from Political News
by Dale O'Leary
(Adapted from an article originally published in HEARTBEAT NEWS #22, JULY 13, 2000)
Last June, Surgeon General David Satcher released his long-awaited report on the nation's sexual health. The report, titled "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior," is grounded in the ideology of the sexual liberation movement which has, for the last forty years, dominated sex education in the United States.
The report was drafted by Eli Coleman, a gay activist who served as director of the University of Minnesota Medical School's program on human sexuality. He is the outgoing president of the World Association for Sexology, and has written extensively on his therapy with homosexual clients.
In our public and educational policy, the sexual liberationist movement is promoted by SIECUS; Planned Parenthood; the Alan Guttmacher Institute; the heirs of Alfred Kinsey from Indiana University; and by gay activists; tr influence on Surgeon General Satcher's report can be seen in the list of acknowledgments at the end of the report, and in the bibliography of books and articles referenced by the authors.
The ideology of the sexual liberation movement, as reflected in the report, can be summarized as follows:
1) Each person should feel free to do what tey want sexually with any other person, with one moral restriction--the sex act must be consensual. This is what it means to have "respect for diversity."
2) Any criticism that might make the parties feel guilty or ashamed of their sexual behavior is morally wrong. This is what it means to "stigmatize" others.
3) Religion makes people feel guilty and ashamed of their feelings. Making people feel bad about their lifestyles is referred to as "discrimination."
4) The problems experienced by persons who are sexually liberated is due to religious stigmatization. Religious teachings are the motivator for "hate" and its expression in hate crimes.
5) Without in any way inhibiting sexual expression, efforts should be directed toward making sex medically safe. That is, we should focus not on encouraging self-restraint, but on minimizing the consequences that follow from our lack of restraint. This is called "responsible sexual behavior."
Dr. Coleman is the Surgeon General's expert on homosexuality (Satcher himself has admitted to having limited knowledge of the subject), so it can be assumed that the following paragraphs in the report were written by Eli Coleman. The section reads as follows:
"Sexual orientation is usually determined by adolescence, if not earlier (Bell et al, 1981), and there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed (Haldeman, 1994; APA, 2000).
Nonetheless, our culture often stigmatizes homosexual behavior, identity and relationships (Herek, 1993). These anti-homosexual attitudes are associated with psychological distress for homosexual persons and may have a negative impact on mental health, including a greater incidence of depression and suicide, lower self-acceptance and a greater likelihood of hiding sexual orientation (Gonsiorek, 1982; Ross 1985; Ross, 1990; Greene, 1997; Remafedi, 1998). Although the research is limited, transgendered persons are reported to experience similar problems."
The Satcher report seeks to blame anti-homosexual attitudes for the problems associated with a gay lifestyle. It is true, of course, that many of the world's religions consider same-sex behavior morally wrong, and it is also true that persons who engage in such behavior do suffer from a higher incidence of psychiatric problems. Many articles claim that there is a direct connection, but fail to establish a causal relationship.
Interestingly, Coleman himself published an article on the treatment of homosexual clients who suffer from depression and suicidality. But his own cases do not support the contention that anti-homosexual attitudes were the cause of these problems, as the following examples taken from his article demonstrate:
"David was a 20-year-old college student who came in for counseling because he was 'depressed.' He told me that he had been 'out of the closet' for two years... he spent every weekend in the gay bars and baths. Most of his contacts with other gays were sexual in nature... Recently , however, he had been quite depressed. He began to doubt whether anyone was interested in him other than for sex." (Coleman 1982)
Coleman treated David's depression as a stage in the developmental 'coming out' process and encouraged him to dismiss his suspicion that his experience in gay bath houses was immature and wrong. Using his authority as a scientific professional to assure the client that his moral convictions were in error, Dr. Coleman reports:
"He began to develop interpersonal skills in the gay community and developed a sense of personal attractiveness and competence - to work on developmental tasks at the next stage. However, instead of feeling accomplishment, he felt shame. He cognitively construed his behavior as being immature and sinful. It was important for me to help him reconstrue his behavior as a healthy and important step in his growth and development." (Coleman 1982)
There is another interpretation for David's feelings, however--namely that David's shame, feelings of immaturity and sinfulness were reasonable reactions to his unhealthy behavior. Given the date of the article, one has to wonder if David has in fact survived the AIDS epidemic.
