Davina Kotulski

Prop 8 trial: Conversion therapy doesn't work, GLBT people experience violence, and the Kinsey scale

Filed By Davina Kotulski | January 22, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Alfred Kinsey, bisexual, Gregory Herek, judge, LGBT, Prop. 8, trial, uc davis

While I was doing this and admiring the historic photos of San Francisco on the 19th floor in the federal building, I struck up a conversation with the other person in the hallway. It turned out that I was talking to Brian Woodford from the California Family Research Council. We talked about how we could find our commonalities and exchanged business cards.

I then found that the trial was already in full swing with psychologist Dr. Gregory Herek from the University of California at Davis. As a psychologist myself, I've been following Dr. Herek's work for decades and even had the opportunity back in 2005 to be on a panel for marriage equality with him.

Dr. Herek has an impressive record of publications on sexual orientation and hate crimes.

He discusses the American Psychiatric Association's removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in 1973.

All major psychological and psychiatric associations state conversion therapy is ineffective and harms gay people

Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist, published "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual" about her research on psychological testing of gay men and heterosexual men. Hooker assessed both groups of men and then had experts review the tests and select who was gay. The experiment, which was repeated by other researchers demonstrated that most gay men demonstrated the same level of social adjustment as heterosexual men in the general population.

Dr. Herek spoke about how most gay, lesbian, bisexual people do not believe that their sexual orientation is a choice. He referenced a study completed in Sacramento, California with 2,200 participants. Subjects were asked if they felt being LGB was a choice.

  • 87% gay men said they believed it was not a choice
  • 70% lesbians said they believed it was not a choice
  • 59% bi men said they believed it was not a choice
  • 45% bi women said they believed it was not a choice

Herek was asked if he believed if reparative therapy is effective. Reparative therapy, sometimes called conversion therapy, is intended to change a gay person's sexual orientation to heterosexual.

Herek said, "When we use the word effective with therapeutic intervention it means it consistently works, produces the outcome that we expect without causing harm to the individual.... No, it is not effective."

Herek notes that a task force was created to evaluate the effectiveness of these therapies. According to Herek, "The task force provided a report on their effectiveness and safety of reparative therapy. In their review of the literature, they found that there were not many high quality studies that had been done to speak to the effectiveness of these therapies."

Studies were then conducted and the APA task force concluded that reparative therapy does not reduce same-sex attraction and has a limited effectiveness and does some harm to individuals, including depression and anxiety.

Herek reported that the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Assoc, American Counselors Assoc., American Teachers Assoc. American Pediatric Society do not support reparative therapies, believe they are ineffective, and they believe that this harms youth.

Herek mentions a survey of married same-sex couples in Massachusetts released in May 2009 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health entitled the Health and Marriage Equality in Massachusetts Survey.

According to an executive summary of the survey published by the Williams Institute (May 2009), the survey found that same-sex married couples reported that marriage had a positive impact on their lives. Seventy-two per cent (72 %) of the married individuals reported "feeling more committed" to their spouse and "70% felt more accepted by their communities."

Individuals also reported other important benefits from marriage, including "feeling that they have to worry less about legal problems (48%)," being able to give their same-sex spouse health insurance (30%), coming out to co-workers (82%), and healthcare providers (82%), and for those raising children, feeling that their children are "happier and better off as a result of their marriage (93%)." Especially notable was the finding that 62% of individuals reported that being married increased their family's acceptance of their partner.

1 in 5 LGBT people experience violence in their lifetime

Herek discusses the stigma against LGBT people. He says that many heterosexuals experience "negative feelings towards lesbians and gay men, they even feel disgusted" by gay people. Herek mentions the violence against LGBT people and how the FBI and State of California track hate crimes against LGB people.

According to Herek, 1 in 5 LGBT people experienced some sort of violence in the course of their lifetimes. Others, he reports, have had some experience of discrimination in employment.

Herek speaks about how if two men walked down the street holding hands that would attract violence and harassment.

(BTW - January 30 is International Same-Sex Hand Holding Day.)

LGBT youth are bullied in school and harmed by the notion that their sexual orientation can be changed through therapy

Herek also mentions harassment and bullying against youth in schools.

While not discussed by Herek, I present you with findings from GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey which I found shocking.

