Irish president calls attention to bullying of gays

Relevant to our discussions of suicidality and same-sex attracted youth, the Irish president today called for an end to bullying, in particular that aimed at same-sex attracted youth. She spoke at the annual conference of the International Association of Suicide Prevention in Ireland.

Note that she believes more research is needed to understand the actual relationship but it seems pretty clear that any ostracism or antagonism directed at kids is not going to achieve positive ends. Sadly, kids that are perceived as different do not often fare well unless adults promote pro-social actions.

Iowa court rules that marriage licenses must be issued to same-sex couples

Ok, since several posts end up being about same-sex marriage, here is a way to do it on topic. I am not going to get into it much, but have at it (without name-calling or questioning motives).

By now, most folks know, an Iowa District Court judge ruled that marriage licenses must be issued to same-sex couples and of course we’re off to the Iowa Supreme Court. Eventually, we will all be before the U.S. Supreme Court so arguments aside, that is where the final say will occur.

The case was Varnum v. Brien. Click the link to read the opinion. on Sen. Larry Craig controversy

UPDATE: 8/30/07 – There is now audio of the police discussion with Senator Craig after the arrest in Minneapolis. Given the speculation here and elsewhere, I though it might be interesting to consider. It surprises me that he did not fight the charge given the tone of this interview.

Beth Frerking of the political magazine, Politico, interviewed me for a story out today regarding the political fallout of scandal on social conservatives. I hesitated to respond since I know nothing of Senator Craig’s life. However, I think it is clear in the article that I am replying in general terms. I am not going to speculate any further about the Senator’s situation but I suspect this will be an ongoing story with additional fallout. Feel free to add links to relevant aspects of the story in the comments.

Mother Jones (sort of) hearts NARTH

Me to my blog – “I wish I knew how to quit you!”

Can’t really leave this one alone. Mother Jones has a lengthy piece which discusses sexual identity, sexual orientation change, NARTH, and Lisa Diamond. Titled, “Gay By Choice? The Science of Sexual Identity” by Gary Greenberg, the article explores the politics of biological determinism and sexual identity. There are several gems throughout this piece but I have time for three.

I am not sure if the author is joining in this mistake or is simply pointing it out, but he notes that reparative therapists hope to take advantage of lack of consensus surrounding biological theories.

While scientists have found intriguing biological differences between gay and straight people, the evidence so far stops well short of proving that we are born with a sexual orientation that we will have for life. Even more important, some research shows that sexual orientation is more fluid than we have come to think, that people, especially women, can and do move across customary sexual orientation boundaries, that there are ex-straights as well as ex-gays. Much of this research has stayed below the radar of the culture warriors, but reparative therapists are hoping to use it to enter the scientific mainstream and advocate for what they call the right of self-determination in matters of sexual orientation. If they are successful, gay activists may soon find themselves scrambling to make sense of a new scientific and political landscape.

Implicit in this paragraph is a mistake I hear frequently – “If we can disprove biological determinism, then we prove reparative therapy is effective.” This is misguided. Finding flaws in a theory is not a way to prove a competing theory. The competing theory – in this case, reparative drive theory – must still be proven. And to my way of thinking, there are many empirical flaws with reparative drive theory.

Lisa Diamond points out this problem later in the article:

Why then can’t the experience of therapy and the relationship with the therapist also effect change?” Diamond calls this interpretation a “misuse” of her research—”the fluidity I’ve observed does not mean that reparative therapy works”—but what is really being misused, she says, is science. “We live in a culture where people disagree vehemently about whether or not sexual minorities deserve equal rights,” she told me. “People cling to this idea that science can provide the answers, and I don’t think it can. I think in some ways it’s dangerous for the lesbian and gay community to use biology as a proxy for that debate.”

Actually, she touches on a point central to this article. Biology alone is an inadequate foundation for arguing for social change. The author spends some ink discussing the historical efforts to link biology and acceptance (via Kertbeny and Ulrichs – well worth the read) and then ends up arguing that the gay rights movement needs to find other foundations beyond biological determinism. Curiously, the author has this to say about NARTH. It sounds a bit like a supportive statement but I suspect it may be a warning to his ideological compadres.

NARTH is perfectly positioned to exploit this confusion by arguing that sexual orientation can be influenced by environmental conditions, and that certain courses are less healthy than others. That’s how NARTHites justify their opposition to extending marriage and adoption rights to gay people: not because they abhor homosexuality, but because a gay-friendly world is one in which it is hard for gay people to recognize that they are suffering from a medical illness.

