During his speech at the start of the Uganda Conference for Science Communication in November 2008, President Museveni said, “There is need to develop enough science communication capacity of our own which can easily explain new concepts early enough to make sense to our needs.”
I have decided to heed his call.
The claims we often hear from our legislators, government officials, and our religious leaders, pertaining to the nature of homosexuality (and the purported ‘gay agenda’) come not from actual peer reviewed scientific literature – but straight out of conservative and fundamentalist Christian anti-gay propaganda books, and claims of practitioners of scientifically discredited “reparative” or “conversion” therapy.
Ever since the ‘anti-homosexuality’ conference which took place in Kampala in March 2009, the works of authors such as Richard Cohen (‘Coming Out Straight’) have been brandished as ‘evidence from authoritative sources’ that homosexuality is a disorder, and that homosexuals can become straight if they choose to. Don Schmierer of Exodus international, Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries, and Caleb Brundidge of the International Healing Foundation met with Ugandan legislators and other leaders during this same period and made presentations in which they reiterated their various theories on homosexuality – and our MPs uncritically accepted their claims as facts. Their views were heralded as views of ‘experts’, and today their words can be heard coming out of the mouths of nearly all the proponents of the Anti-homosexuality bill. Especially the words of Lively.
But just how authoritative are these individuals and organizations, and are their claims scientifically valid?
Scott Lively, by his own admission is not a medical doctor nor qualified as a psychiatrist, but merely a pastor and a lawyer. His wild, unsubstantiated claims about an imaginary ‘global gay agenda’ have fuelled public hysteria over homosexuality, leading to unjustified vilification of homosexuals all over the world. It is indeed puzzling as to how a person who claims that homosexuals were responsible for the Rwanda genocide can be taken seriously, let alone be considered an authority.
Richard Cohen, founder of the International Healing Foundation, who is often cited as an ‘expert’ by the most vocal promoters of the anti-homosexuality bill, is actually not licensed as a therapist, having been permanently expelled in 2002 from the American Counseling Association for multiple ethical violations. In a statement released on December 11th 2009, the president of the American Counseling Association wrote, regarding Richard Cohen, “.. his writings have been exposed as inflammatory and filled with erroneous facts and suppositions. His writings lack research evidence and should not be used as the basis for any public policy. ACA does not support his position or the use of his work in any way.”
In his book, “Coming Out Straight“, Cohen relies on studies carried out by Paul Cameron to promote the idea that homosexuals, among other things, have a higher propensity for sexual predation of minors. But who is Paul Cameron? Paul Cameron is an American psychologist who was expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983. In 1984 the Nebraska Psychological Association issued a statement disassociating itself from what they said were “the representations and interpretations of scientific literature offered by Dr. Paul Cameron”. In 1986 the American Sociological Association passed a resolution condemning Cameron for consistent misrepresentation of sociological research. In 1996, the Canadian Psychological Association disassociated itself from Cameron stating that he had “consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism”. In a revealing interview on December 8th 2009 during MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show“, Richard Cohen stated he would remove the passage in future editions of his oft-cited book “Coming Out Straight” in which he makes reference to Cameron’s studies linking homosexuality with sexual predation. This same book, containing this same flawed information, can be seen on YouTube being quoted from at the Kampala March 2009 Anti-Homosexuality conference. Paul Cameron is also cited as an expert in an article appearing on the Uganda Media Centre website titled “Homosexuality: We Can Still Avoid Foreign Bad Press.”
It is quite remarkable that these individuals, and their organisations, whose works are being touted as authoritative science – actually lack any credibility in the scientific community of certified professionals in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, sociology, pediatrics and counseling. What is even more remarkable is that Uganda’s scientific community isn’t making this known to our policy makers and the general public, whose views on homosexuality are being shaped by this bad science from individuals devoid of credible expertise.
