The False Witness of Focus on the Family

Jim Burroway

June 20th, 2006

Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, has been closely following some recent statements coming from Melissa Fryrear of Focus in the Family, who has misrepresented research twice in as many days.

Yesterday, Wayne reported on Melissa Fryrear’s claims that a recent Canadian study on youth suicide links “pro-gay advocates” with a higher number of suicide attempts by gay and lesbian youths. In her press release, she says:

“Regrettably, they think they have to embrace homosexuality because pro-gay advocates told them that they were born gay,” she said. “And that is absolutely not true.”

Unfortunately for Ms. Fryrear, Wayne asked the researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc about Ms. Fryrear’s statement, and this is what he learned:

When contacted about Focus on the Family’s claims, Saewyc, the study’s principal investigator, said she was “disturbed” by what “seems to be an attempt to make their opinions more credible by linking them to scientific research — even though the research doesn’t support those beliefs.” She said Focus on the Family draws conclusions well beyond the study results by claiming that lesbians are suicidal because they are “embracing homosexuality,” as well as other inaccuracies in their article.

“Population surveys cannot determine cause and effect,” Saewyc explained, “they can only suggest possible links. Even so, other researchers have not found these sorts of links, and neither have we.”

The Canadian Press has since picked up the story. When they asked Dr. Saewyc for a comment, she responded:

“The research has been hijacked for somebody’s political purposes or ideological purposes and that’s worrisome.”

In fact, said Saewyc, American studies have noted that gay teenagers are at the highest risk of suicide before they come out of the closet. After that, they do quite well unless they’re harassed.

“If they’re trying to kill themselves because they’re embracing homosexuality, one would logically conclude they should all be suicidal,” said Saewyc.

The Canadian Press then asked Ms. Fryrear to respond, and that’s when she chose to misrepresent psychological research for a second time:

Some clinical studies, including one by Dr. Robert Spitzer, have linked contemplating suicide to unwanted attractions to the same sex, she said.

Now, I’ve read Dr. Spitzer’s study, and can assure you it says no such thing. But for good measure, Wayne asked Dr. Spitzer directly, who responded:

“Unfortunately Focus on the Family has once again reported findings of my study out of context to support their fight against gay rights,” said Dr. Robert Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. …

“Although a third of the subjects in my study reported having had serious thoughts of suicide related to their homosexuality, not one of them blamed the gay rights movement’s advocating a ‘born-gay’ theory of homosexuality as the cause of their suicidal thinking,” said Spitzer.

Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family often seeks the moral high ground when exploring issues concerning the family and the broader culture. Unfortunately, his “Gender Issues Analyst” needs to brush up on the ethics of misquoting legitimate scientific research. Otherwise, it’s just another False Witness in the service of bigotry.

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