On Friday, something monumental happened.
Dr. Robert Spitzer announced plans to officially apologize to the gay community for a 2001 study he published which claimed that gays can change their sexual orientation.
This apology is a boon for the gay community and closes the book on a long controversy. I detailed it in my 2007 book Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters:
Robert Spitzer is one of the psychiatrists who was instrumental in getting the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in the early 1970s.
In 2001, he published a controversial study that seemed to claim that a small number of people can change their orientation from gay to heterosexual. In 45-minute individual telephone calls with 143 “ex-gays” and 57 “ex-lesbians,” Spitzer asked them 60 questions dealing with their feelings and behavior before and after they allegedly changed their orientations. They also talked about their strategies, feelings and motives for changing.
Many of these individuals were referred to Spitzer by “ex-gay” groups. When Spitzer’s findings were made public, the anti-gay industry lauded him, making sure to mention that he was one of the principle people who led the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
They also made sure to portray him as a martyr of political correctness, making it sound as if some sort of gay Mafia was attempting to suppress his study. Concerned Women for America even sent out a press release claiming that Spitzer’s life and livelihood were being threatened.
The Traditional Values Organization published its own press release of Spitzer’s study. Like other so-called “pro-family” groups, it manipulated the findings without going into detail about how Spitzer came to his conclusion, but making sure to emphasize his support of gay rights.
Over the years, Spitzer has denounced how the religious right used his study for its own agenda. In a 2006 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Spitzer said that he believed that some of those he interviewed for his study may have been either lying to him or themselves. In that same year, he teamed up with Dr. Judith Stacey, Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc and Soulforce, a group that combats “spiritual violence” against the gay and lesbian community, in a press release demanding that Focus on the Family, another religious right group, stop distorting research.
But now, according to The New York Times, Spitzer has completely recanted the study:
Dr. Spitzer could not control how his study was interpreted by everyone, and he could not erase the biggest scientific flaw of them all, roundly attacked in many of the commentaries: Simply asking people whether they have changed is no evidence at all of real change. People lie, to themselves and others. They continually change their stories, to suit their needs and moods.
By almost any measure, in short, the study failed the test of scientific rigor that Dr. Spitzer himself was so instrumental in enforcing for so many years.
“As I read these commentaries, I knew this was a problem, a big problem, and one I couldn’t answer,” Dr. Spitzer said. “How do you know someone has really changed?”
Now there are some on my side of the spectrum who don’t want to take Spitzer’s apology. To them, I say stop being so nasty. According to The New York Times article, Spitzer was manipulated by the religious right and the ex-gay industry into creating the study, and he had no idea that they would use his work to demonize the gay community.
So I accept Spitzer’s apology and also say that the real culprits are the organizations and individuals who exploited this man’s work and name — organizations such as the Family Research Council.
FRC have cited Spitzer’s work continuously to defame the gay community, including on March 4. 2011:
And evidence that homosexuals can change has come even from Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist who led the effort to remove homosexuality from the official list of mental disorders. In a 2003 study, Spitzer found that “changes [in sexual orientation] . . . were not limited to sexual behavior and . . . self-identity. The changes encompassed sexual attraction . . . the core aspects of sexual orientation.”
Even Robert Spitzer, one of the psychiatrists who led the 1973 effort to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, confirmed in a study 30 years later that change is possible, noting, “The changes following reparative therapy were not limited to sexual behavior and sexual orientation self-identity” but … “encompassed sexual attraction, arousal, fantasy, yearning … the core aspects of sexual orientation.”
It is undeniable that some people experience same-sex attractions as unwanted, and it is demonstrable (if oft-denied) that some people experience change in one or more of the elements of sexual orientation (attractions, behavior and self-identification) over time. Even Dr. Robert Spitzer, a notable pro-homosexual psychiatrist, did research that confirmed this.
The question is, will FRC remove Spitzer’s work now that he has recanted. Neither the organization nor its members have made a statement. Therefore, I am sending a plea out that we tweet either Tony Perkins or Peter Sprigg and ask them the following:
Dr. Spitzer has disavowed his ex-gay study. Shouldn’t you be removing it from your ‘studies’ of the gay community?
Peter Sprigg’s twitter address is @spriggfrc and Tony Perkins’ address is @tperkins
Be nice and polite, but be direct. The Bible says that if you wrong your brother, you should apologize. If FRC is a truly Christian organization, it shouldn’t need any prodding in that direction. By its continued citation of Spitzer’s flawed study, FRC has definitely wronged the gay community (granted it’s one of many times, but this time is especially sad).
And while we are owed an apology here, a simple acknowledgement from FRC that its usage of Spitzer’s was wrong would be nice.