Lessons from the True Tolerance website: Discuss sexual orientation

Titles are meant to grab attenion and perhaps that one will for those who have followed the worries of Focus on the Family about bullying prevention programs. Essentially, FOF is concerned that gay activists are using anti-bullying programs to infiltrate schools with political messages. To counter that perceived threat, FOF placed a list of bullying facts on their True Tolerance website. Given my interest and current involvement in bullying prevention, I checked it out. I will have a more extensive look at it next week but for now I wanted to post something I was surprised to see there.

As a reference for the contention that bullying of kids who are gay and perceived to be gay is not a big problem, the fact sheet lists an article from the Newsweek blog. First here is one of the FOF bullet points:

Statistics also indicate that race, ethnicity issues, and even opposite-sex harassment actually account for more bullying problems, than do homosexual-related issues.

As a reference for that factoid, the author of the sheet lists a Newsweek blog article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, titled, “Does Labeling Bias as “Bullying” Hide the Real Problem?” The authors first describe the case of a young man, Alex Merritt, who allegedly suffered sexual orientation related harassment and then report the research of Stephen Russell on reasons kids report being bullied.

Russell went to public and private schools in California, surveying 235,000 kids in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades. Russell asked each student if he had been bullied within the past 12 months, and if they answer was yes, to describe the incident.

37.4% of the kids said that they had been bullied. 

Then Russell broke that data down by category.

14% of the kids had been bullied because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin. 9.1% of the kids said they’d been bullied because of their religious beliefs, while 10.3% said the bullying was gender-based. Like Alex Merritt, 7.5% said that the torments had been about their sexual-orientation – that includes kids who were actually homosexual, and those just perceived to be gay. Another 4.9% said that they were bullied because of they had a physical or mental disability.

By the end of his data analysis, Russell had concluded that 75% of all bullying came from some type of bias – racial, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

This article is apparently a reference designed to prove that anti-gay bullying is down the list of reasons why kids are picked on. I assume the reason for that point is to make a case that sexual orientation should not be discussed as a means of preventing bullying. However, that is not the message of the article referenced. Based  on the data, the Newsweek authors point out that bias is involved in the lion’s share of the bullying. The authors then raise the possibility that school personnel should be promoting discussions of the factors involved, including sexual orientation.

Dorothy Espelage has been analyzing the curriculum of the anti-bullying programs most commonly used in schools. She found that hardly any of the programs even addressed bullying relating to sexual orientation.

If the majority of bullying is bias-related, and yet we don’t even acknowledge this in anti-bullying programs, what does this mean? In the chapter of our book, excerpted in Newsweek, we presented evidence that demonstrated how many of us have assumed kids are race/color-blind, and thus we don’t need to talk about race with them – however, that leaves kids to their own devices on how they respond to racial and ethnic differences. Perhaps the same pattern is going on in other forms of bias. We think that we as a society are past making fun of people with disabilities, people of different religion or gender, etc. – and thus we don’t actively talk about these issues with our children. And that has inadvertently left the door open for kids to use these differences as the basis of torment. 

The implication is clear: at least in some schools, maybe most, we need to discuss the hidden elephants in the rooms, whether they be race, religion or sexuality. 

Looking again at the numbers, the 7.5% who were bullied due to sexual orientation is staggering. The prevalence of students who are gay or perceived to be gay is probably not much higher than 10-15%. That means a very high percentage of such children are getting harassed. In evaluating the meaning of the numbers it is not sufficient to simply rank order the reasons as FOF has done. One must also consider the prevalence of harassment in that population.

Schools differ and in some ethnicity might be the largest elephant in the room, but I suspect in many districts around the country and probably the corner, kids are being subjected to regular harassment based on real or perceived sexual minority status. In those situations, as this FOF referenced article reminds us, we need to talk about it.

Please leave anti-bullying programs out of the culture war

It is time to go back to school and Focus on the Family is warning that anti-bullying programs may lead to gay promotion.

Gay-rights groups’ push for anti-bullying legislation and school programs is an effort to “promote homosexuality to kids,” according to a conservative Christian activist organization.

The accusation has underscored the conflicting attitudes among some politicians and parents who have lent their support to these policies after a string of deadly bullying episodes across the country.

Focus on the Family has accused gay-rights groups of using tolerance and anti-bullying programs to introduce curricula and books into schools that promote political aims such as same-sex marriage. The same groups, it says, lobby for gays and other minority groups to be specifically mentioned in anti-bullying legislation and try to depict Christians opposed to such treatment as bigots.

