Posts Tagged As: Surveys & Statistics

Comparing Gay Couples to Straight Couples

Timothy Kincaid

November 4th, 2009

Comparing gay couples to straight couples can be complex. Often it is difficult to define terms such that comparable things are being compared. What is a “couple”, what is a “relationship”?

Those anti-gays who are dishonest (or, let’s charitably say, confused) will compare the gold standard of heterosexual relationships, marriage, to the least committed of casual dating arrangements for gay people and declare that gay relationships are inferior. But little effort is made to define the terms or what qualifies as entry into the category being compared.

In society, we see a distinction between dating and being married. We don’t hold a new boyfriend to the standard we expect from a husband. And even if a man and a woman have been together for three or four years, until they marry we continue to look at such relationships as potential or temporary.

Until vows are said, commitments are not assumed. Once that step – and a significant step it is – has been taken, then family, faith, the community, society, and the law step in to collectively define this relationship as a couple, as two becoming one.

But for our community, we have in most states been denied the opportunity to take the step of marriage. We could not “tie the knot” that binds two into one. We had no couples to present for comparison because we were denied the ability to create such couples.

But change is coming. There are now a handful of states (four, soon to be five) in which the family, faith, the community, society and the law can agree that two men or two women have become a single entity, married.

And although this may be denied by majorities of voters in most of the nation, there are also those same-sex couples that are finding ways to get some of these to come to agreement. Perhaps they will get family and community to recognize their union. Or perhaps their faith and a portion of society – even in our losses, such as Maine, we see that there is a significant portion of society that will recognize such unions. And in some places where the law will not see a union of souls, it will at least acknowledge an administrative equivalency.

And analysis of census data shows that there is now a growing collection of same-sex couples that have found ways of becoming in their hearts, and in the hearts of those most important to them, married. (A/P)

The data from the annual American Community Survey showed that nearly 150,000 same-sex couples in the U.S., or more than one in four, referred to one another as “husband” or “wife,” although UCLA researchers estimate that no more than 32,000 of the couples were legally married.

So we now have a pool of married gays (and “married” gays) to offer up in comparison to married straights. We no longer have to weigh the value of church endorsed, white gowned, pomp and circumstanced heterosexual married bliss against a two month old “open” relationship between two boys who met at a bar.

And how do we compare?

Analysis of commonalities and differences is only in its infancy. We’ve only had for but a few years a measure for comparison. And until very recently, the census taking apparatus which might provided some answers has been banned from even discussing the matter.

But some researchers, such as Gary Gates at UCLA, have been finding ways to tweak the data to yield limited findings. And with the Obama Administration’s willingness to allow access to the data, some information is now coming to light.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, married gays aren’t so very different from married straights.

The [same-sex] couples had an average age of 52 and household incomes of $91,558, while 31 percent were raising children. That compares with an average age of 50, household income of $95,075 and 43 percent raising children for married heterosexual couples.

“It’s intrinsically interesting that same-sex couples who use the term spouses look like opposite-sex married couples even with a characteristic like children,” said Gary Gates, the UCLA demographer who conducted the analysis. “Most proponents of traditional marriage will say that when you allow these couples to marry, you are going to change the fundamental nature of marriage by decoupling it from procreation. Clearly, in the minds of same-sex couples who are marrying or think of themselves as married, you are not decoupling child-rearing from marriage.”

These are but early and surface findings.

And as time goes on, the distinction between “dating” and “partners” and “married” will become less hazy as employers and family court judges and Aunt Matilda will find greater need to know just who is committed and who is not. Ultimately the social need for distinction will outweigh the religion-based objection to recognition and our families, employers, churches, communities, and society will not only allow but demand to know which same-sex couples are in it for the long haul.

And time may reveal that there are strong distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual couples. Indeed, how could there not be; each subculture in our society adds its unique perspective to the marital dynamic.

And yet, I suspect that when terms are more firmly defined and a better comparison is made, we will continue to find that we are amazingly similar to our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors, and even to those who are convinced that we are peculiar and perverse.

HPV Vaccine OKed for Males

Timothy Kincaid

October 27th, 2009

Hardly an anti-gay activist can keep the excitement from their voice when they breathlessly declare that Gay Men Die From Anal Cancer!! And, indeed, gay men do die from anal cancer. In fact, about 0.35% of gay men do get anal cancer (a higher rate than non-gay men) and, if not treated, some of them die.

The primary contributor to anal cancer is infection with the HPV virus, the same virus that contributes to cervical cancer in women, causes genital warts, and is linked to some rare oral cancers in straight men. HPV is very common and most sexually active adults will be infected at some point in their life.

But some day that may no longer be true.

As we told you in June, a vaccine for the virus – which the CDC has been urging to be provided to all girls – is also effective in preventing infection in boys. And now the FDA has approved the vaccine for such use. (NYTimes)

The vaccine was approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration for use in boys and men ages 9 to 26. Wednesday\’s action, by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is intended to guide national policy on use of the vaccine; its recommendations are typically adopted by professional medical associations and set the standards of practice for physicians.

But it probably won’t lead to universal vaccination. After all, it would be mostly appropriate to boys who may some day engage in sex with someone of the same sex, and we aren’t so foolish as to assume that public health policy will be directed by what is beneficial to future gay citizens.

