1,331,089 visitors since
Note to readers. The following interview took place in 2005 and does not represent completely my current views. While I believe that people should have the freedom to determine what moral code they pursue, I do not believe categorical change in orientation is common. While I believe people change their ideology, their behavior and their intentions to better reflect their values and beliefs, I believe shifts in sexual attractions are relatively infrequent. I believe the research on such change is insufficient to warrant a promise or prognosis of change from therapists.
A recent column detailing my views was published in the Ugandan press and can be found by clicking the link below:
What makes someone gay and can people change orientation?
July 31, 2005, 10:20 pm est
LIN: All right, so the talk tonight, converting gays to straight. Some people think it is possible to cure homosexuality to change a person from gay to straight through therapy or prayer or abstinence.
But others say it is impossible to change a person's sexual orientation. Not only that, such attempts are destructive and dangerous. That is the view shared by Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. He's in San Francisco. Warren Throckmorton is an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He wrote and produced the film, "I Do Exist" about people who claim to be ex-gays. He joins me from Pittsburgh.
Good to see both of you. Mr. Solmonese, let me begin with you. Do you think that gay teens can live a straight life?
JOE SOLMONESE, PRES., HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: No, Carol, I don't. And more to the point, neither does the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, or the National Association of Social Workers.
LIN: Dr. Thorckmorton, what do you say?
WARRAN THROCKMORTON, GROVE CITY COLLEGE: Well, it's important to understand what those organizations really said. What they're opposed to is coercion. And they're opposed to views of homosexuality that make it a pathology.
As far as the evaluation of programs that are therapy or ministry programs, the APA hasn't done a thorough evaluation of those programs to support the statement that your other guest just made.
LIN: Dr. Throckmorton, let me ask you...
SOLMONESE: I think...
LIN: Hold on a second, because I want to make a point, a clarification or at least a clarity about something that Dr. Throckmorton I think believes.
You have said that same sex attraction is not the same thing as homosexuality, that these teenagers who may feel an attraction for the same sex, well it doesn't mean they're gay. What do you mean by that?
THROCKMORTON: Well, it's true. Surveys of young people find that many young people in middle school, in high school, are confused about their sexuality. They feel same sex attractions, but many of those people go on to identify straight.
Surveys of adults find very low percentage, somewhere between one and three percent, of those who identify as homosexual, gay or lesbian or bisexual. And in - however, in middle school and younger, many students feel same sex attractions - you later then go into identify as straight.
LIN: All right, Mr. Solmonese?
SOLMONESE: Well, you know, Dr. Throckmorton makes a good point, which is that young people may initially identify as being gay or lesbian and then determine that they're straight or vice versa. I think though the most important point is that as they go through that process, they go through that process with the full support and unconditional love of their parents. And that is where that process really needs to play itself out. And not at one of these camps, which are largely unregulated.
LIN: Mr. Solmonese, do you think that people are born gay? And is there any scientific evidence that you have of that?
SOLMONESE: Well, I do think that people are born gay. And I think I can only really speak from experience as a gay person. And I believe that it is innate. And it is the way we are. And it is - and that it is something that young people should, you know, develop again with the unconditional love and support of their parents.
LIN: Mr. Solmonese, Dr. Throckmorton, I'd like you to listen to something that a man named Gerald Wellman told our Paula Zahn last week. He went to a similar program, but for adults. And this is what he had to say about the experience.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: You think about men. So how can you tell us tonight that's a successful conversion?
GERALD WELLMAN, CONVERSION PGM. PARTICIPANT: Well, it's not about the temptation. It's about behavior. It's entirely about behavior. It's about adjusting behavior - for me, it was adjusting my behavior to fit my faith.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIN: Mr. Solmonese, what do you think happens psychologically to someone who once professed to be homosexual, to then conduct a life - an intentional lifestyle, a heterosexual lifestyle?
SOLMONESE: Well, the - as the gentleman said, you know, it's about behavior. I mean, I don't agree. I think that, you know, as I said before, it is something that is innate. It is something that we are born as.
And so, you know, if you are gay or lesbian, that is what you are. And I think the most important thing to do is to live your life as happily and prosperously as you can. And be true to yourself.
LIN: Dr. Throckmorton, do you think that people who were homosexual and then profess to be ex gays, do you think that they can actually experience real intimacy with another person in a relationship?
THROCKMORTON: Well, yes, I do. I don't know that everybody experiences the same degree of type of change that others do. This is along a continuum of change that occurs here. But some people do. You mentioned the "I Do Exist" video; people in that video describe that kind of change...
THROCKMORTON: It's not everybody... LIN: They have kids? They get married, they have kids?
THROCKMORTON: Yes, that's right.
LIN: Really? And do any of them backslide? Do they enter into homosexual relationships at any point? Have they made that mistake?
THROCKMORTON: It depends on how they view it, I suppose, but yes, there are people who view themselves as ex-gay, and then become ex-ex-gay. I certainly wouldn't deny that.
LIN: I mean, so doesn't that tell you that they are going against nature, not nurture?
THROCKMORTON: Well, no, not necessarily, because there are other people who don't do that. I do believe the people who say that they tried to become ex-gay, and then they, for whatever reason, they changed their plan or their perspective or their viewpoint. But I don't want to ignore the stories and lives of people who had made pretty incredible changes, and they're often ignored and told that they don't exist.
LIN: Mr. Solmonese, a quick last word.
SOLMONESE: Well, the fact of the matter is, there has really been no extensive research done on the success or failure of these programs, and for the most part, as I said before, you know, you are who you are, and although there can be all sorts of behavioral modification efforts, but the fact of the matter is that there are millions of openly happy gay and lesbian people living all across this country, and that to me is what is most important.
LIN: My thanks to both of you. Let's hear from our viewers. Don't forget our "Last Call" question. Do you think, can you make a gay teen live a straight life? Let us know what you think. We're going to air some of your remarks at the end of the program. 1-800- 807-2620.
Ask Dr. Throckmorton
question for Dr. Throckmorton.
Questions & Answers: Archives
Enter your email address to subscribe to Dr. Throckmorton's Email Updates.