Dr. Robert L. Spitzer recently apologized to the gay community for his poorly conceived 2003 investigation supporting the use of "reparative therapy" that has been widely quoted by homophobes and charlatans who used it in their efforts to say that you could "cure" homosexuality. What we will never know is how many people's lives were ruined or lost because they committed suicide due to the implications and use of this investigation published under his well-respected name.
Dr. Spitzer, 79, suffers from Parkinson's disease. His apology comes at the same time that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) released a report stating, "Reparative therapy is a serious threat to the health and well-being, even the lives, of affected people." What many will never forgive Dr. Spitzer for is the use some parents made of his words to make their children feel less than human, or the many, like, allegedly, Marcus Bachmann, who made money on the false premise of this now-acknowledged bogus investigation.
What the final opinion of Dr. Spitzer will be in the LGBT community is difficult to say. After all, he is credited with pushing the American Psychiatric Association to drop "homosexuality" from its diagnostic manual and replace it with "sexual orientation disturbance," which identified people both gay or straight whose orientation caused them distress. He did this in 1973 and it was considered a huge victory as homosexuality would no longer be considered a disease.
We have come far since 1973 in our views of homosexuality, though short of full acceptance of gay people. There are six states and the District of Columbia that have legalized marriage equality. A sitting president has just said that he supports gay and lesbian people being able to marry under civil law. This historic statement by President Obama has already led to a raft of politicians and public figures coming out publicly in support of marriage equality because the president's statement has given them either the courage or the cover to do so. One of the biggest positives resulting from the president's statement is that this week the NAACP adopted a position supporting marriage equality as a civil right. So often the African-American community has been branded as being universally against it and this clearly debunks that view.
Since Stonewall, and coming more quickly in the last decade, the LGBT community has made tremendous strides in many areas aside from marriage equality. We now have the right to serve openly in the military and to fight and maybe die for our country. We can adopt children in many states and have federal recourse when hate crimes are committed against us. But as the need for that last item implies, we are still a community that is impacted by homophobia and outright hatred from those who refuse to understand or accept that G-d or genetics made us the way we are.
We can appreciate that Dr. Spitzer recognized his error and made his apology while he still could. But only time will tell if that will make a difference in the acceptance of LGBT individuals by ignorant parents and other haters who will no longer be able to quote the work of Dr. Spitzer as they look to denigrate us.
Total acceptance of the LGBT community as equal members of society due respect and full civil and human rights will only come in future generations. It will come with generations who have grown up, gone to school with and worked with openly gay and lesbian friends or with friends who have two moms or two dads.
What we know is that the hearts and minds of a community are often slower to change than our laws. When the people of North Carolina last approved a constitutional amendment it was to prevent interracial marriage. We also know that in the past year a poll conducted in Mississippi found that a majority still don't approve of interracial marriage. But 50 years ago the Supreme Court said it is legal and prohibition of interracial marriage is unconstitutional. So as we work to change people's hearts and minds we must also work to change laws and fight these battles in the courts. We must continue to pressure our politicians to lead as President Obama has now done. Eventually it is hoped that the overwhelming majority of hearts and minds will follow.
This column first appeared in the www.washingtonblade.com.