The new recommendation means, in effect, that doctors and clinics may now administer the vaccine at their discretion to boys and men ages 9 to 26, but they are not expected to offer it. Parents may consider the vaccine as an option for their sons, but some health insurers may choose not to cover the shots.

Yet this is good news. And it is important that we spread the news to gay-straight alliances and gay youth groups and to parents of kids that are a bit gender-nonconforming and even those parents who put their kids’ health above their dreams of a daughter-in-law. This simple step could possibly save a life.

And in the process remove one more bullet from the arsenal of those who attack our lives and freedoms.

Poll: Good News on Question 1

Timothy Kincaid

October 27th, 2009

From the Bangor Daily News:

In the most closely watched race on the Nov. 3 ballot, Question 1, the latest survey results from Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group show the effort to repeal Maine\’s same-sex marriage law trailing.

Roughly 40 percent of respondents indicated they would vote to repeal versus 52 percent in support of allowing same-sex couples to marry. That is a slightly larger gap than a Pan Atlantic poll from earlier this month.

But polls don’t decide elections; voter turnout decides elections. So please do everything you can to help Mainers in their efforts to keep freedom and equality as more cherished values rather than bigotry and oppression.

UW Poll: Good News on Ref 71

Timothy Kincaid

October 27th, 2009

From Seattle PI:

The Washington Poll, which interviewed a total of 724 voters, brings very good news for supporters of same-sex domestic partnerships.

Referendum 71, where an “approved” vote upholds the state’s new expanded gay rights law, garners 57 percent ‘yes’ to 38 percent ‘no’ with 5 percent undecided. Among voters who say they’ve already mailed in ballots, R-71 was carrying by a 55-45 margin.

However, Proposition 8 taught us to be cautious in believing polling numbers. So let’s not slow down or relax in our efforts.

Maine Poll Goes Our Way

Timothy Kincaid

September 29th, 2009

A poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner taken from September 23-27 of 808 registered voters included the following question:

Q.6 Now let me ask something else. One of the questions on the ballot this November will read as follows: “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?” – If the election were held today, would you vote YES or NO on this question? Total

Yes strongly……………………………………………………………….37
Yes not strongly…………………………………………………………..4
No not strongly……………………………………………………………7
No strongly………………………………………………………………..43
(Don’t know/refused)…………………………………………………….9

Total yes…………………………………………………………………..41
Total no……………………………………………………………………50

Although the structure of the question is confusing, “No” is the answer which we wish to see.

HIV Vaccine Results Encouraging

Timothy Kincaid

September 24th, 2009

Eventually it had to happen. Eventually one of the promising vaccines trials for HIV had to provide at least some protection.

And it has. Partly. The trial showed that a vaccine was about 31.2% effective. (NY Times)

“I don\’t want to use a word like ‘breakthrough,\’ but I don\’t think there\’s any doubt that this is a very important result,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is one of the trial\’s backers.

“For more than 20 years now, vaccine trials have essentially been failures,” he went on. “Now it\’s like we were groping down an unlit path, and a door has been opened. We can start asking some very important questions.”

This is not the vaccine that will announce the end of the era of AIDS. But it is the first vaccine that has shown any effectivity at all and it allows researchers an opportunity to build upon this start to find something that will really work.

Iowans Not Calling for Anti-Gay Amendment

Timothy Kincaid

September 21st, 2009

The Des Moines Register released their Iowa Poll. And while it suggests that the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriage isn’t particularly popular, it really hasn’t riled up the Iowans.

The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April’s unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don’t care much or are not sure.

But even though a plurality opposes the decision, few others seem interested in changing the constitution to disallow marriage.

Iowans are almost evenly divided about whether they would vote for or against a constitutional amendment to end marriage for same-sex couples, according to The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll.

Forty-one percent say they would vote for a ban, and 40 percent say they would vote to continue gay marriage. The rest either would not vote or say they are not sure.

But the anti-gays activists have a cause to rally around. And we can fully expect that they will seek to make marriage a central focus in gubernatorial, representative, and court campaigns. This might not, however, be a wise decision.

Sixty-three percent say candidates’ stands on other issues will be more important in making their decisions in the 2010 elections.

Few poll respondents who described themselves as Republicans say the court decision is the single most important issue in the 2010 elections. But more than a third of Republicans say it is among several important issues, while only about a quarter of Democrats put it in that category.

Former state Republican Chairman Mike Mahaffey said the poll shows that, as the party searches for a winning message, the economy trumps marriage among voters.

“I think all of the candidates are going to state that they believe the people ought to be given the right to vote on a constitutional amendment. That’s a reasonable approach,” Mahaffey said. “I also think when it comes down to it, the overriding issues are going to be what can we do to create jobs and put ourselves in a better position fiscally.”

The Guardian Revisits Hair Whorls

Timothy Kincaid

September 15th, 2009

hair whorlThe Guardian has an article today revisiting the somewhat unorthodox study of Dr. Amar J S Klar and his observations about hair whirls.

Dr. Klar is a geneticist working at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland. One day on vacation he ended up on a gay beach. And there he noticed a peculiarity: gay men seemed to have counter-clockwise hair-whorls more frequently than could be expected. Far more frequently.

So the next year he went back and checked again. And, yep, gay men have gay hair.