In another case, a client's suicide attempt was interpreted by Coleman as part of a necessary "evolution process." The client needed to learn that he could not expect sexual faithfulness within a committed relationship, because mature relationships are based on "freedom":
"Gary was a 35-year-old graduate student who was referred to me by his physician after a serious suicide attempt. The suicide attempt was prompted by the fact that Gary's lover had left him. This had been Gary's first long-term committed relationship to another man. He went through the 'bar and bath scene' and finally decided that there had to be something more to being gay than that. He met another young man who felt similarly, and they fell in love, after only a few weeks, they decided to move in together. ...
Gary became suspicious that his lover was seeing another man outside the relationship... [He] discovered that his suspicions were true. He took an overdose of sleeping pills and was found unconscious the next day. He was very disappointed that his suicide attempt did not work. He seriously questioned if relationships could ever work or that he could ever be happy being gay." (Coleman 1982)
According to Coleman:
"Evolution can take place when gay men and lesbians begin to realize that the enormous expectations, the possessiveness, the lack of trust, all contributed to the breakup of their relationship. They recognize that mature relationships are based on mutual trust and freedom." (Coleman 1982)
In other words, according to Coleman, gay men need to accept that their partners are going to be unfaithful.
In summary, then, Coleman presents no evidence that the serious psychological problems (depression and suicide) faced by his homosexual clients were caused by outsiders' anti-homosexual attitudes. In contrast, he presents ample evidence that the cause was an understandable inability to accept as "healthy" the sexually liberated behavior common in the gay male community.
If outsiders' "anti-homosexual attitudes" were the cause of negative outcomes among persons engaging in same-sex attitudes, then one would expect to see fewer negative outcomes in counties and cities where these attitudes were less prevalent. But a recent study from the Netherlands (Sandfort 2001) reports that prevalence of a number DSM-III-R Disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders, was significantly higher among homosexuals than among heterosexuals--even though, as the authors admit: "Compared to other Western countries, the Dutch social climate toward homosexuality has long been, and remains, considerably more tolerant." (Sandfort 2001)
Sources for the Satcher Report
The paragraph in the Satcher report on homosexuality includes a number of references which give the impression that the assertions are supported by "valid scientific evidence." But the articles referenced do not contain "scientific evidence" in any data-driven form, but are instead opinions characterized by attacks on religion and conventional morality. Four of the references used in the Surgeon General's Report are analyzed below.
1) Haldeman, D. (1994) "The Practice and Ethics of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 62, 2: 221-227.
The Haldeman article was used as a reference for the Surgeon General's claim that change of sexual orientation is not possible. Haldeman reviews and critiques the literature reporting change of orientation, impugning the integrity of therapists and the honesty of clients who report themselves as changed. Haldeman did no original research; he did not interview clients or therapists. In 2001, Dr. Robert Spitzer did conduct a survey of men and women who claimed to have experienced change of sexual orientation. He found that while the extreme change of his subjects had been very difficult to achieve, the claim that change was impossible could not be sustained.
A look at Haldeman's article shows that Haldeman does not (as the citation in the Surgeon General's report implies) claim that change of sexual orientation is impossible. Although Haldeman thinks--in a very strange twist of reasoning--that spontaneous change of orientation does occur in many people but therapeutically assisted change somehow does not, he writes:
"For many individuals, sexual orientation is a variable construct subject to changes in erotic and affectional preference, as well as changes in social values and political philosophy that may ebb and flow throughout life. For some, 'coming out' may be a process with no true endpoint. Practitioners assessing change in sexual orientation have ignore the complex variation in an individual's erotic responses and shifts in the socialcultural landscape." (Haldeman 1994)
Haldeman objects to therapy directed toward change not because there are no reports of change (in fact, he references numerous studies which reported change), but because: "Psychotherapeutic approaches to sexual reorientation have been based on the a priori assumption that homoeroticism is an undesirable condition."
But this charge ignores a number of studies in which the therapists proceeded from a neutral point of view as to outcome. We can look to the work of Elaine Siegel, author of Female Homosexuality: Choice without Volition-- A Psychoanalytic Study (1988). Because of her strong support for feminism, Siegel was asked to provide therapy for several lesbians. When the therapy began, Siegel did not view lesbianism negatively and the goal of therapy was not to change the women's sexual orientation. Nevertheless, as the clients addressed underlying conflicts, in many, same-sex attraction disappeared.
