Cable Networks Covered “Reparative” Gay Therapy Study -- Will They All Cover Author's Retraction?

Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC all covered a 2001 study by psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer that purported to show that a “change in one's sexual orientation was possible.” Anti-gay groups claiming homosexuality is a choice have repeatedly cited the study. Last month, Spitzer retracted the study, and while MSNBC covered Spitzer's retraction, neither CNN nor Fox has done so, according to the Nexis database.

Spitzer: “I Believe I Owe The Gay Community An Apology”

Truth Wins Out Publishes Letter From Spitzer. On April 25, the LGBT nonprofit group Truth Wins Out printed a letter from Spitzer apologizing for the study:

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.


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,
Columbia University [Truth Wins Out, 4/25/12, emphasis original]

Spitzer Published Study In 2001 Concluding People Can “Change” From “Homosexual” To “Heterosexual”

American Prospect: Study Concluded That For “Highly Select Group Of Motivated Individuals,” “Change In One's Sexual Orientation Was Possible.” From an April 11 American Prospect article by Gabriel Arana titled, “My So-Called Ex-Gay Life”:

In 2001, the year I started college, the ex-gay movement's claims received a significant boost. In 1973, Columbia professor and prominent psychiatrist Robert Spitzer had led the effort to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness. Four years after Stonewall, it was a landmark event for the gay-rights movement. But 28 years later, Spitzer released a study that asserted change in one's sexual orientation was possible. Based on 200 interviews with ex-gay patients -- the largest sample amassed -- the study did not make any claims about the success rate of ex-gay therapy. But Spitzer concluded that, at least for a highly select group of motivated individuals, it worked. What translated into the larger culture was: The father of the 1973 revolution in the classification and treatment of homosexuality, who could not be seen as just another biased ex-gay crusader with an agenda, had validated ex-gay therapy.

An Associated Press story called it “explosive.” In the words of one of Spitzer's gay colleagues, it was like “throwing a grenade into the gay community.” For the ex-gay movement, it was a godsend. Whereas previous accounts of success had appeared in non-peer-reviewed, vanity, pay-to-publish journals like Psychological Reports, Spitzer's study was published in the prestigious Archives of Sexual Behavior. [The American Prospect, 4/11/12]

NY Times: Spitzer Wrote That “Majority Of Participants” Reported Change From “Homosexual Orientation Before Therapy” To “Heterosexual Orientation.” From a May 18 New York Times article:

Reparative therapy, sometimes called “sexual reorientation” or “conversion” therapy, is rooted in Freud's idea that people are born bisexual and can move along a continuum from one end to the other. Some therapists never let go of the theory, and one of Dr. Spitzer's main rivals in the 1973 debate, Dr. Charles W. Socarides, founded an organization called the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or Narth, in Southern California, to promote it.

By 1998, Narth had formed alliances with socially conservative advocacy groups and together they began an aggressive campaign, taking out full-page ads in major newspaper trumpeting success stories.

“People with a shared worldview basically came together and created their own set of experts to offer alternative policy views,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist in New York and co-editor of “Ex-Gay Research: Analyzing the Spitzer Study and Its Relation to Science, Religion, Politics, and Culture.”

To Dr. Spitzer, the scientific question was at least worth asking: What was the effect of the therapy, if any? Previous studies had been biased and inconclusive. “People at the time did say to me, 'Bob, you're messing with your career, don't do it,' ” Dr. Spitzer said. “But I just didn't feel vulnerable.”

He recruited 200 men and women, from the centers that were performing the therapy, including Exodus International, based in Florida, and Narth. He interviewed each in depth over the phone, asking about their sexual urges, feelings and behaviors before and after having the therapy, rating the answers on a scale.

He then compared the scores on this questionnaire, before and after therapy. “The majority of participants gave reports of change from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation in the past year,” his paper concluded.