Being on a local committee to implement anti-bullying initiatives, I have already heard fallout from articles like this one. Please leave the culture war out of this.

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My concern is that Christians are not leading the way against bullying but rather are putting up barriers to the implementation of methods that work. I am on the local committee to roll out the Olweus program and I can tell you that I have heard fallout from similar articles as this one.

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Locally, the school district is implementing the Olweus program. I am on a committee to assist and I am very pleased to see it rolled out. I can tell you however, that I have encountered fallout from articles like the ABC article linked above, where parents fear the program due to concerns over gay promotion.

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Love Won Out transitions to Exodus International

This just in…

The Associated Press has a story on topic…

Focus on the Family’s conference on homosexuality joins Exodus’ expanding church outreach

Orlando, FL. — Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out conference on homosexuality will be moving to Exodus International starting November, the longtime allies announced today. The move is a logical step not only for both organizations, but also for a movement that has educated and equipped Christians for decades about the reality that unwanted same-sex attractions can be overcome.

Exodus is making church education a priority effort. Recently, Exodus announced it was merging with outreach ministries of the Presbyterian and Reformed faith communities as well as The United Methodist Church. Those new partnerships will focus on equipping churches with a biblical perspective of sexuality and gender – efforts critical in continuing the original mission of the Love Won Out conference.

“Exodus is thrilled with this opportunity as the Love Won Out conference is a natural fit in our ongoing efforts to share the hope we’ve found,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International. “Love Won Out has been and will continue to be a powerful event dedicated to helping the global Christian church better understand and more effectively reflect biblical truth and Christ-like compassion to a hurting world.”

Focus on the Family launched Love Won Out in 1998 to educate and equip Christians on how to respond to the issue of homosexuality in a biblical way, and has traveled to more than 50 cities worldwide with its message of truth and grace. The conference has always featured Exodus speakers and highlighted Exodus member ministries.

“There is no one better equipped to take over the operation of Love Won Out than Alan and his team,” said Focus on the Family’s Melissa Fryrear, a Love Won Out speaker and host for more than six years. “They have been with us since the beginning. They have stood alongside us in sharing the hope that, with Christ, transformation is possible for those unhappy with same-sex attractions. And we will stand alongside them as they continue to share that message as the organizer of Love Won Out.”

Focus on the Family’s gender team will continue its efforts tracking and analyzing homosexuality and its surrounding issues, as well as providing expert support to other Focus departments and practical help to its constituents.

Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for the ministry, acknowledged that financial realities played a role in the conference’s transition to Exodus.

“Everyone knows these are challenging times for organizations and individuals all across the globe,” he said. “It is not an inexpensive undertaking to put on a Love Won Out event; and contrary to what our detractors say, the conferences rarely have recouped the financial investment made in them. That is a cost we have always paid because of the positive impact the events have had.

“With Exodus moving aggressively to strengthen its church outreach, though, they are the ones who ought to be shepherding Love Won Out as it continues on in its second decade. Our financial challenges have led us to recognize a strategic opportunity that makes sense independent of economic circumstances.”

Focus on the Family will continue to support the Love Won Out conference financially, and by providing speakers and marketing support. “Focus remains very committed to sharing biblical view of homosexuality,” said Fryrear. “After all, we’re still in the truth and grace business.”

Focus on the Family will lead its last Love Won Out conference in Birmingham, Ala. on Nov. 7.

The Washington Blade already has a story up about the move.

NARTH’s new journal is not a new study

Seeing some of the press out on the recent NARTH (National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) monograph, one might think the paper is a new study which demonstrates something that was once unclear.

Not so. The first issue of the journal is actually a three part paper which reviews a variety of research studies mixed in with website postings and newspaper articles. There is no new research in the 121 page monograph. The three parts correspond to three claims the NARTH authors, James Phelan, Neil Whitehead, and Philip Sutton, attribute to the American Psychological Association. The claims are:

1. There has been no conclusive or convincing evidence that sexual orientation may be changed through reorientation therapy.

2. Efforts to change sexual orientation are harmful and can lead to greater self-hatred, depression, and other self-destructive behaviors.

3. There is no greater pathology in the homosexual population than in the general population.

To achieve the stated purpose, one would need to limit the review to the highest quality research which directly address each of the points. Particularly on the first two points, the paper does not do this, but rather includes any paper, or even opinion piece which supports the claims. In a subsequent article, I will review the paper in a bit more detail. Suffice to say for now, that there is nothing new in this paper.

