The Washington Times was among the news media that were quick to blame unspecified “gay activists” today for the failure of a symposium on religion and ex-gay conversion therapy that was to be held at the Washington Convention Center at the same time as an American Psychiatric Association convention.

But from the start, the planners of the symposium doomed the forum through political and clinical biases:

  • None of the panelists demonstrated professional knowledge of the myths perpetrated and the harm done by so-called conversion therapies
  • Former ex-gays — those injured by conversion therapies that are promoted by two of the would-be panelists — were excluded from the discussion
  • The symposium was promoted, and important facts distorted, by Focus on the Family
  • Symposium publicity exaggerated the forum’s level of official APA support

Political distortion and exploitation of the symposium by Focus on the Family emerged weeks ago. The symposium’s lead planner — Dr. David Scasta, former Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists president — seemed stubbornly ignorant of the damage being done to legitimate science and to the victims of the ex-gay industry, as well as the unearned credibility being conferred upon would-be panelists who have misused religion as a political weapon to promote bigotry and emotional harm among unpopular demographics.

Scasta was quoted by the Times (with erroneous credentials):

“It was a way to have a balanced discussion about religion and how it influences therapy,” said David Scasta, a former APA president and a gay psychiatrist in charge of assembling the panel. “We wanted to talk rationally, calmly and respectfully to each other, but the external forces made it into a divisive debate it never intended to be.”

In criticizing Bishop Gene Robinson for dropping out of the symposium and precipitating its failure, Scasta shows that he naively ignored the ultimate basis for Robinson’s decision:

“I got one e-mail from him [Bishop Gene Robinson] saying he thought I was being used by the other side, such as Focus on the Family,” Mr. Scasta said, calling the reaction from gay groups over-the-top and self-defeating.

“This was supposed to reduce polarization, which has hurt the gay community. They are blocked into this bitchy battle and they are not progressing. They are not willing to do missionary work and talk to the enemy. They have to be willing to listen and change themselves.”

Calm, rational, and respectful discussion is an essential element of sound discussion about psychiatry. But when that tone of discussion is achieved through half-truth, exclusion of essential facts, naivete, and political bias among the planners, such discussion is bound to harm professionalism in the mental-health fields.

Instead of resolving obvious and potentially fatal flaws in his plans, Scasta appears to have shut out early gay-media inquiries about the flaws in his program, ignored Robinson’s warning about antigay activists, scapegoated Robinson, and finally wasted time whining about gay activists.

MedPage Today confirms that the symposium’s would-be moderator John Peteet and Scasta naively dismissed Bishop Robinson’s warning that antigay groups such as Focus on the Family were already distorting and politicizing news of the symposium, thus damaging its integrity:

“It became clear to me in the last couple of weeks that just my showing up and letting this event happen … lends credibility to that so-called therapy,” he told the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper.

Dr. Peteet said he and Dr. Scasta thought Robinson was mistaken. “We didn’t see it that way,” he said. “We were disappointed in his decision to withdraw.”

As designed by its planners, the symposium was an political circus waiting to happen. The panel was confined to a small number of relative unknowns in the field of sexual orientation research; victims of ex-gay abuse were unrepresented; the infamous politics of antigay religious panelist Albert Mohler were disregarded; misrepresentations by Focus on the Family were naively ignored; and the only gay-affirming religious voice on the panel was Robinson, a cleric with limited knowledge of the harm and heresy that underlie the ex-gay movement.

The circus might have been avoided with the invitation of former ex-gays, better-informed clergy, and mental-health professionals who are well-versed in the disproven science and proven harm done by conversion therapists. The circus might also have been avoided with the exclusion of political activists — in particular, Mohler and Warren Throckmorton, both of whom enjoy close ties with antigay and ex-gay political leaders.

While scapegoating for the forum failure continues, it is hoped that the planners will take their own advice and allow “saner voices” to prevail the next time a professional symposium on homosexuality, religion, and mental health is planned.