By Benedict Carey, New York Times, May 18, 2012
Now here he (Dr. Robert Spitzer) was at his computer, ready to recant a study he had done himself, a poorly conceived 2003 investigation that supported the use of so-called reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality for people strongly motivated to change.
What to say? The issue of gay marriage was rocking national politics yet again. The California State Legislature was debating a bill to ban the therapy outright as being dangerous. A magazine writer who had been through the therapy as a teenager recently visited his house, to explain how miserably disorienting the experience was.
And he would later learn that a World Health Organization report, released on Thursday, calls the therapy “a serious threat to the health and well-being — even the lives — of affected people.”
Dr. Spitzer’s fingers jerked over the keys, unreliably, as if choking on the words. And then it was done: a short letter to be published this month, in the same journal where the original study appeared.
“I believe,” it concludes, “I owe the gay community an apology.”...
The simple fact was that he had done something wrong, and at the end of a long and revolutionary career it didn’t matter how often he’d been right, how powerful he once was, or what it would mean for his legacy.
Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, considered by some to be the father of modern psychiatry, lay awake at 4 o’clock on a recent morning knowing he had to do the one thing that comes least naturally to him.
In 1998, I encountered the belief that reparative therapy could and would change a homosexual "back to his rightful position of heterosexuality" in the Episcopal church in Colorado. One clergy in the Diocese of Colorado even claimed to have, as evidence of the success of his work, "one of those positively impacted by the treatment" studying at the seminar for those planning to enter the priesthood.
In the most strongly worded memo I have ever written, I opposed the clergy's belief as not only repressive and counter-intuitive but also as preventive of the higher goal of the acceptance of gays as gays. Patronizingly, he informed me that "he would pray for me" and our conversation terminated.
Now, some fouteen years later, the psychiatrist whose reputation hinged on a misguided study in 2003, to demonstrate the positive effect of "reparative therapy" has apologized to the gay community.
It would seem that the truth will eventually find the light of day, although it may take decades, perhaps even centuries for that to happen.
Even to consider classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder is, was and always will be an insult to the gay and lesbian community. And for those at the highest levels of the psychiatric discipline of contemporary medical science to do so has hopefully been finally put to rest and will not recur.
It could, however, take decades for those, like the clergy in Colorado, to learn of this apology, and to permit a transformative experience of enlightenment to shift their perspective from a bias against, to an affirmation for the gay and lesbian community.
With the State of California about to debate a bill that would declare the treatment "dangerous" and the World Health Organization calling the therapy "a serious threat to the health and well-being --even the lives--of affected people" one wonders how long it will take church leaders, in all faiths, to reject the therapy in the same unequivocal manner.
Subject impact statements that demonstrate the negative consequences of reparative therapy, in effect telling the subject that his sexual orientation is wrong and he can and will right himself in the eyes of God by returning to heterosexuality include evidence not only of depression and loss of confidence but also thoughts and plans of suicide.
And everyone knows that one of the principle clauses of the Hippocratic Oath, taken by all medical practitioners, is "to do no harm" to the patient.
Would that a similar commitment be required of those practicing as religious leaders.