Group espousing treatment of gays cites her work

By Brian Maffly
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

A national group that advocates “treatment” of homosexuality is being criticized for allegedly distorting a Utah researcher’s work to advance the theory that people choose their sexual orientation – a controversial notion rejected by mainstream psychology.

Lisa Diamond, a University of Utah psychologist whose sexual identity studies suggest a degree of “fluidity” in the sexual preferences of women, said in an interview Tuesday that the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, misrepresents her findings. Position papers, some penned by NARTH president A. Dean Byrd, an adjunct professor in the U.’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, point to Diamond’s research as evidence that gays’ sexual orientation can be straightened out through treatment – much to Diamond’s dismay.

“If NARTH had read the study more carefully they would find that it is not supported by my data at all. I bent over backward to make it difficult for my work to be misused, and to no avail. When people are motivated to twist something for political purposes, they’ll find a way to do it,” Diamond says in a videotaped interview posted on the Internet.

Diamond made those remarks two weeks ago as Californians were debating Proposition 8, the divisive ballot measure that mandates marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints encouraged members to give time and money to the successful campaign, triggering a cascade of criticism and protests.Diamond’s comments specifically targeted Encino, Calif., psychologist Joeseph Nicolosi, co-founder of NARTH and the author of “Healing Homosexuality,” and “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.”

“You know exactly what you’re doing,” says Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender studies, in the videotape. “There’s no chance this is a misunderstanding or simply a different scientific interpretation. … It’s illegitimate and it’s irresponsible and you should stop doing it.”

Nicolosi did not respond to an interview request and Byrd claimed he did not know why Diamond, a fellow U. faculty member, took umbrage with NARTH’s citation of her work.

“NARTH’s view is that people can adapt any way they want and there is freedom of choice,” Byrd says. “If it says ‘fluidity’ it says ‘fluidity.’ How you interpret it is something else.”

Diamond, who has never met Byrd, said in an interview that NARTH “cherry picks” findings or references from her work that appear to support their position. Her denunciations of NARTH was instigated by Truth Wins Out, a New York City-based watchdog that patrols social conservative groups’ use of social science in support of hot-bottom agendas.

“They use these fake statistics and distort science to support bigotry and discrimination. It’s important to take these tools away from them,” founder Wayne Besen says.

NARTH is based in Nicolosi’s California office, but maintains an office in the same downtown Salt Lake City building as Evergreen International, a Mormon faith-based group that encourages gays to abandon same-sex attraction. While the two groups do not advertise their association, NARTH’s sole paid staffer last year was Evergreen’s executive director David Pruden, according to tax documents.

NARTH is no stranger to controversy. One past president, the late psychiatrist Charles Socarides, campaigned for years against the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to discontinue listing homosexuality as a mental illness. The American Psychological Association likewise maintains a stance of deep skepticism toward reparative therapies that seek to convert patients to heterosexuality.

“To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation is safe or effective,” the APA says on its Web site. “Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons.” Diamond goes even further.

“The therapists are saying, ‘We can change your orientation,’ when all of the data, all of the data suggest that is not the case. They say same-sex attractions can disappear – they don’t,” she says. Reparative therapies “do additional damage” with techniques that incorporate electroshock and nausea-inducing treatments “that leave people feeling greater shame, greater guilt, worse about themselves.”