Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Response to This Morning's Washington Times Article

[Editors note: the following was submitted by David Fishback, chair of the MCPS Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, in response to an article in the Washington Times this morning]

The January 26, 2004, edition of the Washington Times published an article entitled Sex-ed courses called flawed, By Jon Ward. The article is set forth below, along with some pertinent comments:

Critics of a new sex-education curriculum in Montgomery County public schools say the program teaches that homosexuality is not a choice without including scientific information to the contrary.

"It's inadequate," said Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. "It's an exercise in social advocacy, primarily."

Mr. Throckmorton, who works with former practicing homosexuals, says in a recently published 33-page critique that some good changes have been made to the curriculum, but that the negatives far outweigh the positives.

"The changes undermine any abstinence message the curriculum may offer," he said. "And its treatment of homosexuality is an exercise in social advocacy as opposed to education."

Mr. Throckmorton's opinion supports that of some members of an advisory committee that reviewed the changes and said homosexuality is a preference or choice, not a genetically predetermined condition. The members also said their scientific evidence was rejected.

(a) Providing correct information on condom use (which most students will eventually need to know, since most will eventually marry and most will not want to leave decisions on when to have children to chance) does not undermine the abstinence message. Indeed, the condom demonstration video Throckmorton objects to -- but likely has not even seen -- repeatedly stresses that abstinence is the only 100% sure way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually- transmitted infections.

(b) All the revised curriculum does is to provide basic facts, as understood by every mainstream American professional medical and mental health organization for more than three decades: that homosexuality is not a disease and that most experts do not believe that sexual orientation is a choice. This is no more "social advocacy" than the provision of any other pertinent medical and scientific information in the Health Education Curriculum. If one were to follow Throckmorton's logic, material in school curriculum debunking myths about superiority or inferiority of certain racial groups would be impermissible "social advocacy." Hopefully, that is no longer needed -- but a generation ago it was essential.

(c) The proposition that "homosexuality is . . . not a genetically predetermined condition" is a red herring. The curriculum takes no position on the precise etiology of homosexuality because the science has not figured that out. The science has concluded, however, that it is NOT the result of mental illness -- a core proposition of the teachings of Throckmorton and those who agree with him.

(d) "The [dissenting Committee] members also said their scientific evidence was rejected." I have no doubt they have been saying that. The problem, however, is that they presented NO pertinent, useful scientific evidence. I told the Times reporter that they had presented the Spitzer article which suggested that maybe, for some highly motivated individuals, sexual orientation could be changed -- but that a professional medical epidemiologist on the Committee examined that article and published analyses of it by other professionals and concluded that Spitzer's methodology was fatally flawed. (Spitzer's "samples" were all provided by "ex-gay" advocacy groups.) This report from the Committee member convinced the majority not to include the Spitzer article as a teacher resource.

The county school board unanimously approved the curriculum Nov. 9.

David Fishback, a Rockville lawyer who leads the citizensadvisory committee, said he had not read Mr. Throckmorton's criticism of the curriculum but was familiar with his work.

"The bottom line for Dr. Throckmorton is that homosexuality is a sin or a disease," he said.

Mr. Fishback said that Mr. Throckmorton's view "that people can change their sexual orientation and sexual desires if they really, really want to and really, really try is risky, risky business."

Mr. Fishback has told reporters he joined the advisory committee in part because his two grown sons declared themselves homosexuals after hiding it for much of their adolescence.

"People, too often, are put through hell to fit the conception of how people think is the only way people can be," he said.

What the article omitted, however, was the fact that leaders of the "ex-gay" movement – notably, for example, John Palk and Michael Johnston -- had "fallen off the wagon," and that it was the long experience of the mental health community in damaging people by assuming they could "change" that led them to closely examine and then revise their understanding of homosexuality.

I provided to the reporter a compelling example of a retired rabbi who told me of an incident early in his professional career (in the 1960s or perhaps earlier) when he counseled a teenage member of his congregation who had told his parents he was homosexual that the young man could and must change his orientation, that it was a sin and was "abnormal." The young man, a brilliant and caring individual, tried mightily to do so -- but eventually committed suicide. As time went on, the rabbi concluded that his advice was wrong, and he still carried that guilt 40 years later.

The article should not have just provided my conclusion that "reparative therapy" approaches are risky – it should have provided the reasons for the conclusion. Our public discourse has too often become a clash of conclusions, not a discussion of facts that lead us to conclusions.

The new curriculum will be tested in three middle schools and three high schools in mid-April. The six schools have not been chosen, said Brian Edwards, the spokesman for the Montgomery County public schools.

The advisory committee will collect feedback from teachers, parents and students in the schools, then present the school board this summer with the results of the pilot program and recommend any adjustments.

The board members will then vote on whether to approve the proposed changes and whether to continue the program throughout the school district.

