Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Anti-gay panel canceled at psychiatrists' confab


Gay psychiatrist Jack Drescher. Photo: Bob Roehr
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A controversial symposium, "Homosexuality and Therapy: The Religious Dimension," was withdrawn from a scheduled presentation on May 5 at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

The cancellation came at the request of the organizer.

David L. Scasta, a past president of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, said he organized the symposium, "to have a balanced discussion about religion and how it influences therapy." Scheduled participants were Scasta and openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.

The Reverend Albert Mohler and Warren Throckmorton were to represent the far right. Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a board member of the anti-gay group Focus on the Family. He has said, "If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use."

Throckmorton is a professor of psychology at the evangelical Grove City College, though he is not licensed to practice psychotherapy. He has been affiliated with the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. The small, renegade group supports so-called reparative therapy, which claims that gays can be "cured" of their sexual orientation. The approach has been denounced by the APA as a violation of its professional practice guidelines.

"The symposium acknowledges the role of religious belief as a core variable in the development of sexual identity," Throckmorton told CitizenLink, a part of Focus on the Family. "To my knowledge, this meeting is unprecedented at APA."

But opposition from gay psychiatrists grew as the date for the symposium approached. They feared that giving representatives of the discredited therapeutic approach a forum might help to legitimize it, or at the very least, give anti-gay social conservatives the opportunity to spin that legitimacy.

Robinson cited those fears as his reason for withdrawing from participating in the forum. Scasta withdrew the symposium and the official word went out last Friday.

Jack Drescher, a gay psychiatrist and advocate, was a leading critic of the canceled symposium. He said at the May 3 AGLP symposium, "As a result of the debate being canceled, there is an effort to try and discredit APA as not open to open discussion. The effort is not really to talk to us but to talk to people in the audience."

Nada Stotland, a Chicago psychiatrist and president-elect of APA, downplayed the incident when she spoke to AGLP. "Sessions are withdrawn at every meeting. Period. Because all it will do is stir up more controversy ... This is not going to be of interest to the press four days from now."

She reminded those in attendance, "Immediately after the board of trustees of the APA voted to support same-sex adoption, I was on the phone to the press." She later was on Bill O'Reilly's program supporting marriage equality. She pledged, "I will be there to defend science and people's rights and people's well-being."

"Science depends on what questions are posed, what methods are used to answer the questions, and who answers them," Stotland said in discussing the controversy. "Secondly, if you are going to pick on a group, it is incumbent on the pickers to make their case and not the pickees. If we are not quite positive on anything, then we err on the side of doing no harm to people."

"It is incumbent on people who want to deny someone a right, to have utter convincing evidence that that is the right thing to do. Until that time, we do not do that."

"The cancellation of this forum is welcome news because it gave the wrong impression that the American Psychiatric Association endorsed 'ex-gay' therapy, when, in fact, the organization soundly rejects such therapies," said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, a group that works to debunk the far right.

The right wing Family Research Council was quick off the mark in trying to spin the decision. Its president Tony Perkins, in a May 5 "Action Update" to supporters, asserted that homosexual activists were "successful in bullying the APA" into canceling the symposium, "fearing that conservatives would take the stage and legitimize the ex-gay movement, the homosexual crowd pushed the APA to cancel."

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