Six Complaints about NGLTF’s anti-exgay report “Youth in the Cross-hairs: The Third Wave of Ex-gay Activism”

Link to the report.

1. So little of the report has to do with youth. I count 11 out of 77 pages (the whole of the text after the “Executive summary”) which have anything to do with youth. In those pages we have short descriptions, none particularly insightful, of a couple of stories about LIA / Refuge, Exodus Youth, Dobson and Nicolosi on “prehomosexuality”, PFOX legal action for a more “exgay friendly” sex ed curriculum, and the ADF’s “Day of Truth”.

Other than that, it’s just the same old recycled anti-exgay spiel, with an occasional “Oh no! They’re after the CHILDREN!” interjected. There’s no real analysis or examination of why these things are happening.

Some of the stories they present tell us virtually nothing. We know practically nothing about Zach’s and DJ’s LIA experiences, and what little we have heard about DJ seems questionable, given Queer Action Coalition’s decision to “back away from a public representation of this story.” I guess we learn from their stories that some parents force their kids to seek help for their same-sex attractions. But that’s not news, and it’s certainly no “third wave”.

I personally found all the “predatory” rhetoric about “targeting youth” and “recruiting youth” quite tiring. I think it’s annoying when conservative Christians resort to that way of talking about gay issues in schools. I think it’s equally annoying when gays resort to that way of talking about ex-gay youth outreach. Both groups should acknowledge that the other is simply seeking to help young people according to their beliefs.

The report is rife with unsubstantiated claims. I don’t know whether to believe or doubt the claims in most cases, but it’s pretty annoying. I hope to list individual examples later when I get a chance, but there are so many that it’s a daunting task.

The report treats Love in Action’s residential and intensive “outpatient” program and NARTH-type professional therapy as *the* paradigms of ex-gay programs. This ignores what must be at least a huge segment of ex-gay programs, namely the local ex-gay ministry support groups. There are relatively few ex-gay residential programs, but it seems they need to be played up for their scare potential–you know, “straight camps” and all that. I know that hearing about the ex-gay support group I attended for years wouldn’t succeed in terrifying anyone.

I suppose the professional therapists are also emphasized because the therapists are often being paid by the aspiring ex-gay, and thus seem all the more evil. But for many if not most ex-gay support groups, no money changes hands. Anti-exgay people love to claim that the ex-gay movement is all about making money, but overall this claim is preposterous!

The report suggests that there is some monolithic experience, “conversion therapy”, which characterizes what all ex-gays go through, which labels homosexuality as a “mental disorder.” Yet many ex-gays’ experiences, including my own, have little to do with therapy. The ex-gay group I attended, and the residential program I was a part of, focused overwhelmingly on living a faithful life, which included abstaining from homosexual sex and relationships, and growing in spiritual maturity. In the ex-gay group we would often study books of the Bible that said nothing specific about homosexuality, or books on general Christian living like Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness, or Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace? In my experience of ex-gay ministry, relatively little emphasis was placecd on attraction change, and the subject of “mental disorders” never even came up.

5. The report suggests on multiple occasions that the ex-gay movement exists primarily or solely as “camouflage” for an attack on GLBT rights. This is ridiculous. I personally find recent ex-gay forays into politics unfortunate, but they do not negate the fact that so much ex-gay ministry work is completely apolitical and is done out of love and a desire to help those who are looking for help, however ill-informed one might believe that desire is.

The report titles one of its sections “DOES CONVERSION THERAPY WORK? DEPENDS ON THE DEFINITION OF “CHANGE.” You might think, based on this, that the report would actually tell you whether or not conversion therapy works for a given definition of change. But the report itself offers no evidence of whether or not “conversion therapy” works on ANY definition of change. It discusses Shidlo and Schroeder, and points out shortcomings in Spitzer. At the end of the day, all we learn from them is that:

  • Some people say they didn’t change. (And some of these people are upset about the experience, and feel that it was harmful to them.)
  • Some people say they did change.
  • The professional psych/medical organizations are not big supporters of change.(but whether this is because of actual evidence or mere bias is unclear.)

