Sexual orientation theorizing: Is change possible?

I post often about causal factors in sexuality; such factors are puzzle pieces that interest me (along with other human traits and variations). In addition, the intersection of personal values and sexuality ratchets up the interest level. Thus, the recent article, “Respecting Ex-gays”by John Corvino is a must read.

Corvino wants to take a live-and-let-live approach. He ends his piece with a familiar, but altered soundbite:

So when ex-gays announce, from billboards and magazine ads, that “Change is possible,” I say: Possible? Maybe. Likely? No. Desirable? Not for me, thanks.

He is fine with being gay and wants ex-gays to respect him in the same way he wants to respect their right and responsibility to steward their lives according to conscience.

He notes three problems he perceives among ex-gay ministries in general that will lead me to the next part of this post. First is “their tendency to promote myths about the so-called “homosexual lifestyle” by generalizing from some people’s unfortunate personal experiences.” He notes that testimonies of promiscuity and unhappiness do not describe his life and should not be taken as true of all same-sex attracted people.  Next, he laments “the ex-gay ministries’ abuse of science” saying, “Ex-gay ministries tend to lean on discredited etiological theories—domineering mothers, absent fathers, and that sort of thing.” Finally, he says, “The third and related problem is that many ex-gay ministries promote not merely a ‘change,’ but a ‘cure.’ ‘Cure’ implies ‘disease,’ which homosexuality is not.

Although I might quarrel with degrees, I essentially agree with Corvino’s assessment here. Along with the recent shifts in Exodus away from promoting public policy stances, I am hopeful that the issues of research and use of science will be vigorously addressed as well.

On the point of shifts in views of causation, Dean Byrd at NARTH has an article on the NARTH website giving some cautious kudos to the APA for a revised pamphlet regarding sexual orientation. The subtitle of his article is “The APA has now begun to acknowledge what most scientists have long known: that a bio-psycho-social model of causation best fits the data.”

Contrasting the original edition of the pamphlet with the new one, Byrd believes the current statement is more accurate. The new statement reads,

What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

In response, Byrd opines:

Although there is no mention of the research that influenced this new position statement, it is clear that efforts to “prove” that homosexuality is simply a biological fait accompli have failed. The activist researchers themselves have reluctantly reached that conclusion. There is no gay gene. There is no simple biological pathway to homosexuality. Byne and Parsons, and Friedman and Downey, were correct: a bio-psycho-social model best fits the data (italics in the original).

My first thought after reading this paragraph was that those I know who are researching pre-natal factors have not concluded any such thing, reluctantly or not. Furthermore, the lack of current evidence for biological theories does not disprove a potential, now-unknown biological influence, nor does lack of strong evidence for general inborn factors prove true a bio-psycho-social model. Next, I wondered what that model looked like. As far as I can discern, all bio-psycho-social really means is that there are many factors and we do not know how they interact to yield adult sexual orientation.

Then I wondered when NARTH would make an APA-like statement about theorized environmental factors such as child abuse and same-sex parenting deficits. What if NARTH acknowledged “what most scientists have long known: that a bio-psycho-social model of causation best fits the data?” Wouldn’t there be a need for a statement cautioning readers of their materials that evidence for parenting playing a large or determining role is meager? Paralleling Dr. Byrd’s assessment of the APA pamphlet, shouldn’t NARTH say with italics, “There is no homogenic family. There is no simple familial pathway to homosexuality.” Appeals to those theories criticized by Corvino would be less frequent, right? Hey, changes are happening all over, why not this?

I wrote Dean and asked him about NARTH’s stance. He answered for himself by saying,

I think that the bio-psycho-social model of causation makes it clear that there is neither a simple biological or environmental pathway to homosexuality.

While I think NARTH should go much further, this statement may be the start of a more nuanced position from them. I would not go so far as Corvino did and say that familial factors have been discredited. On point, this is not what the APA said at all. What we should be saying is that there are many lines of research open with many factors under investigation. It appears pre-natal and post-natal factors play different roles for different people. Beyond that, the subject is still under study.

Would this change be so hard?

Year in review: Top Ten Stories from 2007

Since it was so much fun last year, I decided to compile a top ten list of stories of the year on the blog. Since I am the only voter, the list is subjective and regular readers might arrange them differently or think I should have included another story over one of these. The stories are arranged in the order of the interest they seemed to create here on the blog and elsewhere.

1. APA Task Force on sexual orientation – I first reported here that the APA had convened a task force to review APA policy regarding therapeutic responses to sexual orientation. Initial information released from the APA noted that gay advocacy groups sought assistance from the APA in order to negatively evaluate efforts to change sexual orientation. The charge also involves therapeutic responses to individuals who wish to alter behavioral expression of their sexuality. The issue was the subject of a CNN segment involving yours truly, an Associated Press article and was the subject of several posts on the blog. A large coalition of religious groups and interested individuals wrote the APA regarding the religious aspects of the committee’s charge. Efforts to further regulate orientation change efforts spilled over to other professions, notably, the American Academy of Physician Assistants. The APA Task Force will likely be featured as a top story again since the report is expected to be released sometime in 2008.