Based on NARTH’s significant missteps (Schoenewolf, Berger, etc.) over the last couple of years, I would argue that the association is anything but “perfectly positioned to exploit” anything. Furthermore, I do not think remedicalizing homosexuality has much of a future. Too many people know gay people who are not mentally ill or living disordered lives for this characterization to take hold. Besides, if homosexuality were ever to become a medical illness, wouldn’t the American with Disabilities Act remove any additional legal barriers to civil rights? In fairness to the members of NARTH, not all would want to re-pathologize homosexuality. And this may not even be the official policy of NARTH, but I am primarily pointing out my doubts that any significant movement in the professions toward seeing sexual orientation as a more flexible trait for some people will come from NARTH. It will come from people like Lisa Diamond and others who are doing research, synthesizing biological and environmental studies, publishing findings in peer-reviewed outlets and presenting work to peers, friendly and unfriendly.

In short, it appears to me that within the mental health professions, the rationale for client self-determination is respect for the dignity of individuals. While we may point out probabilities, we recognize the rights of self-direction with appropriate informed consent.

Blog changes

To those who read and comment:

I am making some changes for at least the month of September – well, one primary change. Most posts in September will not be formatted to allow comments. I recognize we have assembled quite an outstanding group of regular readers and comments. However, I moderated nearly 100 comments during the 24 hour period from Saturday to Sunday. That many comments alone takes much time to read and moderate, but in addition, many commenters would like to hear responses from me that are very nuanced and require more time than I have. I have several writing, research and speaking projects coming in September that will not get done properly if I continue the blog in the same manner I have since I started it. So sadly, I must limit my time in administration – at least for now.

I will, however, continue posting. There is much news coming up this month so I hope you will check in regularly. I will have reports from the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference, the Exodus Regional Conference and some research news as well. I also have a guest post from Michael Bailey coming soon where I will open the forum again. And existing threads will remain open, although I may not be able to participate extensively. But overall, as much as I value the discussion, I must take some steps and this is one of them.

Paradoxically, I will open this post for comments but I may not get to approve them until later tomorrow.

Rainbow Outreach Chair makes public statement

Rainbow Outreach Board Chair George Broadway made a statement on the ExGayWatch blog earlier this evening regarding the controversy.

In response to the situation regarding the website, and related sites, the Rainbow Outreach GLBT Center is not and never has been involved in any manner with the websites in question. The Rainbow Outreach GLBT Center was unaware of the content of the website until receiving inquiries regarding the website’s content. The Center does not advocate nor condone the use of violence under any circumstance, whether in response to bullying or to any other perceived provocation. The Center does not condone even the suggestion that it may approve of violence. Therefore the webmaster, Mr. Wyant, has voluntarily stepped down from the Board of Directors and is severing all connections with the Center in order to best protect the interests of the Rainbow Outreach GLBT Community Center, its supporters, programs, and the community.

Thank you,

George Broadway

Board Chair

Rainbow Outreach GLBT Community Center

Omaha NE

I need to add that I have not confirmed that this comment is really from Mr. Broadway since he will not answer emails from me. I spoke with Mr. Broadway when this controversy came to light and he said he would ask Mr. Wyant to call me but he himself did not want to discuss the matter. Mr. Wyant is still listed as organizer of the GLBT Youth Night at the center.

APA resolution on religion and psychology

At the San Francisco convention, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution regarding the relationship between religion and psychological practice and research. I have posted it elsewhere on the blog for your review. Here I am going to pull out some points relevant to our discussions on sexual identity.

It is important for psychology as a behavioral science, and various faith traditions as theological systems, to acknowledge and respect their profoundly different methodological, epistemological, historical, theoretical and philosophical bases. Psychology has no legitimate function in arbitrating matters of faith and theology; and faith traditions have no legitimate place arbitrating behavioral or other sciences. While both traditions may arrive at public policy perspectives operating out of their own traditions, the bases for these perspectives are substantially different.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association take a leadership role in opposing discrimination based on or derived from religion or spirituality and encouraging commensurate consideration of religion and spirituality as diversity variables.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association views no religious, faith or spiritual tradition, or lack of tradition, as more deserving of protection than another and that the American Psychological Association gives no preference to any particular religious or spiritual conventions.

This statement of religion as a diversity variable dovetails very nicely with the religious coalition’s letter to the APA regarding religious diversity.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association encourages individuals and groups to work against any potential adverse psychological consequences to themselves, others or society, that might arise from religious or spiritual attitudes, practices or policies.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that psychologists are encouraged to recognize that it is outside the role and expertise of psychologists as psychologists to adjudicate religious or spiritual tenets, while also recognizing that psychologists can appropriately speak to the psychological implications of religious/spiritual beliefs or practices when relevant psychological findings about those implications exist. Those operating out of religious/spiritual traditions are encouraged to recognize that it is outside their role and expertise to adjudicate empirical scientific issues in psychology, while also recognizing they can appropriately speak to theological implications of psychological science.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that psychologists are careful to prevent bias from their own spiritual, religious or non-religious beliefs from taking precedence over professional practice and standards or scientific findings in their work as psychologists.

