A 2003 study on whether homosexuals can change their sexual orientation has become a central issue in the Montgomery County sex-education debate.
The study conducted by psychiatrist Robert L. Spitzer of Columbia University found that some homosexuals “can and do change.”
Interviewing 200 former homosexuals, Dr. Spitzer conducted the study in response to a request by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2000 to determine the risks and benefits of “reparative therapy.”
Reparative therapy is psychiatric or religious counseling that former homosexuals, or “ex-gays,” say has helped them overcome “unwanted same-sex attraction.”
“There is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapydoes occur in some gay men and lesbians,” Dr. Spitzer, 73, reported.
Groups seeking to influence the development of Montgomery County’s sex-education curriculum have argued over the validity of the study, which was published as a peer-reviewed article in the October 2003 issue of the “Archives of Sexual Behavior.”
The executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), a Northern Virginia-based group, said Dr. Spitzer’s study is “critical” and shows that “people have the right to self-determination and that change is possible.”
Dr. Spitzer “has impeccable credentials. He helped write and edit the [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders],” said Regina Griggs, referring to a psychiatric manual that grew from 150 pages to 900 pages in the 13 years that Dr. Spitzer oversaw its publication.
But speakers at a Sunday forum sponsored by Teachthefacts.org dismissed the Spitzer study.
Dr. Paul A. Wertsch of the American Medical Association (AMA) said the study was biased because it drew most of its subjects from ex-gay therapists or ministries.
“I don’t think it’s a very good study,” said Dr. Wertsch, who heads the AMA’s committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Matters.
Earlier this year, PFOX and the county parents group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum filed a lawsuit against the county school system, saying its sex-education course discriminated against certain religions and promoted homosexuality.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the lawsuit, and schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast scrapped the course and the citizens advisory panel that helped develop it.
Mr. Weast said he would guide the production of a new course, but has disclosed little information about his progress.
A new citizens committee will be chosen Oct. 11.
Dr. Spitzer, in 1973, was instrumental in removing homosexuality from the APA’s list of mental diseases. He is a supporter of same-sex “marriage.”
His 2003 study required subjects who had lived as homosexuals for “many years” but whose desires and behavior had been predominantly heterosexual for at least five years. The study found that for many of the 143 men and 57 women, the change in their sexual desires and behavior had been significant.
“Like most psychiatrists, I thought that homosexual behavior could be resisted, but sexual orientation could not be changed,” Dr. Spitzer said after conducting the study. “I now believe that’s untrue.”
Dr. Wertsch did not mention any other studies of ex-gays at Sunday’s forum on Sunday.
In 2002, researchers Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder recruited 182 men and 20 women for a study on the negative effects of reparative therapy. They found that 176 subjects said reparative therapy was harmful, while 26 said it was successful.