In a devastating blow to the ex-gay industry, the author of the only known study offering evidence it is possible to change sexual orientation has retracted his findings.
This spring, I visited Spitzer at his home in Princeton. He ambled toward the door in a walker. Frail but sharp-witted, Spitzer suffers from Parkinson’s disease. “It’s a bummer,” he said.
Spitzer was drawn to the topic of ex-gay therapy because it was controversial–”I was always attracted to controversy”–but was troubled by how the study was received. He did not want to suggest that gay people should pursue ex-gay therapy. His goal was to determine whether the counterfactual–the claim that no one had ever changed his or her sexual orientation through therapy–was true.
I asked about the criticisms leveled at him. “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 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. Robert Spitzer, who was also instrumental in removing homosexuality from the list of mental disoreders, became a god-send to the ex-gay movement when he released the results of his 200-participant study in the well respected Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2001 that claimed to demonstrate that sexual orientation change was possible.
Even though Spitzer’s findings were criticized for the study’s lack of rigour (namely that it relied on what participants said about their results and did not track whether their reported change lasted for an extended period), this single study has hung around in the gay rights versus “change is possible” debate like the proverbial albatross. However, with the publication of Gabriel Arana’s investigation into the ex-gay phenomenon, based on his own past experiences, and an interview with Spitzer in which Spitzer formally asks to retract the study’s findings, that mooring must surely now crumble.
I urge readers who have the time to click over to read Arana’s full expose wherein he details his time undergoing “ex-gay therapy” at the hands of the prominent Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist in California who was then president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), the country’s largest organization for practitioners of ex-gay therapy, and the media’s complicity in publicizing the ex-gay lie without properly assessing the reliability of the results they were reporting on. Read the full article here.