NARTH: Forced therapy unethical and ineffective

In the recent letter from the Ugandan National Pastors Task Force Against Homosexuality to Rick Warren, the Task Force disclosed that the Uganda Joint Christian Council agreed to support the Anti-Homosexuality Bill with the following amendments:

a. We suggested reduction of the sentence to 20 years instead of the death penalty for the offense of aggravated homosexuality.

b. We suggested the inclusion of regulations in the law to govern provision of counseling and rehabilitation to persons experiencing homosexual temptations. The churches are willing to provide the necessary help for those seeking counseling and rehabilitation.

c. Even with the provision for counseling and rehabilitation in the law, homosexuality should remain a punishable offense to control its spread.

These amendments sound very much like the suggestions of Scott Lively who spoke to the Ugandan Parliament in March of this year. According to a post on his website, Lively suggested these points at that time.

My trip was quite successful, encompassing multiple seminars, sermons, media appearances and private meetings with key leaders, all packed into a single week. My hosts were very pleased. But the high point of the week was my address to members of the Ugandan Parliament in their National Assembly Hall. In it I urged the government to shift the emphasis of its criminal law against homosexuality from punishment to rehabilitation by providing the option of therapy, similar to the option I once chose after being arrested for drunken driving many years ago (in my wild pre-Christian days). Such a change would represent a considerable liberalization of its policies (currently a holdover from Colonial British common law, similar to US policy until the 1950s), while preserving sufficient legal deterrent to prevent the international “gay” juggernaut from homosexualizing the society as it has done in Europe and other countries. I thought it was an inspired compromise.

Lively’s “inspired compromise” seems to have inspired the Ugandan pastors’ coalition. Lively elaborated a bit in a recent posting:

In my view, homosexuality (indeed all sex outside of marriage) should be actively discouraged by society — but only as aggressively as necessary to prevent the mainstreaming of alternative sexual lifestyles, and with concern for the preservation of the liberties of those who desire to keep their personal lifestyles private.

The suggested changes in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill could follow Lively’s suggestions although it is not clear how the regulations would be written. Would counseling be available for those who present themselves as having temptation as framed by the pastors’ coalition or would counseling be available to those who offend the law in some way as an option to jail? Or will Bahati re-write the bill to include both options?

Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo may have signaled the direction he favors with recent comments to Ugandan television, saying:  

“…we are saying, that look… instead of killing somebody, provide mechanisms for counseling, and other supports, so that the person may actually be rehabilitated. And I see logic in that one, because already we have some former homosexuals who are being rehabilitated.”

Given how closely the pastors and the legislators seem to be there, the changes may appear in the second draft of the bill. The “kill the gays” bill may turn into the “cure the gays” bill by February, 2010.

Because the changes may appear soon, I want to engage the discussion on the topic of reorientation therapy in an environment where the other option is jail or worse. Almost immediately after there were rumblings of the bill being changed to included coerced therapy, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International came out in opposition to the proposal. On the Facebook group dedicated to opposing the bill, Chambers said:

I am NOT for forced therapy for gay and lesbian people. While no one chooses their attractions I do believe that it is everyone’s God given right to choose what you do with those attractions (consenting adults). I believe that those who are conflicted by their faith and feelings have the right to choose therapy and those who aren’t conflicted shouldn’t be forced into anything.

I also asked the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality to give their opinion of the proposed therapy option. Past-president A. Dean Byrd responded in an email:

Dear Dr. Throckmorton, 

As you are aware, NARTH’s Governing Board has accepted the Leona Tyler Principle which states that NARTH, as a scientific organization, takes no position on any scientific issue without the requisite science or professional experience.  NARTH members, as individuals, are free to speak on any issue.

NARTH values the inherent worth of all individuals and respects individual right of autonomy and self determination.

NARTH’s position on homosexuality was clearly articulated by Dr. Julie Harren Hamiliton in a recent edition of the APA Monitor: homosexuality is not invariably fixed in all people – some people can and do change.  And psychological care should be available to those who seek such care.

