Columbia University psychiatrist Robert Spitzer should easily qualify for the gay-rights hall of fame. After all, he proposed one of the homosexual lobby's most important milestones-a 1973 resolution removing homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) list of mental disorders. The APA website now credits the resolution for launching "a quarter century of efforts to end discrimination against homosexuals."
But these days the 68-year-old self-described atheist is more likely to find his name on the homosexual lobby's blacklist. His crime? Last year he proposed a symposium on reparative therapy-psychological treatment for homosexuals who want to become heterosexual. Now he stands accused of weakening the platform he helped create.
"I have sympathy for the ex-gays who now feel misunderstood and marginalized," Dr. Spitzer told WORLD. This new-found sympathy threatens the gay-rights campaign mantra that homosexuality is an inherent trait. And activists have wasted no time enlisting medical and mental health associations to eliminate that threat. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association have all issued statements opposing or discouraging reparative therapy.
Last year the American Medical Association joined those associations in endorsing a pamphlet distributed to over 14,000 school districts warning that "the promotion of 'reparative therapy' ... is likely to exacerbate the risk of harassment, harm, and fear."
But professionals like Dr. Spitzer are beginning to rebel against policies that promote political advocacy over scientific truth. After the APA squelched his symposium, he launched a clinical study of ex-gays to determine whether reparative therapy works. So far he has interviewed over 90 people. "It's clear to me that many of them have sustained very significant changes," he said. Expressing concern that what began as an attempt to protect homosexuals has now become a tool of discrimination, he told WORLD that ex-gays "have been totally abandoned by the mental health profession."
Richard Cohen-a former homosexual and current member of the American Counseling Association-agrees. His new book Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality describes his frustration with licensed counselors who resisted his attempts to change. "It's supposed to be a profession that encourages people to fulfill their goals, but now they are promoting advocacy, not clients' rights," said Mr. Cohen.
Now a father of three and a licensed psychotherapist, he represents the gay-rights movement's worst nightmare. Not only does he say he changed, but he wants to help others do the same. To accomplish this, he founded the International Healing Foundation-a Maryland-based training center where counselors and clergy learn to help homosexuals change.
But change is a dirty word to activists seeking special recognition, and Mr. Cohen says he has been spit upon at university debates, and has seen his literature and his office name plaques destroyed. Still, he takes his message back to the street through the Internet, radio, and sympathetic colleagues.
Pennsylvania psychologist David Leaman discovered the price of rebellion this spring after inviting 400 colleagues to hear Mr. Cohen's reparative-therapy seminar. Afterward, the state-subsidized Cumberland Valley Mental Health Center terminated him from his position as a juvenile evaluator. His invitations violated a "nondiscrimination policy," explained a letter from the Center. His reputation suffered also. "I got branded by some colleagues as just a conservative fundamentalist who has a bias against homosexuality," said Dr. Leaman.
That kind of backlash has prompted other reparative-therapy supporters to seek power in numbers. Claiming 1,000 members, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) serves both as a professional alternative to the APA and a referral service for homosexual clients. "All we are saying is that those who are unhappy should be able to investigate why they have this attraction, what is behind it, and what they can do about it," said NARTH president and American Psychological Association member Joseph Nicolosi.
As the Christian psychologist credited with popularizing the term reparative therapy, Dr. Nicolosi views the recent anti-therapy resolutions as a loaded gun pointed at his occupation. All that is needed to pull the trigger is a disgruntled patient willing to file a complaint. "Basically what I do all day is against the ethics of the APA. But at this point it has not been enforced," he said.
For now, he dodges bullets by accepting only homosexual clients who request help. NARTH has also launched public-education efforts through research. This summer, NARTH members published two studies in peer-reviewed journals: One surveyed 210 licensed psychotherapists who claim to have successfully treated homosexuality. The other examined over 850 individuals who claimed to have changed their sexual orientation.
"Change is possible; that's our message," said Dr. Nicolosi.