I will note one problem that jumped out at me immediately. The NARTH report begins with the claim that scientific evidence leads to

a singular conclusion: Homosexuality is not innate, immutable or without significant risk to medical, psychological, and relational health. (Emphasis in the original)

However, one aspect of this “singular conclusion” – the claim homosexuality is not innate – is not covered in the body of the paper. Despite the fact that NARTH concludes that homosexuality develops after a person is born, they provide no review of the evidence which addresses that topic. From this statement and others, one could get the impression that the conclusion was decided before the review took place.

Researchers question use of sexual abuse data

Today, researchers Ron Stall and Ron Valdiserri released a statement regarding use of their book, Unequal Opportunities: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States by Focus on the Family writer Jeff Johnston.

The report they question was released recently by Focus and is titled: “Childhood Sexual Abuse and Male Homosexuality: Is there a link?” In that report, Johnston cites statistics from the book, along with quotes from other studies and an interview with Narth past-president Dean Byrd. Here are the relevant portions of the book edited by Stall, Valdiserri and colleague Richard Wolitski (all footnotes in this section are to the Unequal Opportunities book).

Many pro-gay researchers, activists and theorists deny that there could be a connection between child sexual abuse and adult homosexuality. Some possible reasons for denying this link are the stigma that surrounds sexual abuse; the fear of associating homosexuality with “recruitment” or pedophilia; and because so many gays continue to believe that homosexuality is inborn and immutable. In 2008, however, a group of researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a book that documented the high rates of sexual abuse among “men who have sex with men (MSM).”[6]

In a chapter titled, “Childhood Sexual Abuse Experienced by Gay and Bisexual Men: Understanding the Disparities and Interventions to Help Eliminate Them,” from the book Unequal Opportunity, researchers analyze and report on data from 17 different studies from the past 15 years.[7] They find the rates of childhood sexual abuse (which they abbreviate as CSA) for men who have sex with men range from 11.8% to 37.0%, and note that “the best-designed studies tend to converge on CSA prevalence of 15% to 25%.”[8]

While most of those who perpetrate sexual abuse are men, abusers are not necessarily homosexual or gay-identified,[9] and the authors note that “in studies focusing on MSM, the perpetrators are always at least 90% male.”[10] The range of abuse varies in the different studies depending on the definition of abuse and the sample method.[11]

The researchers report that the rates of child sexual abuse for gay- or bisexual-identified men are significantly higher than those found among heterosexually-identified men. They write that the rates for heterosexual men are usually “less than 10%,” and state that in five studies that compared the two groups, the men who have sex with men are “at least three times more likely to report CSA, however defined, than heterosexual men.”[12] This finding is reiterated in their conclusion: “Rates for MSM are 15% to 25% in the best designed studies, which is at least triple the rates reported among heterosexual men.”[13]

Consequences of Sexual abuse

Children are not equipped emotionally, physically, spiritually or psychologically to handle adult sexuality. Individual boys will handle sexual abuse in different ways: what leads to shame and guilt in one child might lead to self-questioning and gender confusion in another or to anger and acting out in a third. Each child is unique, grows up in a unique environment and will respond in an individual way to sexual abuse or early sexual encounters with the same sex.

There are, however, common themes and outcomes that consistently emerge in studies of men who were sexually abused as children. Two common outcomes of sexual abuse – out of the many possible – are that boys may question their identity and be confused about their sexuality.

The followin quotes may have generated the most concern by Stall and Valdiserri:

The authors in Unequal Opportunity are reluctant to say that childhood sexual abuse is one of the factors that leads to or contributes to the development of homosexuality, but they do speculate,

The fact that most childhood abusers of MSM were males suggests either an etiological link between CSA and adult sexual orientation, or the existence of childhood characteristics that are related to adult sexual orientation in men that increase vulnerability, or both.”[23]

And later, they say that these early sexual experiences “can be considered a form of sexual learning, even if that learning is involuntary and the results dysfunctional.”[24] They continue, “Sexual orientation and gender identity can be particularly confusing for men who experienced arousal during the abuse, and MSM who experienced abuse may continue to be aroused by circumstances that mirror the abusive situation.[25]

Drs. Stall and Valdeserri’s statement is as follows:

We want to respond to a recent Focus on the Family characterization of scientific findings reported in our book, Unequal Opportunities: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States (Oxford University Press) that misrepresented findings in the book to suggest that childhood sexual abuse causes male homosexuality. The Focus on the Family description of the findings reported in Unequal Opportunities is inaccurate and, in our opinion, a distortion of the scientific literature.