NARTH encourages its members to abide the Code of Ethics of their respective organizations and such codes proscribe the coercive efforts. It goes without saying that NARTH would support the humane treatment of ALL individuals.

We are aware of the situation in Uganda but thank you for bringing this to our attention. I am sure that you are aware that as a scientific organization, NARTH does not take political positions; however, we are happy to provide a summary of what science can and cannot say about homosexuality for those who do.

Dr. Throckmorton, if history is a good indicator, you will likely not be happy with this response. However, I hope such responses will help you understand NARTH’s mission as a scientific organization. 

With warm regards,

A. Dean Byrd, PhD, MBA, MPH

Leaving aside the comments about NARTH not taking political positions, I want to point out the money quote:

NARTH encourages its members to abide the Code of Ethics of their respective organizations and such codes proscribe the coercive efforts.

Byrd’s answer did oppose coercion (although undefined), but did not comment on the efficacy of such measures. Given that Byrd’s answer was not clear, I wrote back to ask for clarification. David Pruden, NARTH administrative director answered saying:

Research tells us that forced therapy is almost always a failure. It is unethical and unworkable.

Normally, I do not look to Exodus or NARTH for research state-of-the-art on sexual orientation, but there are two important reasons to ask their position on this question. One, since the proposal may call for some kind of treatment or ministry, it seems reasonable to poll the views of the two most prominent groups who currently provide those efforts. The second reason is because the guy who recommended the option in the first place, Scott Lively, highly recommends Exodus and NARTH.

Here is a 2007 video of Scott Lively in Latvia recommending Exodus and NARTH. Note how crucial it is to Lively to convince the nation of a gay cure.

And then in Uganda, he continued his praise of NARTH by saying their website was an important source of information, second only to his.

Here is what Scott Lively could not have told his Ugandan audience but can now be told. One, both Exodus and NARTH have removed any reference to Scott Lively’s work from their websites (click the links to read about these actions). Two, NARTH and Exodus (at least informally through Alan Chambers) consider coercive therapy to be unethical and ineffective.

Let me speak directly to the Ugandan supporters of the bill. The man, Scott Lively, you brought to speak in Parliament to recommend a rehabilitation option has been removed from the websites of the organizations he recommended to you. Furthermore, the organizations which Scott Lively encouraged you to trust says coercive therapy is not ethical or effective. I know he has said that such measures were once used effectively but this is not the case.

I need to add that I do not agree with NARTH about very much and certainly think that they are wrong in the way they discuss sexual orientation as a fluid trait. However, even this group, who exists to promote the idea that some people can change, rejects the idea that a coercive environment is appropriate. While they dramatically underestimate the role of social stigma as an aspect of why people seek their services here in the US, at least they see clearly that forced therapy of the kind contemplated by Lively and UJCC are in David Pruden’s words, “unethical and unworkable.”

Op-ed in Uganda’s Independent: Put down the stones

This appeared on the website of the Independent.

At Uganda Talks we welcome guest blogs from our readers. Today, associate professor of psychology at Grove City (a Christian college in the U.S.), Warren Throckmorton, writes about Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill.

Put down the stones

Christians believe that when Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders of His day, He had just the right response. However, I fear that many of my Ugandan brothers and sisters now doubt that Jesus was correct in His example. Let me explain.

In the 8th chapter of the Gospel of John, the Pharisees and teachers of the law brought a woman to Jesus for Him to judge.

They said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” The woman expressed no repentance, no remorse; she was coerced to this degrading situation by the religious leaders who used her as a scapegoat and example.

Jesus did not speak but instead wrote in the dirt on the ground before He spoke. We don’t know what He wrote, but we do know what He said: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

No one tossed so much as a pebble. They all walked away, leaving the woman untouched by the wrath of men. Rather, she had been touched by the mercy of her Benefactor.

Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

We do not know whether or not she left her life of sin. The Bible does not say. However, we do know that Jesus prevented this woman from being stoned to death. She had sinned and was free to go.

Was Jesus wrong?

As I read the Anti-Homosexuality Bill proposed in Uganda by MPs David Bahati and Benson Obua, I wonder if perhaps these gentlemen think Jesus should have picked up a stone. Instead, Jesus intervened on behalf of the woman, was He wrong?

