Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Recent Developments In "Gays Can Change" Debate

There have been some interesting recent developments in the debate over whether sexual orientation is immutable or not a.k.a. known as the "gays can change" argument.  This point is a key locus of contention between heterosexual supremacists and LGBT equality advocates because if "gays can change" then the argument is made that civil rights protections should not be provided to something which is a choice (the counter-argument is that religion is often a choice but no-one questions whether religion should be a protexted anti-discrimination category).

Dr. Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist who was the author of a 2001 study which reported that conversion therapy (also known as "reparative therapy") could change someone's sexual orientation, has recently announced that he is disavowing that paper and is publicly apologizing in The New York Times for the damage his study has been used to inflict upon thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of gay men and lesbians. Spitzer's study has been cited multiple times by opponents of equal rights for LGBT citizens to prevent legislative protections from being enacted. Spitzer appeared on NPR's Talk of the Nation with host Neil Conan and explained why he made the difficult decision to  go public with his announcement that he was wrong:
CONAN: Why did you change your mind?
SPITZER: I changed my mind because I had been bothered for several years about it, and then when I was visited by Gabriel, who I gather you're having on the program...
CONAN: Gabriel Arana, who's going to be with us a bit later.
SPITZER: Right, and he described what it was like to be in therapy when he really didn't get any benefit from it at all, and he asked me about my concerns with the study, and I just realized that I had to make - explain to people why I think I made a big mistake.
CONAN: A mistake that's had some important consequences.
SPITZER: Well, I guess so. And that's why I wrote an apology both to the gay community and to individual gays who may have been wasting their time in this kind of therapy because they thought I had proven that it was valuable and useful.
CONAN: You obviously could not control how others used your study, and as you know, it was used as quote-unquote proof that homosexuality was a choice.
SPITZER: Right, right.
CONAN: And I know you said that's not what my study was about. After...
SPITZER: They also gave the impression that my study showed that it was common to be able to change, and I made it very clear, actually in the study discussion, that although it could happen, I thought it was very rare.
CONAN: Do you think homosexuality is a choice?
SPITZER: Is a choice? No, for sure, that's the one thing I have no doubt about, it's no choice.
In California, State Senator Ted Lieu has introduced a bill (SB 1172) to regulate the practice of conversion therapy in the state of California by prohibiting anyone under 18 from undergoing the "treatment" and requiring that adults potential patients be given an informed consent form which includes the following text:
Having a lesbian, gay, or bisexual sexual orientation is not a mental disorder. There is no scientific evidence that any types of therapies are effective in changing a person’s sexual orientation. Sexual orientation change efforts can be harmful. The risks include, but are not limited to, depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.
Medical and mental health associations that oppose the use of sexual orientation change efforts include the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
The bill is sponsored by Equality California and is likely to pass the Democratic Party-controlled state Legislature. It will be interesting if other progressive legislators around the country follow the lead of LGBT ally State Sen. Lieu and carry this model legislation to other states.

If heterosexual supremacists lose the "gays can choose" weapon it will be a great advance for the good guys in the ongoing kulturkampf over gay rights in this country (and around the world).

Hat/tip to LGBT Think Progress

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