The Ex-Gay DilemmaI've talked before about how disappointed I am that ex-gay groups won't get together to try to objectively study the success rates of their programs, while still trying to claim to the public that they work. The problem is that so many people out there (whether it be virulent anti-gay folks, parents that just want a straight son--like my dad, or even struggling closeted gay kids) want gays to be able to change, and it often just takes a promise (rather than hard evidence) to make them believe the claims by ex-gay groups. Unfortunately, these people become filled with largely false hope by organizations that (for whatever reason) have no interest in backing up their claims scientifically. At least once I'd like an ex-gay group to conduct or fund a study to show the success rates of their programs. After all, if they are trying to help gay people, it shouldn't be about politics or word games or advertising blitzes, it should be about actually helping gay people.
In the end what happens too often is that the people involved aren't helped. Instead, they get demonized, used as pawns in a game of politics, and hurt as a result of all of this.
The Screw Bronze blog has a great blog post talking about the actual damage ex-gay therapies can cause to its clients--with an added note that conversion/reparative therapy is banned in Britain (which is news to me). The post links to a study by Dr Ariel Shidlo and Dr. Michael Schroeder called "Changing Sexual Orientation: a consumer's report" that was published in a peer reviewed journal in 2001.
Here are some findings from the study:
Study subjects: 202
Number that were no longer struggling and were fully heterosexual: 8
Of those 8, number that were not employees or volunteers of ex-gay groups: 1
Number that felt they had failed: 176
Number who felt conversion had done long term harm: 155
Number who attempted suicide during therapy: 23
Number who attempted suicide after therapy: 11
Number who reported spiritual harm: 100
So, according to this study, 1 person (arguably 8) of 202 were turned straight through therapy--a result I'd imagine was the goal of the people that entered the ex-gay therapies. At the same time, 100 had their faith dramatically harmed by therapy (if you're Christian, we're talking about their salvation here). And nearly 4 times the number that turned straight tried to kill themselves during therapy.
Up front I'll admit that this study surely has holes. It's a few years old now, and the Spitzer study came to very different conclusions. But, if the goal of ex-gay groups like Exodus is to help gay people, shouldn't they be very worried about these findings? If their goal is to save gay people, I'd imagine the fact that nearly half of those people entering ex-gay therapy lost their faith (and their salvation) would raise some serious concerns. Add to that that a fairly large number of people were attempting to kill themselves, and the program doesn't seem to be helping much of anybody.
So the dilemma is, how can ex-gay groups claim to be helping people when a study like this shows that they may be hurting far more than they help. Is destroying homosexuality the goal at all costs, even if lives and souls are lost in the end? I know the big groups will never answer the questions, but maybe the individual people involved in the movement (many of whom I know are honestly trying to help and save people) will somehow address the issue.
*Hat tip to Steve at A Tenable Belief for the link.