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Rep. Allen West: Gay People Can “Change Their Behavior”

July 25, 2011 6:09 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who is quickly running out of feet to stick in his mouth, stepped in it again on Saturday.

Explaining his opposition to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Rep. West offered a dire prediction: “When you take the military and you tell it they must conform to the individual’s behavior, then it’s just a matter of time before you break down the military.”

Moments later, when pressed by an observer who demanded to know how Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal was different from the racial integration of the military in the 1950s, West objected to the comparison with his usual vehemence: “Let me explain something to you. I can’t change my color. People can change their behavior, but I can’t change my color.”

West’s explanation is wrong and ridiculous. Attempts to pathologize homosexuality as some kind of malleable mental state have failed over and over. Every reputable medical association that has examined the matter has concluded that being gay, much like being straight, is not a choice that anyone consciously makes. From the American Psychiatric Association:

APA affirms its 1973 position that homosexuality per se is not a diagnosable mental disorder.  Recent publicized efforts to repathologize homosexuality by claiming that it can be cured are often guided not by rigorous scientific or psychiatric research, but sometimes by religious and political forces opposed to full civil rights for gay men and lesbians. [APA, accessed 7/25/11]

As the APA implies, the notion that being gay is a choice is not just an impediment to equality; it is also the keystone of so-called “reparative therapy” techniques that attempt to convert gays and lesbians into heterosexuals.

Reparative therapy has enjoyed a high-profile few weeks, thanks to the revelation that GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and her husband Marcus operate a Christian counseling center in Minnesota that offers patients an opportunity to “pray the gay away.” The Bachmann’s have been widely ridiculed for supporting this so-called “ex-gay” therapy.

Unfortunately, the destructive psychological impact of reparative therapy techniques is no laughing matter. From the American Psychiatric Association:

The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. [APA, accessed 7/25/11]

West’s justification for anti-gay discrimination is both scientifically discredited and morally reprehensible. Sadly, however, it is far from an outlandish view among anti-LGBT activists who will grasp at any straw, however ephemeral, in an effort to slow the march of equality. West’s explanation – race is immutable, sexuality is a choice – is a well-worn trope of anti-equality forces, who have used the canard time and again to justify discrimination. Anti-gay activists understand that any attempt to link anti-gay discrimination and racism can create a public relations disaster, which is why they’re willing to rely on even widely discredited “ex-gay” theories to justify their positions.

Intern Jake Miller contributed to this post.


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