Thursday, November 02, 2006

Peter's Epistle to Matthew

The citizens advisory committee occasionally has bursts of emails -- there are fifteen people on the committee, plus another half-dozen or so MCPS staffers from top-level administrators to worker-bees on the CC line, so it's not that often that somebody CC's the whole group, but occasionally we'll see a flurry.

Yesterday I posted Matthew's letter. Later in the day, right before the meeting in fact, Peter Sprigg replied to him. Peter is on the committee representing PFOX, and is Vice President for Policy [edited later for accuracy: JimK] at the Family Research Council as well, so we know his point of view will ... contrast ... with Matthew's.

He gave me permission to post his reply here. I'm not going to comment, just copy and paste what he sent to the group.
Dear Matthew,

You are undoubtedly correct that the format and agenda of our Citizens’ Advisory Committee meetings do not lend themselves to more in-depth discussion of the larger issues at stake in discussions of sexual orientation. Therefore, I would like to respond to your letter of October 31 with a letter of my own—directed to you, in response to what you wrote, but open in the sense that I will share it with all the members of the committee.

I am afraid that your letter offered what is essentially a caricature of what you believe the conservative position on homosexuality to be. I think it is important for all the members of the committee to understand that this caricature is misleading in a number of ways.

1) “Choice”

You said that the argument will be placed before the committee that “being gay or lesbian is a choice.” This is not a statement that I would ever make. The reason is that there is too much ambiguity about what “being gay or lesbian” means.

One concern I have about the curriculum is that the definitions being offered for “sexual orientation” are actually definitions of only one aspect of sexual orientation, namely that of sexual attractions. This is only one of three separate aspects of “sexual orientation,” the others being sexual behavior and sexual self-identification.

This three-fold division is not something made up by me, or by anyone with a conservative ideological bias on the issue. I believe the best articulation of this is to be found in the book reporting on the most comprehensive survey of sexuality in America, the National Health and Social Life Survey. Below is a quote from the book on this point:
“To quantify or count something requires an unambiguous definition of the phenomenon in question. And we lack this in speaking of homosexuality. When people ask how many gays there are, they assume that everyone knows exactly what is meant. Historians and anthropologists have shown that homosexuality as a category describing same-gender sexual desire and behavior is a relatively recent phenomenon (only about 100 years old) peculiar to the West [sources omitted]. But, even within contemporary Western societies, one must ask whether this question refers to same-gender behavior, desire, self-definition, or identification or combination of these elements. In asking the question, most people treat homosexuality as such a distinctive category that it is as if all these elements must go together. On reflection, it is obvious that this is not true. One can easily think of cases where any one of these elements would be present without the others and that combinations of these attributes, taken two or three at a time, are also possible. Examples abound.”

Source: Edward O. Laumann, John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael, and Stuart Michaels, The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 290-91.

Elsewhere in the same chapter the authors refer to these three aspects of sexual orientation as “attractions, identifications, and behaviors” (p. 291) and at another point as “behavior, desire, and identity” (pp. 292-93).

The question of “choice” must be applied to these three factors separately. I do not believe, and I do not know anyone who believes, that same-gender sexual attractions or desires are a “choice.”

However, excluding instances of rape or sexual assault, the sexual behaviors in which a person engages are, quite obviously, a matter of choice. Everyone, regardless of what they may experience internally and psychologically in the way of sexual desires, makes a choice when to have sex and with whom.

The third aspect of sexual orientation, one’s self-identification, is also a choice. One concern I have about the curriculum is that at points it appears to encourage “coming out” as homosexual or “gay,” which is an act of self-identification that should be voluntary, without the school system expressing a preference as to any individual’s personal choice in the matter.

If you have seen or heard quotes in the past from people asserting that “homosexuality is a choice,” I can assure you with near certainty that the person was referring to the question of sexual behavior, rather than to the questions of sexual desire or sexual self-identification. Many people believe that men should not have sex with men and women should not have sex with women. The questions of desire and identity are of far less concern than behavior.