The new curriculum would be implemented in the fall in county eighth and 10th grades.

Mr. Fishback rejects the claim by Michelle Turner and other committee members who say their evidence on homosexuality was ignored.

Mrs. Turner has four children in public schools and has helped organize a parent group working to stop the new curriculum.

She says most of the committee members "favor a pro-gay agenda and see homosexuality as a perfectly acceptable, if not normal lifestyle, that should be taught to our children at an early age."

Ah, yes – the "pro-gay agenda." Would Mrs. Turner characterize her view as the "anti-gay agenda"? I do not think it a terribly extraordinary proposition that there is nothing wrong with being gay – although Throckmorton, Dobson, et al. would disagree.

In any event, the proposed revised curriculum for 8th and 10th Grade Health Classes simply lays out the facts as understood by all mainstream American medical and mental health organizations. It does not "advocate" sexual orientation. There is nothing in the curriculum about a so-called "homosexual lifestyle," other than an accurate statement that there are families with children in our community headed by same-sex couples.

Is that the "homosexual lifestyle" that seems to worry some people? It sounds more like just a life. If Mrs. Turner and her allies do not want their children to be "exposed" to this brief unit of the Health Education Curriculum, they have the right to not sign the form required for students to take the unit.


Blogger andrea said...

I wrote to the Times to attempt to set them straight on a few things- we'll see if the publish my letter but my husband, a former newpaper editor- at the Washington Star AND the Washington Times says there is a factual error. The article says the "recently published" when refering to Throckmorton's "critique" on the curriculum. If I am correct,the article has only been on Throckmorton's website- this is not considered "published" by newspaper editorial standards. Not that I expect truth or correctness from Throckmorton or the Times but in my letter I did point out that this "article" was not published in any medical, educational or scientific journal so it should be suspect as resouirce material

January 27, 2005 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, so the condom demonstration is going to be for marital counselling purposes, is it? How farsighted of them to inflict it on teenagers who are likely a decade away from marriage. Amazingly prescient of them to know that they'll want to use condoms instead of the pill, natural family planning, or any of the other methods, don't you think?

It's a rather convenient idea of "mainstream" you have around here. Apparently a mainstream source is one that agrees with you. Nevermind those that disagree. They're just crazies!!!! [See "Initial Empirical and Clinical Findings Concerning the Change Process for Ex-Gays” in the American Psychological Association journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (June 2002); “Motivational, Ethical, and Epistemological Foundations in the Clinical Treatment of Unwanted Homoerotic Attraction” in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 29, 13-28 (2003); “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?” in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5, 403-417 (October 2003); and the American Psychological Association journal Psychotherapy: Theory/Research/Practice/Training, Vol. 39, No. 1, 66-75 (2002). ]


January 27, 2005 10:21 AM  
Blogger War Diaries said...

This is a quote from NARTH:
"Dr. Spitzer found that, contrary to most psychiatric opinion, individuals who have undergone reorientation therapy can experience positive changes from homosexual to heterosexual orientation. Of those he studied, most indicated that they still struggled with homosexual attractions to some degree, but 11% of the males and 37% of the females indicated a complete change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation."
This is your supporting evidence of change: combined males and females "success" does not reach the 48%...and the majority indicated that they still have (struggled is the word you would use, and the one reparative therapists instilled on them) homosexual attractions. They did not change their orientation (and let alone the bisexuality fact) they changed their behaviour, which I could do too, and stop having sex with my husband if I want to. My point is: why make them struggle, when they could just be what they are? Why make them suffer just so you don't have to see them? Why your sense of morality have to be forced on the rest of us? Also, do you realize that the number of "mainstream" articles you cite is rather limited, and the volumes to the opposite position are very well populated? Did you forget to mention that the first of the articles was written by Thromorton? (Was that the one the journal later apologize for?)

January 27, 2005 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, then just put in the curriculum that 11% of men and 37% of females changed. That'd be fine with me, but I don't speak for the CRC.

It's hilarious to hear you talk about forcing morals on others, when that's exactly what you want to do to the parents and kids of Montgomery County. YOU have determined "what they are" and want to tell everyone that it's ok.

Here's the thing that you don't get: Even if there is a genetic marker for homosexuality, homosexual activity is still wrong and self-destructive. You want to say "but it's in their genes!" and teach little boys and girls that it's ok. But alcoholism can be in their genes as well, and we should teach them that it's wrong and self-destructive. Obesity can be in their genes as well, but we should teach them that's it's wrong and self-destructive. You want to say "natural=good", but that's not the case when it comes to human behavior.

You want to confuse the argument about the causes of homosexual activity with the practice of homosexual activity. The causes are, in fact, wholly irrelevant to this discussion.