Clearly, He did not believe adultery was proper. But He signaled a new way of dealing with sin, one which emphasizes mercy and freedom, rather than coercion and death. People must choose to follow the teachings of Christ, not be coerced by Pharisees or government officials. The human heart cannot be changed by laws, but through the freely chosen grace of Christ.

Brothers and sisters, jailing or killing gays or those suspected of being gay or those who know gays cannot create a righteous people, and in fact may further a self-righteous people. One may disapprove of homosexuality, and still treat homosexuals as you would want to be treated. Who among us could stand if our private sins were judged in such a manner as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009?

I urge my brethren in beautiful Uganda to follow the example of Jesus. Please, for the sake of Christ, put down your stones.

Ugandan coalition speaks out against Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009

This morning (afternoon there) a coalition of organizations in Uganda released this statement of opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009.

Anti-Homosexuality or Anti-Human Rights Bill?

Statement from the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law

Hon. Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill which was tabled in Parliament on October 14, 2009, and is currently before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament covers much more than the title alone proclaims. A much better title for this bill would have been the ‘Anti Civil Society Bill, the ‘Anti Public Health Bill,’ or the ‘Anti-Constitution Bill.’ Perhaps more simply it should be called the Anti Human Rights Bill. As a matter of fact, this bill represents one of the most serious attacks to date on the 1995 Constitution and on the key human rights protections enshrined in the Constitution including:

• Article 20: Fundamental rights and freedoms are inherent and not granted by the State

• Article 21: Right to Equality and Freedom from discrimination

• Article 22: The Right to Life (the death penalty provisions)

• Article 27: The Right to Privacy

• Article 29: Right to freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association (this includes freedom of speech, Academic freedom and media freedom)

• Article 30: Right to Education

• Article 32: Affirmative Action in favour of marginalised groups and

• Article 36 on the Rights of Minorities

Let us think for a moment of who—quite apart from the homosexuals it claims as its target—this bill puts at risk:

– any parent who does not denounce their lesbian daughter or gay son to the authorities: Failure to do so s/he will be fined Ush 5,000,000/= or put away for three years;

– any teacher who does not report a lesbian or gay pupil to the authorities within 24 hours: Failure to do so s/he will be fined Ush 5,000,000/= or put away for three years in prison;

– any landlord or landlady who happens to give housing to a suspected homosexual risks seven years of imprisonment;

– any Local Council I – V Chairperson or Executive member who does not denounce somebody accused of same-sex attraction or activity risks imprisonment or a heavy fine;

– any medical doctor who seeks to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS through working with what are known as most at risk populations, risks her or his career;

– all civil society leaders, whether in a Community Based Organisation, NGO, or academic institution; if their organisations seek to have a comprehensive position on sexual and reproductive health, they risk seeing their organisations closed down;

– any human rights activist who seeks to promote an understanding of the indivisibility and inalienability of human rights would be judged to be promoting homosexuals and homosexuality, and be punished accordingly;

– any religious leader who seeks to provide guidance and counselling to people who are unsure of their sexuality, would be regarded as promoting homosexuality and punished accordingly;

– any Member of Parliament or other public figure who is sent a pornographic article, picture or video will become vulnerable to blackmail and witch-hunts;

– any media house that publishes ‘pornographic’ materials risks losing its certificate of registration and the editor will be liable to seven years in jail;

– any internet café operator who fails to prevent a customer from accessing a pornographic website, or a dating site, could be accused of ‘participating in the production, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating and publishing of pornographic materials for purposes of promoting homosexuality’; their business licence could be revoked and they themselves could land in prison.

– any Person alleged to be a homosexual is at risk of LIFE IMPRISONMENT and, in some circumstances, the DEATH PENALTY.

