"Ex-Gays" | News | Robert Spitzer

Robert Spitzer, Psychiatrist Behind Controversial 'Ex-Gay' Study, Retracts It: VIDEO

Dr. Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist who published a controversial 2001 study suggesting that in rare instances gay people could change their sexual orientation, has retracted those claims in an American Prospect article by Gabriel Arana. Spitzer had led the effort to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973, and the 2001 article was an attempt, according to Spitzer, to "question 'whether everything you've been taught is wrong.'"

Robert_spitzerWrites Arana at Americablog:

The study continues to be cited by proponents of "ex-gay therapy" (the notion that you can pray away the gay) as the chief piece of evidence that such therapy works; the fact that he is not a flack for the ex-gay movement and is an atheist made it hard to say he was biased. But when I met Spitzer in March, he asked me to retract the study. It's quite a stunning reversal, and I got the sense that this had troubled Spitzer for some years.

Spitzer spoke about how he was uncomfortable with groups like Focus on the Family misusing his study, in a 2007 interview.

Watch it, AFTER THE JUMP...

Here's Arana's article with the retraction:

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”?

Wayne Besen at Truth Wins Out calls on groups like PFOX and Focus to immediately stop "relentlessly and shamelessly" flogging Spitzer's study.

Now it is up to anti-gay and so-called “ex-gay” organizations to show some dignity and class by expeditiously removing all citations of Dr. Robert Spitzer’s study from their web pages. This is nothing short of a major integrity test to show which groups are honest and decent enough to do the right thing.

Watch Spitzer's 2007 interview talking about his discomfort with the improper usage,

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  1. good.

    the aspect of the ex-gay clinics that continues to be ignored, for obvious reason, is that the reason these men want to no longer be gay is that it's been made clear to them all that they will not be loved, accepted or embraced for being gay.

    that's why it's an "unwanted" thing. these are not gay people from gay-supportive places or communities. these are people for whom being gay will mean permanent ostracizing.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Apr 11, 2012 12:27:44 PM

  2. While I do respect Dr. Spitzer a great deal, and more so now, I still have to question his ability to draw any conclusions from his original study.
    One, there was no long-term follow-up. Seven years later, how many of those 200 subjects have maintained their "conversion"?
    Two, he admits that the subjects were "highly motivated" to change. Did Spitzer's conclusions take into account that men who are that motivated to change will lie about achieving that change, even to themselves?
    And three, sexual orientation is not an extreme "one or the other". How many of those men who were able to change their attraction started out in the bi-sexual middle of the spectrum?

    Posted by: HillBilly | Apr 11, 2012 12:55:36 PM

  3. i'm always puzzled, however, by the religious side of it. every cognitive mind (ha!) knows orientations cannot change - yet we get 'religious' people who say that their orientation has changed.
    that's called a lie. and lying is breaking the 9th Commandment.

    why break the 9th commandment? to appease not God, but simple lowly mortal beings who falsely think they're "pleasing God" by being anti-gay. so it's not actually about Honouring God, but avoiding prejudice from humans.

    one of those distinctions the religious right seems incapable of understanding.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Apr 11, 2012 1:05:21 PM

  4. It doesn't seem as though Spitzer made a big effort to publicize his changing viewpoint on the study. If it bothered him so much, why didn't he speak up a little louder and sooner?

    Posted by: Jack M | Apr 11, 2012 1:09:56 PM

  5. There's a really great This American Life episode called "81 words" about the removal of homosexuality from the DSM-V that is worth a listen for anyone who's gay. It covers this guy quite a bit. It's REALLY good radio, find it!

    Posted by: Andrew | Apr 11, 2012 1:19:54 PM

  6. thing is - the anti-gay sides continue to promote discredited and disproven things about gay people. why? it's all they have.

    it's like anti-gay "Christians" that cite passages from the old testament that, if one knows anything about theology, are negated by "Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross"

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Apr 11, 2012 1:28:01 PM

  7. Spitzer's study was severely flawed methodologically, the Archives of Sexual Behavior only published it because of its controversial nature. Dr. Greg Herek even published a thorough trashing of this research in another journal in 2003.


    Posted by: QJ201 | Apr 11, 2012 1:30:16 PM

  8. FYI, the current editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior is Kenneth J. Zucker...who specializes in treating "gender variant children." He is roundly despised by many trans (and LGB) people.