He reports that “altogether in a combined sample of 272 mostly gay men observed, 29.8% exhibited counterclockwise hair-whorl orientation”. This, he says, is “vastly different from the value of 8.4% counterclockwise rotation found in the public at large, which included both males and females”.

Although Klar’s paper, Excess of Counterclockwise Scalp Hair-Whorl Rotation in Homosexual Men (pdf), was published in 2004, it didn’t seem to catch much attention in the gay community or among mainstream media. In fact, I don’t know whether psychologist Richard Lippa was entirely aware of Klar’s paper when he conducted similar research at Long Beach Pride in 2007 (his results – 23% counterclockwise).

Although none of this is new, it is important. One of the primary arguments against gay equality is that it is not biological in origin and thus is mutable. There is no gay gene! You can change! (So you don’t deserve civil rights!)

And as part of their argument, many anti-gays will create interesting hypotheses as to how physical distinctions are created without biology. Recently some NARTH affiliates sought to discredit measured brain variances by arguing that the brain is plastic and therefore such differences were the result of conditioning based on behavior.

But hair whorls, well there’s just no way to learn ’em. They’re pure biology. And there’s just no credible way to explain them away.

Are You Married?

Timothy Kincaid

September 14th, 2009

lesbian_wedding_cakeThat is a question that will be asked on the 2010 US Census and it you’re heterosexual it’s a pretty easy question to answer. But not if you are a same-sex couple.

Sure, if you live in Massachusetts and are married in the eyes of your state, or if you’re a single guy or gal who is living footloose and fancy free, then you know your answer. But what if you’re somewhere in between?

Suppose you live in South Dakota and you have made vows before your community blessed by your place of worship and honored by your friends and family. Are you married?

Or suppose that you live in New Jersey and entered into a civil union which has “everything but the name”. Are you married?

Or you live in California where the Supreme Court justified the implementation of Proposition 8 by stating that domestic partnerships are acceptable equality provided that there not any provisions offered differently between domestic partnerships and marriage. Is “included on the census” a difference? Are you married?

Or you married in Connecticut but live in Virginia. Traveling cross country would have you married on one day and total strangers on the next. Or if you live in Rhode Island and the state has told you that it will not grant you a divorce for your legal Massachusetts wedding. Are you married?

At some point, state law almost becomes moot in answering this census question. Because recognition based on one’s current residence may dictate whether one’s marriage is recognized, but say very little about whether one is married. At some point the real answer becomes, “Yes, in the eyes of my family, my friends, my employer, my neighbors, my community, my city government, my church and, most importantly, me and my spouse, I am married. And if my state can’t ‘recognize’ that simple fact, then it needs to clean its glasses.”

And that is just how same-sex couples are expected to answer questions about their marriage status in next year’s census count. (WaPo)

When the U.S. Census Bureau counts same-sex married couples next year, demographers expect hundreds of thousands to report they are spouses — even though legal same-sex weddings in the United States number in the tens of thousands.

The Post goes on to suggest that the primary motivation for this will be to provide a basis for advocating for gay rights. And indeed, the data will be used to show that gay people are everywhere in this nation and that even the most conservative representative in the reddest state has married gay constituents he needs to serve.

But I think the motivation will be much more primal and personal. I think couples will tick the “married” box because, well, they are. And what else could you expect them to answer?

Americans Say Gays Face Most Discrimination

Jim Burroway

September 11th, 2009

The Pew Research Center released a report (PDF: 381KB/24 pages) which discusses Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims, but reveals that Muslims aren’t the ones that Americans see as most discriminated against. According to the report:

Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.

The report focuses almost entirely on Americans’ attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. But the interesting thing is how Americans view discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Is There A Lot of Discrimination Against… Yes No
Muslims 58% 29%
Jews 35% 54%
Evang. Christians 27% 56%
Atheists 26% 59%
Mormons 24% 56%
Gays and Lesbians 64% 30%
Hispanics 52% 41%
Blacks 49% 46%
Women 37% 59%

The poll was conducted in several groups in August 2009. The first five responses of religious groups (Muslims, Jews, Evangelical Christians, Atheists and Mormons) were from a sample size of 2,010 with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points. The last four responses were from sample sizes of from 999 to 1,011, giving a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Yes and No responses do not add to 100% due to participants either saying they didn’t know or refused to answer.

Consequences of Same-Sex Marriage: Lowest Divorce Rate Since WWII

Jim Burroway

September 4th, 2009

Massachusetts was the first state in the union to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples. They’ve been at it now for five years, and what do we have to show for it?

According to the most recent data from the National Center For Vital Statistics, Massachusetts retains the national title as the lowest divorce rate state, and the MA divorce rate is about where the US divorce rate was in 1940, prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that triggered the US entrance into World War Two.

Provisional data from 2008 indicates that the Massachusetts divorce rate has dropped from 2.3 per thousand in 2007 down to about 2.0 per thousand for 2008. What does that mean ? To get a sense of perspective consider that the last time the US national divorce rate was 2.0 per thousand (people) was 1940. You read that correctly. The Massachusetts divorce rate is now at about where the US divorce rate was the year before the United States entered World War Two.