In short, this bill targets everybody, and involves everybody: it cannot be implemented without making every citizen spy on his or her neighbours. The last time this was done was in the Amin era, where everyone very quickly became an ‘enemy of the state’. It amounts to a direct invasion of our homes, and will promote blackmail, false accusations and outright intimidation of certain members of the population. Do Ugandans really want to mimic the practices of the Khartoum regime? Have we already forgotten the sex police of Apartheid South Africa, who smashed their way into people’s bedrooms in an attempt to prevent inter-racial sex?

As Civil Society organisations we condemn all predatory sexual acts (hetero or homosexual) that violate the rights of vulnerable sections of our society such as minors and people with disabilities. However, the Bill lumps “aggravated homosexuality” together with sexual acts between consenting adults in order to whip up sentiments of fear and hatred aimed at isolating sexual minorities. By so doing, the state fails in its duty to protect all its citizens without discrimination.

The bill also asserts Extra Territorial jurisdiction. In other words, all of the offences covered by the bill can be applied to a Ugandan citizen or permanent resident who allegedly commits them outside the country. Thus homosexuality and/or its ‘promotion’ are added to the very short list of offences which fall in the ‘political offences’ category. It joins treason, misprision of treason, and terrorism as offences subject to extra-territorial jurisdiction. Clearly, this is out of all proportion in relation to the gravity of the act.

On top of these day-to-day considerations about everybody’s safety and security, let us consider what this bill will do for civil society organisations in Uganda which seek to have a critical voice and to engage in issues of global concern. One of the objectives of the bill is to prohibit the licensing of organizations which allegedly ‘promote homosexuality.’ Thus, for example, any organisation which talked about anal sex as part of a campaign of HIV prevention can be affected. Had this bill been in place earlier this year, no Ugandan could have participated in the World AIDS meeting held in Mexico to discuss HIV prevention.

And what about our standing in the eyes of the world? The Bill calls for Uganda to nullify any international treaties, protocols, declarations and conventions which are believed to be ‘contradictory to the spirit and provisions’ of the bill. In reality, this would involve Uganda withdrawing from:

• The Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

• The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its protocols;

• The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;

• The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women;

• The Convention on the Rights of the Child, and

• The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

We note that Uganda is current Chair of the UN Security Council which operates with the UN Charter and UDHR as guiding principles. It is also current Chair of the Commonwealth and a signatory to the African Union’s Constitutive Act which has as its premise the promotion and respect of human rights. In 2009 and 2010 it is hosting AU Summits. What will happen to Uganda’s hard-won role on the global stage if it nullifies its international and regional humanrights commitments? Uganda cannot wish away core human rights principles of dignity, equality and non-discrimination, and all Ugandans will pay a heavy price if this bill is enacted.

We will have bargained away our hard-earned rights and freedoms as well as our right to challenge the State and hold it accountable for the protection of these rights. In sum, the Bahati Bill is profoundly unconstitutional. It is a major stumbling block to the development of a vibrant human rights movement in Uganda, and a serious threat to Uganda’s developing democratic status. If passed, this law would not only prove difficult to implement, it would also consume resources and attention which would be better directed at more pressing issues of human rights abuse, corruption, electoral reform, domestic relations and freedom of the press.

Regardless of our personal moral beliefs and values, we the undersigned organisations are standing up in defence of Democracy, our Constitution and its enshrined principles of human dignity, equality, freedom and justice for all.

Kampala, 23 October 2009

• African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF)

• Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA)

• Advocates for Public International Law in Uganda (APILU)

• Center for Land Economy and Rights of Women (CLEAR-Uganda)

• Centre for Women in Governance (CEWIGO)

• Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA)

• East & Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project

• Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-U)

• Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE)

• Human Rights Awareness & Promotion Forum

• Human Rights & Peace Centre (HURIPEC), Faculty of Law, Makerere University

• Integrity Uganda

• International Refugee Rights Initiative

• Mentoring and Empowerment Programme for Young Women (MEMPROW)

• MIFUMI Project

• National Association of Women’s Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU)

• National Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (NACWOLA)

• Refugee Law Project (RLP), Faculty of Law, Makerere University

• National Guidance & Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NGEN+)

• Spectrum Uganda

• Uganda Feminist Forum

• Women’s Organisation & Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA)

For further information please contact the coalition at [email protected]