Coming in to academic scholarship

BY JENNIE DALBUSCO

What is most disappointing about Kelly’s “Coming out of Homosexuality” is not learning that bigotry is alive and well at Harvard Law in the HLSRECORD, or even that this same forum failed to publish a competing view on an issue of such social importance. Far outweighing these issues is my concern for what that article says about the caliber of scholarship at Harvard Law School such that one of its students, advanced to 3L status, could author such a piece.

The primary task of a law school is to train students to become lawyers, and chief among the skills we are taught is “Finding the Law.” Throughout America, law schools include “Legal Research” or “First Year Lawyering” in the 1L curriculum. In the six weeks I’ve enjoyed FYL, learning about authority as an essential component toward “Finding the Law” is the primary concern. We learned to search for primary and secondary authorities, learning how to consider and weigh them to form arguments around the most appropriate sources. This task is not exclusive to legal training; it is a basic skill in any academic endeavor.

Regardless, as the basis for an anti-gay article with grand aspirations of describing both the origin and nature of homosexuality, Hartline drew upon an anti-gay movement as her source of authority for conclusions ranging from the notion that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice (like vegetarianism) to a result of sexual abuse. Hartline lets these medieval notions fly in the face of modern psychiatric, medical, biological and psychological scholarship. Indeed, even when making a biological argument, no pretense to consider a scientific journal was made. Further, Hartline fails to “Shepardize” her presentation of the APA stance, further demonstrating that both her FYL skills and the “critical thinking cap” we learned to put on in elementary school have been cast to the wind.

Reviewing the American Psychologicali and American Psychiatricii Associations’ stances today, both identify that “reparative therapy” such as Exodus’ has not been effective, and is potentially harmful. Further, Hartline chose to make an interesting short summary of Spitzer’s study, ignoring that Spitzer’s sample selection method sought success stories through referrals from conversion therapy groups, yet only found a 66 percent conversion rate from “very religious and highly motivated” participants.iii At the same conference where Spitzer’s study was presented, another study by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroede took a broader sample of Christian conversion therapy participants, and found that only six of the 202 interviewed had successfully completed a “heterosexual shift” — and five of those six made their livelihood as conversion counselors. Shidlo summarized the research: “We interviewed 182 people who tried very hard to change. The stakes were really high for them. Some really thought that if they didn’t change, they would literally find themselves in hell. Many were very religious. And they still failed.”iv For a qualitative perspective on Exodus, the “Ray of Light” movement from the Human Rights Campaign publishes testimonies of ex-ex-gays to illuminate conversion programs’ methods.v

Hartline’s article flew straight past any standard of scholarship to the bottom of the psuedo-science heap. The “feelings of exclusion from peers” and family rifts she describes within the gay youth experience actually stem from and are buttressed by bigotry like Hartline’s. This leads to dangerous consequences, such as the overrepresentation of gay youths in national suicide statistics from Canada, Europe and the U.S. — including Massachusetts.vi

Reviewing such statistics, it is clearly unconscionable to insist upon a bigoted perspective that would exacerbate what is clearly a human rights issue. This is why National Coming Out Day exists. October 11th is a day for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and their supporters to celebrate solidarity in the face of centuries of persecution and oppression. This is a human rights issue.

This is not to say that highly motivated people can’t change, that biology is destiny or sexuality is immobile, or that any scientific institution has located the nature or origin of homosexuality. Rather, I wish only to say that the authoritative source to homosexual matters is not found within Exodus. It is a complex issue worthy of a more rigorous approach than found in Hartline’s article.

I have shared in my classmates’ amazement that such an article appeared, and I understand the urge to shun Hartline. However, we must remember that the gay and lesbian movement is about inclusion, and that we can treat ignorance with prayer, love, support and, most importantly, with scholarship. In that vein, I have consulted with the Dean of Students’ office, and found that 3Ls are allowed to audit both the FYL course in which she might revisit the pursuit of authority, or even multiple undergraduate courses on the Harvard campus wherein basic scholarship and research skills may be revisited.

Thus, if you know Hartline or someone else failed in their FYL training, share this message of hope. There is a way out of ignorance. There is no reason to be controlled by fundamentalist rhetoric, or to shun academia so as to cling tenaciously to bad science and psuedo-scholarship. On this day, begin your journey out of the closet of ignorance. Veritas!

End Notes

i American Psychological Association Policy Statement on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbpolicy/orient.html

ii American Psychiatric Association, Gay and Lesbian Issues: http://www.psych.org/ public_info/homose~1.cfm

iii For a summary of the Spitzer Study: http://www.newdirection.ca/research/spitzer.htm; For a discussion of the flaws in this study: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_changing.html , which includes the problematic sample selection method, generalizability of findings to US population, prevalence of bisexuals (prior to conversion) in sample. Further: “Dr. Spitzer did not claim that his findings could be generalized to the gay and lesbian population at large. Indeed, he was quoted in the New York Times as saying that, despite the findings from his study, the number of homosexuals who could successfully become heterosexual was likely to be ‘pretty low.’ He also conceded that participants in his study were ‘unusually religious’ and were not necessarily representative of most gay men and lesbians in the United States.”

iv A reprint of this Newsweek article, “Straight Talk” by Patrice Wingert (a NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE) is found at: http://tampabaycoalition.homestead.com/files/StraightTalkStudies0510.htmv Ray of Light Campaign: http://www.hrc.org/ newsreleases/1998/981008rayoflight.asp

vi 1995 Canadian National Association for Suicide Prevention: http://www.qrd.org/ www/youth/tremblay/; 2000 research from the UK, “Elevated rates of suicidal behavior in gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth.” : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov:80/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11265836&dopt=Abstract; Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Study: http://www.doe.mass.edu/lss/yrbs99/chapter6.html

More Weblinks:ACLU Gay and Lesbian Rights: http://www.aclu.org/issues/gay/hmgl.html

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission: http://www.iglhrc.org

Human Rights Campaign: “How to Respond to anti-gay ‘change’ ads in your community:”http://www.hrc.org/publications/exgay_ministries/agpb.asp

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