Haldeman challenges the landmark study by Bieber et al (1962) for basing outcomes on "subjective therapist impression, not externally validated data or even self-report," and because some of the subjects were probably bisexual. He dismisses many other studies because the outcomes were based on "patient self-report," but he offers no proof for his contention that the subjects must have been self-deceived or even lying.
Haldeman reports on the early failures associated with a number of religious ministries to persons involved in same-sex activity, such as Homosexuals Anonymous and Exodus. He fails to mention that these groups addressed these problems and are still functioning--and that these groups do not claim that change of orientation will ever be easy--or even absolutely complete. For most people, these groups admit, some temptations will recur throughout their lives.
Haldeman insists "If a cure is offered, then there must be an illness" and that there is no evidence that homosexuality is an illness:
"Were there properties intrinsic to homosexuality that make it a pathological condition, we would be able to observe and measure them directly. In reality, however, there exists a wide literature indicating just the opposite: that gay men and lesbians do not differ significantly from heterosexual men and women on measures of psychological stability, social or vocational adjustment, or capacity for decision making." (Haldeman 1994)
This conclusion, of course, is outdated. New research -- three well designed studies (Herrell 1999, Fergusson 1999, and Sandfort 2001) which have been reported previously by NARTH- conclude that persons classified as homosexual do have a higher prevalence of psychological disorders than heterosexuals.
In contradiction, gay affirming therapists argue both sides of this issue--saying on the one hand that gay men and lesbians have no more problems than heterosexuals, and on the other that gay men and lesbians DO have many more problems but they are all caused by societal oppression.
Haldeman's main objection to therapy directed toward change is that the availability of therapy perpetuates the "stigma" associated with homosexuality and thus is in his view unethical. Haldeman's strong anti-religious bias can be seen in his quotation of T. Murphy (1992):
"There would be no reorientation techniques, were there no interpretation that homoeroticism is an inferior state, an interpretation that in many ways continues to be medically defined, criminally enforced, socially sanctioned, and religiously justified.
And it is in this moral interpretation, more than in the reigning medical theory of the day, that all programs of sexual reorientation have their common origins and justifications."
To which Haldeman adds: "This morality is at work in all aspects of homophobic activity, from the alarming increase in violent hate crimes against gay men and lesbians to the political and legislative agendas of anti-gay organizations." (Haldeman 1994)
In his conclusion, Haldeman writes: "Homophobic attitudes have been institutionalized in nearly every aspect of our social structure, from the government and military to our educational systems and organized religions. ... The appropriate focus of the profession is what reverses prejudice, not what reverses sexual orientation." (Haldeman 1994)
The problem with this line of reasoning is that the so-called "stigma" associated with same-sex behavior is rooted in unchangeable facts, such as: Two persons of the same sex cannot conceive a child that is biologically the product of their love; Major religions hold as unchangeable the teaching that all sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman is objectively wrong. Haldeman's anti-religious attitude should not be supported in a government document such as the Surgeon General's Report.
2) Herek, G. M. (1993) "The Context of Anti-Gay Violence: Notes on Cultural and Psychological Heterosexism," in Garnets L.D., Kimmel, D.C., editors, Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Male Experiences. NY: Columbia U. Press.)
In this article also referenced by the Surgeon General's Report, Herek blames violence against homosexuals on "heterosexism," which he defines as follows:
"Heterosexism is defined here as an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community. Like racism, sexism, and other ideologies of oppression, heterosexism is manifested both in societal customs and institutions, such as religion and the legal system (referred to here as cultural heterosexism) and in individual attitudes and behaviors (referred to here as psychological heterosexism)... Heterosexism derives in part from cultural negativity toward particular forms of sexuality. (Herek 1993)
Herek offers as his example of heterosexism a (now deceased) psychoanalyst's statement that normal sexuality "should ideally be heterosexual, marital, monogamous, reproductive, and non-commercial. It should be coupled, relational, within the same generation, and occur at home. It should not involve pornography, fetish objects, sex toys of any sort, or roles other than male and female." (Rubin, 1984)
According to Herek, gay sexuality is radically different from Rubin's idea of healthy sexuality. It "is not reproductive by definition, and not marital by status. Many gay relationships are not sexually exclusive. Some homosexual men have staked out 'cruising areas' for sexual behaviors that are semi-public." It would seem, then, that Herek would not be satisfied that heterosexism was eliminated until there was also an elimination of shame and guilt over promiscuity, anonymous sexual encounters, being treated and treating others as mere sexual objects, public sexual activity, and infidelity. In other words, getting rid of heterosexism--the valuing of heterosexuality over homosexuality--would require a complete overhaul of centuries-old morals.
