Spitzer’s Study Is Biased And Unscientific

What do John Paulk, Jeremy Marks and Wade Richards have in common? They were

all high profile “ex-gays” who came out of the closet in the past year – or

in Paulk’s case, was photographed at a gay bar in Washington. If there is

one known fact about “ex-gays,” it is that one cannot always take their

stories of “change” at face value.

In light of the double lives of prominent “ex-gays,” it seems

questionable to conduct a “scientific” study on whether people can “change”

their sexual orientation – if it is based solely on their testimonies. Yet

this is exactly what psychologist Dr. Robert Spitzer did. Moreover, many of

his 200 subjects were involved upon the referral of several virulently

anti-gay political groups.

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.

“His sampling method was totally inadequate,” Dr. Lawrence Hartmann, a

professor at Harvard and a longtime researcher on homosexuality told

Newsday. “For 30 years, Bob Spitzer may have been considered a careful

researcher. But with this study, he no longer is. It is far from good


A year ago, the Human Rights Campaign urged Spitzer in a letter to use

objective physical measures in determining whether his subjects were still

attracted to the same sex. Why did he decline? Is it because he did not want

objective data to get in the way?

Spitzer and his allies on the political right claim that the new study shows

that sexual orientation in some “highly motivated” people may be changeable.

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.

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