Mormon Reorientation Efforts

Timothy Kincaid

September 2nd, 2009

On his site, conservative Christian psychology professor Dr. Warren Throckmorton has been following the debate between some same-sex attracted Mormon and some NARTH-affiliated Mormons. The discussion so far consists of

  • In Quiet Desperation, a book by Ty Mansfield, a same-sex attracted but faithfully observant Mormon and Fred and Marilyn Matis, the parents of a son who committed suicide. They argue for faithful following of teaching but also for compassion and sympathy for those who are same-sex attracted and for a change in social condemnation and rejection.
  • A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement, a review of the book by Dean Byrd, Shirley E. Cox, and Jeffrey W. Robinson. Byrd is the past president of the anti-gay therapist group, National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. In this review, they condemn Mansfield and the Matises for conceding that some people will remain same-sex attracted and that such persons should not be subjected to social condemnation. They felt that the book’s admission of the continuing existence of same-sex attraction “inadvertently limits the power of the atonement in the lives of people who struggle with homosexual attraction” and that Mansfield had “simply conceded victory to his homosexuality.” For good measure they also throw in large doses of homophobic ranting.
  • A rebuttal on Dr. Throckmorton’s site by Dr. Michael Bailey expressing that Byrd et al had taken his words out of context and given them a meaning nearly the opposite to what Bailey intended.
  • A rebuttal by Ty Mansfield expressing that Byrd et al had ascribed to him motivations and beliefs that he did not hold.
  • A response by four Mormon professors, William Bradshaw, Robert A. Rees, Ron Schow, Marybeth Raynes, which accuses Byrd et al of making baseless claims, misconstruing LDS theology, and ultimately of armchair analysis that was “not only inappropriate, [but] professionally irresponsible”.

Considering that every party in this discussion (except Bailey) is an observant member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and all hold to the church’s teachings about heterosexual monogamy, the entire exchange is a fascinating illustration of the extremism found in those who gravitate to NARTH. I recommend that those interested should at least follow Dr. Throckmorton’s highlights of the debate if not the extended discussion.

But I want to step away from the discussion and pull out one interesting side note. In the response by Bradshaw et al, we find the first hint of the measure of success that the Mormon Church has had in assisting same-sex attracted Mormons to become heterosexual.

First I have to bring to your attention a peculiarity about Mormon theology (As I am not an authority on LDS theology, I welcome correction): Unlike standard Christian beliefs, celibacy is not quite adequate for fully achieving the will of God. Although a Baptist, for example, might see celibacy as adhering to God’s morality code, a Mormon would believe that only through heterosexual marriage can one attain the highest levels of the Celestial Kingdom and achieve godhood. Recognizing marriage as the goal, Bradshaw makes the following observation:

Given the fact that Byrd was the lead person directing therapy for same sex attraction at Church Social Services during a period when many hundreds of Latter-day Saints were undergoing reparative or change therapy, one would think he would cite the findings of such therapy. It is in fact scandalous that such studies either were not undertaken or have been suppressed since the findings would help enlighten our present discussion of this subject. We are acquainted with one therapist at Church Social Services during Byrd’s tenure who did a large portion of this work in that he counseled with nearly a thousand homosexuals and whose experience contradicts the point of view taken in this review.2

Footnote 2 clarifies:

2. Our informant has told us that in over a 30 year career at LDS Family Services he worked with about 400 single men, 200 of whom left therapy after 1-2 sessions. Of the remaining 200, only 20 (10%) were able to marry. Furthermore, 19 of the 20 who married identified themselves as bisexual when they entered therapy. The quality of these marriages is unknown. Another Latter-day Saint therapist with whom we are familiar reports that of the hundreds of clients with sexual identity issues she has seen only those clearly identified as bisexual are given any chance of making successful marriages.

I wish to caution that this is third hand information. Yet it comes from sources that would likely find joy in announcing that reorientation efforts in the church were largely successful, if that were true.

What I find particularly troubling is that Dean Byrd would be unavoidably aware of the measure of success or failure that Church Social Services had in achieving the reorientation (or marriage) goals of his own program. If the results were as Bradshaw and company relay, then it is difficult to understand how Byrd could say that “there is much hope and substantial evidence that those who want to overcome same-sex attraction can make changes and achieve happiness and peace in their lives” and that “many men (and women) … have successfully dealt with same-sex attraction, have married, have families, are not depressed, and are living hopeful and happy lives.”

Considering the stark disparity between Byrd’s words and his results, I have to conclude that either the report is wildly incorrect, Byrd is seriously self-deluding, or that he has willingly adopted a policy of deception and fabrication in order to advance a politico-religious social agenda.

Infection rates in gay/bi men

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

August 28th, 2009

Those leading the fight against AIDS and anti-gay activists sometimes have a common goal: portray the incidence of HIV in gay and bisexual men in the most frightening terms. This appears to me to be what is happening as the result of a presentation at the National HIV Prevention Conference (Southern Voice)

Gay and bisexual men account for half of the new HIV infections in the U.S. and have AIDS at a rate more than 50 times greater than other groups, according to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention data presented at the National HIV Prevention Conference this week in Atlanta.

That’s a pretty frightening statistic. But perhaps the raw numbers give it some perspective.

Dr. Amy Lansky of the CDC presented research at the Aug. 24 plenary in which the CDC estimated in the U.S. there were 692.2 new HIV cases in 2007 per 100,000 men who have sex with men (MSM).

In other words, the rate of new infections in the population of gay and bisexual men in 2007 was 0.69%. Or in 2007 one out of every 144 gay/bi men seroconverted.