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association encourages collaborative activities in pursuit of shared prosocial goals between psychologists and religious communities when such collaboration can be done in a mutually respectful manner that is consistent with psychologists’ professional and scientific roles.

When religious belief seems to associate with some adverse mental health outcome, the psychologist can point this out but still may not opine about the religious value of holding a belief. In some traditions, for instance, suffering is valued, even it could be prevented via psychological interventions. Psychologists should not be shy about saying such suffering could be prevented but the psychologist may also respect the tradition of the client and recognize where personal beliefs can bias psychologists.

All in all, I think these are important statements and have relevance to sexual identity ministry and therapy. I will have more to say later on this, so let’s consider this an open forum on this topic.

Former ex-gay leaders in Australia renounce ministries

Today’s Sydney Star-Observer reports on 5 ex-ex-gays who have denounced their former programs. I was struck by the mention of discipline in the arsenal of techniques.

Many former leaders believed that homosexuality was a choice, including Vonnie Pitts, the former leader of Living Waters, an organisation that conducts disciplinary programs for those pursuing “sexual wholeness”.

I don’t know much about Living Waters. Readers who do, what could she be referring to by the use of the term, “disciplinary programs?”

The emphasis on rigid gender roles sounds sadly familiar:

After attending Australia’s first ex-gay program in 1972, Anthony Venn-Brown spent 22 years trying to change his sexuality.

The program, he said, was about “modifying your behaviour to become more masculine”.

“You were never allowed to work in a kitchen – that was women’s work,” he said. “You were always doing maintenance work and manual labour outside … and they also removed any articles of clothing from my wardrobe that they believed were not masculine.


“They believed you should have a good, strong male role model because your father was emotionally distant. Therefore they gave me a minder, who would be with me 24 hours a day and who would make sure I was behaving myself.”

Theories have consequences and thus it is important to stay true to the data and to be tentative where the data are not very clear. Dubious theories of sexual orientation development can lead to dubious practices — as is illustrated here. I may have mentioned this before on this blog, but this reminds me of an illustration Ariel Shidlo gave at the 2000 APA convention when he and Michael Schroeder presented their data on harm from reorientation. He noted a young man was asked by his reparative therapist to give up a piano scholarship because piano playing was too feminine. He gave it up but, of course did not lose his attractions to men. The client however, was angry and frustrated.

Neuroimaging study differentiates gay and straight males

It must be Bailey week here on the blog. I am reporting here on a study done in his lab led by Northwestern undergraduates Adam Safron and Ben Barch. The study titled: “Neural Correlates of Sexual Arousal in Homosexual and Heterosexual Men” was published in the April, 2007 edition of Behavioral Neuroscience.

Dr. Bailey described this study at the December conference at Catholic University. Essentially, brain scans demonstrate that activation in the brains of gay and straight men differ in response to sexual images. The abstract reads:

Men exhibit much higher levels of genital and subjective arousal to sexual stimuli containing their preferred sex than they do to stimuli containing only the nonpreferred sex. This study used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how this category-specific pattern would be reflected in the brains of homosexual (n = 11) and heterosexual (n = 11) men. Comparisons of activation to preferred sexual stimuli, nonpreferred sexual stimuli, and sports stimuli revealed large networks correlated with sexual arousal, spanning multiple cortical and subcortical areas. Both homosexual and heterosexual men exhibited category-specific arousal in brain activity. Within the amygdala, greater preference-related activity was observed in homosexual men, but it is unclear whether this is a cause or a consequence of their sexuality. In a subsequent analysis of regions hypothesized to support arousal, both participant groups demonstrated widespread increases in evoked activity for preferred stimuli. Aggregate data from these regions produced significant differences between stimulus types in 16 out of 22 participants. Significant activational differences matched reported sexual orientation in 15 of these 16 participants, representing an advance in psychophysiological measures of arousal.

At the Catholic University conference, Bailey showed videos of the collective response of men to preferred sexual images compared to neutral images and the results were striking. There was lots of activation with preferred sexual images (gay men to men and straight men to women) and next to nothing with non-preferred imagery. Here is his description of the scans:

And what I’m going to show you next is a movie. It’s a quick movie of somebody’s brain activity while he watches — well, it’s a contrast, actually — preferred stimuli minus neutral. So, this study has both gay men and straight men, and this is the way their brain reacts when they see their preferred sexual stimuli, which, for a straight man, would be women, for gay man would be men, against watching neutral things like — actually, our neutral stimuli here are people playing sports.

And the thing to pay attention to, these hot colors mean that preferred is activating the brain more than neutral, these cold colors mean that neutral stimuli is activating the brain more than preferred. Doesn’t really — just look at all the — you’re going to see a lot of colors like this. Okay? …did you see all those bright colors there? That is a big, big, bold brain reaction to preferred stimuli. The brain really likes seeing preferred sexual stimuli, in men.