Much is made of the carefully selected non-random group of subjects in Spitzer, while the self-selected nature of the Shidlo and Schroeder subjects is pretty much glossed over.

Jack Drescher is quoted as saying:

“One serious risk for the parent to consider is that most of the people who undergo these treatments don’t change. That means that most people who go through these experiences often come out feeling worse than when they went in.”

But no evidence is offered for these claims. Certainly neither Shidlo/Schroeder nor Spitzer could be used to support them. I am not currently aware of any studies which purport to show what percentages of people change or don’t change, and what percentages of people feel better or worse after their encounter with an ex-gay program or therapy. These are two obviously separate questions, contrary to what Drescher says. A “treatment” can have a low rate of success and not be harmful. Or a “treatment” can have a high rate of success and be harmful even to those who succeed–it could fix one problem but do a great deal of damage to other areas of the person’s life.


5 Responses to Six Complaints about NGLTF’s anti-exgay report “Youth in the Cross-hairs: The Third Wave of Ex-gay Activism”

  1. Mark Poole says:

    Some of the criticisms of the NGLTF report seem valid, but your last point is a bit strange. The medical and psychiatric professions have repeatedly and consistently stated that proponents of conversion or reparative therapies can offer up no peer-reviwed scientific evidence that such therapies actually work, whereas there is evidence that such programs can cause real harm.

    Generally for a form of treatment to be accepted the onus lies with the treatment’s proponent to provide scientifically validated and clinically repeatable evidence of the efficacy of such treatment. To my knowledge, such evidence has never been provided. The assumption from a clinical perspective is that a treatment has no merit until clinical trials can prove (in a repeatably manner) that it does – not the other way around.

  2. Mark Poole,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. 

    I am not arguing for the acceptance/approval of conversion/reparative therapies. I agree with you about the burden of proof. My final point was simply that NGLTF and those it quotes seem to me to be far overstating the case against such therapies.

    As I said in my post:

    "I am not currently aware of any studies which purport to show what percentages of people change or don’t change, and what percentages of people feel better or worse after their encounter with an ex-gay program or therapy."

    I agree with you that it is the proponents of conversion/reparative therapy who have the responsibility to find out answers to those questions, before they can reasonably expect anyone to accept their methods. But I do not feel that justifies opponents of conversion/reparative therapy misrepresenting the facts of what little we know about such therapies.

    It seems to me that all that the studies up to this point have shown is that you can find a hand-picked group of people who found conversion/reparative therapies effective and/or beneficial, and you can find a hand-picked group of people who found conversion/reparative therapies ineffective and/or harmful.  Which tells us pretty much nothing.  Again, I may be simply unaware of studies out there which tell us more, so I would appreciate further information.  "Youth in the Cross-hairs" clearly didn't have it. 

    I am aware of the statements of the various professional mental health and medical associations on this subject, but am more interested in knowing about the studies that might support such statements.  Such associations can be  susceptible to making statements based more on ideology than evidence.  (As I am sure most pro-gay people will agree, at least in regards to the APA's earlier position of labelling homosexuality as a mental illness.)

    I hope this makes my position a little clearer.

  3. Mark Poole says:

    I agree with you there. Thanks for for taking the time to respond!

  4. Monte Abbott says:

    Interesting discussions, but somewhat ethnocentric. In this wide world of experience things can seem to counter your reality and still be equally true. The issues at stake here are a bit more copmplex than simply “gay” vs. “not gay”. I find the equation of gayness with sex activities a bit strained as well. The connection is obvious of course, but sex and sex partner selection is not the only (or even most important) aspect of gayness.

  5. Hi Monte,

    Thanks for dropping by, and I enjoyed your link to your post on the “Question Homosexuality” billboards.

    I appreciate your comments here, but I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly what in my post you are responding to, if anything. I apologize if I’m just too dense to figure it out. 🙂

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