That still is very high. And it is consistent with our calculations that about 12% of gay/bi men (or about 6% of all gay/bi people) are infected with HIV. (So play safe kids… or better yet, find someone to have and hold from this day forward.)

But, in those terms, perhaps it isn’t quite as scary as the somewhat meaningless announcement that “MSM are 50 times more likely to have AIDS than women and non-gay or bisexual men.” I think most of us already know that sexually active gay men, especially those unpartnered, are at a much higher risk of HIV than Grandpa Joe and Grandma Sally.

And I wonder at the wisdom of making announcements of such comparisons. Provided without context, this quote can seem counter-intuitive. A gay man with both gay and straight friends might think that such ratios do not reflect their observations. And using language that feels out of sync with the realities of the experiences of gay men will not encourage better behavior; rather it will cause the target audience to dismiss the information.

Further it may distract from the fact that HIV transmission is not homogeneous within the gay community; some age, ethnic, and geographic subgroups need and deserve much more attention and focus in our battle against HIV/AIDS. Making statement that sound as though “HIV is a gay disease” misses the picture and downplays the tragic way in which this virus has devastated some gay communities – especially minority and economically challenged subsets – far worse than the “Will and Grace” gay man.

Such declarations also run the risk of providing a false sense of security to others in the non-gay-male category who live in communities which are disproportionately impacted by this disease. And it may encourage those responsible for shepherding resources to overlook, for example, sexually-active single black women in specific urban settings.

So while I strongly support that accurate information be presented and disseminated as widely as possible, I’d caution those who make statements about this disease to consider that their words not only be factually correct but also convey messages that are not confusing or counter-productive.

Lack of Clarity in Reporting on HIV and Circumcision of Gay Males

Timothy Kincaid

August 26th, 2009

Several studies have shown that in African and Asian nations heavily impacted by HIV, circumcision can reduce infection rates in males by 50 – 60%. Now a CDC doctor has announced that while circumcision is effective in reducing female to male transmission during vaginal sex, it does not assist in resisting infection between gay males during anal sex. (U.S. News & World Report)

Circumcision “is not considered beneficial” for gay men concerned about lowering their risk of becoming infected with HIV, Dr. Peter Kilmarx of the CDC told the Associated Press. He released the study findings at a conference on Tuesday.

The finding are at odds with some studies conducted in Africa, which have suggested that circumcised males may be less prone to HIV infection during heterosexual sex. But circumcision may not offer the same protection when it comes to anal sex, Kilmarx said.

In the study, the CDC team tracked the HIV infection rate of nearly 4,900 men who had anal sex with an HIV-infected partner. The researchers found an HIV infection rate of 3.5 percent — whether the men were circumcised or not.

While this may appear informative to a heterosexual, this reporting leaves more questions than it answers.

  • Were these 4,900 tops who engage in insertive sex only? Because if not, how could the circumcision of a bottom (passive partner) possibly impact HIV transmission?
  • Does the 3.5% infection rate reflect a bottom to top transmission? Was this 3.5% in a year, a decade, when?
  • Were these “partners” in relationships or just sex-partners?
  • Or did they just say, “Here are some cut men and here are some uncut men. Let’s see to what extent they seroconvert”?

This story is but another illustration of why it is important that gay men and women are included in reporting stories that effect our lives. It would be interesting to know the extent to which bottom to top HIV transmissions occur and whether circumcision of the top could impact this transmission. But reporting like this tells us nothing of much use at all.

Longitudinal Ex-Gay Study Update – Can Sexual Orientation be Changed?

Timothy Kincaid

August 12th, 2009

This week the American Psychological Association released a report that said that while religion and its value in a patient’s life should be considered and respected, therapists should not encourage clients to seek a change in sexual orientation and that there was no evidence to suggest that such efforts are successful.

This did not sit well with those organizations who build their existence on convincing their public that gay persons can “change” and that because such change is possible then public policy can be punitive to gay persons that do not submit themselves to such a change.

In response to the APA\’s Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses To Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts, NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) declared

They selected and interpreted studies that fit within their innate and immutable view. For example, they omitted the Jones and Yarhouse study, the Karten study, and only gave cursory attention to the Spitzer study. Had the task force been more neutral in their approach, they could have arrived at only one conclusion: homosexuality is not invariable fixed in all people, and some people can and do change, not just in terms of behavior and identity but in core features of sexual orientation such as fantasy and attractions.

And Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International spoke to USA Today.

Its president, Alan Chambers, describes himself as someone who “overcame unwanted same-sex attraction.” He and other evangelicals met with APA representatives after the task force formed in 2007, and he expressed satisfaction with parts of the report that emerged.

“It’s a positive step — simply respecting someone’s faith is a huge leap in the right direction,” Chambers said. “But I’d go further. Don’t deny the possibility that someone’s feelings might change.”

So it was with great joy that those opposed to equality received news of evidence of change. The Baptist Press is crowing. Just “four days after an American Psychological Association task force released a 130-page report that said “gay-to-straight” therapies are unlikely to work”, they are trumpeting some amazing results of a study on Exodus International and their ex-gay ministries.

In findings that directly contradict mainstream academic thought, 53 percent of subjects in a new seven-year study reported successfully leaving homosexuality and living happily as heterosexual or celibate persons.

