The Family Research Council Stoops Low, Uses Robin Williams’ Death to Defend Ex-Gay Therapy

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Aug. 19 2014 4:00 PM

The FRC Abuses Robin Williams’ Death to Support Ex-Gay Therapy

Robin Williams
Come on FRC, let the man rest in peace.

Photo by Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic

When a figure as beloved and respected as Robin Williams passes away, it’s only natural that writers scramble and stretch to find distinctive means of marking the event. Praising certain performances, recounting personal encounters, or even using the opportunity to raise awareness about issues (like depression) that challenged the deceased are all good tacks. What’s clearly inappropriate, though, is using a man’s death as a launchpad for flights of bizarre associative logic concerning your own pet cause—which is exactly what Family Research Council Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg did yesterday when he used Williams’ attendance of substance-abuse-related rehab to defend, somehow, ex-gay therapy.

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

Advertisement

Sprigg’s argument, as far as I can parse it, is basically this: Rehab and therapy are options for individuals who suffer from alcoholism and other forms of dangerous addiction, and society generally smiles on the use of these services to help addicts get sober. Therefore, we should similarly support “sexual reorientation therapy,” since individuals exist who are uncomfortable with their same-sex attraction and who might wish to “change” it. Here’s a snapshot:

Whatever the motivation, there are those who have simply made a choice to walk away from the homosexual lifestyle, without clinical help—much like how Robin Williams simply stopped using drugs and alcohol in the 1980’s. Others have sought professional help, perhaps at the urging of family members, in the form of “sexual reorientation therapy”—much like when Williams entered a formal alcohol rehab program in 2006.

The problem with “much like” here is that Williams’ struggle with substances and his underlying depression are not at all like experiencing discomfort with one’s homosexuality.

Sprigg lists some of the reasons a person might want to “change” her sexual orientation, and they are telling in their dependence on a prejudiced conservative worldview for force: Religious intolerance; “traditional” family pressures; “well-documented health problems associated with homosexual conduct” like HIV/AIDS; and disillusionment with gay romantic experiences are all mentioned. The first two of these are the result of external bigotry, the cynical AIDS nod arises from a refusal to accept that safer sex practices are as important for gays as they are for straights, and the final reason is a personal issue that has nothing to do with homosexuality writ large. That some individuals blame being gay in general for these issues is a triumph of misinformation and ideological browbeating, not proof that homosexuality should be treated as having the same inherent potential for harmful outcomes as alcohol or cocaine.

The reason addicts seek or are referred to rehab for substance abuse is because addiction is clearly inhibiting their ability to live their lives. Meanwhile, the only thing inhibiting gay people from living openly and happily is people like Sprigg, people who suggest that homosexuality is anything other than a natural, perfectly healthy variation of human sexual expression. When critics of ex-gay therapy—including the large majority of the medical establishment—advocate for its elimination, it is not because we, as Sprigg puts it, are “holding such therapies to a standard of ‘effectiveness’ and ‘safety’ that is impossible for any mental health treatment to meet.” Rather, it is because we recognize that being gay is not a mental health issue in the first place.

A person stubborn enough to treat it as such—41 years after the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as in any way disordered—may need some therapy of his own, especially when we find him digging his heels into the fresh soil of a good man’s grave.  

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.