Friday, May 2, 2008

The American Psychiatric Association suddenly canceled an upcoming workshop on religion and homosexuality during its annual conference here after gay activists campaigned against the two evangelicals slated to appear on the panel.

Planners of the symposium, “Homosexuality and Therapy: The Religious Dimension,” originally slated for 2 to 5 p.m. Monday at the Washington Convention Center, at first ignored calls from some gays to cancel the event.

But when its star panelist, the openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, dropped out last week, plans for the symposium collapsed amid an avalanche of criticism from gays.

“It was a way to have a balanced discussion about religion and how it influences therapy,” said David Scasta, a former APA president and a gay psychiatrist in charge of assembling the panel. “We wanted to talk rationally, calmly and respectfully to each other, but the external forces made it into a divisive debate it never intended to be.”

An April 24 article on called the event “junk science on stage” and “psychiatrists allow ex-gay end run.” A Wednesday piece in the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper, said the panel could legitimize “homophobic views.”

“Conservatives, particularly Focus on the Family, were going to use this event to draw credibility to the so-called reparative therapy movement,” the Blade quoted Bishop Robinson as saying. “It became clear to me in the last couple of weeks that just my showing up and letting this event happen … lends credibility to that so-called therapy.”

A furious Mr. Scasta said the bishop never spoke with him before quitting.

“I got one e-mail from him saying he thought I was being used by the other side, such as Focus on the Family,” Mr. Scasta said, calling the reaction from gay groups over-the-top and self-defeating.

“This was supposed to reduce polarization, which has hurt the gay community. They are blocked into this bitchy battle and they are not progressing. They are not willing to do missionary work and talk to the enemy. They have to be willing to listen and change themselves.”

“Anything But Straight” author Wayne R. Besen, who is also founder of the pro-gay, called news of the cancellation “terrific.”

“This was a platform for conservatives to get the APA to reconsider its position on homosexuality,” he said. “Scasta was being used by the religious right to offer them credibility.”

In 1973, the APA removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. It condemned reparative therapy in 2000 and endorsed same-sex marriage in 2005.

One of the two evangelical panelists was the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., who was slated to speak on “A Pastoral Approach for Gay & Lesbian People Troubled by Homosexuality.” He made headlines in March 2007 when he said on his site that gay people may not choose their homosexuality, a rare stance for a Baptist cleric.

The other was Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College, an evangelical institution in western Pennsylvania. Mr. Throckmorton, who was to speak on “Practice Framework for Managing Sexual Identity Conflicts,” also has a private counseling practice that mainly services married bisexual men who are conflicted about their sexual feelings.

Although he does not teach therapy geared to changing sexual orientation, he is sympathetic to it, “if it is compatible with the value system of the client.”

“The APA program committee approved this six months ago,” Mr. Throckmorton said. “But when gay activists learned about it, they felt my views on homosexuality are conservative and they didn’t agree with them. So they threatened to protest.”

Mr. Mohler said he was disappointed that the panel was canceled, adding that he was asked specifically to talk on whether homosexuals can change orientation.

“From a Christian perspective, it is impossible to answer the question ‘no,’ ” he said. “But it is not a simple answer. I would have liked the opportunity to present this in a calm but respectful dialogue what millions of Christians believe about the reality of homosexuality and the power of the Gospel.

“It is clear which side of the argument unwilling to show up for this conversation,” he said. “It is a tragedy the APA cannot hold a conversation on a matter of this importance without facing such internal political pressure that it becomes impossible for this symposium to be held.”

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