These “latest findings” are actually an update of the multi-year study of participants in Exodus ministries presented by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in their 2007 book, Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation.

The authors were not pleased that the study which they proclaimed throughout Christian media as an evidence of change in sexual orientation did not convince the APA.

“They selectively apply rigorous scientific standards,” he said. “So when it comes to examining the evidence that sexual orientation change can occur, they apply extraordinarily rigorous standards, and those standards allow them to disregard significant evidence that sexual orientation change can occur. That’s what happens with our study. They, I think, invalidly applied several methodological concerns to dismiss our study.

Indeed, the APA did apply concerns and dismiss the study.

Dr. Judith Glassgold, a clinical psychologist who led the APA task force, said the paper was not written in response to Dr. Jones’ work, though it did dismiss his findings.

“We don’t believe the claims were proven, to be honest,” said Dr. Glassgold in an interview. “In our looking at all the research we find that people don’t change their underlying sexual attraction. What they do is figure out a way to control their attractions. And some learn to live a heterosexual life but mostly for religious motivation.”

Presented as a counter-point to the APA’s declaration that there is inadequate evidence that therapies designed to change sexual orientation are effective, Jones and Yarhouse argue that:

the findings of this study would appear to contradict that commonly expressed view of the mental health establishment that sexual orientation is not changeable and that the attempt to change is highly likely to produce harm for those who make such an attempt.

I won’t speak to the likelihood of harm, but when it comes to change in orientation, their study convinced me of exactly the opposite.

When the Jones and Yarhouse book, was released in 2007, we hosted an exchange between Jim Burroway, BTB’s editor, and Stanton Jones.

My synopsis of the results, as published in the book, was

the Jones and Yarhouse study revealed little to no statistically measurable change in orientation in the prospective sample. The much touted “successes” were either in recollection (which again were quite small) or were those who had decided to no longer call themselves “gay”. However, they still identified their orientation as homosexual (“I\’m not gay but my attractions are”).

In short, the Jones and Yarhouse study was funded and fully supported by Exodus and conducted by two researchers who were avid supporters of ex-gay ministries. They wanted to study 300 participants, but after more than a year, they could only find 57 willing to participate. They then changed the rules for acceptance in order to increase the total to 98. After following this sample for 4 years, 25 dropped out. Of the remainder, only 11 reported “satisfactory, if not uncomplicated, heterosexual adjustment.” Another 17 decided that a lifetime of celibacy was good enough.

What the 2007 Jones and Yarhouse book revealed, and what this update further confirms, is that the “change” which NARTH and Exodus loudly proclaim is not a change in sexual orientation at all and, in fact, may be nothing more that a change in identity or recollection.

Prospective v. Retrospective
In order to understand the J&Y study, you have to understand the distinction between retrospective and prospective sampling. Prospective uses currently measured data, and retrospective uses recollections about the past.

For example, if one were wanting to compare changes in the length that a student has to walk in their morning commute to school, a prospective study would select a random sample (say a selection of schools), measure the distance the students walked, and repeat the process over a long enough period of time to determine if there is change. A retrospective study would go ask Grandpa and compare today’s walking distance to “ten miles through the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways!”

Obviously, measured differences are far more accurate than recollected differences. Time has a way of providing support for what we want to believe and recollections tend to be very selective. Things were simpler then, or tougher; summers were hotter, or milder; politicians were more honest, or scoundrels.

So the best studies are prospective rather than retrospective. Oddly, the J&Y study is both.

Of the 98 participants, 57 were more-or-less prospective. These were persons who had been involved with an Exodus (ex-gay) ministry for less than a year. So while there may have been some recollection error, it was at least a discussion of reasonably recent events. These participants are called Phase 1.

Unable to get a sample size that the authors felt was sufficient, they then recruited Exodus participants that had been in the programs for one to three years. These participants are called Phase 2 and to the extent that there is a measurement from a recollected starting point, their participation is retrospective.

Fortunately, it is possible to distinguish between the results for these two groups.

The Update
The paper presented by Jones and Yarhouse to the APA is significantly less detailed than was their book, as could be expected. Specifically, the several scales of measurement were reduced to two, Kinsey and Shively & DeCecco, and while the book provided information on interim points, the paper uses only the starting point (T1) and the final point (T6).

The results in the book are based on 75 of the original 98 participants. Since J&Y presented their results in their book, an additional 14 participants have dropped out of the study, bringing the sample size down to 61. The remaining participants have now been part of the study for six to seven years.

The Results
Because the total sample is a hodge-podge of two very different subpopulations, it is informative only to the extent that it reveals information about the difference between those subpopulations.

The group that is most accurately studied, and that whose results are most revealing about the extent to which Exodus is successful is Phase 1, the prospective study. And this is what Jones and Yarhouse report about that subpopulation:

  • There was, on average, virtually no change in sexual orientation on the Kinsey scale using measures of behavior, sexual attraction, emotional/romantic attraction, and fantasy.
  • There was, on average, a small but not significant increase in homosexual behavior.
  • There was, on average, a slight but not significant reduction in homosexual attraction.
  • There was, on average, virtually no increase in heterosexual attraction.

In other words, on average, after six to seven years of participation, those who went through Exodus ministries reported over the period of their involvement no change in sexual orientation at all.

