Friday, May 27, 2011

Can Homosexuality Be Changed: And Why It Matters

I submitted this paper to the Stand for the Family Symposium on 19 May, and anticipate presenting it at the same in October 2011. I've posted on this subject before, but I managed to summarize my arguments down to 30 pages.  That was no small task.

Can Homosexuality Be Changed: And Why It Matters

A.    Introduction
B.     What the empirical data and logical arguments have to offer our inquiry
1.      Logic-based arguments
2.      Empirical data
                                                              i.      Those that claim relatively high reversal rates
                                                            ii.      Those that claim very low reversal rates
                                                          iii.      My take on how much is known
C.     Utilitarian considerations
D.    Relevant LDS doctrines
1.      Agency argument
2.      Atonement argument
E.     Conclusion



Misunderstandings about homosexuality frequently strain family relationships.  Accurate understanding about the changeableness of homosexual orientation can lay a foundation for understanding, reconciliation, and peace in these conflicted families.  Through religious and empirical inquiry, I answer the question: can homosexuality be changed?


Because a “right” marriage culture is vital to strengthening the family, the answer to the question of “How changeable is homosexual orientation?” proves extremely important.  Homosexual orientation may be changeable (1) sometimes, (2) always, or (3) never.  Some would say it doesn’t matter which of these three is closest to the truth when it comes to strengthening the family.  However, if #3 is true, it may be best fulfilled to affirm non-traditional marriage alternatives for homosexuals.  If, on the other hand, #2 is true, there may be reasons to prefer a norm affirming opposite-sex marriage over same-sex marriage.  Also, because responses to homosexual orientation frequently result in family conflict (including rejection of gay and lesbian children), more accurate understanding of its changeableness holds promise for strengthening families by providing a foundation for bringing peace to these conflicted homes. 
Thus, we turn to the vital question of the mutability (or changeableness) of HO (homosexual orientation).  Our inquiry is limited to the mutability of HO, not the mutability of homosexual behavior or {HO + homosexual behavior}. 
Our inquiry begins with an initial deduction: HO is not completely immutable, since at least some people report full reversal from HO to heterosexual orientation[1].  Robert James, for instance, claims:
“Many people have some degree of attraction to the same sex and a much larger degree of attraction to the opposite sex.  These experiences moved me along that continuum.  My attraction for men greatly decreased, and for the first time in my life, I found my interests in women increasing.[2] 
Many researchers in this field of mutability research would criticize this conclusion, claiming that the best results from reversal attempts are merely to 1) convince bisexuals to restrict their sexual activities to members of the opposite sex and 2) convince homosexuals to remain celibate.  These critics would also point to the incredible pressures that HO people experience, which systematically incentivize them to lie or engage in self-deception as to their orientation reversal.  Additionally, much as there is a distinct difference between the psychology of gender and the biology of physical sex, sexual identity is not equivalent to sexual orientation.  We shall accept self-reported HO reversal.  Even if the self-reporting contention is discarded, that the orientation of fruit flies, with whom we share 60% of our genome, can be reversed and then reversed again[3] suggests that a comparable biological intervention may hypothetically make human orientation reversible- which would also frustrate a conclusion of absolute immutability.  Last, it seems clear that an omnipotent God can reverse HO- which is the third argument against the absolute immutability of HO.  Thus, we have established a lower bound, i.e. at the least HO is not absolutely immutable. 
Now for an upper bound.  Elder Holland says “others, however, may never be free of same-gender attraction in this life.[4]  The God Loveth His Children pamphlet also says, “others may not be free of this challenge in this life.[5]  Elder Oaks, speaking of the “core characteristic” of HO, said that at least some “have this kind of challenge that they cannot control.[6]  Thus, a conclusion of absolute mutability also appears unmerited.
So where does that leave us, now that we’re between a floor (lower bound) and a ceiling (upper bound)?  I assert that the relevant question now is no longer, “is HO mutable or immutable.”  Instead, I propose we next explore “how mutable is HO, and what factors are most likely to affect HO reversal?”  I will attempt to answer that question as of today in 2011 (since there’s no way to predict with certainty whether a successful change therapy of some kind may enter the scene in the future, even if we conclude that HO is highly change-resistant).  The structure from here on will roughly be 1) a commentary on what the empirical data and logical arguments have to offer our inquiry, followed by 2) a discussion of relevant LDS doctrines. 

What the empirical data and logical arguments have to offer our inquiry

I will discuss logic-based arguments, then some empirical data.  I note at the outset that the current conventional wisdom outside conservative religious traditions is that:
“The vast majority of human sexuality researchers, therapists, religious liberals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals generally agree that a person's sexual orientation is determined before reaching school age. Once established, sexual feelings are always or almost always unchangeable.[7]