The study -- presented at a psychiatry meeting in 2001, before publication -- immediately created a sensation, and ex-gay groups seized on it as solid evidence for their case. This was Dr. Spitzer, after all, the man who single-handedly removed homosexuality from the manual of mental disorders. No one could accuse him of bias. [The New York Times, 5/18/12]

“Ex-Gay” Groups Used Spitzer's Study To Hype Reparative Therapy -- Which APA Says Doesn't Work And Can Be “Harmful”

American Prospect: “Spitzer's Study Is Still Cited By Ex-Gay Organizations As Evidence That Ex-Gay Therapy Works.” From The American Prospect:

Spitzer's study is still cited by ex-gay organizations as evidence that ex-gay therapy works. The study infuriated gay-rights supporters and many psychiatrists, who condemned its methodology and design. Participants had been referred to Spitzer by ex-gay groups like [the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality] and Exodus, which had an interest in recommending clients who would validate their work. The claims of change were self-reports, and Spitzer had not compared them with a control group that would help him judge their credibility. [The American Prospect, 4/11/12]

AP: In 2009, “American Psychological Association Declared” That “Mental Health Professionals Should Not Tell Gay Clients They Can Become Straight Through Therapy.” From an August 5, 2009, Associated Press article:

The American Psychological Association declared Wednesday that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments.

In a resolution adopted by the association's governing council, and in an accompanying report, the association issued its most comprehensive repudiation of so-called reparative therapy, a concept espoused by a small but persistent group of therapists, often allied with religious conservatives, who maintain that gay men and lesbians can change.

No solid evidence exists that such change is likely, says the resolution, adopted by a 125-to-4 vote. The association said some research suggested that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.

Instead of seeking such change, the association urged therapists to consider multiple options, which could include celibacy and switching churches, for helping clients live spiritually rewarding lives in instances where their sexual orientation and religious faith conflict.

The association has criticized reparative therapy in the past, but a six-member panel added weight to that position by examining 83 studies on sexual orientation change conducted since 1960. Its report was endorsed by the association's governing council in Toronto, where the association's annual meeting is being held this weekend. [Associated Press, 8/5/09, via The New York Times]

CNN: “According To The American Psychiatric Association, The Potential Risk Of Reparative Therapy Is Great.” On May 12, CNN aired a segment on a California bill that would ban reparative therapy for minors. Anchor Randi Kaye interviewed a man who had undergone reparative therapy and cited experts' reports to note that “the potential risk of reparative therapy is great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.” From the broadcast:

KAYE: This week, President Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage, but some people think that being gay is a choice. And when people see their children showing so-called feminine traits, they hope something called reparative therapy will cure them. This week, California may become the first state to actually ban this type of therapy. The vote is Tuesday.

I spoke recently with someone who grew up dealing with this therapy about how it affected him.


KAYE (voice-over): When Ryan Kendall was 13, his mother read his diary and discovered he was gay. That was the beginning of the most painful years of his life.

RYAN KENDALL, WENT THROUGH “REPARATIVE THERAPY” FOR BEING GAY: For years I thought God hated me because I was gay.

KAYE: Ryan says his parents were determined to change him. They signed him up for what's called reparative therapy with the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, otherwise known as NARTH. Reparative therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation has been used for decades as a way to turn potentially gay children straight.

KENDALL: Every day, I would hear, this is a choice. This can be fixed.

KAYE: And did you believe that?

KENDALL: I never believed that. I know I'm gay just like I know I'm short and I'm half Hispanic. I've never thought that those facts would change. It's part of my core fundamental identity. So the parallel would be sending me to tall camp and saying, if you try very hard, one day you can be six foot one.

KAYE: Ryan says he was treated by Joseph Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist who today is still associated with NARTH.


KAYE (on camera): According to the American Psychiatric Association, the potential risk of reparative therapy is great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior. The association says therapists' alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce the self-hatred already felt by patients.

(voice-over): Dr. Nicolosi says his therapy isn't harmful and he only treats people who want to change. Not true, says Ryan Kendall.

KENDALL: It led me to periods of homelessness, to drug abuse, to spending a decade of my life wanting to kill myself. It led to so much pain and struggle. And I want them to know that what they do hurts people. It hurts children. It has no basis in fact. And they need to stop. [CNN, CNN Saturday Morning News, 5/12/12]

April 2012: Spitzer Retracts, Apologizes For “Reparative” Therapy Study

Spitzer Asks American Prospect Writer To “Print A Retraction Of His 2001 Study.” In an interview with Arana, Spitzer said that he now admits “the critiques [of my study] are largely correct” and asked Arana to “print a retraction of his 2001 study.” From the article:

This spring, I visited Spitzer at his home in Princeton.


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 [the journal where the study was published] 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”? [The American Prospect, 4/11/12]

NY Times: “Psychiatry Giant Sorry For Backing Gay 'Cure.' ” A May 18 New York Times article described Spitzer writing a letter of apology for the study:

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.