  • 91% of LGBT middle school students said they experienced harassment at school because of their sexual orientation.
  • 59% reported physical harassment
  • 39% reported physical assault, compared to 20% of high school students
  • 82% heard names like "faggot" and "dyke"
  • 63% heard staff make homophobic remarks
  • 50% of LGBT middle school students surveyed reported missing at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe.
  • LGBT students who missed school because of safety had lower GPAs than other LGBT students (2.4 to 2.9)
  • 57% of students who experience harassment never report it because they fear the teachers won't help or it will only make things worse.
  • School safety influences academic success.
  • LGBT youth who feel unsafe, miss school more frequently, and have lower GPAs than youth who are not threatened, this leads LGBTIQ students to drop out.
  • Approx. 28% of gay and lesbian youth drop out of high school because of discomfort (due to verbal and physical abuse) in the school environment. Remafedi, Gary. (1987). "Male Homosexuality: The Adolescent's Perspective." Pediatrics, Issue 79. pp. 326-337.
  • Bullying and violence is even higher for gender non-conforming kids.

The movie Prayers for Bobby is a great resource on illustrating the harm done to LGBT youth when they are pressured to change something they cannot change.

Kinsey's continuum

During the cross-examination, Herek is asked about sexual orientation and how it is defined. He mentions Kinsey's scale of sexual orientation, which I've provided for you below. Herek says that as a culture we've shortened the Kinsey scale to 3 categories.

  1. Heterosexual
  2. Homosexual (gay/lesbian)
  3. Bisexual

However, Kinsey's continuum is more exact, and people's behaviors, attractions and identity are not always consistent. For example, someone's sexual experience/behavior might be a 0, exclusively heterosexual, but their attraction is to members of the same-sex. Additionally, someone might have the experience of a 3, below, but identity as heterosexual.

0- Exclusively heterosexual experience
1- Predominately het exp. only incidental homosexual exp.
2- Predominately het exp. but more than incidental homosexual exp.
3- Equally het & homosexual experiences
4- Predominately homosexual exp. but more than incidental het exp.
5- Predominately homosexual exp. only incidental het exp.
6- Exclusively homosexual experience

And with that, it's time for a break!

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The mention of Kinsey reminded me that, long ago and 1500 miles away, three summers in a row, I organized panels of gays to speak to attendees at Kinsey Institute summer conferences on sexuality, attended by professionals from a variety of academic and applied disciplines.

A number of unique memories from those times stay with me still.

Not conference-related itself, I remember being awed once when I realized the reason other people in a theatre with me had suddenly started applauding before the concert began was because they recognized Kinsey's elderly widow, "Mac," slowly walking in.

Not all memories are as pleasant, such as sexologist Richard Green's dismissive reaction to my challenge of his assertion that a child who liked to wear high heeled boots was very likely to be transgender. Given the men's fashion of the times, one could deduce from his formula that there were then many tens of millions of unidentified trans men about, many of them prancing on disco dance floors across the country and world.

One summer, circa 1975, an extremely stereotypical-looking, middle-aged woman approached me after the panel, thanked me for our participation, then said she had a question:

"My husband and I have been experimenting with anal intercourse and I wondered what you thought about it."

There is, perhaps, still a dent in the floor of that room left by my jaw.

Such was the kind of no-boundaries conversations that the conferences inspired. Another time, an attendee in a wheelchair approached me, and when I knelt down to speak with him he thanked me, saying how rare it was for anyone to think to do that, but, in addition to gently radiating what I can only call “grace,” I quickly learned he was the one who was rare. In his late 20s, and, dare I say, handsome, he explained that a skiing accident a couple of years before had severed his spinal cord. His legs were completely immobile, he had no control over his kidneys or bowels, and was now incapable of orgasm. But he said that he had learned that the joy of sex was ultimately about giving pleasure to his partner with such genuineness that, for a moment, I fell in love with him and felt that I was the one going through life paralyzed. Floor dent Number 2.

What I don’t still have is one of my favorite t-shirts ever, lost in a piece of luggage the airline never found. It had been sold at one time by the late “Washington Blade.”

On the front it read: “KINSEY 6.”
On the back it read: “PERFECT SCORE!”

Not nearly as good, but still amusing are t-shirts being sold now by the Institute at:


Wait... wouldn't Kinsey's model of sexuality fly in the face of the "oppressed minority" stuff the plaintiffs are selling? If sexuality is fluid, then we aren't a stable category that needs a higher level of scrutiny, etc.

Or are they arguing that eveyone's rights are in danger with that?

Oh, wait, I just re-read and saw that that was cross-examination. Makes sense now.