Averages v. Individuals
Averages, while meaningful to statisticians and to those who are evaluating the effectiveness of Exodus International, do not tell the full story. We must also look at individual results.

For their book, Jones and Yarhouse classified their participants into categories based on their individual reports. They came from a religious evaluation model and defined two groups as successful (conversions and chaste), two as failure (identifying as gay and considering identifying as gay), and two in the middle that were still trying but seeing little to no results. For the final report, the authors changed their procedure and allowed participants to select their own category.

As I am less interested in adherence to religious identities and more interested in sexual orientation change, I’ll group the failure and the middle two together. After time T6, J&Y report:

    Success: Conversion – 14 (23%)
    Success: Chastity – 18 (30%)
    Non-Success – 29 (48%)

This does not, however, present an accurate story of the study participants. It does not account for those who dropped out of participation and thus overstates the success rates. One could extrapolate from this reporting method that eventually only those who are successes of some sort will remain and the authors could declare with great fanfare that 100% of all Exodus participants eventually succeed.

But that would not be truthful.

When I made the observation that drop-outs should be considered a likely failure, those who defended the skewing upward of success rates argued that because we don’t know the reasons for discontinued participation, it was just as easy to believe that these individuals were now happily heterosexually married and not wanting to be reminded of their old life as that they had embraced a gay identity. But additional information in this report reveals otherwise.

Of the 14 persons who left the study between T3 and T6, two were Conversion, one was Chastity, and the remaining were Non-success. We know from the book that one of the Conversion drop-outs reported that he had never been heterosexual and was simply reporting what he thought the authors wanted to hear. So it is rather unlikely that these drop-outs went off to live heterosexual lives. Nor is it (or ever was it) likely that any sizable chunk of those who dropped out before T3 left because they are now happily hetero.

Considering drop-outs as their own category, a more accurate reporting of the self-identified placement into categories would look like this:

    Success: Conversion – 14 (14%)
    Success: Chastity – 18 (18%)
    Non-Success – 29 (30%)
    Drop-Outs – 37 (38%)

And considering just the Phase 1 participants, the results are

    Success: Conversion – 5 (9%)
    Success: Chastity – 6 (11%)
    Non-Success – 18 (32%)
    Drop-Outs – 28 (49%)

When looking at these numbers, we should consider two things about the “conversion” category shown above.

First, much of Exodus’ efforts go into changing identity. They view a “gay identity” as sinful and contrary to a “Christian identity”.

So this change in identity may not be related to an actual change in orientation. As I noted above, the first measurement of “change” reported in the book – the one trumpeted in anti-gay press upon the book’s press release – was a change in self identification. Yet is was accompanied by a measurement that spoke of one’s orientation as separate from one’s identity and found that those who claimed that they were not homosexual were willing to admit that their orientation is homosexual. It was literally a declaration that, “I’m not gay but my orientation is.”

We should be careful to recognize that those claiming conversion at T6 may be doing so for themselves and not for their orientations. The authors do acknowledge that such success may be seen as relating more to identity than to orientation:

Some may see these results as reflecting not a change in sexual orientation for most participants who reported such change, but rather a change in sexual identity. Such a change might result from how one thinks of oneself and labels one\’s sexual preferences (that is, attributions and meaning-making).

But with Exodus placing heavy emphasis on identity, by allowing unanalyzed self-assignment the authors may have created a scenario in which there is an inflated increase in the “success” categories.

And second, this report differs from the book in that the qualifiers are removed. The book provided discussion of the non-traditional definitions of “heterosexual” used in the study and how those who were so identified also experienced wandering eyes, erotic dreams, and other situations that are most often associated with a homosexual orientation. In the paper, it is limited to

[W]hile we found that part of our research population experienced success to the degree that it might be called (as we have here) “conversion,” our evidence does not indicate that these changes are categorical, resulting in uncomplicated, dichotomous and unequivocal reversal of sexual orientation from utterly homosexual to utterly heterosexual. Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at T6 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and they did not report their heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.

I don’t think that I’m alone in noting that few of the heterosexuals that I know experience much homosexual arousal. Perhaps Stanton Jones himself said it best in an interview.

“A typical hetero male finds himself attracted to a wide range of females. But among the successful people who reported conversion the typical response was I’m very happy with my sexual responses to my wife, but I don’t experience much hetero attraction to other women. Also, when asked and pressed about whether they still find attraction to men, they will say: ‘Yes, if I let my mind go in that direction.’ “

And finally, when comparing the individual with the average, it must be noted that without an average change, any individual change experienced is offset by an equal and opposite experience.

In other words, for every person who came to Exodus and found that they became one Kinsey point more heterosexual, there was a person who found that Exodus made them one Kinsey point gayer. If Exodus sees their mission as rescuing those sinking in a sea of sin, for each person they pull into the lifeboat, they hit another over the head with an oar.

Failure to report Phase 2 Results
Jones and Yarhouse report the “whole population”, a commingled combination of Phase 1 and Phase 2 as though it is informative. While they do break out Phase 1 results, they do not disclose Phase 2 results.

I believe that were Phase 1 to be visually compared to Phase 2, the variances between the two would be startling. The question jumping out from the report might shift from whether there is a significant effect size in responses to why these two subpopulations are reporting opposite conclusions.

