Exodus International, one of the largest outreaches to those struggling with same-sex attraction, filed an ethics complaint against a psychiatrist who premiered a controversial documentary on Wednesday against the ex-gay movement.
"Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-Gay Movement" opened in New York detailing the stories of four gay Christians for whom reparative or ex-gay therapy have so far been unsuccessful. Director and producer Alicia Salzer, a psychiatrist, created the film to counter the increasingly prominent efforts of evangelical ministries like Exodus that are reaching out to help people with unwanted homosexual desires.
"They've been spending enormous amounts of money trying to get the word out, and touting their success rates on billboards and TV and radio ads across the country," said Salzer. "We were aware that this type of therapy very rarely, if ever, worked and is often associated with great harm. We felt that we had to counter their media presence with something that gave the other side."
Exodus' complaint isn't directed toward the release of the film itself but to Salzer's claim that 96 percent of people cannot change their sexual orientation. Salzer stated the statistic during The Montel Williams Show in March when Exodus president Alan Chambers was invited as a guest to talk about "homosexuality ... can it be cured?"
"Science has shown us that 96 percent of people cannot change and along the way, absorb an enormous amount of self-loathing, a lot of confusion, a lot of family conflict; so I know the harm," Salzer said on the show of which she is the After Care director.
The psychiatrist said she was citing a 2002 study by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder who interviewed 202 consumers of sexual orientation conversion interventions. The study found that only 4 percent of participants reported conversion therapy provided help in shifting their sexual orientation; 13 percent were still struggling; and 87 percent failed. And many reported psychological and interpersonal harm.
But the study cannot provide a basis for Salzer's claim, argues Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a noted expert in sexuality counseling who was surprised by Salzer's "dogmatic" statement.
The researchers had also included a disclaimer stating that the data presented in their study "do not provide information on the incidence and the prevalence of failure, success, harm, help, or ethical violations in conversion therapy," Throckmorton citied.
"The cautious rendering of the research would be that some people report being harmed and some people report benefit from efforts to modify aspects of their sexuality. At present, we do not know with precision how likely either outcome is to occur for anyone," he said.
The claim is also reportedly featured in Salzer's documentary, which presents the study "as if one can have confidence in their findings being representative of those who have sought out ex-gay style ministries or therapy," Throckmorton noted.
Chambers has asked The Montel Williams Show and Salzer to make a public retraction and apology for her comments. He and Throckmorton cited the American Psychiatric Association's Code of Ethics that denounces psychiatrists making public statements "with the authority of the profession" (e.g. "psychiatrists know that ..." or in this case, "science has shown ...").
"While we welcome more research and debate on this important social issue, professionals, such as Dr. Salzer have a responsibility to be honest about what science does and does not say," said Chambers in a statement. "The public deserves an honest look at the facts on this topic instead of dogmatic, unreliable claims that support one's personal suppositions."
A recent study by Wheaton College professor of psychology and provost Stanton L. Jones and Regent University professor Mark Yarhouse revealed that religiously mediated sexual orientation change is possible. While the study was not aimed at changing the way the ex-gay movement is regarded, Jones and Yarhouse hope it will convince professionals to allow individuals who want to pursue change to do so.