You can't turn a gay man (or woman) straight

Psychologists have officially acknowledged that they can't change a patient's sexual orientation

Published August 6, 2009 1:07PM (EDT)

On Wednesday, psychologists acknowledged something that the LGBT community (and likely more than a few "ex-gays") has known for decades: Even they can't help patients make the transition from homo to hetero. The American Psychological Association's 138-page report (PDF) concluded that sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) "are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates." At most, says the APA, this sort of therapy can sometimes train a patient to resist "homosexual attractions," although it's unclear how long or for whom that is effective.

The APA reached its conclusion after reviewing 83 studies conducted between 1960 and 2007. "Unfortunately, much of the research in the area of sexual orientation change contains serious design flaws," said Dr. Judith M. Glassgold, the chairwoman of the task force that published the report, in a press release. "Few studies could be considered methodologically sound and none systematically evaluated potential harms."

And the APA isn't all talk. As CNN reports, the 150,000-member organization's Council of Representatives resolved to urge "mental health professionals not to recommend to their clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or any other methods." Well, better late than never, right?

This is all fantastic for gay men and lesbians who don't want to be straight. But what do the study and the APA's new policy mean for people who want to put an end to their same-sex feelings for religious or cultural reasons? In the press release, Glassgold outlined a new set of treatment suggestions. "Practitioners can assist clients through therapies that do not attempt to change sexual orientation, but rather involve acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome," she said. More specifically, according to the study, this should include "facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support, and identity exploration and development." In other words, psychologists are being encouraged to help their gay patients realize that their sexual orientation isn't going change and to get comfortable with that knowledge.

Of course, this doesn't mean that all those pseudo-scientific gay reeducation camps are going anywhere. In fact, Exodus International, which calls itself "the largest information and referral ministry in the world addressing homosexual issues," responded to the study with its own kooky press release. The group virtually ignored the APA's major findings, choosing instead to point out that it "has released a new report today at its annual convention in Toronto acknowledging that an individual's faith is an important variable when it comes to dealing with conflicts between religious beliefs and same-sex attraction." In an interview with CNN, "ex-gay" Exodus president Alan Chambers claimed that "there are tens of thousands of men and women just like me who once identified as gay ... For me and for these people, the truth is change is possible ... You can't refute a personal story." No, I guess I can't. But I can point out that, were Chambers to acknowledge the truth of the APA's findings, he would be out of a job.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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