Most basically, the Focus on the Family characterization of the literature on childhood sexual abuse among gay men represents a misunderstanding of scientific approaches to distinguishing between correlation and causation. The book chapter in question reports that gay men are more likely to report childhood sexual abuse by men than are heterosexual men. This correlation does not mean that the reported abuse caused the adult sexual orientation. If that were the case, then the fact that some heterosexual men report sexual abuse by women means that sexual abuse by women “causes” heterosexuality in men. It is also worth noting that the argument that childhood sexual abuse causes homosexuality in gay men is undermined by the fact that the vast majority of gay men are not sexually abused as children.

One potential partial explanation for this correlation, and one that makes the most sense when you consider people of all orientations, is that some youth, particularly post-pubertal youth (who still cannot legally consent to sexual activity) have sexual experiences with males or females, depending on their pre-existing orientation. Let’s be very clear that this does not mean that these experiences are appropriate or healthy. However, it also does not mean that these experiences

caused the sexual orientation of the youth. The development of a person’s sexual orientation is a complex and multifaceted process. The research into these processes has barely begun, and the development of sexuality is very difficult to study. Mischaracterizations of the scientific literature on the development of sexual orientation is not helpful to science.

Rather than mischaracterize these findings, we would like to point out the harm to health that can be caused by childhood sexual abuse among boys and girls of all sexual orientations. Childhood sexual abuse occurs to far too many young Americans and a large and growing literature supports that this abuse can cause lifelong damage to the physical and mental health and wellbeing of men and women of all sexual orientations. We suggest that Focus on the Family and

other concerned organizations focus on how to work to ensure that all of our children remain safe from unwanted sexual experiences– whether heterosexual or homosexual.

That said, we want to state clearly that the published research does not support the claim that the development of a homosexual orientation is caused by childhood sexual abuse. Furthermore, adult homosexual orientation is no longer considered a pathology or a maladjustment. We urge those who are interested in trying to better understand some of these complex issues from a scientific perspective to read the discussions in our book, as well as the scientific literature on childhood sexual abuse, and not rely on second-hand interpretations.

Ron Stall

Ron Valdiserri

Related post:

A major study of child abuse and homosexuality revisited

Prejean keeps crown; holds same position as President Obama

Must have been a heady moment to be with Donald Trump and keep her Miss California crown. Carrie Prejean reminded people that she and the President hold the same position on same-sex marriage…(well probably not exactly the same if you consider his approach to Prop 8).
And a nice trifecta today: keep the crown, hang out with Trump and featured guest again on the Focus on the Family radio show. All in all a better day than some of the last few.

Carrie Prejean's Miss Cali fate decided today; Dobson speculates she will lose crown

Lots of reporting out today on the subject; Prejean and her mother are featured today and tomorrow on Focus on the Family broadcasts.
During the opening of the broadcast, Dr. Dobson said Carrie would be stripped of her crown today. According to the Prejean camp, that is not known at this time. Prejean representative, Melany Ethridge emailed to say the pageant has not notified them of what will be announced.
Also, prior to the broadcast, Dobson mentioned the semi-nude picture of Prejean at age 17. That picture surfaced since the interviews were recorded. About that photo, he said,

We agree with you in the audience who oppose that kind of sensuality. Focus on the Family has been a strong supporter of modesty and righteousness in the culture for many years. And yet we have chosen to go ahead and air these two programs after Carrie explained that the pictures were taken when she was 17 years old; she’s now 21 and in fact will be 22 on Wednesday and she regrets doing it and said she would not do it again.

Prejean also said on Friday that she would not take some of the more recent work she has done as well.

More on the Dr. Phil episode on gender identity: Reparative drive theory

I have some video clips of yesterday’s Dr. Phil Show on gender identity. In this segment, Toni, the mother of a three boys, one of whom is transgender, expresses strong disagreement with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi and Mr. Glenn Stanton. Prior to this clip, Nicolosi outlined his views on response to gender identity issues. From the Dr. Phil website:

“So, what is a parent to do?” Dr. Phil asks. “You’re at home with your little child, they don’t do what other little boys do — and I’m using a little boy as an example. It happens with girls too, but statistics say it’s about five to one boys over girls who have this, but what is a parent to do at that point? Their question is, ‘Do we support his interest, or do we say, “No, no, no. You can’t play with that. You must play with this”?’”
“We see certain patterns, very typical patterns, of an over-involved mother, where the mother and son have a symbiotic relationship,” Dr. Nicolosi explains. “It’s very close, their identities are merged, and the father is out of the picture, and the work that we’re doing is to get the mother to back off, get the father more involved, get that boy to dis-identify with the mother and bond with the father, and in the bonding with the father, he develops that masculine identity.”

