Intended discussion on religion’s influence on therapy would have legitimized unethical conversion therapies, critics say
A controversial symposium, "Homosexuality and Therapy: The Religious Dimension," was withdrawn from a scheduled presentation on Monday, May 5 at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association at the request of the organizer.
David L. Scasta, a past president of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (AGLP), said he organized the symposium, "to have a balanced discussion about religion and how it influences therapy."
Scheduled participants were Scasta and openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. The Rev. Albert Mohler and Warren Throckmorton were to represent the far right.
Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a board member of the anti-gay group Focus on the Family. He has said, "If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use."
Throckmorton is a professor of psychology at the evangelical Grove City College, though he is not licensed to practice psychotherapy. He has been affiliated with the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
The small, renegade group supports "reparative therapy," which claims that gays can be cured of their sexual orientation. The approach has been denounced by the APA as a violation of professional practice guidelines.
"The symposium acknowledges the role of religious belief as a core variable in the development of sexual identity," Throckmorton told CitizenLink, a part of Focus on the Family. "To my knowledge, this meeting is unprecedented at APA."
Opposition from gay psychiatrists grew as the date for the symposium approached. They feared that giving representatives of the discredited therapeutic approach a forum might help to legitimize it, or at the very least, give anti-gay social conservatives the opportunity to spin that legitimacy.
Robinson cited those fears as his reason for withdrawing from participating in the forum. Scasta withdrew the symposium and the official word went out on May 2.
Jack Drescher, a gay psychiatrist and advocate, was a leading critic of the canceled symposium. He said at the May 3 AGLP symposium, "As a result of the debate being canceled, there is an effort to try and discredit APA as not open to open discussion. The effort is not really to talk to us but to talk to people in the audience."
Nada Stotland, a Chicago psychiatrist and president-elect of APA, downplayed the incident when she spoke to AGLP.
"Sessions are withdrawn at every meeting, period, because all it will do is stir up more controversy. … This is not going to be of interest to the press four days from now."
She also said, "Immediately after the board of trustees of the APA voted to support same-sex adoption, I was on the phone to the press."
She later was on Bill O’Reilly’s program supporting marriage equality. She pledged, "I will be there to defend science and people’s rights and people’s well-being.
"Science depends on what questions are posed, what methods are used to answers the questions, and who answers them," Stotland said in discussing the controversy. "Secondly, if you are going to pick on a group, it is incumbent on the pickers to make their case and not the pickees. If we are not quite positive on anything, then we err on the side of doing no harm to people.
"It is incumbent on people who want to deny someone a right, to have utter convincing evidence that that is the right thing to do. Until that time, we do not do that," she added.
Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit that counters the "ex-gay" movement, said, "The cancellation of this forum is welcome news because it gave the wrong impression that the American Psychiatric Association endorsed ‘ex-gay’ therapy, when, in fact, the organization soundly rejects such therapies."
The Family Research Council, another part of the Focus on the Family empire, was quick off the mark in trying to spin the decision. Its president, Tony Perkins, in a May 5 Action Update to supporters, asserted that LGBT activists were "successful in bullying the APA" into canceling the symposium, fearing that conservatives would take the stage and legitimize the ex-gay movement, the homosexual crowd pushed the APA to cancel."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 9, 2008.