In 1973, Dr. Robert Spitzer led the charge to successfully have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is its list of mental disorders. This was a major victory and remains one the gay movement’s signature achievements.
Given his stature and key role in declassifying gay people as sick, it was quite a surprise when Dr. Spitzer published a non-peer reviewed 2001 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that claimed some “highly motivated” gay people could reach their “heterosexual potential” through prayer and therapy. When he announced his work at the 2001 APA meeting in New Orleans, it created a media sensation. An Associated Press story called his findings “explosive.”
In 2012, Dr. Spitzer recanted in the American Prospect magazine and in a letter to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, obtained by Truth Wins Out, Dr. Spitzer asked that his study be withdrawn. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and the New York Times covered his apology.
Last week, TWO’s Wayne Besen and filmmaker Lisa Darden interviewed Dr. Spitzer at his Princeton, NJ home. This exclusive interview is the first time Spitzer has been videotaped speaking in-depth about his change of heart.
“This is an historic moment and it was crucial that we recorded it for posterity,” said Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen. “It was also critical that we had Dr. Spitzer directly confront anti-gay organizations by name to make it difficult for them to distort his study without undermining their credibility.”
Here are excerpts from Wayne Besen and Lisa Darden’s interview with Dr. Robert Spitzer:
What do you have to say about the conclusions of your 2001 study?
“I was quite wrong in the conclusions that I made from this study. The study does not provide evidence, really, that gays can change. And that’s quite an admission on my part.”
What made you go public with your change of heart?
“If I really have all these doubts about the study, I had to face up to whether I had a responsibility to acknowledge that.”
Is there a message you would like to impart to the LGBT community?
“I’ve been thinking about the study for many years. I felt that I needed to say that, the study is not valid, but I thought I should also say to the gay community, I apologize for any harm I have done to them because of the study and my initial interpretation. And I certainly apologize to any gay person who because of this study entered into reparative therapy and wasted their time and energy doing that.”
It took you two years to find a mere 200 study subjects, even though NARTH’s Dr. Joseph Nicolosi was trying to influence the study by begging clients to participate. Why do you think it was so difficult for NARTH to provide you with “ex-gays”?
“He [Nicolosi] just didn’t have many patients who could really claim that they had changed.”
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) is still misusing your study and a video featuring you remains prominently placed on the group’s website. Would you like to address PFOX?
“I ask that PFOX stop showing this video. This is quite misleading. I had no way, really, of knowing when I examined any particular subject whether they really had changed or whether they were deceiving themselves or even outright lying when they claimed that they had changed. So, please don’t show this
The retraction of your study must be very upsetting to anti-gay organizations.
“I’m curious as to whether they have said anything or how they live with the fact that the one study that they have always been citing has now been taken away from them. I would think that’s a pretty rough place to be in.”
Is the “Ex-Gay” Industry capable of unbiased research on homosexuality?
“The people who are pushing the ‘ex-gay’ idea are so full of hatred for homosexuality, really, that I don’t think they can respond in an ethical way.”
What are your thoughts on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)?
“If people can recognize that being a homosexual is something that cannot be changed and that efforts to change are going to be disappointing and can be harmful, if that can be more widely known that would be very good. If somebody is troubled that they are homosexual, what they ought to do is face up to that and so something so they are more comfortable living with the way they are, because any attempt to change is misguided.”
Truth Wins Out (Analysis of Spitzer apology)
Dan Gonzales (Dissecting the Spitzer study)