NPR disappoints listeners by airing claim that 'ex-gay' therapy works

Posted by JD Uy
August 3, 2011 3:02 PM |

On August 1, NPR's Morning Edition aired a story that sought to portray "two sides" of a debate surrounding gay-to-straight "conversion therapy."

NPR says it was inspired by widespread reports that Marcus and Michelle Bachman's Christian therapy business uses the discredited practice on gay patients. The report included claims made by Rich Wyler, an "ex-gay" man who says the "therapy" positively changed him into a heterosexual:

"The actual dynamic between me and the male world shifted. And my feelings for men shifted from fear and attraction to brotherhood and connection.... I really don't [feel attracted to men ever]. There's no sexual component at all."

Morning Edition also spoke with another man, Peterson Toscano, who after 17 years of "therapy" realized that it had not changed his sexual orientation except in a detrimental and traumatizing way:

"Well, I had done so much work, and so I had to believe that something had to come out of it.... I just woke up, and my brain was clear, and I asked myself 'What the hell are you doing? This is crazy! You're not changing. You're not fooling anyone....' It took really hard work to get my brain back, and to recover from the emotional and psychological damage that I had experienced under that care."

Reporter Alix Spiegel next reported that an American Psychological Association task force concluded that there is "no compelling evidence [that] the kind of change Rich Wyler says he experienced is possible." And that psychologists are not compelled to do what their patients want because it would sometimes be unethical.

Wyler responded to the AFA's position with, "How dare they tell me that my goal is not legitimate?" claiming that "client self determination" is part of the APA's ethics. He expressed sour grapes about transgender people being allowed to seek psychological assistance during transition.

Spiegel and NPR are being criticized for the report -- particularly for not conveying the reality that "reparative/conversion therapy" is a debate between religious, political organizations and a nearly unanimous body of science.

Research shows that "ex-gay" techniques nearly always fail to eliminate the clients' same-sex attractions. And, with an overwhelming body of evidence facing "ex-gay" hucksters, many have switched to stated goals of managing and altering the "temptations" of gay men and lesbians as if they suffer from some kind of homosexual addiction.

Equality Matters:

"By describing the debate over 'ex-gay' therapy as 'raging in psychological circles,' NPR creates the illusion that some respected and credible scientific sources actually support the practice. They don’t.

"This kind of reporting has the effect of desensitizing readers to the real harms of reparative therapy: lowered self-esteem, depression, suicidal behavior, etc.  Research has demonstrated that when news outlets present both sides of a political issue without commenting on which side is correct, readers tend to feel powerless to determine which position is actually the right one."

Think Progress:

"The reality is that there is no debate about ex-gay therapy, and by providing a platform for Wyler to continue propagating the myths about its potential, NPR is contributing to a culture of harm.... While ex-gays like Wyler are certainly entitled to believe what they will about their identities, NPR has no obligation to highlight their harmful, anti-scientific, and anti-gay views as having any merit. The responsible journalist would have done the opposite."

Religion Dispatches:

"While the NPR piece does have moments of clarity, to call it balanced is a bit of a stretch. First, the reporter never tells us exactly who Rich Wyler is -- the founder of an 'ex-gay' ministry, People Can Change, whose practices, writes Warren Throckmorton, are even marginalized among the 'ex-gay' industry.... The shame should lie not with gay and lesbian people, but with a church, and an 'ex-gay' industry peopled by professional 'ex-gays,' that continues to repeat the lie no matter how many lives are ruined by it. Shame on NPR for letting that lie travel on its airwaves in some misguided attempt at 'balance.'"

Truth Wins Out:

"What we have on one hand are genuine researchers who believe the issue has long been settled, and on the other hand a politically motivated marketing campaign by the 'ex-gay' industry with the goal of tricking news outlets into thinking a controversy is actually occurring.

"It is depressing that NPR, a top-notch news organization, was so easily hoodwinked and ended up parroting the antigay party line. I can only imagine the exuberant high fives at the headquarters of the “ex-gay” group People Can Change when they realized that NPR had bought their baloney."

Metro Weekly

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