2. The sexual identity therapy framework – The SIT framework was the subject of national news stories and identified by Stephanie Simon of the LA Times as an important component of changes in therapy for those in conflict over sexual identity. I did numerous posts on the framework in an attempt to distinguish it from other approaches. Mark Yarhouse and I presented aspects of the framework at the American Psychological Association convention, the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference and other local conferences. A revision of the framework and several high level presentations are slated for 2008. 

3. The release of the Exodus outcomes study by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse – After months of speculation, Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse released the results of their longitudinal study of Exodus International participants at the AACC conference in September.  Although the study garnered little national media attention, many blogs, (including this one), and the gay and religiously based news services thoroughly covered the study. With additional data to be collected and reported, this story will most likely reappear in 2008.   

4. Donnie Davies – For a short time in January and February, blogosphere was captivated by the “Rev. Davies” and the “The Bible Says” music video. In a kind of “Where’s Waldo” cyber hunt, numerous bloggers were eager to crack the case and learn find out who Donnie Davies was, where was he hiding, and to learn if his act for real. I did 11 posts on the subject and became acquaited via email with Joey Oglesby, the actor behind the spoof. We even wondered if Mr. Oglesby and Rev. Davies were twins separated at birth because of their uncanny resemblance. Will Donnie do an anniversary reunion tour in January? Stay tuned.

5. The Cameron Eastern Psychological Association presentation – In March, Paul and Kirk Cameron released a series of news spots claiming that data from Canada, Norway and Denmark supported their contention that gays die between 20-30 younger than straights. In reviewing their study, first presented as a poster session at the Eastern Psychological Association annual meeting, I disputed key assumptions underlying their claims. In addition, Danish epidemiologist, Morten Frisch reviewed the study here on the blog finding it inadequate. Paul and Kirk Cameron provided rebuttals to criticisms and a nine-part series resulted.

6. New Warriors Training Adventure and the Mankind Project – A post regarding the suicide of Michael Scinto in an October issue of the Houston Press led to a series of posts about the Mankind Project and New Warriors Training Adventure. I received numerous emails from men who attest to benefit and those who believe NWTA was harmful and coercive. One irony about NWTA is that public proponents of reparative therapy and gay affirmative therapy both recommend NWTA to clients to enhance masculinity. Reparative therapists believe NWTA may lead to reduced same-sex attraction and gay therapists believe NWTA can enhance security in a gay identity. I remain curious about the mechanisms inherent in NWTA and other such programs to effect either benefit or harm. With the Scinto trial schedule for later in 2008, this story will remain of interest through the next year.

7. Montel Williams show on reparative therapy – The Montel Williams show purporting to examine reparative therapy was a lightning rod for controversy. On the show, psychiatrist Alicia Salzar falsely claimed that science has shown that 96% of people attempting to change orientation cannot do so and experience harm. Her claim was based on a study, the authors of which acknowledged cannot be used to make such a claim. The unwillingness of the show to retract the statement led to a ethics complaint against Dr. Salzar, filed by Exodus International. 

8. Pro-life/abortion related stories – The most viewed post on the blog consisted of an interview with Grove City College colleague and historian Paul Kengor regarding the religious beliefs of Hillary Clinton.  Other such interviews have been immensely popular with readers as well. Another APA task force, this one on abortion and mental health issues, stimulated grassroots activism, reported here in November. 

9. Emergence of the ex-ex-gay movement – At this year’s Exodus conference, a group of people once involved in ex-gay efforts had a parallel conference to discuss their efforts to recover from their experiences. Perhaps, the newest ex-ex-gay, James Stabile is a 19 year old young man from Dallas who encountered evangelists from the Heartland World Ministry Church in early September. Recorded on film and broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network, it appeared that Mr. Stabile was dramatically converted and even reported change in homosexuality. Later it was learned that Mr. Stabile had not changed and was back home with his parents after a stay at ex-gay residential program, Pure Life Ministry.

10. Richard Cohen – An early 2007 debacle on John Stewart’s Daily Show led Mr. Cohen to pledge on my blog that he would do no additional media appearances. He ended his email with a fundraising appeal. In response to this appearance, Exodus issued a statement distancing the organization from Cohen’s work, and NARTH and PFOX quietly removed references to Mr. Cohen from their websites. Cohen made something of a comeback however, with You Tube videos including his family, and a new edition of one of his books with Evangelical publisher, Intervarsity Press. Then, later, I looked into the Unification Church connections of Mr. Cohen’s assistant director and former board member, Hilde Wiemann. Both Cohen and Wiemann initially denied these connections but they were clear enough that cult expert, Steve Hassan, briefly placed the International Healing Foundation back on his list of Unification Church connected groups. Eventually, Mrs. Wiemann acknowledged, in contrast to the initial claims, that she had been involved in the church and had only recently left it. After her repudiation of Moon, Mr. Hassan then again removed the IHF from his list of Unification connected groups.    

