Apologizing for the ‘gay cure’ years later

by CHRISTY CUSHING Staff Writer

Robert L. Spitzer, a prominent retired psychiatrist, apologized in the New York Times on May 18 for a study done in 1993 that showed reports of reparative therapy turning some homosexuals straight, which he now finds to be misleading. Spitzer, who is now 80 years old and considered to be the father of modern psychiatry, sent a letter of apology to the journal that originally published his flawed study about reparative therapy and also apologized to the gay community. He believed that, while his data was correct, it was misinterpreted. In his letter, Spitzer said, “I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some ‘highly motivated’ individuals.” In the study, Spitzer interviewed 200 men and women who claimed they changed their sexual orientation after reparative therapy. He interviewed them over the phone by asking questions about their urges, feelings, and behaviors before and after the therapy. The conclusion of the study was that, in most of the cases, the individual went from being predominantly homosexual to predominantly heterosexual over the time span of a year. It was published in an influential journal at the time called the ‘Archives of Sexual Behavior’. While some ex-gays latched on to the study and used it to support their case, many people attacked the study because there is no real way to judge the accounts’ credibility. Also, some of the stories used in the study were not completely accurate, and some did not work with a therapist at all. Sophomore Rianna Moonsammy said, “In science class, we learn about how theories need to be tested and tested until they can be proven true, it needs to be a fact. This reparative therapy has no support except for a few hazy stories coming from a group of 200. I think that declare something as monumental as a ‘cure’ for being gay can never be proven, especially by a flawed study.” One of the major reasons that this study was a major setback for gays and the gay community was that Spitzer was the same psychiatrist who had previously dropped homosexuality as a mental illness in the American Psychiatric Association committee’s diagnostic manual. Instead, there was “sexual orientation disturbance,” for people whose sexual orientation caused them distress. This was a huge step from the 1970’s, where the manual classified what it called “sociopathic personality disorder,” or homosexuality, as an illness. Sophomore Annie Wang said, “It’s a shame that the same man that gave the gay community such a giant leap forward also supported a study that suggested being ‘gay’ could be changed by some therapy. It almost discredits the huge success of having homosexuality decided as not being a disease when Spitzer is promoting a cure for it.”

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