Logic-based arguments

A useful, common-sense consideration in answering the question of mutability is to ask oneself (whether straight or HO) how easy it would be to fully and permanently reverse your own orientation (again, not your conduct- but your romantic, sexual, and emotional feelings towards members of a certain sex): 
“Is it possible, if hypothetically required or commanded, that you repent of your heterosexuality? If you were to awake tomorrow to a world where heterosexuality was outlawed and you were required to repent of it, just how would you go about it? What would you do about the tremendous backlog of heterosexual desires, experiences, loving relationships, even your earliest childhood memories, attachments, and self-concept? What would you do if you were further required to develop homosexual desires? How easy would this be for you and how would you go about it? Could you even attempt it? Minor considerations and differences aside, this is precisely how the homosexual experiences the demand to change. Do you think that if you really buckled down and wanted to change, three or four right good counseling sessions would do it for you? There are young men whose counselors believed they had changed after three or four sessions. You may realize the absurdity of this, but do you think that thirty shock treatments, while you looked at naked men, would extinguish your heterosexuality?[8]
One might also ask oneself, "Can I remember deciding that I was going to be someone who would fall in love with a person of the opposite sex?,” or "Can I envision any argument or program of persuasion that would cause me to change the object of my romantic feelings?”  Could you permanently change your orientation in the next five seconds?  How about by tomorrow afternoon?  Next month?  Next year?  Next decade?  When you’re 90?  How many electric shocks would it take for you – 500? 5,000? 50,000? By how much would your orientation be changed?  How permanent would that change be?  Your answers serve as one data point indicating how susceptible sexual orientation is to change.
Our next logical argument looks to what causes homosexuality.  Factors such as pre-natal hormones and genes account for over three-quarters of the pie in accounting for the variability in sexual orientation[9].  Factors such as choice, how one is raised, exposure to other homosexuals, and molestation have not been shown to account for much, if any, of the variability in sexual orientation.  Would it then be reasonable to make some inferences based on these findings? Let’s give it a try.
The molestation/choice/socialization theory would likely say: choice and socialization in, choice and socialization out.  If a person was socialized or chose to be HO, she can likely socialize or choose her way out as well- making HO fairly plastic.  The genes/pre-natal hormones camp would say that because the period of human development in which sex determination (of which sexual orientation is a subset) takes place has almost fully closed by a few months post-partum, it will be very difficult to bring the water back under the bridge.
“I am aware that these days some young people find gay being sort of “hip” and try on the identity.  But sleeping in the garage does not make you a car.  Nor does sleeping with a heterosexual spouse make a gay person straight.  The large number of gay people I know who have slept for years with their straight spouses without it making the slightest impact on their sexual orientation leads me to believe it would be an impossible assignment to take a truly heterosexual person and turn him or her into a gay person.[10]  
If orientation is to be reversed, the operation will likely be quite invasive and look something like surgery/hormone therapy/gene therapy. 
Let’s examine this conclusion with an analogy to severe autism.  Some HO people will likely disapprove of this analogy, being fatigued with how frequently HO is compared to and characterized as equivalent to negative conditions such as addictions, diseases, adultery, and mental disorders.  I hope the disapprovers will forgive me.  I choose this example for three reasons that I think make it fit for comparison: 1) the heritability of severe autism is about the same as biological factors’ influence on homosexuality[11]; 2) unlike handedness or heterosexual orientation, severe autism can restrict an individual’s marriage prospects (we generally frown on marrying those with the mental capacity and function of third graders), and 3) much like HO, there is a significant autism camp which insists that autism should be considered as a difference rather than a disorder to be cured.  I acknowledge the significant difference that, for at least the overwhelming majority, HO people are quite different from autistic persons in that they are completely capable of social interaction, communication, learning, and making informed decisions.  Now to the application.
How susceptible to reversal is severe autism?  Should we encourage autistic people to seek to change their autism?  The common sense answer to these questions is that it would be senseless to encourage a severely autistic person to change because either 1) there’s nothing at all wrong with being autistic and/or 2) autism is a persistent condition highly resistant to reversal attempts (the same conclusion might adhere to homosexual orientation).  I note here that it is contrary to common sense to think that therapy, prayer, or righteous living will or even should reverse conditions such handedness or autism.  Let’s return now to the reversibility of autism.
Though difficult to tell how often recovery happens, “Children recover occasionally, so that they lose their diagnosis of ASD.[12]  Significantly however, “No cure is known.[13]  The best reported recoveries so far are limited to “developmental functioning and decreasing maladaptive behaviors and symptom severity at the level of group analysis.[14]  The present mutability of autism, then, seems about the same as for homosexual orientation: namely, a high tide of modest “symptom control.” 

Empirical data

There’s a plethora of literature on the subject of orientation reversal.  Much of the available research on orientation is highly charged, with claims of high rates of orientation reversal resulting from certain therapies juxtaposed against claims that there has never been a single reliable report of permanent orientation reversal.  Wading through these arguments, data, and sharply competing claims has proven difficult for me, and vitiates confidence in my analysis.  Though our empirical inquiry will be limited, nonetheless we shall try. 