2) “Change”

You assert that “no rigorous, scientifically valid research has ever been published in a credible, peer reviewed journal” showing that “gay or lesbian” people “can be changed into being straight.” This is simply untrue. I had already been planning to share at tonight’s meeting, in support of my proposed amendments to the eighth grade lesson, excerpts from the article by Robert L. Spitzer, M.D. in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003, in which he reported that based on his study of 200 individuals, “there is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur is some gay men and lesbians.”

You also assert that the limited research in this area shows only that “a very few number of individuals have, after reparative therapy, chosen not to act on their sexuality, but by their own admission, the vast majority continue to have same sex desires, but have decided not to act on those desires.” This is directly contradicted by Spitzer, who reports that in his study, “almost all of the participants reported substantial changes in the core aspects of sexual orientation, not merely overt behavior.”

You also assert, “All it [reparative therapy] possibl[y] can do is cause psychologic[al] damage [to] a person.” Again, Spitzer found exactly the opposite, reporting, “Even individuals who made a less substantial change in sexual orientation reported that the therapy was extremely beneficial in a variety of ways.”

For those members of the committee who may not be aware of it, Spitzer was a leader in the effort within the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973—so he can hardly be accused of an “anti-gay” bias. I have made copies of the first and last pages of the Spitzer study, containing the summary statements I quoted above, for everyone on the committee. But if anyone would like a copy of the full article, I would be happy to make one. (Robert L. Spitzer, M.D., “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5, October 2003, pp. 403-417).

Both your letter and the Spitzer study were focused specifically on those who seek “reparative therapy” (whose techniques, by the way, I did not recognize from your description). It is important to note that none of the medical or scientific associations prohibit reparative therapy or any other reorientation therapy. Indeed, the associations adhere to a code of ethics which call for client self-determination of their individual therapy.

However, this is by no means the only method by which some people arrive at a change in their sexual orientation (desires, behavior, identity, or some combination). Not all former homosexuals (“ex-gays”) underwent reparative therapy, or any other kind of reorientation therapy. Some transitioned out of homosexuality through ex-gay ministries, Homosexuals Anonymous, group counseling, or on their own initiative.

The Laumann book I mentioned above also documents how the concept of sexual orientation as fixed and unchangeable, for life, for everyone, does not correspond with reality. Some people who report same-sex attractions have never engaged in same-gender sexual relations, while some have engaged in same-gender sexual relations despite not having same-sex attractions. The percentages of people who self-identify as homosexual or bisexual are always lower than either of the other two measures (attractions and behavior). And the percentage of those who have been exclusively homosexual for life in their behavior (that is, those who have had same-gender sex but have never had opposite-gender sex) is minuscule (0.6% of all men, and 0.2% of all women—p. 312). As Laumann, et al. put it, “All these motives, attractions, identifications, and behaviors vary over time and circumstances with respect to one another—that is, are dynamically changing features of an individual’s sexual expression” (p. 291).

Your concern about “teaching students to hate themselves” is an unwarranted fear in the context of our committee’s work, because it is perfectly clear that the curriculum is not going to include any negative or judgmental statement about students who experience same-sex attractions. However, as the representative of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), I feel it is very important that our statements of tolerance based on sexual orientation should include tolerance for former homosexuals or “ex-gays.” They face one unique challenge that exceeds that faced by homosexuals, bisexuals, or heterosexuals—namely, that many people argue they do not even exist! If we are going to promote tolerance of those whose sexual attractions and self-identification differ from our own (while, I hope, emphasizing abstinence as the healthiest behavioral choice for teens), so also should those who have experienced their sexual orientation as fixed and consistent show tolerance for those who have experienced a change in their sexual orientation.

3) “Health”

You state, “It is the behavior I engage in, not the gender of my partner, that may place me at risk for infection with an STI.” In a technical sense, this is quite true (although it is somewhat naïve not to acknowledge that there are significant differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals regarding the prevalence of certain behaviors).

But if you acknowledge that certain behaviors increase risk, why did you argue so vigorously against Dr. Jacobs’ motion that we include a specific statement on the risks of anal sex? The statement she wanted to include did not distinguish based on sexual orientation. It would have applied equally to anal sex engaged in by anyone, regardless of the gender of the partners. Do you deny that anal sex is more likely to result in a tearing of tissues, allowing HIV to pass directly into the bloodstream, than is vaginal sex? Do you deny that anal sex may place greater stress on a condom than does vaginal sex, resulting in a higher risk of condom failure or breakage? These are facts about a health risk based on behavior, yet you were unwilling to include them in the curriculum, even with no reference to sexual orientation. Why?