Where in Kinsey's model does it say that sexuality is fluid??? Kinsey's model shows the variations of hetero- to homo sexual orientations. Some are at one end, some at the other and some in between. The people at the hetero end 1 are most of the people on the planet. The people at the 6 are the smallest minority of people. Those who are at 6 who fight for their rights in all aspects of society as a tiny miniroty have been doing so as gay and lesbian sexual liberation for 40 years. How is this "fluid sexuality"??? It could be argued that your concept is actually prejudiced and oppressive to Kinsey 6 people (and to the majority of Kiney 1 people). Is this your meaning?

It says it all through Kinsey's report, David.

After hearing your description of the Kinsey Report, maybe it's time you went back and looked at it again. 1 is not the highest number on the scale. That would be 6. Go on, click that link to the Wikipedia article chart showing Kinsey's scale and you'll learn something.

Oops missed 0. My bad. Poke my eyes out with a stick. Exchange the number 0 for 1 in my post. So Miss Grundy gotcha's out of the way, please address my point. Kinsey 6 is exclusive homosexuality. Some of us live this. How is this "fluid"???

I'm less disappointed that someone so "certain" knows less about the Kinsey Scale than he thinks he does than how little he knows about the history of gays fighting for themselves.

But that would put David, like Kinsey 0's [NOT 1's...the scale runs from 0-6]] in the majority of people, gay and nongay. [And, YES, some trans people have been fighting a long time, too, but that wasn't the subject]. No, David, with respect, the fight for sexual liberation did not begin with Stonewall [and, just in case, no, Harvey Milk did not discover America]. It goes back at least to 1785 when Jeremy Bentham [a "0" as far as I know] advocated for legalizing sodomy in England.

True, that's not the same as fighting for "rights in all aspects of society," which evolved over time. Due to the widely-internalized belief [with some rare exceptions] that marriage equality was unattainable in any short term, it might, conversely, be said to exist only in the last 15 years or so. Yet, as frequent Bilerico brawls demonstrate, there is still no unity around it as there is about anti sexual privacy laws and ENDA [tho, again, there are exceptions such as some gay Repugs who oppose such laws]. I would submit, however, that the number of LGBTS who support fighting for marriage equal opportunity dwarfs the number of those opposed, however much louder the latter sometimes seem here.

In any case, I think we all have far more to learn from studying our long history than from understanding anything more about the Kinsey Scale than that fluidity of sex ACTS are NOT the same as fluidity of ORIENTATION over a LIFETIME. And a part of that history is understanding that the Kinsey studies propelled us decades forward by daring explode the world's heads out of the sand about both the number of same-sexual experiences and the numbers of same-sex orientations...a fact the Antigay Industry still actively demonizes him for today.

Davina Kotulski | January 23, 2010 2:57 PM

What Bil said. Now off to celebrate my b-day since yesterday sucked.

Thank you for that beating. I am in the ER as we speak giving a statement about assault with pedantry. Does this blog offer prizes for condescending rudeness??? It it endemic here!

No, but we do have the Martyr Award we give out for spectacular examples of self-serving victimhood. Is it time to open nominations again?

Regan DuCasse | January 23, 2010 10:05 PM

I don't especially care about Kinsey. What I'm concerned about is how the anti gay paint the change to the DSM as achieved by putting guns to the heads of a reluctant psychiatric establishment.
As if this DSM result was obtained through violence and intimidation.

It is constantly put out as if this is factual and of course.

Even if one reasonably put out specifics of the change, such as doctor's obligation to new research, methodology and expansion on research samples, the bottom line is, those committed to prejudice don't think there is a thing that gay people can and have done legitimately. That is to say, the APA and the DSM are suspect and not to be believed.

I remember arguing with a woman who keeps insisting that's what happened to the DSM.

I asked her, if her Catholic church ever brought forward schizophrenics, or those with bipolar disorder or even post partum depression to be CURED BY JESUS? Did her church EVER launch a campaign to keep any of these people from ever legally marrying, bearing children or being SELF RELIANT?

Did her church believe ANY other individuals deserve to be KEPT from being self reliant and equally treated in the law, on condition of allowing the church to make ALL their decisions for them? Even renouncing their identity as gay?

She refused to answer.
But any honest person, anyone experienced with someone who has had a mental illness, as opposed to being gay knows the answer to that one.

The most important answer being: WHY DOES HOMOSEXUALITY NEED TO BE CURED AT ALL?
For whose benefit is that really and on what condition is someone expected to NOT be gay?

Fair questions. The anti gay are NEVER honest about why they think so. Why they attack gay people over the change in the DSM.

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