Now here he was at his computer, ready to recant a study he had done himself, a poorly conceived [2001] 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 [Arana] 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 New York Times, 5/18/12]

Fox News, CNN, And MSNBC All Covered Spitzer's Study ...

Fox News Covered Study At Least Once, In 2001. According to a search of the Nexis database, Fox News covered Spitzer's study at least once, on the May 9, 2001, broadcast of Fox News' Special Report. On the show, Fox News correspondent Rick Leventhal interviewed Spitzer about his study:

[BRIT HUME, ANCHOR]: For years, people have argued whether homosexuality is an issue of nature or nurture. That is whether people are born gay or if they become gay as a product of their environment. Now a study suggests that lifestyle may be a matter of choice rather than genetics.

Fox News Correspondent Rick Levanthal explains.


RICK LEVANTHAL, FOX CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lots of folks say they're gay and proud, but what if gays would rather be straight? A new study suggests switching teams is not only possible, it's already happening.

DR. ROBERT SPITZER, HOMOSEXUAL STUDY AUTHOR: Whether somebody decides to make that effort is a personal choice, and my study doesn't certainly say that people should try to make that change. What it does say is that the conventional wisdom that making that effort is always doomed to failure is just not accurate.

LEVANTHAL: Dr. Robert Spitzer says reparative therapy works if subjects are highly motivated. His study examined 200 gays seeking help to change their sexual orientation, finding two-thirds of the men and almost half the women achieved good heterosexual functioning, which means they were in loving and emotionally satisfying heterosexual relationships for a full year.

But gay and lesbian groups call the research snake oil, not science, saying this was no random sample but a deck stacked with recruits from anti-homosexual ministries and the Dr. Laura show, changing because of pressure, not therapy.

JOAN GARY, GLAAD EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Many of the participants of this sample of these 200 phone calls are people who were recruited by anti-gay organizations. But I think the important point shouldn't be missed here, which is the why of sexual orientation is not relevant to whether people get treated fairly or not.

LEVANTHAL: Critics say real results can be found in another just- released study claiming 97 percent of people in reparative therapy ultimately return to their gay and lesbian lifestyle.

(on camera): Neither of the [studies] has been published or submitted for peer review. So there are many unanswered questions, and there's a lot at stake here, including the gay community's political clout. If homosexuality is a choice or a condition that could be reversed, it could be harder convincing people that gays need special protection and legal rights.

In New York, Rick Levanthal, Fox News.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [Fox News, Special Report with Brit Hume, 5/9/01, via Nexis]

CNN Anchors And Guests Have Covered Or Cited Spitzer's Study At Least Five Times Since 2001. According to a Nexis search, CNN has featured segments covering or citing Spitzer's study at least five times since it was published in 2001, including one segment in 2010.

  • May 9, 2001: CNN Covers Spitzer's Study Twice. On May 9, 2001, CNN aired two segments covering Spitzer's study. On CNN's since-discontinued morning show, Live At Daybreak, then-CNN anchor Carol Lin interviewed Robert Spitzer live. From the show:

LIN: I hope you're bracing yourself for the response to this study, because already it is the buzz of our newsroom: How do you change from gay to straight?

SPITZER: Well, first of all, I'm not sure the term “gay” is correct. Many of these people that I studied -- I studied over 200 -- were never gay in the sense of being comfortable with their homosexual feelings. Some had been, but most were never comfortable with their homosexual feelings.

Through a variety of change efforts -- some with standard psychotherapy, some in “ex-gay ministries” -- over many years, and usually in a very gradual process, they did change their sexual feelings.

This is not something that they were able to choose. It's not a question of choosing one's feelings. It's a question of making an effort through a particular program.


LIN: Was this voluntary behavior, or did religion somehow play a role in this conversion?

SPITZER: First of all, I wouldn't use the word “conversion.” I would use the words “increasing one's heterosexual potential and diminishing homosexual potential.”

Many of these people were motivated, certainly, by religious conflict, but that was not the only reason that they sought to change. Many of them sought to change because they were not satisfied with what they regarded as the gay lifestyle, which they found emotionally unsatisfying. Many of them were married and felt that their marriage could only be saved if they changed their feelings. And many of them wanted to get married but were unable to have opposite-sex feelings until they experienced this change.

LIN: So on the bottom line here, are you saying that a homosexual can choose to be straight?

