Will What the Professionals Say Finally Matter?

By: Bob Minor

Over a quarter of a century ago, in January 1975, the American Psychological Association urged "all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the sigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations."

On August 14, 1997, it adopted a resolution that raised ethical concerns about attempts to change anyone's sexual orientation, reaffirmed psychology's opposition to anti-gay bias, and reasserted every client's right to unbiased treatment.

In 1999, with ten other professional organizations, it issued "Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel." Its goal was to counter the psychologically baseless rise in the aggressive promotion by religiously-based groups of so-called therapies to change one's sexual orientation, saying they were potentially harmful and of little or no effectiveness.

Along with the American Psychiatric Association and the American Counseling Association, the professionally ethical standard had been established. In August 1998, the APA candidly explained earlier opinions: "Homosexuality was once thought to be a mental illness because mental health professionals and society had biased information."

Yet, the beat went on among the biased. Science and professionalism be damned. Don't confuse me with facts.

You can understand religious bias. It's got a long history of demeaning, enslaving, and destroying others. Those people choosing to accept the anti-gay interpretations of the Bible, tradition, and other authorities hung on to the interpretations that promoted it.

We can't know why they did (there are many personal psychological dynamics why people need to be anti "the lifestyle"). But in the midst of changing scientific understanding and other interpretations of those same passages and traditions by other believers, and the criticisms from those who completely rejected their belief-systems, they hung on to anything that promoted their views.

That shouldn't surprise anyone. The right-wing devalues science and evidence on most issues if they can't use it to promote their sectarian religious beliefs.

Acting with feelings of righteous indication, yelling, and drowning out rational discourse seem to delude many victims of the powerful into feeling they have some power. And there's a lot of money to be made by corporations, including the media, in promoting the lies and conflict theater.

As many of the health care town halls have shown this last month, clinging to lies out there about health care reform, evolution, climate change, or the economy, is as much a national pastime as yelling at the ump or ref at a sporting event. Same for hanging on to lies told about LGBT people.

Believe FOX News or the religious gurus that keep things in place. Forget any solid data that might challenge your mind.

But science continues to analyze things, especially issues that continue to be misrepresented in public discussion. So, again on August 5, 2009, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution stating that the ethical standard for mental health professionals is to "avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments."

At its annual convention, the approval of the "Resolution on Appropriate Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts" was based upon a 138-page report (with a 25 page bibliography) from a professional task force that had spent two years systematically investigating the evidence of so-called "reparative therapy" or other sexual orientation change efforts.

Some of the report's observations:

"Same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality - in other words, they do not indicate either mental or developmental disorders."

"Homosexuality and bisexuality are stigmatized, and this stigma can have a variety of negative consequences (e.g. minority stress) throughout the life span."

"Gay men, lesbians, and bisexual individuals form stable, committed relationships and families that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships and families in essential respects."

"We found that there was some evidence to indicate that individuals experienced harm from SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts} These negative side effects included loss of sexual feeling, depression, suicidality, and anxiety."

"There is currently no evidence that teaching or reinforcing stereotyped gender-normative behavior in childhood or adolescence can alter sexual orientation. We have concerns that such interventions may increase self-stigma and minority stress and ultimately increase the distress of children and adolescents."

The report also recognizes that this science will not inform certain right-wing religious prejudices against LGBT people and suggests alternatives for those LGBT folks who are stuck with the need for a religion that says that's they love the wrong gender. In these cases counselors should "explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality, respect the client's religious beliefs, and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life," such as exploring a community of faith that affirms them.

Right-wing religious institutions, of course, are responsible for the guilt, shame, demeaning, bigotry, and self-hate, that those who seek to change the unchangeable about themselves have internalized enough to be suicidal when they fail. Negative feelings were not inborn, but taught incessantly by society and its religious leaders.

So, the APA reiterates professional standards again in the midst of regular misuse of "psychology" by antigay religious people to cover their religious prejudices. The debate really, then, is about the use of religion and religious arguments not anything psychologically wrong with LGBT people.

It's about spreading and maintaining sectarian religious positions. And it's been going on too long against decades of professional studies to the contrary often because those of us who disagree won't label religious prejudice clearly as religious prejudice.

It will continue to be sad to watch LGBT people who won't leave their abusers but need their love, acceptance, and affirmation so much that they will live lives of denial and depression. But we'll be clear.

This is only about the religion you have chosen. It's your choice. Your suffering is your own. Feel that your love is sinful if you need to feel that, but don't blame psychology for your sectarian beliefs about LGBT people. Don't tell them any longer that they're the sick ones.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., is author of When Religion Is an Addiction, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, and author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.fairnessproject.org.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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