“I actually had great difficulty finding participants,” Spitzer told Arana in the American Prospect. “In all the years of doing ex-gay therapy, you’d think [Joseph] Nicolosi would have been able to provide more success stories. He only sent me nine patients.” (Nicolosi is a clinical psychologist who practiced ex-gay therapy and helped found NARTH.)
Ex-gay therapy, also known as “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, has been widely discredited by the scientific community. Most strikingly, in 2006, the American Psychological Association (APA) stated: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” The APA added, “Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”
Since his study’s publication, Spitzer has tried to make it clear that he didn’t want it used to justify discrimination against the LGBT community, and he emphasized that he did not think that most LGBT people could become heterosexual. Nevertheless, the study became a major part of the anti-gay movement’s arsenal, with claims that here, at last, was “proof” that “all” gay people could become straight through prayer or therapy. Spitzer attempted to point out over the years that such change was either highly unlikely or that anti-gay organizations had misused his research.
It’s not the first time anti-gay groups have used suspect studies or misused legitimate ones to further anti-LGBT sentiment.
In January, Seton Hall professor Theodora Sirota issued a statement taking NARTH’s Rick Fitzgibbons to task for using one of her studies to oppose adoption by same-sex couples. Sirota said that no conclusions about LGBT parents or the “fitness” of LGBT parents can be drawn from her findings. Fitzgibbons has yet to correct his own article or remove the Sirota citation from it
Several other legitimate researchers have publicly asked anti-gay organizations stop distorting their research. Now, with Spitzer’s on-the-record retraction, it remains to be seen whether they will stop using his 2001 study to justify their claims.
Don’t hold your breath.