True, there is a great deal of disagreement about whether or not homosexual activity should be encouraged, discouraged, ignored, etc. The problem is that rather than you educating your kids your way and others educating theirs in their way, you want to TAKE PEOPLE'S MONEY to teach yours. If you wanted to start a private school and teach your own kid that homosexuality is just a groovy thing to do, then fine. I'd think it was sad, but I doubt you'd cause as much trouble as this incident has.

But instead you want to use other people's tax money. Who's forcing whose morality?

January 27, 2005 2:52 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

All right, Anon, we can see where you're coming from now. You haven't read the school board's report, have you?

You say: YOU have determined "what they are" and want to tell everyone that it's ok.No, not us. Every professional mental health organization in the US agrees on this. These are facts, based on empirical research.

homosexual activity is still wrong and self-destructiveWow, man, that is a personal judgment, pure and simple. Alcoholism will kill you, impairs your judgment, rots your heart, it's not a good comparison. Homosexuals fall in love with somebody whose physiology is not complementary to their own. That seems to really bother you -- well, it is hard for us straight people to relate to, I agree -- but our discomfort is certainly not grounds for saying it's "wrong and self-destructive." It's not that natural=good, it's just that (natural + (doesn't hurt anybody)) = (as good as anything else).

Further, (As good as anything else) = (None of our business).

You make a big thing out of us wanting to TAKE PEOPLE'S MONEY, as you put it, to teach kids "our" values. We don't like to see values taught in the public schools any more than you do. The fact is, some people are gay. Make of it what you will. The fact is, some families have two mommies. Make of it what you will. The fact is, it is not uncommon for adolescents to engage in same-sex play. Make of it what you will. You tell your kids what it means, I'll tell mine something different, but all our kids start with the facts. You are arguing that ignorance is better than knowledge, and I can't imagine when that is ever the case.

There's no lesson proposed that says homosexuality is groovy, it just says that it exists.

PS, the 11% etc. are per cent of people from a self-selected sample, who said originally that they had "gone straight." It certainly is not true that 11% of males have completely changed from being gay to being straight, nor that 11% of gay men turn straight. A survey with random sampling would likely show "gays gone straight" to make up much less than one percent of the population. Like, zero.

January 27, 2005 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering what happened to the 89% of men who and 63% of woman who did not change? I really can’t think of many things that are so heavily promoted that only work 11% of the time!

January 29, 2005 2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as the Dr. Spitzer study, I found one immediate misquote from NARTH. They claimed that 11% of men and 37% of women changed from exclusively homosexual to heterosexual. However:

1. Dr. Spitzer did not split the prior behavior of his subjects into different groups. The conclusion is that 11% and 37% are exclusively heterosexual, but we have no evidence that they were once exclusively homosexual.
2. The numbers of 11% and 37% are from the 200 subjects he interviewed. However, he initially had 274 possible subjects, but rejected 74 of them as not being sufficient successful conversions.
3. To get the 274 initial possible subjects, Spitzer spent 18 months looking for converted ex gays. The number of cases he looked at that were not possible subjects is not known, but most likely in the thousands.

It is important to remember that Dr. Spitzer was conducting research on the successful cases, not on the overall programs. There is no way to determine the overall percentages since we don't know how many initial cases he rejected as not being actual converts. However, we can make some guesses.

The success rate claimed by ex gay programs is 30-70% of their cases. Spitzer studied 143 men and 57 women. 16 men and 21 women were affirmed by Spitzer as converted. That is 37 out of 200, or 18.5%.

1. The initial success rate claimed is 30-70%. From those successes, 18.5% were affirmed. That takes the success rate of the ex gay programs down to 5.55%-12.95%.

2. However, there are 74 cases that were considered successes by the ex gay programs but rejected by Spitzer. 37 out of 274 is 13.5%, lowering the overall success rate claimed by ex gay programs to 4.05%-9.45%.

3. Beyond that, we don't know the number of total cases reviewed by Spitzer before he found the 274 "successes". It is possible that he looked at 10 times the number of cases.

4. As noted before, even the 4.05%-9.45% of successes that were affirmed by Spitzer were not classified as exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual. Indeed, the majority of those he interviewed still had homosexual impulses, and we don't know their level of opposite attraction before they started therapy.

5. The 4.05%-9.45% is the success rate for homosexuals who wanted to be converted. Trying to extrapolate that to the vast number of homosexuals who have no wish to be converted is pure folly. The actual success rate would be infinitesimal.

January 29, 2005 1:46 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thanks for going thru the numbers, Anon. I haven't read Spitzer's reports, but have read about them. The important fact is that he did not conduct a survey, didn't intend to. The idea of a survey is to draw a random sample that lets you generalize to a population. He didn't do that, as you note, he tried to target a very specific small group of gays who claimed they had changed.


January 29, 2005 3:34 PM  

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