    Not a shock that he refuse to reply.

    Posted by: QJ201 | Apr 11, 2012 1:39:51 PM

  9. The man was supposed to be an academic. He enjoyed years of respect afforded to those who aspire to the level of academia where he is part of that system of peer reviewed studies, as well as enjoying the societal benefits of position, and monetary gains derived from being benefits of being a respected psychiatrist, and a member of the American Psychiatric Association, and now because he penned and affixed his name and reputation to an irresponsible study, wants to be patronized, rather than respected, have everyone hit the rewind button and say: okay we will give you a pass on this one specious study, that you are now saying was really just a passing curiosity . . . even though you used your influence to publish it in legitimate journals?

    I feel bad for him, but to hit the rewind button in an attempt to safeguard someone's legacy, when the safeguarding of one's legacy is the sole responsibility of the individual just as the individual is the sole beneficiary of his/her legacy, would not only serve to nullify the legitimacy of the one work he wishes to forget and distance himself from, but cast a pall upon his entire body of work.

    If the rewind button could be hit for Dr. Spitzer, why should we respect or listen to anyone who would say: "I am an expert in the study of human behavior. Listen to what I tell you."

    We can forgive him for his ridiculous study, to which he affixed his name, and which he backed with the reputation of HIS legacy at that juncture in his career so others would listen to his thoughts on his passing fancy of reparative therapy; and we can even forgive him for the adverse affect his study had on countless lives, but we can no more hit the rewind button and undo the hurt this study has done to his reputation, than we could hit the rewind button on those innocents whose lives were devastated by Dr. Spitzer's words.

    Sorry, Dr. Spitzer. Unfortunately, life does not work that way. But if it is any comfort to you, as one who was affected by your study, your words, your reputation, I forgive you.

    Posted by: Ricco | Apr 11, 2012 1:47:37 PM

  10. Psychiatry is a joke. It's far from being a hard science. So get used to whatever the psychiatry du jour is.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Apr 11, 2012 1:51:38 PM

  11. "Christs sacrifice on the cross" is just more religious B.S. The entire bible is a collection of myths, fake history, contradictions, and evil deeds attributed to the Israelite tribal god yahweh that make Mao, Stalin,Hitler et al seem like choir boys. Shake that nonsense out of your head and be truly liberated.

    Posted by: jack | Apr 11, 2012 2:22:25 PM

  12. Spitzer says OOPS, i was wrong. Oh yea, I guess I did help destroy tens of thousands of lives in the process. Oh well, we all make mistakes. This is where arrogance leads.

    Posted by: jack | Apr 11, 2012 2:26:59 PM

  13. Groups like NOM will not stop using the article even if disowned by the author because they have no incentive to do so. Only if the press holds them accountable will they stop. But why would the press do this either? (Actually, NOM itself probably does not care about the ex-gay movement, but they are allies with people who do.) In recent years the ex-gay movement has essentially gone bankrupt because few men in their 20's are paying for the 'treatments' anymore and it's only the parents of gay teens that continue to seek out 'cures'. The two groups don't use the same facilities, so the whole self-identified 'ex-gay' world is collapsing while the more fundamentalist and church driven 'reparative therapy' crowd keeps going.

    Posted by: anon | Apr 11, 2012 3:05:02 PM

  14. my point is that expecting cohesive logic and reason from the religious right is fruitless. they don't actually know what they're talking about - it has less to do with trying to please god and more to do with trying to please a culture that thinks pleasing god makes one "better"

    these are the same people who ignore every scientific shred of evidence in order to favor "God made it. in 6 days"

    they don't "follow the bible". they "follow" parts that they think don't apply to them, and even though only barely.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Apr 11, 2012 3:24:37 PM

  15. look, a comprehensive who's-who of closet gays

    Posted by: mld | Apr 11, 2012 4:48:57 PM

  16. Everbody uses the bible as a cafeteria. It is a collection of myths and tales written by scores of individuals over many centuries. You can find all sorts of contradictions and just plain nonsense in it. It should be in museums like the Codes of Draco and Hammurabi and not something that rational 21st century people use as a serious guide to their lives.

    Posted by: jack | Apr 11, 2012 8:04:10 PM

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