Controversial study says gays can ‘turn’ straight

By Alex Kingsbury
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
May 16, 2001

A study released last Wednesday at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association states that homosexuals can turn straight if they put their minds to it.

The study, by Columbia University psychiatrist professor Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, looked at 200 people — 143 of whom said that they chose to reverse their sexual orientation.

Though the study was presented at the conference, APA officials said that that does not mean APA endorsement of the ideas presented.

Dr. Spitzer, who led the successful effort to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders recognized by the APA, is presenting his findings at the annual conference of the organization in New Orleans.

The study traced the men and women over a period of 12 to 14 years and had them answer questions before and after their “efforts” to change their sexual orientation. The study concluded that that 66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had achieved the goal of “heterosexual functioning.”

The study and the presentation by Spitzer have aroused nationwide controversy.

“The so-called study,” said Tim McFeeley, political director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, “is snake oil packaged as science.”

In a statement refuting the results of the survey, he said that the survey was “tainted and biased,” saying that of the 200 people involved in the survey, “43 percent were referred to him by ex-gay ministries. Another 23 percent were referred to him by the anti-gay National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.”

“I think that it is irresponsible scholarship,” said James Harrington, coordinator of Ally, a college gay, lesbian, and bisexual organization serving several colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. “The people in the survey were not from the mainstream gay community.”

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has also condemned the report, warning it should be highly scrutinized.

“Spitzer’s conclusions are based on a self-selected sample of people who are so troubled by their sexual orientation that they will go to any lengths to attempt to change it,” said GLAAD Executive Director Joan M. Garry, in a statement to the media. “Spitzer defines them as ‘highly motivated,’ and that’s not surprising. These are people who live in a world in which gays, lesbians and bisexuals are treated like second-class citizens.”

Garry, who worries that such reports may lead to discrimination against homosexuals, said though GLAAD welcomes any scientific study, the studies must take into account the complexities of the issues involved and should not have any bearing on weather homosexuals are treated fairly.

Harrington told U-WIRE that he is especially concerned for the college homosexual community and those who have not yet made their sexuality public.

“It is, unfortunately, an opportunity for more people to stay in the closet,” he said. “The college years are the most important part of someone’s life. It is the first time that they are away from home.”

He emphasized the importance of college and university support groups to help those dealing with sexuality issues.

Other recent studies have been released that refute Dr. Spitzer’s conclusions.

A survey commissioned by the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association showed that just six of 202 homosexual and lesbian subjects surveyed changed their sexual orientation to heterosexuality. The report, “Changing Sexual Orientation: Does Counseling Work?” is expected to be published later this year.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.