Apparently, there will never be an end to hate crimes until this overhauling has been accomplished:
"Eradicating heterosexism, therefore, inevitably requires confronting violence against lesbians and gay men. Eliminating anti-gay violence, in turn requires an attack upon heterosexism." (Herek 1993)
It is clear that Herek's goal (and the goal of the Sexual Liberation movement) is for "heterosexism" to be categorized as an "ideology of oppression" --that is, made equivalent to racism.
The Surgeon General's use of Herek as a source- referencing the very same article in which Herek lays out gay activism's strategy for stigmatizing people of faith - by implication, puts Satcher's government office on the side of anti-religious bias. For this reason, religious leaders across the country should demand that he be relieved of his position.
Warnings about the dangers posed by the demands of the gay movement have in the past been dismissed by many as an overreaction. Given the recent attacks on the Boy Scouts, the marginalizing of the Salvation Army, and now the latest Surgeon General's report, should not those concerns now be recognized as warranted?
3) Gonsiorek, J.C. (1982) "The Use of Diagnostic Concepts in Working with Gay and Lesbian Populations," in J.C. Gonsiorek, editor, Homosexuality and Psychotherapy: A Practitioner's Handbook of Affirmative Models. NY: Haworth.
The Surgeon General's report claims that "anti-homosexual attitudes are associated with psychological distress for homosexual persons and may have a negative impact on mental health." In support of this claim, it references an article by John Gonsiorek.
The article, however, offers no convincing evidence that the many psychological problems experienced by homosexuals and reported by Gonsiorek in some detail are directly caused by anti-homosexual attitudes. What the article does provide is ample evidence that behavior engaged in by homosexual men is sufficient cause for the problems they experience, as the following quotation demonstrates:
"Consider the following scenario: A gay man begins to frequent back-room bars, baths, public restrooms, parks or other public places for anonymous sex. He, on occasion, does have anonymous sex, which may be reinforcing and perceived as a boost to self-esteem. On another level, it may elicit a variety of guilt and self-recrimination responses if the individual has beliefs that sexuality, or same-sex activity, or some forms of sexual activity in which he has been engaging are wrong, immoral , improper, etc...Also, lack of success at sexual conquest may elicit feelings of poor body image, low self-esteem and others." (Gonsiorek 1982)
Would it not seem reasonable that a person engaging in sex with strangers in public places--risking infection, assault, arrest, or public humiliation--might feel that what he was doing was "wrong, immoral" or at the least "improper"? Wouldn't trying to rationalize this behavior as acceptable put a strain on his psychological health?
4) Berrill, K. T. (1992) "Anti-Gay Violence and Victimization in the United States: An Overview," in Herek, G. M., Berrill, K.T., editors, Hate Crimes: Confronting Violence against Lesbians and Gay Men. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, pp. 19-45.
This book is part of massive publicity effort directed toward one end: linking hate crimes committed by hooligans against homosexuals with religious teachings that proscribe sexual activity outside of marriage. The authors do not prove that the hooligans who attack homosexuals outside gay bars spend their spare time reading the Scriptures, attending religious gatherings, or studying pronouncements from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Neither do they offer evidence that people of faith who believe that the moral law on sexuality is God-given and unchangeable in fact "hate" homosexuals. But by repeating that claim, they plant this idea in the public's mind: homosexuals would be safe if only people of faith would affirm homosexual behavior.
Why do gay activists insist that religious teachings are the root cause of their higher level of psychological problems?
It may be that they are trying to convince themselves that what they are doing is acceptable, when in their hearts they have serious doubts. In 1994, Ariel Shidlo published the results of a study on "internalized homophobia" among homosexual persons. He reported that a significant percentage of homosexuals he surveyed held negative attitudes toward their own homosexuality and toward other homosexuals.
For example, 53% of homosexuals agreed with the statement "Homosexuality is not as satisfying (good) as heterosexuality," while 37% agreed that "Homosexuality is a sexual perversion." (Shidlo 1994)
Is this the voice of individual conscience, recognizing something inherently wrong with gay life? If so, then these men and women are not likely to find peace, even if people of faith are forced to recant.
The above analysis has dealt with only one paragraph of the Surgeon General's report. The rest is equally flawed. It is not a enough for the Bush administration to push the report under the rug and wait for Satcher's term to end. The entire piece must be exposed and condemned.
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