Those that claim relatively high reversal rates

First, let’s take a look at some evidence strongly supporting the conclusion that HO is relatively malleable.  P. Scott Richards was the Coordinator of the counseling Psychology program at BYU and editor of the AMCAP (Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists) journal.  He suggested in Understanding Homosexuality: Perspectives of LDS Psychologists and Psychotherapists by AMCAP that “therapy outcome research… provide[s] considerable support for the notion that many people can control, reduce, and even overcome their homosexual thoughts, attractions, and behaviors.[15] 
I will now quote from “Ex-Gays?: An Extended Longitudinal Study of Attempted Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation.[16]  I chose this study because the sample population is religious and thus germane to our partly religious inquiry.  I also selected this study because it is recent and purports to be “the most rigorous longitudinal methodology ever applied to this question of sexual orientation change and possible resulting harm.”  The take-home of this quote is found in the last paragraph.
“The present study was designed to address those weaknesses of previous studies by studying attempted change longitudinally and prospectively via standardized self-report measures….”
“We studied a group of men and women seeking sexual orientation change through a religious ministry organization called Exodus. Exodus International (2007) is a worldwide, interdenominational, ‘Christian organization dedicated to equipping and uniting agencies and individuals to effectively communicate the message of freedom from homosexuality.’ It is the largest umbrella organization for Christian ministries to people experiencing unwanted sexual attraction or sexual identity concerns. Exodus seeks to articulate a Christian perspective that neither rejects homosexual persons nor embraces “gay” identity as an acceptable norm. Exodus affiliated ministries seek to help individuals troubled by their sexual orientation to achieve ‘freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ’ (Exodus, 2007)… The motives behind the various ministries are grounded in the traditional Christian moral teaching disapproving of homosexual conduct.”
“We conducted a prospective, longitudinal study of individuals seeking sexual orientation change using respected self-report measures of sexual orientation and of psychological distress. This is the most rigorous longitudinal methodology ever applied to this question of sexual orientation change and possible resulting harm.”
 “total elapsed time between T1 and T6 [time one and time six] varied from 6 to 7 years.”
“First, we used the seven point self-report Kinsey scale (1948), originally scaled from 0, exclusively heterosexual, through 3, equally heterosexual and homosexual, to 6, exclusively homosexual (we shifted the scaling to a seven point scale from 1, exclusively heterosexual, to 7, exclusively homosexual)…. Second, we used the Shively and DeCecco (1977) scale, which is based on conceiving heterosexual and homosexual attraction to be separate and orthogonal (rather than on a single continuum as for the Kinsey scale)…. The result is separate ratings (from 1, none, to 5, exclusively) for homosexual and heterosexual orientation.”
“We began with 98 subjects at T1… 63 subjects were interviewed or categorized at T6, for a T1 to T6 6 to 7 year retention of 64%.”
“For the whole population, the T1 to T6 change away from homosexual attraction attained significance and moderate effect size, while the change toward heterosexual attraction did not attain significance. Neither of the T1 to T6 changes attained significance for the Phase 1 subpopulation. For the Truly Gay subpopulation, the T1 to T6 change away from homosexual attraction attained significance and a large to moderate effect size, while the change toward heterosexual attraction attained significance and a moderate effect size… The general picture that emerges from these data is that on a number of standardized measures of sexual orientation, this population experienced statistically significant change away from homosexual orientation.”
“If the attempt at the change process was going to be harmful, this harm should show up among those continuing to pursue change over a period of six years or more years. Contrary to these expectations, we found no evidence of movement toward increased distress on average as a result of Exodus involvement.”
14 of 61 (23%) T6 participants reported “change to be successful by experiencing substantial reductions in homosexual attraction and substantial conversion to heterosexual attraction and functioning.”  The remaining 77% reported either 1) homosexual attraction to be present only incidentally or in a way that does not seem to bring about distress, allowing them to live contentedly without overt sexual activity; 2) may have experienced modest decreases in homosexual attraction, but were not satisfied with their degree of change and remained committed to the change process; 3) no significant sexual orientation change; 4) had experienced no significant sexual orientation change, and had given up on the change process but without yet embracing gay identity; or 5) had given up on the change process and embraced gay identity.
Our findings mitigate against any absolute claim that attempted change is very likely to be harmful in and of itself. The logic of scientific inquiry drives us, based on our results, to reject both hypotheses and to conclude that sexual orientation may be changeable for some, and that the attempt to change sexual orientation is not harmful on average.”
“The pattern of outcomes documented here is suggestive of the possibility of change but not adequate to make firm predictions of likelihood of change. While this study reports on arguably the best, most representative sample of subjects ever studied seeking change via religious means, we cannot affirm that it is scientifically representative. We do not know what such a representative sample would look like, as this is a rarely studied or even acknowledged population.”
“In addition to clarifying what we found, it is equally important to clarify what we did not find. First, we did not find that everyone can change. Saying that change is not impossible in general is not the same thing as saying that everyone can change, that anyone can change, or that change is possible for any given individual. Second, while we found that part of our research population experienced success to the degree that it might be called (as we have here) “conversion,” our evidence does not indicate that these changes are categorical, resulting in uncomplicated, dichotomous and unequivocal reversal of sexual orientation from utterly homosexual to utterly heterosexual. Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at T6 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and they did not report their heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.”
In conclusion, the findings of this study would appear to contradict the commonly expressed view of the mental health establishment that sexual orientation is not changeable and that the attempt to change is highly likely to produce harm for those who make such an attempt.” (emphases added)
Now that we have examined a significant study suggesting relatively high orientation reversal, let’s hear from the other side.

