FINNQUEER Sep 9, 2001

Memorandum to the Finnish Parliament, April 17, 2001 - claims of the ex-gay movement lack scientific foundation

Jorma Hentilä

The following memorandum was sent to all Finnish Members of Parliament by Jorma Hentilä, Guest Chief Editor of Z Magazine of the Finnish Organisation for Sexual Equality in order to clarify the scientific validity of the claims of the Finnish religious right used to oppose the civil union bill debated in the Finnish Parliament in the spring of 2001.

The Parliament to examine the causes of homosexuality?

Jorma Hentila

Opponents of the Civil Union Bill have, both in the media and in the Parliament, diverted the debate from the law proposal itself to homosexuality and its alleged causes. The demand that the Parliamentary Law Committee "concentrate very thoroughly" on the circumstances they think cause some children become homosexually oriented.

Is this the task of the legislator? Is it the duty of the Parliament to discuss, for example, in the case of single-parent families to start studying those families and, instead of the law itself, start looking for causes of single-parent families?

If the Parliament begins to handle lesbians and gays or single parents, adult and law-abiding citizens with tweezers, and to examine, why they are what they are or why they live as they live, it would violate their value as human beings.

Is not the task of the legislator to take the existing societal situation as a starting point and take care that different forms of families and adults and children are treated in a just way, and to decide upon the content of laws according to this criterion?

Research of questionable validity

The Finnish Parliament has debated homosexuality earlier in 1970 (decriminalization), 1993 (Private Member's Bill by Outi Ojala, MEP, proposing Civil Unions), 1996 (Parliamentary interpellation by Ulla Anttila, second proposal in Parliament by Outi Ojala, MEP). In comparison with the earlier debates, the present discussion in Parliament and the media, the new aspect is that religious and moralistic condemnation is now couched in a form resembling scientific discourse. The articles have the appearance of scientific abstracts with their percentages and references, and they refer to various research results.

The sources are primarily from the so-called reparative therapy research institutions from the United States and Europe. Common to them is the fact that they challenge Freud's original view of the polymorphous nature of sexuality. On an ideological level they limit the purpose of sexuality to procreation, which makes non-reproductive sexuality a disturbance. These researchers and institutions have close ties with the American religious right and the political goals of its European supporters.

One of the most often cited sources is the Family Research Institute in Colorado Springs and its director, psychologist Paul Cameron. The American Psychological Association dismissed Cameron from its membership in 1983, because he had violated ethical principles of psychologists in his research. Also the American Sociological Association has distanced itself from Cameron's research. Despite its name the Family Research Institute is not comparable with Finnish research institutions. It is closer to a publicity office, which promotes the agenda of the religious right under the guise of scientific research. Cameron and some other psychologists publish their reports mainly in Psychological Reports. This journal differs from scientific journals in that its articles do not undergo a normal peer-review process, which guarantees the scientific validity of the articles. Some authors even pay the journal to get their articles published.

An important background organization is the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), lead by psychologist Joseph Nicolosi. This organization founded by psychoanalysts and psychiatrists still hold to a view of homosexuality as a personality disturbance, which was discarded by the scientific community in the U.S. in the 1970's. NARTH considers lesbians and gays "broken", but that they can be "repaired" with the help of therapy. Joseph Nicolosi has sketched "reparative therapy" in his book Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality (1991).

The American Psychiatric Association takes a critical attitude toward reparative therapy. It can increase depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, because if the therapist aligns with prevailing norms, the situation can increase the self-hatred the client already feels toward him/herself.

The religious ex-gay groups (such as Exodus, Living Waters) take their ideology mainly from researchers allied with NARTH and the material from Paul Cameron's institute. In both the United States and Finland, fundamentalist religious movements and ideologies are essential to these, as well as in the ex-gay movement Aslan in Finland.

Not a personality disorder

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association came to the conclusion that there are no scientific grounds to consider homosexuality a personality disorder, and changed its diagnostic manual accordingly. This was based on several research projects indicating that homosexuality per se is not associated with mental health problems, but that if these problems appear, they are most probably caused by societal discrimination in the same way as in other social groups facing discrimination. Later, also the American Psychological Association changed its classification accordingly, and in the late 1990's the leadership of the American Psychoanalytic Association acknowledged that "psychoanalyst have been wrong and caused pain to homosexuals". In 1999 the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) stated that it is unfounded to consider homosexuality a personality disorder.

In Finland homosexuality was deleted from the national classification in 1981, and the WHO classification from which homosexuality had been deleted, was ratified by Finland in 1996.

The new Finnish textbook of psychiatry, Psykiatria (1999) states that homosexuality was formerly considered a disorder, and continues that "homosexuality per se is not associated unusually high level of pathological personality traits, emotional disturbances or social maladjustment" (op.cit., 325)

The changes in the diagnostic classifications have had their opponents, too. Some of the most visible American psychoanalysts, Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides, opposed the said decision by the American Psychiatric Association and demanded a membership vote, which they lost. This process was largely behind the founding process of NARTH. Also the basic book of Aslan, Syntyjä syviä (1995) claims that the cause of the diagnostic change was unfounded and caused "especially by the pressure of militant homosexual groups" (op.cit., 51).

The views and classifications of homosexuality as a disorder and changes in them have been thoroughly discussed in Olli Stålström's PhD dissertation (1997)

Misleading interpretations of research data

Early this year opponents of the Civil Union Bill delivered an appeal to the Finnish Members of Parliament, which was also published by Kristityn Vastuu (Christian Responsibility)(4/2001). The appeal presents various research data in a misleading and purposeful manner. The appeal has been signed by a group of representatives of religious organizations, among them the Secretary General of the Finnish Theological Institute, Eero Junkkaala, and the Project Secretary of Aslan, Hannele Turkki. Similar arguments have been forwarded also in letters to the editor in various newspapers as well as the Finnish Parliament. The source has usually been material supplied by Aslan. The following are a few examples.