Safron et al

Okay. So, the next one is the same sort of thing, except now what you’re going to see is nonpreferred stimuli, so this would be a straight man looking at nude men, and a gay man looking at nude women. Okay? Look how different it looks.

Were all subjects congruent with their self-reports? No, one subject, “Participant 16” demonstrated activation to same-sex imagery but his self-report was heterosexual.

Participant 16 showed unusually positive evaluations for nonpreferred stimuli. This participant, a self-reported heterosexual, had 10 instances in which he gave positive evaluations to nonpreferred stimuli, whereas other heterosexual men averaged 0.6 positive evaluations. He also tended to give less negative evaluations for nonpreferred stimuli compared with other heterosexual men (the percentages rated “strongly dislike” were 48% and 66%, respectively). Furthermore, he rated preferred stimuli less positively compared with other heterosexual men (the percentages rated “strongly like” were 46% and 82%, respectively).

Was participant 16 bisexual? In denial? Bothered by the procedure? Hard to tell. Dr. Bailey thinks his erotic preferences were really same-sex but his self-concept straight. In practice, who knows? In theory, someone like this could experience attractions to the same sex and process those attractions in a manner that would not lead to a self-attribution of being gay. To me, this highlights one interpretive issue with research like this. Clearly, brain reactions were different associated with sexual orientation differences – and before the person was very aware of the stimuli. However, humans may make a variety of meanings of the same brain activity. This research can tell us what brains are doing but not exactly what it means to any given individual.

Another issue of some import to me as Dr. Bailey and I collaborate to apply this technology with ex-gays is the difficulty some religious participants will have viewing nude pictures. We will need to discuss how what the brain might do with mixed feelings about participation and where that state might show up on the scan. And we might need to have another set of pics to view.

Investigative journal article examines Michael Bailey controversy

Michael Bailey of Northwestern University is one of the key sexuality researchers of the last 20 years. Since publication, his book The Man Who Would Be Queen has been at the center of controversy. Specific allegations of personal and research impropriety have been leveled against Dr. Bailey, all of which he has denied.

The upcoming Archives of Sexual Behavior will feature a lengthy investigative report by Alice Dreger exploring the controvery and allegations. The New York Times plans a story regarding the matter, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. I will post a link when it is published.

Here is the abstract:

In 2003, psychology professor and sex researcher J. Michael Bailey published a book entitled The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. The book’s portrayal of male-to-female (MTF) transsexualism, based on a theory developed by sexologist Ray Blanchard, outraged some transgender activists. They believed the book to be typical of much of the biomedical literature on transsexuality—oppressive in both tone and claims, insulting to their senses of self, and damaging to their public identities. Some saw the book as especially dangerous because it claimed to be based on rigorous science, was published by an imprint of the National Academies of Science, and argued that MTF sex changes are motivated primarily by erotic interests and not by the problem of having the gender identity common to one sex in the body of the other. Dissatisfied with the option of merely criticizing the book, a small number of transwomen (particularly Lynn Conway, Andrea James, and Deirdre McCloskey) worked to try to ruin Bailey. Using published and unpublished sources as well as original interviews, this essay traces the history of the backlash against Bailey and his book. It also provides a thorough exegesis of the book’s treatment of transsexuality and includes a comprehensive investigation of the merits of the charges made against Bailey that he had behaved unethically, immorally, and illegally in the production of his book. The essay closes with an epilogue that explores what has happened since 2003 to the central ideas and major players in the controversy.

Two more excerpts of interest to readers here:

Notably, because it is often scientifically and politically atypical in its claims, Bailey’s work seems particularly inclined to create critics and allies on all sides; so, for example, we’ve seen how he was criticized and praised in both the left-wing and rightwing media. And we find the anti-gay National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) trying, largely through highly selective quotation, to use Bailey’s words on homosexuality to defend their homophobic policies (see, e.g., Byrd, 2006) even while Bailey has been reasonably positioned to debate against NARTH representatives on a Catholic radio program and in academic conferences on homosexuality. (pg. 51)

One of those conferences, I attended and reported on here. And I can relate to this passage:

And Bailey? Undaunted, he plugs ahead, working on more sexual-orientation studies—studies likely to keep angering people on both the right and the left who wish his work fell simply into one of the politicized scientific boxes on which they insist.

The article quite long (62 pages with references) but if you have followed this saga at all or are interested in the human side of research, this is a worthwhile read. Consider this post a kind of open forum, but any allegations or other claims about the players or situation must be backed up with references.

UPDATE: 8/21/07 – Here is Benedict Carey’s New York Times article regarding the controversy.