Those that claim very low reversal rates

I will quote from four sources which extirpate confidence in some of the claims made about orientation reversal.
Source 1: Bill Bradshaw
“There are counseling programs offering sexual reorientation therapy (“conversion” or “reparative” therapy) that hold out the promise of changing homosexual orientation. There are at least two important issues that should be taken into consideration when evaluating these efforts. The first is that while claiming success at effecting change, these programs often fail to quantitatively report their results or to substantiate that the alleged change is long-term. The second consideration is that a certain number of gay people are bisexual, capable, in varying degrees, of romantic feelings for persons of either gender. There is a very strong possibility that those who report success in changing their homosexuality are bisexuals who have achieved an accommodation to focus on one only (the heterosexual interest) of the two attractions they are capable of.”
“Shidlo and Schroeder reported on the results of 202 individuals with whom they conducted anonymous 90-minute telephone interviews in the period between 1995 and 2000. These people contacted the researchers in response to mailings to gay and ex-gay organizations and to a national association of conversion therapists. All met the criteria of : 1) having self-rated themselves 5-7 (more homosexual than heterosexual to exclusively homosexual) on a modified 7-point Kinsey scale, and 2) having engaged in at least 6 sessions of any form of conversion intervention. The participants reported receiving psychotherapy from both licensed mental health professionals (psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marriage and family counselors) and non-licensed practitioners (peer and religious counselors). The mean age of the participants was 40 years. Ninety percent were men, and 86% were Caucasian. Sixty-six percent considered themselves religious; 11 (5.4%) were LDS. Twenty-six (13%) of the participants perceived their therapeutic experience as successful. These could be further subdivided into three groups: successful and struggling (repeated slips into homosexual behavior) - 12 persons (6%); successful, not struggling (able to manage same-sex desire) 22- 6 persons (3%), 3 of whom were celibate; successful heterosexual shift - 8 persons (4%). Seven of the 8 provided ex-gay counseling, 4 of whom had paid positions. Of the 176 (87%) who were disillusioned by their conversion therapy experience, and viewed it as a failure, 21 (10.4%) identified themselves as resilient, having recovered a gay identity without negative psychological after-effects. The remaining 155 individuals (77%) identified as having recovered a gay identity, but had experienced significant long-term damage from the therapy. The authors recommend among other things that potential clients for conversion therapy be informed of the possibility of harmful side-effects and “not be told that high motivation and hard work in the treatment assures a change in sexual orientation.”
“The respondents in the Spitzer study… Sixty-eight percent of the woman and 78% of the men engaged in masturbation, and of these 18% of women and 45% of men reported same sex fantasies on 20% or more of those occasions. Overall, only 11% of the males and 37% of the females self-reported a complete or near complete change in all measures of sexual orientation that were employed.”
“[Spitzer] also conceded that finding persons who could report these kinds of results was difficult, and that ‘this suggests that the marked change in sexual orientation reported by almost all of the study subjects may be a rare or uncommon outcome of reparative therapy.’”
“Twenty-six commentaries written by 42 mental health professionals that occupy 44 pages of text and 6 pages of references to published journal articles appear with the Spitzer article. They constitute a very important contribution to the discussion about the validity of reorientation therapy, representing a wide range from sympathy to condemnation. A small number of these commentaries concur with Spitzer’s interpretations or at least find his study to be professionally legitimate. Most, however, are highly critical. There is extensive disapproval of the methodology employed and the conclusions drawn from the data. Many ethical concerns are also raised…
Two of the studies cited above [106,110] (and many others) have also documented deleterious and destructive outcomes from participation in reorientation therapy programs. Among the harms and negative consequences that have been reported are depression, loss of self-esteem and increased self-loathing, increased loneliness (alienation and social isolation), an increased impulse to suicide, and a loss of religious faith.[17]
Source 2: Lee Beckstead
Lee Beckstead is a returned LDS missionary who also has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Utah and is currently working as a psychologist in private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. 
“Fifty individuals with same-sex attraction were included in this study (5 women, 45 men). All underwent counseling to change their sexual orientation. The individuals fell into two groups: those who believed in reparative therapy and those who did not. Those who supported the ideas and purpose of reparative therapy believed that:
·         Heterosexual marriage is the ideal
·         Homosexual desires are emotional attractions for the same-sex which become sexualized during developmental years.
·         Erotic attractions to the same sex can be unlearned.
·         Using the identity label "same-sex attracted (SSA)" is healthier, more fulfilling, and productive than using the identity labels lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB).
In other words, those who believe in this therapy chose to label themselves as having SSA rather than to accept the identity of being homosexual or bisexual. They then attempt to "unlearn" their attractions for the same sex and follow the ideal of heterosexual marriage… Positive outcomes reported by participants in these therapy programs included:
·         They found ways to reconcile their previously distressful identity.
·         They were able to control their homosexual behaviors better.
·         They felt their attractions to the same-sex became less intense.
What was not reported as a result from the therapy programs was a substantial or generalized heterosexual arousal, or being able to eliminate their erotic or romantic attractions to their same sex. Since no increased attractions to the opposite sex ensued, those who reported that their attraction to the same sex diminished due to reparative therapy reported feeling more asexual -(i.e., an absence of attractions for either sex) rather than a move toward heterosexuality.
Distressful identity problems had developed in participants from feelings of not fitting in while growing up in homo-negative or heterosexist environments. Resolving the identity problem made many involved in the therapy feel that the therapy was successful in spite of not having any increase in attractions for the opposite sex. Instead of identifying as gay, they learned to accept the fact that they had attractions to the same sex. They learned that these attractions were not something they chose and having these attractions does not make them a bad person, only what they choose to do with those emotions has a moral implication. The new label, Same Sex Attracted (SSA) provides a way of accepting one’s homosexual attractions without an acceptance of the distressful identity of being gay.
Although elements of reparative therapy can be beneficial, its underpinnings and current practice also have potential for harm. Some elements have the potential for both benefits and harm. For example, change therapies encourage a closer affectionate relationship with a father figure which can be good, but can also place blame on parents for the person's condition and can hurt relationships and the healing process.
Effective and beneficial results from therapy programs that participants experienced include:
·         They are not the only ones with such feelings.
·         They found love and support through the program.
·         They were able to get a broader perspective of their situation and find a variety of options.
·         They can find ways to feel and have more control of their lives.
Ineffective and harmful results from therapy programs that participants experienced include:
·         Misrepresentation of treatment outcomes.
·         Internalization of treatment failure.
·         Presentation of misinformed biases. (For example, the idea that Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual self-identifying persons are all fundamentally unhappy.)