SPITZER: No, I'm certainly not saying that. I would be very concerned if that's the way this study -- it's not a question of choosing. One doesn't choose to become heterosexual or homosexual. One can choose to resist an impulse. One can choose to make an effort by joining some kind of a program. These are not people who chose to change. They chose to make an effort to change. Some were successful, to varying degrees.

LIN: Dr. Spitzer, I only have a few seconds left with you, but it sounds to my ear like there is a potential here for someone to make the argument that homosexuality can be treated in the same manner that alcoholism is treated?

SPITZER: I don't know if it's in the same manner, and I don't know what the success rate is, but I do think the evidence is, as I said before, that some homosexuals who want to change can change. But it's not an easy process, and it's not choosing to change: It's choosing to make the effort.

LIN: It'll be interesting to see how people, after they hear your report, make that distinction. [CNN, Live at Daybreak, 5/9/01, via Nexis]

CNN covered Spitzer's report again that night on CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports:

[WOLF BLITZER, HOST]: Can gays go straight? Should they? We'll hear about the latest research, and then a debate. I'll speak live with the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who says he can convert gays. And Elizabeth Birch, of the Human Rights Campaign, who says Falwell is wrong.


BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly 30 years ago the American Psychiatric Association declared it would no longer consider homosexuality as a mental disorder. This year, the APA debates a controversial study by a psychiatrist who supported that 1973 decision. Dr. Robert Spitzer says some lesbians and gays have been made heterosexual through psychotherapy and religious counseling.

DR. ROBERT SPITZER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Many of these people that I studied -- I studied over 200 -- were never gay in the sense of being comfortable with their homosexual feelings. Some have been, but most were never comfortable with their homosexual feelings, and through a variety of change efforts, some with standard psychotherapy, some in ex-gay ministries, over many years, and usually a very gradual process, they did change their sexual feelings.

PALMER: Critics denounced Spitzer's study, saying he practiced bad science, basing his conclusions on short phone interviews with subjects, 66 percent of whom were referred by so-called “gay-to- straight” conversion programs.


PALMER (voice-over): Spitzer's report got a lot of attention. But also presented at the conference: A five-year study by two New York psychologists of gay men and lesbians who have undergone so- called “conversion therapies.” Its findings: 88 percent say the treatments did not work. [CNN, Wolf Blitzer Reports, 5/9/01, via Nexis]

  • May 12, 2001: CNN's Take Five Debates Spitzer's Study:

[JAKE TAPPER, CO-HOST]: This week, you couldn't miss reports of a new study that says gays who are “highly motivated” to turn straight, can.

Columbia University Psychiatry Professor Robert Spitzer based his report on a phone survey of people who said they changed their sexual orientation with therapy. Gay rights groups are calling the study “snake oil” and “not science.”

Michelle, where's the truth? Spitzer or the gay groups?

[MICHELLE COTTLE, CO-HOST]: Not with this study. Whatever your beliefs on the origins of homosexuality, there's serious questions to be asked about this.

For starters, the volunteers were referred by these ex-gay ministries, which are based on the belief that homosexuality is an abomination in God's eyes, and your only chance of salvation is to reject the lifestyle. So, already, you're looking at serious cherry- picking of respondents.

Second, during these phone interviews, the vast majority of people said that they still had fantasies and same sex urges. And the doctor trumpets the fact that even these people have achieved a high degree of heterosexual functionality through hard work. He's taught them to perform heterosexually. And I'm not sure how it differs from cult indoctrination to some degree. [CNN, Take Five, 05/12/01, via Nexis]

  • July 2, 2001: Guests On CNN's Crossfire Debate Spitzer's Study. On the July 2, 2001, edition of Crossfire, co-host Bill Press discussed the Spitzer study with guest and conservative radio talk show Janet Parshall:

PRESS: John, I tell you what has me outraged is this -- the constant theme we hear from people like you is that homosexuality is like a light switch. You can turn it on and turn it off. Either you can be gay on weekends and straight during the week, if you want to. I mean, it's that easy. In his report, Dr. Satcher says there is no valid scientific evidence to support this reversibility of homosexuality. Are you finally ready to admit that it's a way some people are born and some people are not?

