Psychiatrist Retracts Infamous ‘Ex-Gay’ Study
Retired psychiatrist and Columbia University professor Robert Spitzer has retracted a much-criticized 2001 study that has been used for years by anti-gay activists to buttress their claims that gay men and lesbians can be “cured” of their homosexuality through therapy.
In the controversial study, Spitzer claimed that some “highly motivated” LGBT people could become straight. His retraction came in an article about the fringe “ex-gay” movement in the American Prospect. In an interview, Spitzer asked the author, Gabriel Arana, to print a retraction of the 2001 study so that he “wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Since its publication, the study has been one of the major weapons wielded by anti-gay groups, which frequently cite it as “proof” that LGBT people choose to be gay and can thus change their sexual orientation. At the heart of this argument is the belief that homosexuality is an unnatural deviation from normal sexual development, a form of mental disorder.
The ex-gay movement, according to Arana, “has relied on the Spitzer study as the single piece of objective evidence that therapy can work.”
Ironically, Spitzer, who is now 80, was one of the psychiatrists who pushed the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, a step the organization took in 1973. His 2001 study came as a shock and disappointment to many, and it received a storm of criticism over its suspect methodology and design.
Participants had been referred to Spitzer by ex-gay therapy practitioner groups like the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and Exodus International. Their claims were self-reported, and Spitzer did not compare participants to a control group. Yesterday, Spitzer told Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College, that he “has regret for what he now considers to be errant interpretations” of study participants’ reports. He also said that he had “second thoughts” about the study and now believes that “his conclusions don’t hold water.”