4) “Behavior”

I want to close by pointing out what I think is one logical inconsistency running through your letter. In discussing the issue of “choice,” you focus on sexual orientation being only a matter of attractions (not a choice), and ignore behaviors (which obviously are a choice). In discussing health risks, you deny any inherent connection between them and sexual orientation (that is, attractions—“Nothing about my being gay places me at risk”), insisting that the risks result only from specific behaviors.

But after separating “sexual orientation” (i.e., attractions) from “behavior” throughout the course of your letter, you bring them together at the end with the charge, “The key issue for those opposed to having any positive portrayal of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgenders, is that they do not want us to have sex.”

Your sense of outrage over this viewpoint suggests that for you, issues of attractions and behavior are not so easily separated as you implied in the rest of your letter. You do not simply think that people who experience same-sex desires should be treated with respect. It appears that you think, in addition, that it is an inalienable right (and perhaps a necessity) for people who experience same-sex sexual desires to gratify those desires through same-gender sexual activity. (Since I corrected your description of conservative views, I welcome any correction you wish to make here of my interpretation.)

And while you did not address this in your letter, the 10th grade lesson’s emphasis on “coming out” seems to imply that those who experience same-sex attractions have a necessity and/or obligation to publicly self-identify as homosexual or bisexual as well.

Put all together, the result of such an approach (if incorporated into the curriculum) would be something of a bait-and-switch, where what is advertised is tolerance and respect for people who experience same-sex attractions (because they are not a “choice”), but what is actually sold is the forced affirmation of both the choice to engage in homosexual sex and the choice to self-identify as “gay.” This bait-and-switch is what I seek to avoid in the content of the curriculum.

Here are some key principles that I think should be included in the lessons on sexual orientation:
  • All students should be treated with respect and kindness, regardless of their sexual desires (I think the committee is 100% united on this).
  • The respect and tolerance extended to all students regardless of sexual desires should extend, explicitly, to students who are unhappy with, or have experienced or seek a change in, any aspect of their sexual orientation (desires, behavior, or identity).
  • The respect and tolerance extended to all students on the basis of sexual desires should also be extended, explicitly, to all students on the basis of their opinions and beliefs—including beliefs that are disapproving of homosexual behavior.
  • All students, regardless of their sexual desires, should be encouraged to remain sexually abstinent at least until after graduation from high school.
  • Because most people are heterosexual, and sexuality in adolescence can be very volatile, the schools should play no role in encouraging people to self-identify as homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered while they are still in high school.


Peter Sprigg


Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Mr. Sprigg the conservative use of a gay sexual orientation as meaning anything other than same sex attraction is misleading and dishonest. To the vast majority of the population gay is slang for homosexual and homosexual means someone who is attracted to their own gender. Dictionaries reflect the common meanings of words and if you'll check yours you'll see it verifies this.

While we can agree that behavior and self-labels can be changed it is essentially a lie to say sexual orientation can be changed when what you mean is behavior and labelling. This sort of deception of the public is typical in "exgay" organizations when they talk of "change" in gays.

Robert Spitzer's study is actually indicative of the overwhelming failure of "reparative therapy in the vast majority of cases. Spitzer said himself "I suspect the vast majority of gay people would be unable to alter by much a firmly established homosexual orientation." He was later quoted "...the kinds of changes my subjects reported are highly unlikely to be available to the vast majority [of gays and lesbians]... "[only] a small minority -- perhaps 3% -- might have a "malleable" sexual orientation." He expressed a concern that his study results were being "twisted by the Christian right.".

To quote from the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance:

"Assuming that the more than 1,000 therapists in NARTH each have had 50 clients per year over the previous five years, then they have treated over 250,000 homosexuals and bisexuals with reparative therapy. Various transformational ministries have treated other gays, bisexuals and lesbians who were seeking change. Yet, Dr. Spitzer was only able to find 274 potential subjects for his study in all of America. This data alone indicates that reparative therapy is almost always a failure.

