, and which is also an obviously very public statement since it was sent to every PFLAG chapter in the country) is this three-and-a-half line excerpt from a question sent to us via email from PFLAG National, which appears on this page of our website:

One thing I still have not understood about this situation is why you are focusing on PFLAG on this issue?  This is an issue for the movement as a whole, and I feel as if you are holding PFLAG accountable for something that is much larger than us.

In my telephone conversation on August 29, 2000, representatives from PFLAG National claimed that this statement constituted a "private communication" which I should have asked their permission before printing on this website. Now, one very possible response would be to question how any communication from an employee being paid to speak on behalf of a national organization can be considered "private." When a corporate employee sends an email to a customer on behalf of that corporation, is that customer under an obligation to keep the email message secret as though it were a "private communication"? If a paid congressional representative sends email to a constituent, is that constituent under an obligation to keep the email message secret? The email message quoted above was sent to us by someone speaking on behalf of PFLAG National and being paid to do so.

However, making that argument misses the more important point here, which is that Kirsten Kingdon's letter claims I posted "private communications" to this website without PFLAG National's knowledge or consent. This is a blatant lie. I specifically wrote to PFLAG National well over a month before I uploaded this website, letting them know that I was working on a website which would describe the progress with PFLAG on both the National and the chapter levels so far. I was open to answering any questions they might have had about the contents (they asked none), and I let them know that I would not upload it any sooner than August 1, 2000, and that if they issued a satisfactory new policy statement on choice before then, I would not upload it at all. As it turned out, I did not finish and upload the website until several days later than I had planned, but right after I did upload it, I wrote to PFLAG National on August 10, 2000, to inform them that I had uploaded it. I was perfectly willing to listen to any concerns they might have about it, and if they had simply written to me and asked me to remove the email excerpt quoted above, I would have been perfectly happy to do so. The excerpt was not quoted in a way which was intended to embarrass PFLAG at all—I simply treated it as a common question which deserved to be answered—and I could easily have removed the reference to National without changing the message of the page. (Click here to see the page the statement appears on—it has not been changed in any way since I first uploaded it.)

But despite how extremely open I had been all along, letting them know every step of the way what I was planning to do and had done, PFLAG National did not indicate the slightest objection to my website to me before Kirsten Kingdon sent out her letter to all the PFLAG chapters accusing me of showing disrespect for the PFLAG process. I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that National objected to the inclusion of this quote. It never even occurred to me that they might mind. I did not interpret the quote as putting National in a particularly bad light—if I had set out to embarrass National, I have far, far more email messages from them archived on my hard drive that I could have used to embarrass them with. If I wanted to really embarass National, I could still choose at this very moment to post every last one of the email messages I have received from them on my site. The fact that even now, after National has so unfairly criticized my own reputation, I still choose not to upload any of the things I could truly embarrass National with, should be more than sufficient proof that I have shown and continue to show the very greatest respect for PFLAG's process. And if only they had consulted me before sending letters to every chapter in the country levelling unfair accusations against me, I would have been perfectly happy to remove the one tiny excerpt from their email that I did use on my site. But now, since they've chosen to make accusations against me without even telling me their objections beforehand, I have to retain the quote in order to express how unfair it was of them to make such a fuss over one tiny quote without even consulting me—unless of course they choose to publicly apologize for their unfair accusations, in which case I would still be happy to remove it.

I think it may be useful to compare PFLAG National's own conduct in this matter to my conduct. Kirsten Kingdon's letter accuses me of posting this excerpt without National's "knowledge or consent," yet as I have already explained, I was in fact very open about informing them of the website's existence, and I would also have been happy to remove the offending statement if they had simply done me the obvious courtesy of informing me that they objected to it before sending out letters making unfair accusations against me and irreparably damaging my ability to work peaceably with PFLAG chapters to educate them about the queer by choice concerns that National supposedly cares about. But when Kirsten Kingdon sent out this letter full of accusations against me, did she have my knowledge or consent? Certainly not! PFLAG National never informed me the letter was being sent, outright ignored my request for information about the contents of the letter when I heard about it from chapters, and said absolutely nothing to indicate to me that they had any objection whatsoever to the contents of my website until our phone conversation on August 29, 2000—a full week after Kingdon's accusatory letter was mailed to every chapter in the country. I was given absolutely no opportunity to hear the accusations against me before the letter was sent. Furthermore, this is not new behavior on the part of National. As long ago as last January, when I was surveying chapters for their policies on choice, National interfered with my survey by posting information without my knowledge or consent in their weekly email alert telling chapters that I was working with a queer by choice group—in other words, completely destroying the accuracy of the responses I was still waiting to receive from many chapters at that point. And even before that point, in fact, as long ago as 1999, National had responded to inquiries from queer by choice people by asserting that they had "no policy" on the subject of choice. This later turned out to be a blatant lie, when we discovered the Position Statement in which National had denied all possibility of choice. (PFLAG National has since added a little grey box in the lower right corner, which links to a new statement from PFLAG National promising to consider the concerns of queer by choice people.) How could National be unaware of its own policies? And if they weren't certain of their own policies, why didn't they research further instead of asserting with apparent certainty that they had "no policy" on choice? PFLAG National has both lied to us repeatedly and issued numerous statements about us without our knowledge or consent ever since the moment we first contacted them. And now they falsely accuse us of putting up this website without their "knowledge or consent"?

