Metro Weekly

Police Back PFOX

Ex-gay group mum, but Arlington County Police say officers responded to scuffle

An alleged late-August scuffle between an unnamed member of Parents and Friends of Ex-gays & Gays (PFOX) and an unnamed attendee of an Arlington fair has taken another turn, yet become not much clearer. On Aug. 28, PFOX, a group advocating the notion that it’s possible to ”leave homosexuality,” released a statement by Executive Director Regina Griggs, claiming PFOX members manning a booth at an Arlington fair were harassed — and one physically assaulted — by a gay man. Griggs also claimed that Arlington County Police officers escorted the alleged assailant from the fairgrounds.

Many people, including gay-rights activist Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out (TWO), asked for evidence, including a statement from the alleged victim or further explanation from Griggs. None was forthcoming, and Griggs has not responded to several calls from Metro Weekly seeking comment.

Jay Fisette, a gay member of the Arlington County Board, had his office research the PFOX claim with the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD), but found no evidence of any incident.

On Sept. 10, however, ACPD Public Information Officer John Lisle, sent an e-mail to David Roberts, a Lakeland, Fla.-based writer for the Web site ”Ex-Gay,” telling him that ACPD officers were involved in an incident that supports the PFOX claims.

Lisle tells Metro Weekly that two officers responded to a disturbance at the fair involving PFOX and did escort a man off the fairgrounds, but the details of the incident remain obscure.

”On Monday [Sept. 10], I, almost by accident, got some information from somebody,” says Lisle. ”I mentioned to somebody that there might have been an incident at the fair, but I couldn’t find anybody who knew about it. It just so happened that I was speaking to one of the two officers who was familiar with this incident. He said, ‘Oh I know about that.”’

Lisle says he cannot disclose the name of that officer.

”[He] told me that he had been on patrol at the fair, a woman had come up to him and told him that somebody had assaulted somebody she was with at the PFOX booth,” Lisle continues. ”The officer went over and spoke to the victim, who apparently had been pushed or shoved, or something to that affect. But the victim didn’t want to press charges. So that is why there is no written report.”

Lisle adds that the PFOX woman told the unnamed officer that a man had knocked over pamphlets at the PFOX table and in some way assaulted a man who was with the PFOX group, Lisle says.

”From what the officer told me,” adds Lisle, ”[the alleged assailant] didn’t admit that he assaulted the other man. But, not in so many words, he did admit that his emotions had gotten the better of him. The officer said that from the information he had, at the very least, this man had disrupted the fair, or PFOX’s booth, and they escorted him out of the fair.”

Besen says the new developments don’t add up. ”You just don’t give out partial information,” he says of the ACPD, adding it’s ”unusual and odd” that this corroborating development surfaced shortly after media coverage of the PFOX story.

”It’s seems to be one of two possibilities,” Besen suggests. ”The first is incompetence and the bungling of this information. The second reason is political interference, or somebody helping to cover up the fact that nothing happened. I’m not big on conspiracy theories, so I would prefer to think that that did not happen. But it strikes me, as unusual and odd that for almost 15 days there was no one that stepped forward…. They flip-flopped. Suddenly something happened. That is very disturbing.”

Lisle insists the report from the officers involved was simply not available when inquiries into the incident began.

”We had no written report of any incidents at the fair,” Lisle says at that time. ”The communications center did not dispatch a call, which means nobody called 911 about it. The only the other way for me to check and see if we were involved in any way was try to find the officers who were involved. I reached out to some of the supervisors who I knew were either at the fair, or whose units were at the fair, and nobody I spoke to was familiar with an incident such as the one described.”

Lisle flatly denies any suggestion that the ACPD are ”flip-flopping,” insisting, ”We never changed our story, and why would we?

”What do we have to gain? [PFOX] didn’t involve us in any way except that somebody approached one of our officers and said that they were assaulted. Anytime that happens, we would investigate it and talk to the people involved. Nothing changed except that at the beginning I didn’t know who the officers were who were involved.”

Fisette says his previous statements, suspicious of the PFOX claims, were based on information from the ACPD.

”As a gay man, the [new] information doesn’t make me feel any better about PFOX or its misguided mission,” says Fisette, ”nor does it really justify the pain and suffering that they inflict on a lot of vulnerable gay men and women.

”In the end whatever did happen, PFOX is still making a mountain out of a molehill…. I walked up to the [PFOX] booth and I felt a sense of disgust and outrage myself. But if somebody let their emotions get the best of them, they were wrong. They shouldn’t have done it.”

While Fisette’s tone is cautious about what may — or may not — have happened, Besen is still calling on Griggs to come forward with evidence or further explanation.

”Griggs owes it to come forward and lay out the evidence in her case, or she shouldn’t talk about it.”