The 46 subjects from NARTH might have been chosen as the most successful patients from as many as 250,000 individuals who entered therapy. Unfortunately, no data has been reported about the total number of persons from whom the 200 carefully selected patients were provided. Assuming that only 100,000 subjects were involved -- a VERY conservative figure, then 37 "success stories" represents a conversion rate of 0.04%

Various professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers have stated that a person's sexual orientation cannot be changed by reparative therapy.

The study by Schroeder & Shidlo showed an overwhelming failure rate. 202 people underwent "conversion therapy". Eight of their subjects reported a change in sexual orientation. Unfortunately, seven of the eight were "ex-gay" counselors or leaders who had tremendous incentive to lie. Shidlo and Schroeder are fairly certain that one of the 202 was able to change his/her sexual orientation They reported a conversion rate of 0.5%.
In addition they reported a very high rate of participants who felt they were harmed by the process.

To suggest that gays can choose never to act on same sex attractions is unrealistic. Ask yourself and the heterosexuals you know how realistic is it for you to never act on opposite sex attractions and then ask if its realistic to ask this of gays. Those who positively accept their same sex attractions are better adjusted then those who do not. Children who are gay should be learning to accept they are same sex attracted as the studies show they are almost certain to remain that way regardless of what interventions might be taken.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers, and National Education Association formed the "Just the Facts Coalition." They developed and endorsed "Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel" in 1999.

The primer says, in part:

"The most important fact about 'reparative therapy,' also sometimes known as 'conversion' therapy, is that it is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers, together representing more than 477,000 health and mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus there is no need for a 'cure.'

" and mental health professional organizations do not support efforts to change young people's sexual orientation through 'reparative therapy' and have raised serious concerns about its potential to do harm."

November 02, 2006 4:49 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Gosh, can we be respecting of kids who think other races are inferior? How about saying other religions aren't as good? Can we respect those beliefs in school? Because we used to do just that.

Peter Sprigg disgusts me- and I think I told him that when I met him two years ago(although he doesn't try to hide the ugliness of what he says- like some of his kind). I always hope that people like this are just saying these things for money which makes them- well, you know- but at least maybe that is better than being truly evil and having an ugly soul.

November 02, 2006 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter's reference did not mention sexual "orientation" at all; it merely demonstrated the ambiguity of the word "homosexuality," and then provided the "three-fold division". One given aspect of homosexuality was desire, which is commonly interchangeable with orientation. The word "orientation" itself implies a degree of direction, so to load the term "sexual orientation" to include behaviour and identification is deceptive and misleading to those who accept its contemporary definition.

In regards to the Spitzer study, without knowing its finer details, I can't comment on its true efficacy. I can conjecture that there is little difference between ex-gay marriages and mixed orientation marriages, with the difference being how the non-heterosexual partners perceive themselves and their emotions. This is supported (although not proven) by a number of points: only 200 people out of a possible 250,000 were even deemed suitable for assessment; only a fraction of the 200 perceived any significant change; it is not certain whether the change resulted in true heterosexual attraction (general attraction to the opposite sex), or simply love for one particular opposite sex partner. If you add in religious convictions and the like, it's simply not justifiable to broadly assert that gays can become straight.

And Peter, Spitzer would not you to misuse his work, so why are you doing so? Is it because it's the only study that you could possibly interpret, twist, and misconstrue to support the ex-gay view? How can one controversial and misused study justify the inclusion of any form of ex-gay material in a high school sex education curriculum?

Racist views are not tolerated (at least not in a public high school environment), let alone respected, so I don't see why anti-gay views should be respected either. Students should respect the right that other students have to believe whatever they want, but the actual beliefs do not warrant any form of respect.

One study I did find intriguing was the one conducted at the University of Minnesota, where responses to erotic images differed depending on the subject's sexual orientation. The important aspect of this study was that the subjects were not consciously aware of these images (the images were made "invisible" with a special technique), so their sexual orientation was having an affect at the subconscious level.