The false hopes can lead to hopelessness and major depression. For some, this sense of hopelessness and inability to reconcile sexual, social, and religious conflicts led to suicide attempts.”

“You can help persons with same-sex attractions by emphasizing that there are a number of others who have these feelings, even among active members of the church. Some with attractions to the same sex have found they can reduce the behaviors motivated by their attractions but in general persons are unable to eliminate the tendency to be attracted to the same sex and are unable to increase opposite-sex attractions. There are more than two choices. They can accept their feelings as being normal and not evil and with support they may be able to make behavioral choices regarding their same-sex attractions (e.g. celibacy, etc.). This is a way of being affirming of the individual while living within church standards. On the other hand, they may find ways to be spiritual and maintain much of their religious belief system and ethical code of conduct even if they decide to become more affirming of a lesbian, gay or bisexual identity.
Marriage may be an option, especially if they experience bisexual attractions. However, open and informed dialogue between the individual and fiancĂ©e needs to occur regarding options, limitations, needs, commitment, honesty, and authenticity. Unless an informed awareness and discussion had occurred, the marriages of individuals in my studies were troubled and spouses also tended to internalize the failure of reparative treatments and blame themselves for their spouses' inability to be heterosexually aroused.”
Source 3: Douglas C. Haldeman, Ph.D.
The Pseudo-science of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy 
“To show why conversion therapy should not influence the development of public policy, this analysis will address several issues:
• Conversion therapy is based on faulty assumptions.
• Homophobia leads some individuals to seek sexual orientation change.
• The mental health professions generally oppose conversion therapy.
• No reliable evidence supports the effectiveness of conversion treatments.
• Conversion therapy can be harmful.
• Conversion therapy adversely affects the public’s views of lesbian, gay and
bisexual people.”
“Psychology and psychiatry have no precedents for treating conditions that are not considered to be illnesses. Since 1973 homosexuality has been considered a normal variation of human sexuality. Proponents of conversion therapy disregard this view because of their mistaken belief that homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness only after lobbying from gay activists. The truth, however, rests in the science, or lack thereof, of the “mental illness” assumption of homosexuality.
Homosexuality itself became a mental health diagnosis only as a reflection of prevailing social prejudice. This assumption was first questioned by Evelyn Hooker, who compared matched groups of homosexually and heterosexually-identified men. She found that scores from psychological tests of the two groups were indistinguishable from one another. Since then, a substantial scientific literature has found no significant differences between homosexual and heterosexual subjects on measures of overall psychological functioning and mental and emotional well-being. The most comprehensive review of such studies was conducted by Gonsiorek…”
“Conversion therapists have different views on what constitutes effective treatment. Religious groups often encourage celibacy for their “ex-gay” followers, so lack of sexual contact is construed as successful treatment. Most studies published in the mental health literature use heterosexual behavior as a treatment goal. Much of the effectiveness of conversion therapies is asserted in clients’ testimonials or in articles in publications that do not meet accepted research standards. A careful analysis of other evidence of conversion therapy effectiveness fails to justify these recent claims. The studies that have appeared in legitimate journals are generally quite old and share common methodological problems. Studies of conversion therapy are not based upon a random sample of homosexuals who are randomly assigned to different treatments and are then compared, but on a group of homosexuals who have sought treatment because they are unhappy with their sexual orientation. Furthermore, the studies all rely on clients’ self-reported outcomes or on therapists’ post-treatment evaluations. As a result, all conversion therapy studies are biased in favor of “cures” because clients of conversion therapy are likely to believe that homosexuality is an undesirable trait to admit and may feel pressure to tell their therapist that the treatment has been successful. Similarly, conversion therapists have an interest in finding that their treatments are successful.
The potential for what is known as “social desirability bias” in self-reported outcomes is most obvious in studies of group approaches to conversion therapy. In one group approach, Hadden finds that 37% of 32 research subjects reported that they had shifted to heterosexuality. But these results must be viewed with skepticism, since therapy groups implicitly encourage individuals to report that they meet the group’s standards, even when this is not true.
Misclassification is another widespread flaw in these studies that will inflate reported success rates. Researchers are likely to misclassify bisexual people as homosexual, which makes it more likely that clients will pursue heterosexual behavior even without treatment. A finding that bisexual men can be taught to strengthen their heterosexual behavior is not equivalent to changing sexual orientation. The earliest study attempting to show reversal of homosexual orientation through long-term psychoanalytic intervention reported a 27% success rate in “heterosexual shift.” But only 18% of those research subjects were exclusively homosexual to begin with. Fifty percent of the successfully treated men were more appropriately labeled bisexual.”
“Finally, follow-up of those subjects who meet the subjective criteria for “successful change” in sexual orientation is either poor or nonexistent in conversion therapy studies. Adequate follow-up is likely to uncover cases of reversion to homosexual behavior, which would further reduce the therapy’s success rate. Birk described a combination approach group format for treating homosexuality and claimed that 38% of his subjects achieved “solid heterosexual shifts.” Nonetheless, he acknowledged that these shifts represented “an adaptation to life, not a metamorphosis,” and that homosexual fantasies and activity are ongoing, even for the “happily married” individual. Similarly, a religiously-oriented conversion therapy program described by Pattison and Pattison reveals that more than 90% continued to have homosexual fantasies and behavior after treatment. More comprehensive examinations of conversion therapy studies have been published elsewhere. Those reviews show that no study claiming success for conversion therapy meets the research standards that would support such a claim.”
“Such individuals often experience continued depression over their homosexuality, compounded with a sense of shame over having failed at conversion therapy. Further, they may have a psychologically debilitating sense of having lost those important life elements—family of origin, religious affiliation, social support— for which there was still some hope as long as the individual was trying to change.”
“From a practical perspective, even the staunchest advocates of conversion therapy will admit that sexual orientation is extremely difficult to change. For every satisfied client who comes forward claiming that conversion therapy changed her or his sexual orientation, there are many more who disavow its efficacy. Sexual orientation is a deeply rooted, psychologically complex aspect of the human experience. Though one’s feelings about his or her sexual orientation may be changeable and susceptible to social influence, no evidence suggests that sexual orientation itself is so malleable.”
“Conversion therapy is not just an individual mental health issue but has implications for society. This discredited and ineffective psychological treatment harms people and reinforces the notion that homosexuality is bad. In this regard, it is not a compassionate effort to help homosexuals in pain, but a means of exploiting unhappy people and of reinforcing social hostility to homosexuality.”
Source 4: American Psychological Association
“The most recent position statement by a professional organization on the subject of therapeutic efforts to change sexual orientation was issued by the American Psychological Association (membership 150,000) in August 2009. It came after a conference of the organization heard the report of a task force whose six members had conducted a comprehensive analysis of 83 peer-reviewed studies on the subject published between 1960 and 2007 [118]. The reviewers distinguished among the research work based on the methodological designs employed by the investigators (whether experimental, quasi-experimental, or qualitative - based on retrospective self-reporting), and examined variables such as sample size, attrition among study subjects, measures of orientation (attraction, identity or behavior), the nature of treatments (aversive - as by using electric shock or induced vomiting, psychotherapeutic counseling, etc.), and the validity and generalizability of the conclusions drawn from the resulting data. They determined that the earlier studies, prior to 1981, were the more scientifically rigorous, in part because physiological measures of arousal, such as penile volume, were employed, and comparisons were made with control groups of subjects.
After conducting this review, members of the task force concluded that the assertions that sexual orientation could be changed were not validated by the evidence, whether the measure was decreased attraction for or sexual activity with same-sex persons, increased attraction for or sexual activity with other-sex persons, increased healthy relationship and marriages with other-sex partners, or improved quality of life and mental health. Judith M. Glassgold, chair of the task force, summarized their investigation as follows. “Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation. Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Contrary to the claims of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions. At most certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attraction. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted, or its long-term mental heath effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex.” By a vote of 124-4 the 26 governing Council of Representatives of the APA accepted the recommendations of the task force and adopted a resolution reaffirming its position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, and stating that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.[18]
This concludes our cursory review of both sides of the empirical studies mutability debate.

