Friday, January 22, 2010

Prop 8 Trial Coverage Day 9: All Major Psychological and Psychiatric Associations State Conversion Therapy Is Ineffective and Harms Gay People

Guest blogger Davina Kotulski of reports on the Prop 8 trial, day 9.

Witness called today is Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D. a Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Davis. He will testify about the nature of sexual orientation; how mainstream mental health professionals and behavioral scientists regard homosexuality; the benefits conferred by marriage; stereotypes relating to lesbians and gay men; stigma and prejudice directed at lesbians and gay men; the harm to lesbians and gay men and their families as a consequence of being denied the right to marry; and how the institution of domestic partnerships differs from that of marriage and is linked with antigay stigma.

I started the morning with gulping down my latte. While I was doing this and admiring the historic photos of San Francisco on the 19th floor in the federal building, I struck up a conversation with the other person in the hallway. It turned out that I was talking to Brian Woodward from the California Family Council. We talked about how we could find our commonalities and exchanged business cards.

I then tossed my cup in the trash and found that the trial was already in full swing with psychologist Dr. Gregory Herek from the University of Davis. As a psychologist myself, I’ve been following Dr. Herek’s work for decades and even had the opportunity back in 2005 to be on a panel for marriage equality with him.

Dr. Herek has an impressive record of publications on sexual orientation and hate crimes.

Dr. Herek discusses the American Psychiatric Association’s removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in 1973.

Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist who published "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual" about her research on psychological testing of gay men and heterosexual men, helped create a body of psychological research that led to homosexuality being removed from the DSM.

Hooker assessed both gay and straight men and then had experts review the tests and select who was gay . The experiment, which was repeated by other researchers, demonstrated that most gay men demonstrated the same level of social adjustment as heterosexual men in the general population.

Dr. Herek spoke about how most gay, lesbian, bisexual people do not believe that their sexual orientation is a choice. He referenced a study completed in Sacramento, California with 2,200 participants. Subjects were asked if they felt being LGB was a choice.

-87% gay men said they believed it was not a choice

-70% lesbians said they believed it was not a choice

-59% bi men said they believed it was not a choice

-45% bi women said they believed it was not a choice

Herek was asked if he believed if reparative therapy was effective. Reparative therapy, sometimes called conversion therapy, is intended to change a gay person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual.

Herek said “When we use the word effective with therapeutic intervention it means it consistently works, produces the outcome that we expect without causing harm to the individual…No, it is not effective.”

Herek notes that a taskforce was created to evaluate the effectiveness of these therapies. According to Herek, “the taskforce provided a report on their effectiveness and safety of reparative therapy. In their review of the literature, they found that there were not many high quality studies that had been done to speak to the effectiveness of these studies.”

Studies were then conducted and the APA Taskforce concluded that reparative therapy does not reduce same-sex attraction, has a limited effectiveness, and does some harm to individuals, including depression and anxiety.

Herek reported that the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Counselors Association, American Teachers Association, and the American Pediatric Society do not support reparative therapies, believe they are ineffective, and they believe that this harms youth.

Herek mentions a survey of married same-sex couples in Massachusetts released in May 2009 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health entitled the Health and Marriage Equality in Massachusetts Survey.

According to an executive summary of the survey published by the Williams Institute (May 2009), the survey found that same-sex married couples reported that marriage had a positive impact on their lives. Seventy-two per cent (72 %) of the married individuals reported “feeling more committed” to their spouse and “70% felt more accepted by their communities.”

Individuals also reported other important benefits from marriage, including “feeling that they have to worry less about legal problems (48%),” being able to give their same-sex spouse health insurance (30%), coming out to co-workers (82%), and health care providers (82%), and for those raising children, feeling that their children are “happier and better off as a result of their marriage (93%).” Especially notable was the finding that 62% of individuals reported that being married increased their family’s acceptance of their partner.


Herek discusses the stigma against LGBT people. He says that many heterosexuals experience “negative feelings towards lesbians and gay men, they even feel disgusted” by gay people. Herek mentions the violence against LGBT people and how the FBI and State of California track hate crimes against LGB people.

According to Herek, 1 in 5 LGBT people experienced some sort of violence in the course of their lifetimes. Others, he reports have had some experience of discrimination in employment.

Herek speaks about how if two men walked down the street holding hands that would attract violence and harassment.

FYI-January 30 is international same-sex hand holding day.


Herek also mentions harassment and bullying against youth in schools.

While not discussed by Herek, I present you with findings from GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey which I found shocking.

• 91% of LGBT middle school students said they experienced harassment at school because of their sexual orientation.

• 59% reported physical harassment

• 39% reported physical assault, compared to 20% of high school students

• 82% heard names like “faggot” and “dyke”

• 63% heard staff make homophobic remarks

• 50% of LGBT middle school students surveyed reported missing at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe.

• LGBT students who missed school because of safety had lower GPAs than other LGBT students (2.4 to 2.9)

• 57% of students who experience harassment never report it because they fear the teachers won’t help or it will only make things worse.

• School safety influences academic success.

• LGBT youth who feel unsafe, miss school more frequently, and have lower GPAs than youth who are not threatened, this leads LGBTIQ students to drop out.

• Approx. 28% of gay and lesbian youth drop out of high school because of discomfort (due to verbal and physical abuse) in the school environment. Remafedi, Gary. (1987). "Male Homosexuality: The Adolescent's Perspective." Pediatrics, Issue 79. pp. 326-337.

• Bullying and violence is even higher for gender non-conforming kids.

On a side note, the movie Prayers for Bobby is a great resource on illustrating the harm done to LGBT youth when they are pressured to change something they cannot change.


During the cross-examination, Herek is asked about sexual orientation and how it is defined. He mentions Kinsey’s continuum of sexual orientation, which I’ve provided for you below. Herek says that as a culture we’ve shortened Kinsey’s continuum to 3 categories.

1. Heterosexual

2. Homosexual (gay/lesbian)

3. Bisexual

However, Kinsey’s continuum is more exact and people's behaviors, attractions, and identity are not always consistent. For example, someone’s sexual experience/behavior might be a 0-exclusively heterosexual, but their attraction is to members of the same-sex. Additionally, someone might have the experience of a 3, below, but identity as heterosexual.

• 0- Exclusively heterosexual experience

• 1- Predominately het exp. only incidental homosexual exp.

• 2- Predominately het exp. but more than incidental homosexual exp.

• 3- Equally het & homosexual experiences

• 4- Predominately homosexual exp. but more than incidental het exp.

• 5- Predominately homosexual exp. only incidental het exp.

• 6- Exclusively homosexual experience

And with that, it’s time for a break!

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