Can An Appeal To Science Be Used To Achieve Social Change ?
by Belinda Dronkers-Laureta on May 11th, 2016

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

May 18, 2012

Can An Appeal To Science Be Used To Achieve Social Change?


With the words: “I believe I owe the gay community an apology,” Dr. Robert Spitzer, called by some the father of modern psychiatry, repudiated his own study that supported reparative therapy. That study, presented first as a paper in 2001, then published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003, caused consternation when it first came out, because it was the conclusion of the same man who, in 1973, spearheaded the effort to remove homosexuality from the American Psychological Association’s list of mental disorders. Gay advocates thought him treacherous; anti-gay advocates glummed on to the study as if it were a precious stone.

Spitzer’s 2001 paper lacks the rigor of a real scientific study. Its 2003 publication was done without peer review. He apologized for doing poor science, nothing else, because nowhere in the study is there a mention that being LGBT is a choice or that that therapy can actually change sexual orientation. Those with an antigay political purpose misused his study.

Science Not Ever Neutral

The apology caught our attention not because of the poor science it represents, but because of the many questions surfaced by the retraction. Is science a neutral arbiter for problems or, at least, for problems with great social impact? We think not. There are too many examples of science being wrong or its results misappropriated (think Exxon’s funding for research concluding that global warming is not happening, also repudiated). Many religious groups have used Spitzer’s study to support their claim that homosexuality is a choice and can be changed. Science as unreliable support also means that our use of it in support of social equality is also tenuous. But we already knew that from experience. For every “fact” there seems to be counter “fact.”

Reparative Therapy Is Just An Excuse To Enforce A False Norm

Scientists investigate perceived anomalies. Something is supposed to be this way, but is not. Why not? Are there any studies that call for therapy to make heterosexual people homosexual? We don’t know of any. That then means that heterosexuality is the norm and homosexuality the anomaly to be studied and explained. So far, so good, but people leave science when they apply reparative therapy. It is based on the notion that homosexuality is an unnatural choice people make. Reparative therapy is propelled by a need to compel LGBT people away from that choice. There is no scientific basis that choice is involved and to make people adhere to an outdated norm is just plain wrong in a land where freedom of choice is another norm.

Stories Are More Useful Than Science

The issue for us is that if we cannot use science as an appeal, then what do we use. For us, the answer is stories. We need stories to tell people that homosexuality is not a subject for study in order to change people, but that it is just another manifestation of the enormous complexity of human sexuality.

We remember a morning around the breakfast table when our son was home from college and we discussed an article that said that scientists had found the “gay gene.” We speculated that soon scientists could manipulate genes so that our son could become heterosexual. He said: “Why would I want to?” Lights went on.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride


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