My take on how much is known, in which direction the evidence leans, and by how much

The reader is of course free to interpret the research presented here and elsewhere as they see fit.  After my research, I conclude that some HO people permanently change their sexual orientation.  I also find, on balance, that the “very low reversal rate” arguments are more persuasive than the “relatively high reversal rate” arguments, due to the relative abundance of valid support for the latter.  The scholarship here, though mixed, leans substantially toward the conclusion that HO is highly resistant to attempts at change using historical and current approaches.  My research has revealed no credible report of large-scale success in permanent sexual orientation reversal from a large sample of non-self-selected HO people- but in LeVar Burton’s famous words, “you don’t have to take my word for it.[19]  Go dig up the research yourself and see what you find. 

Utilitarian considerations 

There are individuals who report that their attempts to change were fully successful.  However, given the cost/benefit calculus, the enduring orientation reversal rate must be fairly high to rationally justify the attempt.
There are, as acknowledged above, many worthwhile benefits from therapy and counseling.  As to the narrow result of homosexual reorientation, however, in light of the high risks and low probability of meaningful success, there is but one most reasonable course both to take and to advise LDS HO people who are under no gospel obligation to reorient or seek reorientation.  That course is: at the very least, wait for new and promising therapies/interventions, and at the most refrain from making risky sacrifices for any extant method. 

Relevant LDS Doctrines

I will first discuss the agency argument.  Second I will examine the Atonement argument.  Even those who are not LDS or not religious will likely find relevant content here.

