Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist who in 2001 published a study claiming that “highly motivated” gay and lesbian people could change their sexual orientation has recently retracted his claims. For Changing Attitude, his retraction further undermines the position of the Church of England that fails to support the full inclusion and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Changing Attitude condemns any teaching or attitude which treats LGB&T people as less equal in Christ and less than equal at every level of ministry in the Church.
Spitzer’s retraction was made to Gabriel Ariana, who had undergone therapy for over three years in an effort to change his own sexual orientation with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder and former president of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Ariana has written about the therapy with Nicolosi and his recent meeting with Robert Spitzer in My So-Called Ex-Gay Life: A deep look at the fringe movement that just lost its only shred of scientific support, published on The American Prospect.
This spring, Ariana visited Spitzer, now 80 and living in retirement in Princeton. At the end of Ariana’s visit, Spitzer asked him to print a retraction of his 2001 study, “so I don’t have to worry about it any more.” “In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques 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.” He noted that failed attempts to rid oneself of homosexual attractions “can be quite harmful.”
Ariana stayed in the closet a few more years after some years of doing ex-gay therapy with Dr Nicolosi, but ended up accepting his sexuality and is now married to his gay partner.
Spitzer’s 2001 study was based on 200 interviews with so-called “ex-gay” patients, the largest sample amassed at that point. Though it did not make any specific claims about ex-gay therapy’s success rate, Spitzer’s “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation” originally concluded that it had, in fact, worked “for a highly select group of motivated individuals.” Criticisms of Spitzer’s study are reported here.
What translated into the larger culture was: The father of the 1973 revolution in the classification and treatment of homosexuality, who could not be seen as just another biased ex-gay crusader with an agenda, had validated ex-gay therapy.
A review conducted by the American Psychological Association between 2007 and 2009 of all literature on efforts to change sexual orientation found that ex-gay therapy runs the risk of making patients anxious, depressed, and at times, suicidal. Judith Glassgold, the chair of the task force, said “It provided false hope, which can be devastating. It harmed self-esteem and self-regard by focusing on the psychopathology of homosexuality.”
Truth Wins Out is a group fighting anti-gay lies and the ex-gay myth. Its Executive Director Wayne Besen criticized Spitzer’s study in his 2003 book, “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies behind the Ex-Gay Myth.” He has praised the stunning reversal. “Dr. Spitzer’s repudiation of his 2001 study is an earthquake that severely undermines the validity of ‘ex-gay’ programs,” Besen has said. “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.”