This coming weekend, Sharon Slater will speak at the annual conference of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Slater is the President of Family Watch International, an organization that lobbies the United Nations for pro-life and anti-gay causes. In January of 2011, Slater hosted a conference of over 30 United Nations delegates to promote her policy objectives. During the conference, the ex-gay message was prominent with a “the personal testimony of a patient who is successfully reorienting from homosexuality to heterosexuality” and a speech from an expert Slater refused to name.
Earlier this year, Slater claimed that she stopped using Martin Ssempa as a liaison in Africa after she learned about Ssempa’s support for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Slater correctly understands that the bill requires the death penalty for HIV positive gays and she opposes that. However, she refused to condemn prison terms for gays in Uganda or any other country. In essence, her position is the same as Scott Lively’s view – oppose the death penalty but support the stance of African nations who maintain harsh prison terms for GLBT people. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is once again before Uganda’s Parliament and may be considered on the floor within the next month.
Slater has traveled to Africa several times to speak against relaxing laws on homosexuality. At a Nigerian conference in 2009 – the same year the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced – Slater praised Uganda for refusing to decriminalize homosexuality. Earlier this year, also in Nigeria, Slater commended Nigeria for resisting the UN’s call for decriminalization.
Like Lively, Slater uses NARTH materials as a foundation for her policy positions. On the FWI website, Slater twice refers readers to a 2009 paper by NARTH which reviews studies of sexual orientation change efforts. She uses their materials to support her view that GLB people are not entitled to human rights because sexual orientation is not a fixed trait.
In this context, it is striking that NARTH has refused to declare opposition to criminalization of homosexuality. In December, 2009, I asked NARTH’s leadership about the organization’s position on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. At that time, Scott Lively advocated that forced therapy for gays should be included in the bill. NARTH’s operations director, David Pruden, rejected the forced therapy as ineffective. However, NARTH past-president Dean Byrd declined to take a position on criminalization saying,
We are aware of the situation in Uganda but thank you for bringing this to our attention. I am sure that you are aware that as a scientific organization, NARTH does not take political positions; however, we are happy to provide a summary of what science can and cannot say about homosexuality for those who do.
In contrast, NARTH has taken a position on a few political issues. For instance, the organization opposes “gay advocacy in schools” and “same-sex marriage.” Since NARTH has taken a stance on some political issues, it is puzzling that the organization will not on criminalization of homosexuality. Such laws harm affirming and non-affirming GLB people alike.
In light of NARTH’s failure to oppose criminalization, it is troubling that the group invited Slater to speak at their conference. Ms. Slater is not trained as a clinician, scientist or a researcher; she is an advocate of policies which restrict the basic liberties of GLB people around the world and would do the same in the US if possible. In absence of an official policy on decriminalization, it appears that NARTH’s invitation of Ms. Slater signals the posture of the organization on the matter.