Agency argument

First I address an assertion which commonly arises when attempting to answer this question:  “Homosexual orientation must be changeable.  To conclude otherwise is a violation of free agency.”  In response to a similar claim I once replied (excerpt edited):
"I thank you and *Josh for your comments.  However, they may partly rely on a fallacy. By addressing it, I hope to resolve one of the most common misunderstandings I observe in discussions among LDS folk about homosexuality.
The fallacy? That a reduction in available alternatives violates the principle of free agency. Permit an explanation.
First task: *Mark, using nothing but your natural capacities, please jump straight up in the air 200 feet. Can you choose to do it? No. In this scenario you may not choose to jump 200 feet straight up in the air using nothing but your natural capacities. Is agency violated here?
Next task: Compose a 200 page supreme court caliber legal opinion from scratch in 13 seconds. What, you can't choose to do it? I thought "there is always choice"!
Last example: take an infertile couple- say, the man's sperm don't develop because of an inherited double recessive meiosis inhibitor.
Okay, infertile man: sire a child by natural means. What, you can't? What happened to God-given free agency?
Now let's consider a different scenario which will let me resolve this apparent tension by creating a construct I will call "freedom".
Say little Johnny has 2 candy bars in front of him. He has 4 alternatives: grab neither bar, both bars, bar A, or bar B. I will term "agency" that power by which Johnny selects from among the alternatives available to him. I will term "freedom" the number of alternatives available to him. To quantify in this situation, Johnny has "full" agency, and a freedom of 4: i.e., 4 alternatives.
Now take away candy bar B. Johnny now has 2 alternatives instead of 4. He may now only choose between grabbing or not grabbing the bar. However, his agency, or power to choose from among the available alternatives, is still "full." His freedom, however, was reduced from 4 to 2. I would further argue that even if no candy bar were in front of Johnny, such that he has 0 alternatives, his agency is still "full-" though that agency would not be discernible until alternatives are available to him. Bottom line: in all four scenarios above, biological/physical limitations of the actor necessarily define his freedom without lessening his agency.  Elder Oaks: “Essential to our doctrinal position on these matters is the difference between our freedom and our agency. Our freedom can be limited by various conditions of mortality, but God’s gift of agency cannot be limited by outside forces, because it is the basis for our accountability to him.”
My application of this conclusion? None of us can exercise our agency to choose an alternative that is not available to us. Thus, the question of what alternatives are available is not made irrelevant by acknowledging free agency. Respecting homosexual orientation mutability, one candidate question would be whether the alternative of reversing one’s sexual orientation is available to individual A. This question cannot be disregarded by an appeal to agency, since the abundance or scarcity of alternatives (freedom) necessarily relies upon the biological/physical capacities and limitations of the actor. Thus, if homosexual orientation is merely chosen, then the alternative of reversing orientation is likely available to individual A. If, on the other hand, reversing one’s exclusive romantic/emotional/sexual orientation toward members of a sex is biologically impossible for A, then that alternative is not available to A. The resolution of the scope of A's freedom requires a determination at least of whether sexual orientation reversal is physically possible or impossible- hence the relevance of evaluating the "evidence" you decry as irrelevant.
We will return to evaluating the empirical evidence presently.  Before we proceed, I address the second most common contention I hear when addressing the mutability question with Latter-day Saints: the Atonement argument. 

