AJN Letters: Rabbi Shimon Cowen taken to task – June 1 2012

1 June 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to letters@jewishnews.net.au will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.


Rabbi wrong on reparative therapy for homosexuality

IN response to Rabbi Shimon Cowen (AJN 25/05), I feel I must take a stand regarding the false portrayal of homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association voted to repudiate reparative therapy after a comprehensive two-year study concluded there was scant evidence that sexual orientation could be changed.

Their research showed that reparative therapy could lead to depression, self-harm and even suicide.

In mid-May this year, the Office for the Americas of the World Health Organisation issued a statement that “‘therapies’ to change sexual orientation lack medical justification and threaten health,” and that “there is a professional consensus that homosexuality is a natural variation of human sexuality.”

There are no rigorous scientific studies which show that “Practices known as ‘reparative therapy’ or ‘conversion therapy’ … demonstrate any efficacy of efforts to change sexual orientation”.

As our spiritual leaders, could our rabbis be supporting us to be loving parents invested in nurturing our children’s potential instead of pathologising and demonising homosexuality (and our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and intersex Jews)?

Should rabbis encourage parents to denounce their own children as “abominations”? Could we instead focus on investment in the kind of values and ethics that lead to minimising sexual abuse and domestic violence in our community?

Rabbi Cowen, we want our spiritual leaders to echo the statement by Dr Roses from the Office for the Americas of the World Health Organisation: “These supposed conversion therapies constitute a violation of the ethical principles of health care and violate human rights that are protected by international and regional agreements.”

SARAH CALLEJA
Counselling psychologist
South Yarra, Vic


Study into reparative therapy repudiated

RABBI Cowen’s letter (AJN 25/05) distorts the events and findings surrounding Dr Robert Spitzer’s research into reparative therapies. To be precise and set the record straight:

Dr Spitzer’s 2003 paper was challenged by his colleagues because it was not refereed and because it reached questionable conclusions; it was not a situation, as Cowen implied, in which he was “assailed by the APA [American Psychiatric Association] and various lobbies”.

The primary objection to Dr Spitzer’s work was not, as Cowen stated, that his sample was drawn from highly religiously motivated individuals. But as Spitzer said, “In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct.

“The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.”

This year, Dr Spitzer said that his 2003 study was simply to answer the question “How do individuals undergoing reparative therapy describe changes in sexual orientation?”

Rabbi Cowen wrongly implies in his letter that the study was to investigate the success rate of such therapies.

Finally, Dr Spitzer bared his soul by concluding, “I also apologise to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some ‘highly motivated’ individuals.”

There is clearly no evidence whatsoever that reparative therapy works. In fact, there is ample evidence that for many individuals it causes extreme anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Promoting the possibility of a “cure” for homosexuality ignores current medical knowledge and may indeed result in harm to individuals who are pressured into attempting such fake therapies.

How many of our fellow Jews, especially how many of our children, must suffer from depression and related issues before those who promote quack therapies recognise the harm they are doing?

JONATHAN BARNETT
President, Keshet Australia


‘I’m gay and I don’t need fixing’

RABBI Shimon Cowen’s letter last week reflects an attitude towards gay people that there is something wrong with being gay and that we need to be fixed. I’m here to tell Cowen and others from similar backgrounds that I don’t need fixing.

I’ve stood by my partner as he’s taken on the Orthodox attitude towards himself and his sexuality. While there has been significant changes in some attitudes within the broader Jewish community, there are still large segments that lag behind modern understanding of sexuality, and then there are those who simply don’t want to do anything to upset the Orthodox.

The notion that sexuality can be changed has been shown to be incorrect, the study that Rabbi Cowen relies on is often misquoted and misunderstood. Recently, the author withdrew the study because of the way religious people continue to misuse it.

Those in authority fail in their duty of care if they refuse to understand the nature of the diverse range of sexuality, and doubly so if they make any attempts to subvert the innate nature of the very personal notion of sexuality.

The anxiety caused in young people whose sexuality is not accepted by their faith groups is well documented, and gleefully ignored by those who believe it an abomination.

Rabbi Cowen and others of his ilk need to accept people for who they are; they need to encourage them to grow as individuals and they need to embrace the diverse nature of their community. It is the only way to true social cohesion and understanding for all.

GREGORY STORER
Carnegie, Vic


Suffering caused by reparative therapy

RABBI Shimon Cowen, is continuing to misuse Dr Robert Spitzer’s work as it has always been misused by those whose minds are closed to the truth.

Dr Spitzer’s study is meaningless: it only measured people who said they had changed.

It contained no objective evidence, no proof at all of actual change.

Furthermore, it was based on memories from years earlier; it included ex-gay advocates with a political axe to grind; and tested no actual treatments.

It was based entirely on phone interviews.

Dr Spitzer never implied in the study that being gay was a choice, and he never said it was possible for anyone who wanted to change – no matter how devout – to do so by means of therapy.

By way of contrast, the World Health Organisation calls reparative therapy “a serious threat to the health and well-being – even the lives – of affected people”.

Homosexuality is a natural expression of human sexuality: it cannot be cured, only suppressed.

I have personally spoken with many men who have suffered this attempted cure. Even those who remain in “successful” heterosexual marriages admit their homosexual desires continue unabated.

Just as men in prison may become “situationally homosexual” to relieve their frustrations, these men have become “situationally heterosexual” within their marriages. Their underlying natural orientation and desires are unchanged – which leads many of them to despair and suicide.

It is reprehensible in the extreme for someone claiming to be a man of God to peddle false hope in this manner.

DOUG POLLARD
Eltham, Vic

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