PARSHALL: Absolutely no evidence whatsoever that someone is born that way. And you need to talk to Dr. Robert Spitzer and get his opinion on this and why in fact, he now says that people can indeed change people, engage in sexual behavior. That could be defined as heterosexual or homosexual. They're not born homosexual. [CNN, Crossfire, 7/2/01]

  • April 6, 2010: Guests On CNN Newsroom Cite Spitzer Study During Discussion Of CA Law. On April 6, 2010, during a segment on CNN Newsroom about a California law dating from 1950 that required “health experts” to “seek a cure to homosexuality,” guests cited Spitzer's study:

[KYRA PHILLIPS, ANCHOR]: Homosexuality. Is it a problem in need of a cure? It grabs your attention, doesn't it? And as you probably know, California is one of the most liberal states in the country, but wait until you hear about this law. Since 1950, health experts have been required to seek a cure to homosexuality. Lawmakers are in the process of repealing it, but some are saying not so fast.

Richard Cohen is a psychotherapist and an author. He's also a husband, father, and self-described former homosexual. Bonnie Lowenthal is a California assemblywoman. She wrote the bill to erase the law.


PHILLIPS: And Richard, let me ask you. Do you think that your homosexuality was a mental disorder?

RICHARD COHEN, PSYCHOTHERAPIST, INTERNATIONAL HEALING FOUNDATION: I think that we should keep this bill, the 8050 in California for two reasons. One, it says let's do research why sexual predators abuse children, and I am a survivor of sexual abuse. So, to do research to find out why predators do this is excellent.


COHEN: I actually had a partner, a male partner for three years. But in my heart I had a passionate desire to marry a woman and create a family. I went to several therapists and they said, you're born this way, accept it. I knew that wasn't true for me, so it took so many years to figure out why I had homosexual feelings and then come out straight.

For 20 years now as a psychotherapist, I've helped, as I said, hundreds in therapy and thousands of healing seminars. That's our Web site because we know that change from the inside, not just behavioral change, Kyra, this is internal change.

And Dr. Robert Spitzer of Columbia University did a study published in 2002, Archives of Sexual Behavior showing 200 men and women who reversed from homosexual to heterosexual and change their orientation. [CNN, CNN Newroom, 4/6/10, via Nexis]

MSNBC Covered Spitzer's Study At Least Once, In 2001. According to a Nexis search, MSNBC covered Spitzer's study at least once, excluding the times it has since covered his retraction. From the May 9, 2001, broadcast of Hardball:

[CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST]: Well, this is going to be interesting. Today there are two new studies out seeking to shed light on a controversial question with political implications, one by Dr. Robert Spitzer of Columbia University offers examples of gay men and women who say they were made straight through psychotherapy and religious counseling. Another study suggests that people cannot change their sexual orientation, even if they want to.

Dr. Spitzer interviewed about 200 gay men and women who reported they had become heterosexual. He writes, quote, “The subjects' self-reports of change appear to be, by and large, valid rather than gross exaggerations, brainwashing, or wishful thinking.”


MATTHEWS: We're also going to be joined right now from San Francisco by an old friend, Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign.

Why to me, I'm not gay, I'm straight, I just have a question. Why is this such a hot issue, this question of whether you can through counseling and whatever change your orientation? Why is it a political question?

ELIZABETH BIRCH, HUMAN RIGHTS: Well, Chris, I think that what's important about this is that these studies can be very dangerous if they're not done correctly. And the fact is, is, none of it matters, because truly public policy should really be based on whether we're treating every American in a fair and equal way and with a lot of self-esteem.

But this particular study seems to me to be enormously flawed, in that the pool of people from which Dr. Spitzer drew from, it was in a highly religiously charged atmosphere. He basically had these people supplied by a couple of right-wing organizations. And in fact, this study has not been subjected at all to peer review, which is an absolute basic step in research.

These researchers had an opportunity to subject it to peer review and opted not to. [MSNBC, Hardball, 5/9/01, via Nexis]

... But Only MSNBC Has Covered Spitzer's Retraction

MSNBC's Maddow Covered Spitzer's Retraction Twice. On her MSNBC show, host Rachel Maddow covered Spitzer's retraction twice in April. From the April 18 broadcast of her show:

MADDOW: In 2001, this came out. Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation?

This was not published in some quack, fringe, wishful thinking anti- gay publication. It was not a vanity publishing thing. This was published in a well-regarded peer-reviewed medical journal called “The Archives of Sexual Behavior”. And this piece was not published by some anti-gay true believer who was trying and failing to pull on the guise of scientific authority to justify being super anti-gay.

