Esteemed Psychiatrist Retracts 2001 Study Widely Cited By Ex-Gay Therapists Like Marcus Bachmann

American Prospect web editor Gabriel Arana underwent nearly a college education’s worth (four years) of ex-gay therapy, as he writes in a story called “My So-Called Ex-Gay Life.”

So when Arana interviewed 79-year-old Robert Spitzer, a man esteemed in psychological-academic circles who gave some mainstream acceptance to the idea that ex-gay therapy could work with a 2001 study, he asked a lot of questions. It turns out Spitzer wants to retract that study, which is widely cited  by all the major ex-gay organizations as the primary piece of objective evidence that ex-gay therapy works.

The funny thing about Spitzer is that he led the charge to declassify homosexuality as a psychological disorder back in 1973. This guy should be a legend hailed by the gay movement, not one abused by terrible ex-gay therapists like Marcus Bachmann.

Arana tells Queerty that Spitzer is “old as hell, and everyone was afraid he was going to die before he took [the study] back.” So, please, mark Spitzer’s words here, and take his retraction seriously as part of his legacy—he’ll be celebrating his 80st birthday next month.

Writes Arana:

Spitzer was drawn to the topic of ex-gay therapy because it was controversial—“I was always attracted to controversy”—but was troubled by how the study was received. He did not want to suggest that gay people should pursue ex-gay therapy. His goal was to determine whether the counterfactual—the claim that no one had ever changed his or her sexual orientation through therapy—was true.

I asked about the criticisms leveled at him. “In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct,” he said. “The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.” He said he spoke with the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior about writing a retraction, but the editor declined. (Repeated attempts to contact the journal went unanswered.) …

Spitzer was growing tired and asked how many more questions I had. Nothing, I responded, unless you have something to add.

He did. Would I print a retraction of his 2001 study, “so I don’t have to worry about it anymore”?

Of course, Arana agreed to do so. The full article is very much worth reading. Check it out online or pick up a copy of the American Prospect when you can.

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  • Kayo

    That is great! Maybe now that will shut those weirdos… maybe I’m hoping for too much!

  • cam


    Nahhhh, they’ll just go back to citing some non-peer reviewed study fro mthe 1950’s

  • Justin

    The ex-gay sorts don’t tell the truth about anything else, why would they start now?

  • B

    Queerty: ‘he [Spitzer] said. “The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.”’

    The original article also pointed out that most people are harmed by this “therapy,” something others had shown. Spitzer was looking for any cases where people weren’t harmed or had a positive reaction to it. He probably expected to find none at all, which would have driven the proverbial nail through the coffin.

    Whether the people he interviewed have a malleable sexual orientation or are just particularly adept at fooling themselves, he did discover something interesting – a small fraction of those who go through ex-gay therapy respond in atypical ways. Other research has shown that the typical response is for a patient to be harmed.

  • Freddie

    “80st birthday”?

  • Brand

    Hell is older than 79.

    And Robert Spitzer is a hero of gay liberation, gay rights, gay history, however you want to call it. And Gabriel Arana is doing a service not only to the gay community but to the psychotherapy community and public discourse in general by calling attention to Spitzer’s own views about how the study is being misinterpreted and misused, and his wish to retract it.

    So maybe we could do a service to them both, and everyone else, dispensing with the ageism by not actually quoting that part of Arana’s conversation, and instead focusing on the relevant points. Unless your point is to express your own fear of aging. I’m nowhere near that age either, and I’m not thrilled about aging, but it seems the best way to handle it is to see it for what it is and, just as Arana and Spitzer are trying to do regarding those who are abusing gays and their loved ones by acting like they should—or even can—change, we might do the same for the fact that we can’t change aging and be a little less harsh about it for those who are further down that road than are we.

  • Bernie

    It’s been long established that bisexuality exists and lots of people would choose gay or straight relationships, without any need for therapy.

    Sexuality is quite fluid, as Kinsey established. The huge fuss over this came from some fundamentalist religions who wanted to control it for marriage and property purposes. Such a natural thing should not be a battleground in the US.

  • Bipolar Bear

    This study was a mistake and flawed in its methodology from the start, but the media took it and ran with it, and the ex-gay groups lauded it as proof when the results actually showed that the vast majority of people who underwent it were unsuccessful!

    I reported on this at the time for gay media in New Zealand back in 2003, and I’ve just done a roundup of what I discovered back then by reading the actual study and the peer reviews of it:


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