But the damage being done here reverberates far beyond the accusations against the queer by choice individuals directly involved with this activist effort. Consider the following paragraph from Kingdon's letter:

Meanwhile, Queer By Choice is planning to contact every PFLAG chapter with a questionnaire on the issues, and they have also been raising concerns with the media. In order to minimize further misrepresentation of PFLAG's views and process, we suggest that if you are contacted by phone, e-mail or snail mail by representatives from Queer By Choice or by the media on this issue that rather than responding, you refer them to the national office.

Please consider exactly what it was that I was planning to contact every PFLAG chapter for. The "questionnaire" referred to is the submission form to be included on our Safe Chapters List. If PFLAG National's concern is that I'm going to break from my previous policies and suddenly start quoting chapters without permission, it's interesting to note that all of the required questions on the questionnaire are yes or no questions, and therefore obviously don't provide me with anything to quote. If quotes are the concern, why couldn't Kirsten Kindon have included a simple statement in her letter saying that it's okay to submit the form and sign up for the Safe Chapters List as long as chapters don't send me anything I can quote? And even the yes or no questions on my questionnaire are accompanied by a clear statement saying that in order to qualify for our safe Chapters List, all answers should be "Yes." If I were trying to compile data on the bad chapters in order to embarrass PFLAG, I would obviously not want to give away what the standards are and thereby discourage chapters from submitting any information that might give a negative impression of PFLAG. I am only trying to compile data on the good chapters for this list. I do not have and never have had any intention of compiling any list of unsafe PFLAG chapters. I am trying to work with PFLAG and highlight the good rather than the bad. But this letter from Kirsten Kingdon "suggesting" that chapters avoid communicating with us in any way makes it impossible for me to compile a Safe Chapters List at all.

Doesn't Kirsten Kingdon understand what an essential resource this list is? It should already be clear to her from the anonymous quotes on our "Quotes from Unsafe Chapters" page how widely varying and sometimes hostile the attitudes that different PFLAG chapters take toward queer by choice people are. Doesn't she realize the way that horror stories from one chapter are spread throughout the country and can often unfairly harm the reputations of all the other chapters? Without this list, thousands of queer by choice people whose local PFLAG chapters already are supportive will never have the confidence to even bother appealing to PFLAG for the support that they and their families so desperately need. I speak as a young person who grew up reacting to all my gay friends' praise of PFLAG by thinking, "Sure, PFLAG supports you, but if I went to a PFLAG meeting they'd just make fun of the idea of choice and tell my parents that I'm confused and that I'm not really gay since I had a choice." I speak as a queer by choice person whose first knowledge of PFLAG's existence came through newspaper articles I read as a teenager in which PFLAG representatives were quoted over and over saying "Of course no one chooses to be gay!" I speak as a person who never had the faith to even visit my local PFLAG chapter until after Frank Aqueno provided me with hope that doing so could help change the hostile environments within PFLAG and make life easier for other queer by choice kids in the future. The Safe Chapters List is the best way I have of giving other queer by choice people throughout the country that same hope that Frank Aqueno gave to me, so that they will all work up the courage to visit their local PFLAG chapters for the first time. And I find it very, very disturbing that Kirsten Kingdon chooses to interfere with the compilation of this list. Her letter warns of "further misrepresentation of PFLAG's views and process"—what misrepresentation has there ever been? It appears to me that every word about PFLAG on this website represents PFLAG with absolute accuracy. And that, I would venture to guess, is what really scares Kirsten Kingdon most.

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