Look at the author of this. Look, Robert L. Spitzer. That would be the same Dr. Robert L. Spitzer who had been so instrumental in delisting homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. In 2001, 28 years after, Dr. Spitzer told the country that being gay doesn`t make you sick, he published this, this study, which says he studied a couple hundred patients and he found that you could, in some instances, pray away the gay! You could get rid of your homosexuality through therapy or something. He said some gay people, essentially, could be turned straight.

The anti-gay groups, “the being gay is a choice” people, the you can be cured of your homosexuality folks, they were over the moon. Look at this press release from a pray away the gay group called NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. Their press release, prominent psychiatrist announces new study results. Some gays can change!

Ever since this study came out in 2001, 11 years ago, Dr. Robert Spitzer`s work has been cited as proof that if you want it enough, you can turn yourself from gay to straight. The “cure the gay” people have spent that last 11 years moving to the center of anti-gay politics in the United States. They have become as mainstream as you can get in the anti-gay political world.

When President George W. Bush urged Congress in 2006 to amend the United States constitution, to make it anti-gay marriage, the Bush White House made sure that a contingent of people who specialize in supposedly curing gay people were in attendance at the White House announcement.


MADDOW: [L]ast week Dr. Robert Spitzer made it known that he would please like to take that study back from 2001. He would like to retract it. It does not mean what people think it means and he wishes it would not have published.

Last week, the “American Prospect” magazine published a remarkable piece of reporting, including the explosive revelation that Dr. Spitzer is renouncing this 2001 study that changed gay politics in America ever since. Dr. Spitzer says he wishes he could retract the study from the journal in which it was originally published. He says that efforts to cure gay people of homosexuality, quote, “can be quite harmful”; acknowledging that he did not study a representative sample of people, but instead counted on people sent to him from anti-gay groups.

Dr. Spitzer now says, quote, “The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.”

Dr. Spitzer essentially saying that study was not science, it was just a series of anecdotes. He's sorry it was published. He wants to take it back. [MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/18/12, via Nexis]

Maddow covered Spitzer's letter of apology on the April 26 broadcast of her show. She also discussed the impact Spitzer's retraction might have on the legal status of Proposition 8 in California, since its proponents have cited Spitzer's study previously. Her guest Kenji Yoshino, a law professor, said, “I think it's a big deal”:

MADDOW: Dr. Roberts Spitzer, the aforementioned Dr. Robert Spitzer, that prominent psychiatrist quoted there in the Prop 8 trial whose work is supposed to prove that gay people can change themselves into straight people, as we reported last week, Dr. Robert Spitzer recently revealed to the American Prospect he would like to retract his study, the one cited in that Prop 8 trial. He says he regrets it, he'd like to retract it and the he basically does not think it qualifies as science.

His study was published in this journal “The Archives of Sexual Behavior.” The journal's editor says that it will not formally retract the study, but they are going to publish this letter to the editor from Dr. Spitzer.

Kudos and thanks to for being the first to publish the content of Dr. Spitzer's letter. It is kind of astonishing. Dr. Spitzer writes that there's no way to determine if the people in his study who said they turned ex-gay were credible when they said it. There's no way to determine if they were credible when they said they had been cured of the gay.


MADDOW: The fact that this study from the early 2000s, the fact it no longer exists for the anti-gay rights side in the Prop 8 case, how do you think that will affect the case going forward?

YOSHINO: I think it's a big deal. So, first of all, the reason immutability is important is because under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, there's a standard called heightened scrutiny. And there are certain classifications like race, national origin, sex, nonmarital parentage, lineage that get that scrutiny.

The $64,000 question of this case is whether or not sexual orientation is going to be added to that list. And one of the criteria that's been looked at to determine whether or not a group gets heightened scrutiny is immutability, as you mentioned.

So, the fact that Spitzer retracting this and the fact that the testimony in the Prop 8 trial was overwhelming for the fact that sexual orientation is very hard to change could figure into that analysis. [MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/26/12, via Nexis]

Neither CNN Nor Fox Has Covered Spitzer's Retraction. According to searches of Nexis, since Arana's American Prospect article was published on April 11, CNN has repeatedly covered “reparative” therapy in the context of a proposed California bill that would ban such therapy for minors; host Soledad O'Brien even interviewed Arana about his own experience with “reparative” therapy on the May 11 broadcast of Starting Point. However, CNN has not covered Spitzer's retraction of his 2001 study. Neither has Fox News.