James Holsinger, President George W. Bush's nominee for Surgeon General, has a dark view of homosexuals. In a 1991 paper, Holsinger describes homosexual sex in sickeningly lurid language. "Fist fornication," "sphincter injuries," "lacerations," "perforations" and "deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism," are some of the terms Holsinger concocted to describe acts with which he suggests at least medical familiarity (a case of participant observation, perhaps?). At the same paper, Holsinger puzzlingly issues no warnings about the dangers of heterosexual sex in his paper. To him, only "anal eroticism" is a health peril.
Holsinger's allies -- those who lobbied the White House for his nomination -- include James Dobson's Focus on the Family and the Heritage Foundation. They have predictably cast his confirmation battle as a religious test, alleging that his homophobia is a reflection of orthodox Christian views. To oppose Holsinger on the grounds of his anti-gay sentiments, the right says, is to discriminate against him simply for being a bible-believing Christian. Why should he have to check his Christianity at the church exit door? they ask. This worn-out appeal to the Christian right's victimhood complex distracts from the most salient argument against Holsinger's confirmation -- which is exactly what it is intended to do.
For a moment let's put aside the moral case against Holsinger's confirmation, and objectively examine his qualifications for America's top doctor. Holsinger and his wife were founders of Hope Springs Community Church. This church, according to its pastor, Rev. David Calhoun, has an "ex-gay" ministry that administers "reparative therapy" to people who no longer wish to be gay. "We see that as an issue not of orientation but a lifestyle," Calhoun says. "We have people who seek to walk out of that lifestyle."
Holsinger believes in ex-gay therapy. He therefore views homosexuality as a curable disease. Every major, reputable medical organization rejects ex-gay therapy and the notion that homosexuality constitutes a mental illness. Every single one. The most notable of these organizations is the American Psychological Association, the country's largest organization of mental health professionals. In 1974, the APA stopped listing homosexuality as a mental disorder; last year, the group issued a pointed repudiation to the ideological proponents of ex-gay therapy. (It's worth adding that conversion therapy supporters have not produced one single word of peer-reviewed work to support their theories).
Holsinger's belief in discredited, crack-pot "conversion" therapy puts him in direct conflict with virtually the entire American medical community. Holsinger can believe in radical evangelical doctrine and he can hold bigoted views. As lamentable as these traits are, they don't necessarily disqualify him for Surgeon General -- though they certainly cast a dark shadow over his nomination. What instantly disqualifies Holsinger is his rejection of medical science. He can be politically incorrect, but he can't be medically incorrect.
If history is any guide, conservatism and respect for science are not mutually exclusive. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the co-author of a strident anti-abortion tract with evangelical dominionist godfather Francis Schaeffer, respected science. In the face of massive resistance from right-wing activists, Koop used his prestige to advocate for sex education and condom use to stanch the rising epidemic of AIDS. For Koop's stand on medical principle, his one-time allies pressured Reagan into forcing him to resign. There is no indication Holsinger will follow Koop's principled path.
When Holsinger goes before the Senate, ex-gay therapy goes on trial. He and his Republican supporters should be compelled to state their views on homosexuality and the crackpot practice the Christian right employs to "cure" people of it. Is homosexuality a treatable disease and how do they know it? (This question should be asked of GOP presidential contenders as well). If and when Holsinger's nomination goes down in flames, ex-gay therapy will have received its most decisive repudiation yet.
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