Today, in a letter to Dr. Ken Zucker obtained exclusively by Truth Wins Out, Dr. Robert Spitzer made an unprecedented apology to the gay community — and victims of reparative therapy in particular — for his infamous, now-repudiated 2001 study that claimed some “highly motivated” homosexuals could go from gay to straight:
Several months ago I told you that because of my revised view of my 2001 study of reparative therapy changing sexual orientation, I was considering writing something that would acknowledge that I now judged the major critiques of the study as largely correct. After discussing my revised view of the study with Gabriel Arana, a reporter for American Prospect, and with Malcolm Ritter, an Associated Press science writer, I decided that I had to make public my current thinking about the study. Here it is.
Basic Research Question. From the beginning it was: “can some version of reparative therapy enable individuals to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual?” Realizing that the study design made it impossible to answer this question, I suggested that the study could be viewed as answering the question, “how do individuals undergoing reparative therapy describe changes in sexual orientation?” – a not very interesting question.
The Fatal Flaw in the Study – There was no way to judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation. I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject’s reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid.
I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also 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.
Robert Spitzer. M.D.
Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry,
Zucker, to whom Spitzer’s letter is addressed, is the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the journal in which Spitzer’s study was originally published in 2001. At that time, the study was a surprise that created a media firestorm which captured the nation’s attention. Dr. Spitzer was the last person in America one would have expected to produce a study bolstering the claims of ‘ex-gay’ activists — after all, he had previously led the charge in 1972-73 to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. Earlier this month, Dr. Spitzer dealt “ex-gay” programs a fatal blow by officially renouncing his study in the American Prospect article he mentions in his letter above. That renunciation kicked out the final leg from the stool on which the proponents of ‘ex-gay’ therapy based their already shaky claims of success, or as Arana put it, removed from the ex-gay “fringe movement. . . its only shred of scientific support.”
Dr. Spitzer’s apology to the victims of “pray away the gay” therapy and the greater LGBT community marks a watershed moment in the fight against the “ex-gay” myth. We commend him for it, because not only will it solidify his legacy as a respected doctor and significant historical figure, but it will help to greatly hasten the day when the scourge that is reparative therapy is eradicated forever and LGBT people can live openly, honestly, and true to themselves.
(Originally published on Truth Wins Out.)