THE SCIENTIFIC CONSENUS:
Below is a summary of the consensus views of actual certified experts and scientists relevant to the subject of sexual orientation. Their views are based on empirical research whose results are published in respected peer-reviewed scientific journals:
On whether homosexuality is a mental disorder
According to the American Psychological Association (the major professional organisation representing certified psychologists in the United States, with about 150,000 members):
“…research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.”
On whether sexual orientation is a choice
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (the main professional organisation of psychiatrists in the United Kingdom with 15,000 members):
“It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (with approximately 60,000 members who include pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists. More than 34,000 members are board-certified):
“The mechanisms for the development of a particular sexual orientation remain unclear, but the current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual. “
On whether homosexuality as an orientation can be ‘unlearned’
The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association (the main professional organization of psychiatrists, in the USA – with 38,000 members), and National Association of Social Workers (a professional organization of social workers in the United States – with 150,000 members) state:
“Sexual orientation has proved to be generally impervious to interventions intended to change it, which are sometimes referred to as ‘reparative therapy.’ No scientifically adequate research has shown that such interventions are effective or safe.”
The Royal College of Psychiatrists states that:
“There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. “The best evidence for efficacy of any treatment comes from randomised clinical trials and no such trial has been carried out in this field.”
The Australian Psychological Society (the professional association established to represent psychologists in Australia – with over 15,000 members) acknowledges:
“..the lack of scientific evidence for the usefulness of conversion therapy.”
The view on the general immutability of sexual orientation was also reiterated by the US Surgeon General David Satcher in a statement released on July 9th 2001 titled, “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behaviour” . In it, he stated:
“..there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”
It is therefore interesting that one of the adjustments being proposed to the current bill is making “reparative therapy” mandatory for convicted homosexuals. Claims of practitioners of so-called conversion, or reparative, therapy such as Exodus International, NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), and Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation have been called into question by mainstream scientists, and are not considered to be validated by peer reviewed research. In fact, it has instead been found that such therapy is detrimental to the individuals that are subjected to them, and is therefore not advised. By endorsing forced “reparative” therapy for Ugandans who are homosexuals, they will go down in history as legislators who endorsed pseudo-science. Incidentally, both Exodus and NARTH, the world’s foremost practitioners of conversion therapy are opposed to forced therapy, so to whom do the advocates of the bill intend to send the homosexuals for ‘rehabilitation’? Even its so-called ‘experts’ want nothing to do with such an idea.
The view that homosexuality is a “mental disorder”, or claims that “homosexuality is learned, and can be unlearned” (as the Bahati bill boldly declares) are thus completely unscientific. The proponents of such fringe views have failed to validate their claims through the scientific peer-review process, as is required by all scientists who intend to have their work taken seriously.
Of course, anti-gay religious groups and gay conversion ministries are usually quick to dismiss the scientific consensus on sexual orientation as biased. Many reading this article will probably try to convince themselves that some kind of sinister “international gay agenda” controls all the scientific research institutions of the world, therefore the view of scientists cannot be trusted. On any other day such a silly conspiracy theory should evoke laughter among those that are sensible, but in today’s Uganda, where such silly conspiracy theories have found a more than receptive audience and led to the tabling of one of the most inhumane pieces of legislation ever drafted, the joke stopped being funny a long time ago.
Homosexuals will always exist, and will always be among us. It is not true that they are all defilers, and we are yet to be presented with any verifiable evidence of organised, systematic recruitment. In Uganda, incidences of defilement of girls are rampant, but no sensible person claims that hetero-sexuality is the crime – the crime is defilement. Likewise, even if there are cases of defilement of boys by men (whose numbers pale in comparison to that of defiled girls), it does not mean homosexuality is the crime. The crime, also, is defilement. Many homosexuals and lesbians are kind, loving people who contribute positively to our society. The sooner we accepted this fact, and learnt to be tolerant of them, the better.
Therefore, not only should the egregious Anti-Homosexuality bill be scrapped -it is also high time homosexuality is decriminalised all together.