Social and psychological problems

Most research projects (for example, those of social psychologist Gordon Allport) have shown how members of groups facing societal discrimination have an elevated risk of alcohol misuse, depression and self-destructive ideation. Additionally the need to hide and fear of exposure among gays and lesbians has impeded the formation of relationships.

The opponents of the Civil Union Bill try to prove that the social and psychological problems are caused by homosexuality per se and not discrimination. For this purpose they quote in a misleading way the Archives of General Psychiatry (1999, 56, 10) that reviewed studies of the frequency of social and psychological problems. In comparing studies made in the late 1960's with a study made in the 1990's they claim that the psychological problems of gays are as widespread as earlier, although public attitudes have changed. This they interpret as supporting their views of homosexuality as a disturbance.

One cannot, however, compare these studies with each other, because the sampling methods are totally incommensurate and from different sampling and basic populations. The first study done over thirty decades ago was based on a sample of self-accepting gay volunteers, whereas the 1990 sample was taken from homosexuals serving in the United States Armed Forces. They still have to face an ever-present threat of being discovered and the resulting discrimination, humiliation and dismissal from their jobs. This kind of an environment naturally causes psychological problems. Thus generalization from this kind of sampling to all gays and lesbians is totally faulty.

In some connections the opponents of the Civil Union Bill have appealed to the research by the Dutch Gerard van den Aardweg, a Board Member of NARTH, claiming that gays and lesbians generally suffer from an elevated level of mental health problems. Van den Aardweg has, however, studied gays and lesbian who have come to him or some other therapist in psychiatric care or mental hospitals. The studies using this methodology, which were common in the United States in the 1940's and 1950's, have later been found invalid because of their methodological problems.

Early parenting

The opponents have looked for causes that make the child grow up as homosexual from the relations of the child with its parents. Some studied based on comparative random sampling on the parental relationships in early childhood. One of the best known is the empirical study done by M. Siegelman (1974), which suggest that there are no differences in the parental pattern of gay and straight men.

In a large lifestyle study published by the Kinsey Institute in 1981 (Bell, Weinberg & Hammersmith) the authors concluded that according to the statistical path analysis it can not be shown that early parenting would have an empirically verifiable significance for adult sexual orientation.

Path analysis is a complex and difficult method of statistical analysis (cf. Valkonen 1981), and it is not possible to explain it in detail in this connection. Some researchers are critical of its applicability in general to making statistical conclusions based on an individual's life history. Therefore it is susceptible to both unintentional and intentional misinterpretations.

Warren Gadpaille who wrote the entry on homosexuality in the 1995 edition of the Kaplan & Sadock Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, has interpreted path analysis in a biased way, which he used to claim that homosexuality is caused by faulty parenting, on the basis of some individual variables in the path analysis. The purpose of path analysis is to examine the joint effect of many variables on the final variable, sexual preference. Neither has Gadpaille discussed the problems of this research method.

First of all, it is impossible to obtain a completely random sample of the basic population, i.e. homosexually inclined persons, many of whom hide their preference for fear of discrimination. Secondly false memories and later interpretations cause biased perceptions. Furthermore, heterosexually and homosexually inclined persons interpret their parents partially on different grounds. All in all, path analysis is such a complex method, that it would be advisable not to make conclusions to either direction from it.

Several researchers (e.g. Richard Isay, Michel W Ross, Kurt Freund and David Blanchard) have clarified the effect of false memories and environmental attitudes on the interpretation of memories of relationships with the mother and the father. These studies do not support claims that the parenting patterns of homosexuals would be systematically and significantly different from those parents whose children are heterosexual.

Lifetime expectancy

An example of the intentional distortion of research data is the claim that the lifetime expectancy of gay men would be, according to a new Canadian study, maybe 8-20 years shorter than among straight men. The opponents use this study to define homosexuality as a health risk. This claim has been used in several newspaper articles opposing the Civil Union Bill.

This claim refers to the report of a Canadian research team, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (1997, 26, 3). Reading the original research report shows, however, the study did not refer to the general lifetime expectancy at all. It only discusses the lifetime expectancy of HIV positive individuals before the advent of the modern antiretroviral triple medication.

Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, a member of the Canadian research team confirmed upon request that the research team had written nothing about the lifetime expectancy of gay men in general, and expressed her disapproval of the way their research data are being distorted.

Seduction and model learning

Some newspaper articles and Parliamentary speeches (February 13, 2001) have implied that a young person could be seduced to homosexuality or that model learning could determine the young person's sexual orientation.

The so-called Speijer Committee included psychiatrists and child psychiatrists, who examined the question and concluded in its report (1969) that there is no evidence of sexual orientation being caused by seduction, model learning or identification.

Biological hypotheses have weak empirical support

When discussing biological hypotheses (genes, brain structure, hormones) as a cause of homosexuality the arguments of the opponents of the Civil Union Bill are in line with scientific research.

Civil Union Bill and causation of homosexuality are different matters

Theorizing about the causation mechanisms of homosexuality in connection with the Civil Union Bill is totally irrelevant. The task of the Finnish Parliament is not to take a stand on psychological or psychoanalytic theories as the basis of legislature.

In society there are women and men, who feel an erotic attachment to members of the same gender and want to share their lives in a partnership with another woman or man. The task of the Finnish Parliament is to make sure that the principle of equality of all citizens, set forth in the Finnish Constitution, is realized in legislation.

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