Advocates of so-called ex-gay therapy (often referred to as sexual orientation change efforts, or SOCE) are not pleased that the New Jersey legislature is seriously considering a ban on the treatment for minors. The increasingly vocal Christopher Doyle, who works with the infamously disavowed therapist Richard Cohen, penned a reaction for Christian Post asking, “Where is the tolerance” for people who are ex-gay? But his post actually helps outline many of the reasons nobody humors ex-gay therapy.
For example, he reiterated the canard that sexual abuse causes people to be gay:
That’s right, even if your child was sexually abused by a pedophile such as Jerry Sandusky and develops homosexual inclinations as a consequence, he/she may not be able to receive Sexual Orientation Change Effort (SOCE) therapy from a highly educated and skilled professional counselor, social worker, or psychologist. Why, you ask? According to the office of Massachusetts State Representative Carl Sciortino (D), because SOCE is an “archaic vestige of homophobia” and should be banned.
This argument is actually just an inverse of conservatives’ tired claim that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles. Because boys are often the victim of abuse in high-visibility institutions like the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, or athletic teams and their abusers are male, conservatives conclude that the perpetrator must be gay, even though pedophilia has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Likewise, ex-gay advocates claim that any boy who was once abused by a man and later realizes he is gay must have somehow been swayed or corrupted by the abuse itself. There is nothing to reinforce this conclusion, however, except conservatives’ ability to prey on the vulnerability of these traumatized young people.
Doyle goes on to claim that there is no research available about the outcomes of ex-gay therapy for adolescents:
The problem with this conspiracy is this: There is NOT ONE scientific study that contains any hard data on the outcomes of SOCE for adolescents. Not one!
So when I contacted the offices proposing a ban on SOCE therapies and asked them to cite studies that show “harmful” outcomes for adolescents, they could only point me to position statements from liberal trade organizations, which are known for their one-hand clapping viewpoint, strictly pro-gay and anti-ex-gay. If these organizations were made up of objective scientists that looked at all the evidence, such legislation would not be allowed anywhere.
Doyle unsurprisingly demonstrates a complete ineptness for understanding scientific rigor. His claim is not entirely wrong: there is not one scientific study that contains any hard data on the outcomes of SOCE for anybody. That’s because all of the studies on ex-gay therapy have found that it doesn’t have any effective outcomes — even studies done by researchers who are trying to advocate for the practice.
Moreover, Doyle is attempting to reduce major medical organizations to “liberal trade organizations.” Perhaps he’s bitter on behalf of his partner Cohen, who was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association for ethical violations in 2002. The American Psychological Association’s 2009 report and resolution against ex-gay therapy was based on a metastudy of 83 peer-reviewed studies from 1960–2007, and few of them were found to be methodologically sound. Among the key findings though were 1) that treatment doesn’t change orientation, 2) it does contribute to distress (through self-stigma, shame, isolation, and rejection), and 3) in contrast, clients whose sexual orientation was affirmed experienced a measurable benefit.
The only argument that Doyle has is that no research has disproven ex-gay therapy. Of course, science does not prove negatives, it just rules out hypotheses that don’t produce results. There is currently no research available disproving the idea that drinking lots of 7-Up cures an in-grown toenail, so perhaps Doyle should pursue some junk science that doesn’t propagate shame and rejection.