'Biased and Unscientific'
One Can't Take Stories of 'Ex-Gay' Change at Face Value
Right-Wing Activists are Among Those Hoping to 'Change'
By Wayne Besen
Associate Director of Communications,
Human Rights Campaign
The most obvious flaw in Spitzer's study was the clear role played by these groups. The "ex-gay" ministries referred 43 percent of the subjects to Spitzer.
The anti-gay National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality referred 23 percent. Unbelievably, among the subjects were right-wing activists and lobbyists.
For example, anti-gay activist Anthony Falzarano, who has lobbied against gay civil rights legislation in Maine, Louisiana, Maryland as well as in countless major media appearances, was among the 200 participants in Spitzer's study.
Falzarano told CBS News that Satan "uses homosexuals as pawns and then he kills them." Surely, reasonable people can agree that Spitzer's inclusion of Falzarano is not a reasonable step toward conducting an objective scientific study.
But the results show quite the opposite. Even though study participants were a hand-selected sample of activists--with 78 percent having spoken out publicly about conversion therapy--only 17 percent of the men and 55 percent of the women characterized themselves as 100percent heterosexual after at least five years of therapy.
Additionally, 56 percent of the men and 18 percent of the women still said they fantasized about the same sex.
Most people would not objectively define these people as straight. Anti-gay activists have long claimed that tens of thousands of people have gone from gay to straight.
But after a review of the most "successful" 200 cases, it is clear that the failure rate of conversion therapy is extraordinarily high. This is why Spitzer acknowledged having "great difficulty" in finding non-religious therapists able to refer clients whom had successfully changed their sexual orientation.
It is also unclear whether many of the study's subjects are actually gay. Forty percent of the men and 60 percent of the women acknowledged some attraction to the opposite sex before therapy. Twenty percent of the male participants and 40 percent of females had little or no sexual attraction to the same sex as teens.
What is clear is that most of the subjects were under extreme duress. And they may have been coerced into claiming they were heterosexuals. Further, a disproportionate number--37 percent--of them were suicidal before therapy. Religious pressure also figured prominent in attempts to change -- 93 percent of the subjects said that religion was extremely important in their lives.
Another study released this week, by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder, represents a more realistic picture of conversion therapy efforts.
The New York psychologists studied 202 subjects who tried to change their sexual orientation, and found that 97 percent failed to change in any meaningful way. And of the 3 percent who claimed to have fully changed, all but one made their living as "conversion" counselors, thus reflecting possible bias.
Until society is free from anti-gay prejudice, people will feel compelled or be coerced into attempting to change. And they will claim success even if it has failed to occur.
While new research on this controversial subject is welcome, Spitzer's study does not further enhance the current debate in any substantial or meaningful way. It only offers an unscientific study that is long on right-wing political influence and woefully short of objective data.