And, indeed, the results from Phase 2 can be deduced to be significantly different from Phase 1. If we know the average response of the 29 remaining participants in Phase 1 and the total average responses of all 61 remaining participants, we can back into the Phase 2 reported change.

A comparison of the two would show:

    Kinsey – behavior only
    P1, -0.21
    P2, 1.79

    Kinsey Expanded
    P1, 0.55
    P2, 1.01

    Shively & DeCecco homo
    P1, 0.40
    P2, 0.99

    Shively & DeCecco hetero
    P1, 0.05
    P2, 0.62

As we can see, there are sharp differences in the results of these two subpopulations. And although no information on Phase 2 is directly reported, the authors somewhat acknowledge that the two subpopulations vary in results

We expected that the results of change would be somewhat less positive in [Phase 1], as individuals experiencing difficulty with change would be likely to get frustrated or discouraged early on and drop out.

That is a round-about way of admitting that the Phase 2 subpopulation does not include those who got frustrated early and dropped out in the first one to three years. It avoids pointing out that results for the Phase 2 subpopulation are already skewed towards those who either believe they are experiencing “change” or have a stronger more deeply dedicated commitment to Exodus ministries.

But even so, with such astounding results in this subpopulation, why wouldn’t the authors include this separate information. It may be that isolation of Phase 2 raises questions about the validity of including them at all and, more importantly, what it says about the claims made by Exodus members both included and not included in the study.

The real difference between Phase 1 and Phase 2 is more than just that P2 has been in the program for a few more years. It is more than that they have fewer drop outs. The real difference is that P2 is based on recollection to a much greater extent than P1.

And Phase 2 participants recalled being more gay than Phase 1 reported. Significantly, especially in the area of behavior. The Kinsey 1 report was 4.52 for Phase 1 and 5.49 for Phase 2.

There is no reason to believe that those in Phase 2, having eliminated the drop outs, actually were any more homosexually oriented than those in Phase 1. Rather, it seems likely that they simply recalled being more homosexually oriented when they established their base point some one to three years later.

So all reported change in Phase 2 – and indeed all reported change – may be attributable to this variance in starting point due to reliance on recollection. Ultimately, all of Jones’ and Yarhouse’s announced success may be nothing more than, “I remember being much more gay three years ago than I am today.”

Truly Gay
The one subpopulation that Jones and Yarhouse are excited about is what they call the “truly gay subpopulation.” These are defined as those who “scored above the scale midpoint at T1 for homosexual attraction, and for homosexual behavior in the past, and for having previously embraced full homosexual or gay identity.” This subgroup reported the most change.

It is difficult to know whether these persons are mostly Phase 1 or Phase 2, but it would appear that they are a combination of both. We know from the break out of results in the book that a number of the non-successes in the truly gay subpopulation were also Phase 1. This lends itself to assumptions that those in the truly gay subpopulation that reported progress were likely in Phase 2 and that much, if not all, of their progress consisted solely of exaggerated recollection.

This is further supported by noting that most of the change reported over the seven year life of the study was between the first measurement (often as recollected) and the second. In discussing the possibility that reported change is largely identity, the authors noted:

This might also explain to some why the Truly Gay subpopulation showed more dramatic change, as their shift was away from a more pronounced gay identity. Such a departure may have been measured as a greater movement away from something that had previously been more salient to them.

Or, more likely, a greater movement away from the recollection of being very gay three years ago.

Based on the Jones and Yarhouse book, Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, and on their follow up report, Ex-Gays? An Extended Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, we can observe the following:

  • The prospective sample reported, on average, virtually no change in attractions and a small increase in homosexual behavior.
  • A retrospective look at ones perceptions of prior orientation from the perspective of one to three years yields a sharply different result from that seen by a prospective sample. This change in perspective may account for all reported change in Exodus ministries.
  • Most change reported away from homosexuality and towards heterosexuality was in the interval between the starting point (T1) and the second measurement point (T2). This change occurred most strongly in the retrospective sample and may be due to variances in recollection.
  • A combined prospective and retrospective sample experienced, on average, no significant increase in opposite sex attraction.
  • A small percentage (perhaps 9%) of those who start Exodus programs may eventually self-categorize themselves as “experiencing substantial reductions in homosexual attraction and substantial conversion to heterosexual attraction and functioning. These persons will be unlike other heterosexuals in that they will continue to experience homosexual arousal and not experience much attraction to the opposite sex.
  • Another small percentage (perhaps 11%) of those who start Exodus programs may eventually achieve a life of manageable homosexual attraction and chastity.
  • Others may continue perpetually in Exodus programs without ever achieving any significantly reduced homosexual attractions.
  • Eventually, most of those who start Exodus programs will drop out.
  • On average, for each person who enters and Exodus program and finds any movement away from homosexual attraction, another will find movement towards homosexual attraction.

But these observations are not readily obvious from the media reports of either the 2007 Jones and Yarhouse book nor this follow-up report. And those seeking “proof” that homosexuals can “change” have used both to advance a false image of the results of this study. Exodus, NARTH, and many others will spin this study to come to conclusions that are far from of those I’ve stated above.

The authors have a moral responsibility to discourage those who will make false statements or who will falsely claim that this study justifies their ex-gay or anti-gay endeavors. And they have a moral obligation not to allow their wishes about the mutability of sexual orientation cloud the results of their study and give false hope to those who believe Exodus’ slogan that “change is possible”.

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