Joanna Schroeder hopes that the courts expose the greater truth about so-called “Reparative Therapies”, which take advantage of the anguish some men experience when their same-sex attraction conflicts with their spiritual beliefs.
Before 1980, homosexuality was considered a disease, classified among other psycho-pathology in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That is, until Professor of Psychiatry Robert Spitzer and his team eradicated homosexuality as a disease for the third edition of the widely-used mental health reference guide referred to as “The DSM”.
As Scott Stossel noted in his profile on Spitzer in The Atlantic, Dr. Spitzer’s place in history as a gay rights ally was cemented for the work of removing homosexuality as a disease. But Spitzer’s reputation also had a blight on it. Stossel explains:
The episode: At a conference in 2001, Spitzer delivered a paper on “reparative therapy”—commonly known as “ex-gay therapy”—called “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?” His answer, based on interviews he’d conducted with 200 men and women who claimed to have changed their sexual orientation, was yes. The study, later published in a peer-reviewed journal, provoked huzzahs from “ex-gay” advocates (the man who’d normalized homosexuality was now declaring it could be treated!) and cries of disbelief from colleagues and homosexuals. In the face of the onslaught, Spitzer stood by his research.
But recently, even as he is battling Parkinson’s Disease, Spitzer has spoken out against the practice, also called Conversion Therapy, reversing an assertion he has stood by for years. After a revelational conversation with Gabriel Arana from The American Prospect, Spitzer admitted problems with his original study and article. From Stossel’s article:
On April 25, Spitzer himself wrote a letter to the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which had published his study. His letter didn’t merely acknowledge his study’s “fatal flaw” (there was no way to determine whether the test subjects who claimed they had changed their sexual orientation really had) but also took responsibility for its consequences: “I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works.”
Dr. Spitzer’s ethical and professional responsibility is inspiring, but it’s also incredibly timely. As the New York Times reports, and as we covered a few months back, California Governor Jerry Brown is attempting to make Gay-to-Straight Conversion Therapy illegal for minors in the state. On top of that, a group of men and their families who spent extraordinary amounts of money on Gay Conversion therapy will be legally challenge the success claims of these groups. Erik Eckholm of The New York Times explains the background behind this case being brought to court in New Jersey:
The former clients said they were emotionally scarred by false promises of inner transformation and humiliating techniques that included stripping naked in front of the counselor and beating effigies of their mothers. They paid thousands of dollars in fees over time, they said, only to be told that the lack of change in their sexual feelings was their own fault.
Not only did the men and their families spend the money on these expensive camps, retreats, and therapy programs, but they also spent money on therapy to help repair the emotional damage caused by the shaming and blaming nature of this therapy. The New York Times article details life inside of these camps, closely resembling a story The Good Men Project ran two years ago by Ted Cox, who went undercover in a Christian Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp. Ted recounts the blaming of others, the “touch therapy” and other uncomfortable—if not intrusive and traumatic—rituals designed to help the person who is struggling identify the “why” behind his same-sex attraction.
What appears to be the motivating force behind these camps and therapies, is a sense that Conversion Therapy programs take advantage of the painful struggles that individuals with feelings of same-sex attraction experience when those around them consider their natural feelings to be abominations. Men like “Dave”, whom Ted got to know while under cover at the conversion camp, suffer greatly with the fact that no matter what they do, they are left with pain and confusion.
After disclosing to Dave that that he isn’t gay, and explaining that instead of seeking help, he was doing an expose on the camp they were both at, Ted and Dave had a powerful and painful conversation that illustrates the deepest immorality behind promising a person that anything can help them change who they are:
Dave calls back after a couple of hours. He is more composed, but he wants to know more about my motivation, about my stance on homosexuality.
I tell him that I think he’s normal, and that professional, reputable psychological organizations agree. I tell him that biologists have observed homosexual behavior in hundreds of species. I doubt I get through to him. How much does science really matter when God has spoken?
And there’s more to consider than just Dave’s feelings. “What do you want me to do?” he asks. “Leave my wife? Leave my kids? Just go live with some guy?”
There’s no easy choice for Dave. Either way, he loses something. Leaving a religious philosophy like Mormonism isn’t as simple as changing underwear brands. Often your friends stop calling, and your family members stop inviting you to dinner. Sure, Dave could finally live out and proud, but at what cost?
“I don’t know, man,” was all I could say. “I don’t know.”
What is Dave to do? It’s easy to imagine why he was looking for a solution to the problem of his sexuality. But ultimately, Conversion Therapy—as Dr. Robert Spitzer has noted—is not shown to actually “cure” anyone. And hopefully the courts will see how damaging these false claims can be to guys like Dave—guys who are hoping that there is something that can save not only their marriages and relationships with their churches and communities, but also save their souls.
Read Ted Cox’s Undercover at a Christina Gay-to-Straight Conversion Camp
Photo courtesy of Flickr/ell brown