Most therapists have encountered families like this. However, they often come in for reasons other than a child’s gender identity. As Dr. Siegel said in a later part of the show, there is no evidence that a mom being close with a son leads to gender identity problems.
In this clip, Nicolosi and Stanton lay out their view of what happens to create a son like Toni’s. Roll the tape for the segment.

If I am following the mother’s explanation, she says she was not close to her son and her fiance became close to him after she backed off. She also notes that she was a single mom to her first son who would be expected to be closer to mom. Apparently, that child has no gender identity issues. And she says, the fiance/father-figure was less involved after the boy transitioned to a female role, but very involved prior to the transition. She further says that she wasn’t enmeshed with him. In other words, the reparative theory predicts a certain constellation but this women disconfirms it.
As noted in my first post on this episode, no middle ground views were presented. Near the end of the show, two reseachers seated in the audience were given a chance to speak. This segment was too short. I hope to post the clip of that exchange in a future post.
For now, I want to point out again the problem with confirmation bias in thinking through highly controversial topics. In this clip, the comments presented by Nicolosi and Stanton were not consistent with the experience of the mother and this son. Is it possible she was in denial? Is it possible that the reparative theorist was in denial? Sorting through this is difficult since both mom and the psychologists have powerful incentives to seek evidence favoring their commitments and views. In an area, like this one, where the science is developing, I advocate a very loose hold on theoretical commitments.
While the scientist can and should take a critical stance, it is true that parents need advice now. I tend to favor waiting until puberty to make decisions about transitioning since the existing research indicates most children do not opt for transition after puberty. However, even that finding is not as clear as Dr. Phil presented. See this interview with Ken Zucker for more on persistence of GID into adulthood.
Stay tuned…

Love Won Out in Palin-country this weekend

In my efforts to track down information regarding the Covenant House story, this AP article got by me.
“Palin church promotes converting gays” begins:

Gov. Sarah Palin’s church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.
“You’ll be encouraged by the power of God’s love and His desire to transform the lives of those impacted by homosexuality,” according to the insert in the bulletin of the Wasilla Bible Church, where Palin has prayed since she was a child.

A couple of things should be pointed out. According to all reports, Wasilla Bible Church is not where Palin has prayed since she was a child. She just recently joined the Wasilla Bible Church, having left an Assembly of God church, possibly over some disagreements with AoG practices.
Some bloggers have said the LWO is being held at Palin’s church. It is not. The conference is being held September 13 at the Abbott Loop Community Church in Anchorage. Instead, Palin’s church announced the conference to church goers.
I think the language Focus uses to communicate Love Won Out can be confusing. While I suspect the emphasis for churches is more on conversion to Christianity than to heterosexuality, phrases like “overcoming homosexuality” and using the word “transform” make it sound like the conference will focus on changing gays into straights. While this has been emphasized more in past conferences and promotional material, I think there might less of this now. LWO used to have a slogan that included the idea that homosexuality was “preventable and treatable.” Now they say, “to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions, we offer the Gospel hope that these desires can be overcome.”
This is a subtle shift from a treatment framework to a ministry framework. However, I understand why this is confusing to people. “Overcoming desires” to most people most likely still sounds like change from gay desires to straight desires. It could mean (and perhaps this is what Focus means) that the desires are there but the person does not act on them. Thus, a desire could be overcome by not actualizing it. The desire is still there but it has been managed.
While these issues are of great concern to those interested and involved in sexual identity ministry, they attain national significance infrequently (as they did in the Bush-Kerry presidential debate). However, the confusion over terms and phrasing now enters conversation over the beliefs of the Republican VP nominee. I advocate a much clearer portrayal of what Christianity offers. Conversion is a proper and historical focus of religion, but the question is, conversion from what to what? It seems to me that sexual identity ministries should work overtime to make it clear what the answer is to that question.

Glenn Stanton and Patrick Chapman debate anthropological arguments

Not new news, but noteworthy nonetheless; Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family and anthropologist Patrick Chapman debate Glenn’s recent article on marriage over at Box Turtle Bulletin.

First Patrick Chapman had a go at the Stanton article that started the conversation and then Stanton had his turn.

Followed by a lively and ongoing discussion…