The US psychiatrist responsible for a controversial and much criticised 2001 study claiming that gay people could change their sexual orientation if they were “highly motivated” enough has disavowed the research in sensational fashion after admitting to a magazine that “the critiques are largely correct”.
Dr Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist responsible for the study, was ironically at the forefront of moves in the early 1970s to have homosexuality removed from the list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which eventually occurred in 1973.
In 2001 however, Spitzer (pictured) published a paper which included interviews with over 200 people who had gone through so-called ‘ex-gay’ programs.
The study did not make any claims about the success rate of ex-gay therapy but Spitzer concluded that the sessions, many with religious overtones, worked for a highly select group of motivated individuals.
In an interview with American Prospect magazine, Spitzer said it was wrong of him to publish the study and that he even contacted the Archives of Sexual Behavior – where the study was first published – to then publish a retraction which according to him was refused by the journal’s editor.
“In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques [of my study] are largely correct,” he said.
“The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.”
Spitzer told American Prospect he was encouraged to look at the issue of ex-gay therapy due to its controversial nature and to test the claim that no one had ever changed their sexual orientation through the programs.
Spitzer’s study has since been quoted widely as evidence by many anti-gay groups as well as fundamentalist religious organisations in the US and abroad that ex-gay therapies work.
Founder of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International, Anthony Venn-Brown, an advocate for gay Christians and also a survivor of ex-gay programs run in Australia in the 1970s, told SX that it was not unusual for right wing Christian groups and ex-gay organisations to latch onto or “cherry pick” research.
“Christian groups claimed the study proved people could change but looking deeper into these studies demonstrate revealed that ‘change’ had not actually occurred.
“The claim was that 14 per cent did manage long-term to either greatly reduce or completely stop homosexual practices. Of these, a third were ‘struggling’, another third reported being reasonably happy but were celibate,” Venn-Brown said.
“The other third (only eight patients out of the 200 participants) who reported a shift but not complete change in sexual orientation were people who made their living within the ‘ex-gay’ industry.”
Spitzer has also asked American Prospect to print a retraction of his original study so he wouldn’t “have to worry about it anymore”, saying that failed attempts to rid oneself of same-sex attraction were actually potentially extremely harmful.
“Looks like he will finally and definitely put this red-herring to bed,” Venn-Brown added.
AVB note: The video below was made in 2007 in response to Focus on the Family's misuse of interview material and also misrepresenting his study. The above article is about a total retraction of his 2001 study.