Well, that was quite a year. I suppose one could make a case for other stories, e.g., the Omaha websites advocating violence, the quick emergence and then retreat of Michael Glatze as an ex-gay spokesman, Ted Haggard’s three week therapy, the wide stance of Larry Craig, the Surgeon General nominee James Holsinger, Stephen Bennett’s public division with Exodus, Al Mohler’s comments on biology and homosexuality, the retirement of I Do Exist, and my musical comeback and resultant #1 Internet hit.

Now cast your opinion – What would your top ten list for this blog look like for 2007?

Godspeed to all and a Happy New Year!

Silent No More seeks support for letter to the APA

Silent No More, a post-abortion awareness campaign, is seeking signatures of support for a letter to the American Psychological Association. Specifically, the letter seeks dialogue with the APA’s Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health. Silent No More would like to hear from women and men who have experienced post-abortion consequences, as well as those who support them. With permission, I am reproducing here a recent email alert sent to the Silent No More mailing list.

Note that the deadline for collecting signatures has been extended. Although the letter below says the letter will be delivered in time for the APA to respond by December 1, 2007, this is of course now not correct and will be corrected when the letter is sent to the APA.  So anyone who is interested in signing on should do so now, although I am not aware of when the letter with signatures will be sent. When this information is available, I will post it.

Dear Silent No More Awareness Friends,

This month’s e-letter is somewhat like one we sent you this time last year! How ironic! We are once again soliciting you to be SILENT NO MORE via your signature. This time though it is on a letter going to the American Psychological Association (APA).  The APA has created a Task Force to review all the existing research regarding the negative psychological consequences following abortion. Based on their evaluation of the data, they will release a report that will influence their members and the media for years to come.

After consulting with various experts of our own, we have decided to send them one letter signed by many.This is where you come in! The Silent No More Awareness Campaign needs you to join us and sign onto to the letter. The letter is below and if, after you read it, you want to sign it – please click on the email address and send us an email or send us a note stating you want your name included.

Here’s the letter:

We, the undersigned, have become aware that the American Psychological Association is revisiting the topic of abortion effects on mental health.

By means of the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion you propose to collect, examine and summarize the scientific research addressing the mental health factors associated with abortion, including the psychological responses following abortion, and will produce a report based upon review of current research.

We write to ask how we may have a voice in the deliberations of this task force. As we review the task force charge we would like to make you aware of one item of interest and make one request. First, in examining the existing scientific research, we are aware of thousands of women who may not show up in studies of post-abortion effects. Part of the purpose of our letter is to make you aware of a very large pool of potential participants in research on potential effects of abortion.

Second, to open dialogue and facilitate understanding, we would like to request a meeting with the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Leaders of groups representing women who experience negative post-abortion consequences would like to present data to you from our own collected experience.

The undersigned represent thousands of women who report negative post-abortion experiences of various kinds as well as thousands more people who stand in support of them.

We hope to hear from you by December 1st,2007. [This deadline will be later]

Sincerely,

To sign the letter as a woman who has had an abortion – email: mail@SilentNoMoreAwareness.org and note PAS Women Signature in the subject line. List your name as you want it included in the letter to the APA.

To sign the letter as a man who has an abortion experience – email: mailto:Info@AnglicansforLife.org and note PAS Man Signature in the subject line. List your name as you want it included in the letter to the APA.

To sign the letter as someone who supports women and men in getting healing after abortion – email: mailto:Info@AnglicansforLife.org and note PAS Support Signature in the subject line. List your name as you want it included in the letter to the APA.

If you’d like to have your friends also sign on to the letter, please direct them to our website: SilentNoMoreAwareness.org – have them click on “Join Us” and fill out the form – in the comments sections – note how they want to sign onto the letter. PAS Women Signature, PAS Man Signature, or PAS Support Signature.

We want to thank all of you for being silent no more in so many ways. We are especially grateful for those who have recently come aboard and want you all to feel welcome and know you participation is important to us.  We pray for each of you to embrace God’s guidance as He shows you how to be silent no more.

Blessings for Life,

Georgette Forney, 800-707-NOEL

Georgette@SilentNoMoreAwareness.org

Janet Morana, 888-PFL-3448

Janet@SilentNoMoreAwareness.org

Address any questions to the contacts above and feel free to make comments here as well.