November 02, 2006 6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only did Peter only cite one study in his Epistle to Matthew (great title BTW) -- the Spitzer study to support his fantasy that gay can be made straight, but he also only quoted highly selective tidbits from it. Here are some more excerpts from the Spitzer study that he chose to disregard.

"Participants wanted to not only change their sexual orientation, but to function well heterosexually."

"The interview, which the author administered by telephone, took about 45 minutes."

"There are several limitations to the study. Ideally, the research interviewer in a study is blind to the research hypothesis and has no vested interest in the results. Because the author conducted the interviews, this was not the case in this study. Although initially skeptical, in the course of this study, the author became convinced of the possibility of change in some gay men and lesbians. The fact that the study results are based on a structured interview reduces, but does not eliminate, the possibility that interviewer bias influenced the participants responses.

The study relied exclusively on self-report, as is almost always the case in psychotherapy treatment efficacy studies. The study would have greatly benefited by also using objective measures of sexual orientation, such as penile or vaginal photoplethysmography. This was judged to be not feasible as funds were not available for the high cost of regional testing and of having a large number of individuals travel long distances to the testing sites.

Given the fallibility of memory for past events, it is impossible to be sure how accurate individuals were in answering questions about how they felt during the year before starting the therapy, which on average was about 12 years before the interview. Using a prospective design, in which participants were evaluated before entering therapy and then many years later, would provide much more information than the design that was used. However, such a study was not feasible. It would be extremely expensive, would require outside funding, and results would not be available for at least 6 years (assuming a year to enter participants and a follow-up period of 5 years.

"It is unclear how many gays and lesbians in the general population would want to change their sexual orientation or how representative the study sample is of those who would be interested in therapy with that goal. Obviously, this study cannot address the question of how often sexual reorientation therapy actually results in the substantial changes reported by most of the participants in this study. To recruit the 200 participants, it was necessary to repeatedly send notices of the study over a 16-month period to a large number of participants who had undergone some form of reparative therapy. This suggests that the marked change in sexual orientation reported by almost all of the study subjects may be a rare or uncommon outcome of reparative therapy. However, there may be other reasons for difficulty in recruiting subjects, such as reluctance of ex-gays to be interviewed and reluctance of therapists to contact former clients."

"There is no doubt about what the participants in the study reported. The key question is judging the credibility of their self-reports. One possibility is that some of the participants actually changed their predominantly homosexual orientation to a predominantly heterosexual orientation. Another possibility is that all of the individuals constructed elaborate self-deceptive narratives (or even lied) when they claimed to have changed, at least to some extent, their sexual orientation."

November 03, 2006 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more quote from Spitzer's study, relevant to the 8th grade health curriculum in MCPS:

"The mean age of onset of sexual arousal to the same sex was 12 years (SD = 2.9)."

November 03, 2006 9:21 AM  
Blogger Jean-Pierre said...

School children should not be subjected to quack theories that may harm them. Dr. Spitzer has repudiated his own study. The premise of the study was that 0.05% of people can change their orientation. Dr Spitzer now believes 0% of people can change it.

Dr. Spitzer
“If people can recognize that being a homosexual is something that cannot be changed and that efforts to change are going to be disappointing and can be harmful, if that can be more widely known that would be very good. "

If one in a thousand can or cannot change, it is still not a safe option to offer a teenager.

Aside from all the mainstream psychiatric, psychological, social work, the World Health Organization and counselling groups even many experts among people that have been involved in "reparative therapy" mostly agree on this. It does not work in changing orientation.

According to those who do believe in such conversions, the sucsess rate is around 0.05%
Mark Yarhouse believes that slight chnes are possible but " I don’t think that everyone can change or that anyone can change, as though it were just a matter of enough effort or of enough faith. Also, the data we have sees from our own research suggests that categorical change – 180 degrees – from gay to straight is less likely than what I refer to as meaningful shifts along a continuum (from same-sex to opposite-sex attraction)."

The leader of Exodus the largest public group of people (several hundreds) who changed from a gay to heterosexual lifestyle through years of reparative therapy,
"There has been a change in our beliefs about orientation change focused therapy and we don’t believe it’s effective.”

July 02, 2012 4:25 PM  

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