In a move that serves as a significant blow to “ex-gay” programs and anti-gay organizations, Dr. Robert Spitzer repudiated his much-criticized 2001 study that claimed some “highly motivated” homosexuals could go from gay to straight. His retraction occurred in an American Prospect magazine article that hit newsstands today. Spitzer’s rejection of his own research, which was originally published in the prestigious Archives of Sexual Behavior, is a devastating blow to “ex-gay” organizations because it decisively eliminates their most potent claim that homosexuality can be reversed through therapy and prayer.
Dr. Spitzer’s repudiation of his 2001 study is an earthquake that severely undermines the validity of ‘ex-gay’ programs. Spitzer just kicked out the final leg from the stool on which the proponents of ‘ex-gay’ therapy based their already shaky claims of success.
Spitzer’s 2001 study was a surprise and created a media firestorm because he had previously led the charge in 1972-73 to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. At the time, this was a shocking story that captured the nation’s attention. Dr. Spitzer was the last person in America one would have expected to produce a study bolstering the claims of ‘ex-gay’ activists.
According to today’s American Prospect article:
“In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques [of my study] are largely correct,” Dr. Spitzer told the American Prospect in an article by Gabriel Arana titled, My So Called Ex-Gay Life. “The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.”
He said he spoke with the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior about writing a retraction, but the editor declined. (Repeated attempts to contact the journal went unanswered.)
Spitzer said that he was proud of having been instrumental in removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. Now 80 and retired, he was afraid that the 2001 study would tarnish his legacy and perhaps hurt others. He said that failed attempts to rid oneself of homosexual attractions “can be quite harmful.” He has, though, no doubts about the 1973 fight over the classification of homosexuality.
“Had there been no Bob Spitzer, homosexuality would still have eventually been removed from the list of psychiatric disorders,” he said. “But it wouldn’t have happened in 1973.”
Spitzer was growing tired and asked how many more questions I had. Nothing, I responded, unless you have something to add. He did. Would I print a retraction of his 2001 study, “So I don’t have to worry about it anymore”?
Dr. Spitzer’s research was particularly harmful because he was the only non-socially conservative scientist to produce a study claiming some people could “pray away the gay.”
“This man is an atheist, so he’s not Bible thumping and doesn’t have an ax to grind,” said Greg Quinlan, President of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX), in an October 7, 2011 interview on NewsPlus with Mark Segraves. “He just decided, let’s talk about this ex-gay thing and see if it’s true. And he has concluded it can be true for people who are highly motivated to change.” PFOX currently has a video of Dr. Spitzer on the front page of its website.
Virtually every anti-gay organization in the country quotes Dr. Spitzer’s work. It will be an integrity test to see which groups remove citations of his work in the coming week. Those who continue to use his study to back their agenda are deliberately misleading people and we intend to hold them accountable.
This is not the first major “ex-gay” study to be debunked. For decades, anti-gay organizations gleefully pointed to Homosexuality in Perspective, a 1979 book written by Dr. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, that claimed to cure gayness. Indeed, the husband-and-wife sex research team went on Meet the Press on April 22, 1979 to discuss their findings. In his groundbreaking 2009 book, Masters of Sex, author Thomas Maier discovered that the results of Masters & Johnson’s study were entirely fabricated. Virginia Johnson acknowledged that the results were fake and she had actually argued in 1978 that the book should never have seen the light of day – but it was already too late in the publishing process to undo the damage.
Fortunately, the Archives of Sexual Behavior can honor Dr. Spitzer’s wishes and retract his study. They have an ethical and moral obligation to act as quickly as possible to right this terrible wrong that has fueled anti-gay campaigns for more than a decade. Truth Wins Out praised Dr. Spitzer, saying that his admission has solidified his legacy as a respected doctor and significant historical figure.
“It is never easy to admit wrongdoing and Dr. Robert Spitzer deserves much credit for reversing course,” said TWO’s Besen. “He acted in a noble and honorable manner which is consistent with the vast majority of his career.
Not one mainstream organization of medical and mental health professionals has found any evidence to support so-called “ex-gay” therapy; in fact, the evidence they have found suggests that it can actually be harmful to patients.