Atonement argument

The argument goes something like this: “Of course homosexual orientation is changeable.  The Atonement can reverse even death- so why not sexual orientation?” Responding to this very interrogatory, I once wrote:
“Presuming I've established the relevance of the question of the cause(s) of homosexual orientation, I now respond to another of *Mark's claims- the oft-used "Atonement argument". Seth notes that the atonement can reverse death, and thus it can reverse sexual orientation, since orientation reversal is certainly less impressive than death reversal. Granted- the Atonement can do so. So what? What matters to a decision maker is what God WIll do, not merely what he CAn do. If you're the only person around for miles except for a child that is drowning in a steep canal, and you CAn throw the kid a rope to save her but DO not, the kid will still drown. The question for a homosexually oriented person, then, turns to the likelihood of God's intervention to reverse his/her orientation. I draw on Mark's comparison to death. I hope it's not an exaggeration to claim that death reversal rates have historically been less than .01%. In most cases we know of, the death reversal was also not readily predictable by the subject. Thus if God's sexual orientation reversal intervention rate is at this same level, a reasonable homosexually oriented person is justified in placing little confidence, not in God's CApacity to reverse his/her orientation, but in God's LIkelihood of doing so for him or her. God's likelihood of reversing homosexually oriented person A's orientation is the relevant question for decision-making A. "A" may also reasonably consider:
"The pernicious consequence of promoting the idea that homosexuality is a chosen and changeable condition is that tens of thousands of Latter-day Saint homosexuals, believing that the atonement will change their homosexual inclinations, become disillusioned with God and Christ (and the Church) when they make every sacrifice of which they are capable in the belief that they will be free of homosexual feelings—only to discover that their efforts are ineffective. More often than not, they may blame themselves for having insufficient faith and either lose all faith, suspend their belief, or take their lives. Ecclesiastical leaders who have experience counseling with Latter-day Saint homosexuals know the heartbreak associated with such cases."
I assert that the Atonement's purpose is generally not to reverse physical conditions such as old age, diabetes, homosexual orientation, and disability. That is a mistake many people in Christ's day made, who viewed him merely as someone who could heal their physical bodies (e.g. giving sight to the blind man) and assuage their physical appetites (e.g. loaves and fishes). They missed the point these miracles were supposed to lead them to: that Christ/the Atonement's primary purpose is to heal us spiritually. Though a mortally disabled or homosexually oriented or old person can be exalted, an individual tainted or damaged by sin cannot achieve exaltation without reversing her sinful condition. Guess how often God will (not merely can) reverse spiritual death of sinners who repent? 100% of the time. 100%! This is a much better ratio than .0001.  Even though God can merely speak the word and your child’s Down’s Syndrome will disappear, that you go ahead and make preparations to raise him as he is does not evidence your lack of faith.  The primary purpose of the Atonement is to engender salvation and exaltation via the spiritual healing/cleansing of and grace extended to those damaged, especially by sin. Hence, my claim that the Atonement argument is weak/irrelevant- which in turn refreshes the legitimacy of investigating questions of mutability and causation."
Others have written along similar lines:
“The magnificent doctrine of the Atonement helps us to find ways to cope, to deal with our challenges, but is not an assurance that a condition will change. This goes far beyond being a theoretical doctrinal issue. We need to be aware of how frequently, when finally realizing that heroic efforts will not change their homosexuality, many of our brothers and sisters, finding themselves excluded and marginalized and without acceptable options, despair of life and faith and spirituality and hope – believing tragically that the Atonement may not apply to them. I don’t want that to happen… Given the experience of a great number of gay and lesbian members of the Church that sexual orientation is not alterable even after the most devoted appeals to God and adherence to a strict program of righteous living, it may be reasonable to conclude that homosexuality should not be viewed as a sickness, disease, or disorder that might otherwise be amenable to divine healing.[20]
Elder Oaks taught:
“Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a "healing" cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are "healed" by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us… The healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ—whether it removes our burdens or strengthens us to endure and live with them like the Apostle Paul—is available for every affliction in mortality… Brothers and sisters, if your faith and prayers and the power of the priesthood do not heal you from an affliction, the power of the Atonement will surely give you the strength to bear the burden.[21]
LDS Bishop Bob Rees:
“The atonement of Christ was undertaken to pay the price for our sins and to lift our burdens, not to change our physiology. There are any number of human conditions that are not affected by the atonement. While it may be true that the atonement may lighten emotional burdens and ameliorate “struggles,” including struggles with homosexual attraction, it does not, as Byrd, Cox and Robinson seem to suggest and as Dean Byrd has argued in other publications, “diminish homosexual attraction” or change one’s sexual orientation. To argue such is also to argue that the atonement can change color blindness, left-handedness, schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, or other conditions that fall outside what might be considered the norm. When they argue that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of change, and we (including those who struggle with homosexual attraction) cannot sink lower than the arms of the atonement can reach,” the authors are really arguing for something that goes significantly beyond what the scriptures describe as the scope and power, let alone the purpose, of the atonement.[22]
Ty Mansfield, author of In Quiet Desperation, wrote:
“’Changing bodies or protecting temples are miracles, but an even greater miracle is a mighty change of heart by a son or daughter of God (see Mosiah 5:2). A change of heart, including new attitudes, priorities, and desires, is greater and more important than any miracle involving the body. I repeat, the body will be resurrected in any event, but a change affecting what the scripture calls the “heart” of a spirit son or daughter of God is a change whose effect is eternal. If of the right kind, this change opens the door to the process of repentance that cleanses us to dwell in the presence of God. It introduces the perspective and priorities that lead us to make the choices that qualify us for eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).[23]  When I heard these words I realized I had been praying for the wrong miracle.  The miracles that Jesus performed were merely types of the greater miracles he desired to perform in the hearts of the children of God- and more importantly, in my heart- giving the spiritually blind eyes to see, the spiritually deaf ears to hear, the spiritually crippled legs to walk upon in faith, and the spiritually dead rebirth and spiritual life in Christ.  Although at the time I had never acted on my feelings of same-gender attraction and tried diligently to follow the teachings of the Church, I was still blind to some aspects of the gospel…. If we think we have to be fully rid of every attraction or inclination to do wrong in order to move on to the next life, we are setting a standard that we simply cannot reach.[24]
One homosexually oriented member, Jonathan Adamson, responded to these atonement perspectives thus:
'The best part is that it felt like truth! It resounded with my own experiences and struggles and my own journey with faith and testimony. I had been trying to use the Atonement in a way that it wasn't meant for. I was begging to be cured. I was doing everything I could to show God that I was worthy of such a miracle. When I found that there was no miracle in store for me, despite doing all that I knew how to do to please God, I felt abandoned, unworthy, and unimportant. But now that I have accepted who I am and what that will mean for me, the atonement HAS healed me and continues to shape my life. I went from the spiritually, emotionally dead person trying to change something core to himself, spending all my energy and time trying to "fix" myself, to a person who has come to love who he is and has been spiritually awakened with a new and greater understanding of God and excitement for life! And just like Lehi's initial reaction after having eaten the fruit of the tree of life, my immediate reaction was to reach out and share what I had found with others in my situation.[25]
Much earlier than Jonathan, a faithful church member wrote[26]:
“I feel that I have achieved some measure of resolution about my homosexuality.  I could not have been more motivated to change. I could not have tried harder to change.  I say this with no sense of boasting or self-justification but simply because it is true.  My sense of peace has come about not because I am “cured” of my homosexuality but because I have finally been able to accept that there is no cure.  I accept that my homosexuality was not something I chose or created because I was evil.  All my life I had been treating the symptoms of homosexuality and consequently struggling with depression, guilt, and anxiety.  Facing the real cause of these feelings directly and understanding myself finally brought more clarity and peace to my life.[27]
The statements above have hinted at the experience that many homosexually oriented Latter-day Saints have in trying to reverse their orientation.  We should remember that their experience is not universal, since at least some LDS people report full, permanent reversal from a HO to a heterosexual orientation.  In light of what we have discussed so far, how is a HO Latter-day Saint to decide whether or not to attempt to reverse his or her orientation? 
What matters to a reasonable decision maker contemplating a reversal of homosexual orientation is 1) the magnitude of benefit, 2) the likelihood of benefit, 3) the magnitude of harm, and 4) the likelihood of harm of the reversal attempt.  Thus, the benefit/harm likelihoods, the amount of harm, and the amount of benefit matter.  Certainly heterosexual marriage becomes more accessible with a change to heterosexual orientation- so the magnitude of benefit is outstanding.  (“Persons who have this kind of challenge that they cannot control could not enter marriage in good faith.”[28])  The harm of self-loathing, depression, loss of faith, suicidal ideation, reduced self-esteem, failure, leaving the church, etc. is certainly high- thus most likely approaching the magnitude of the potential benefit.  Emotional improvement, lifestyle changes, or I-feel-better-about-myself therapy outcomes are valuable but won’t score them the payload of access to satisfying heterosexual marriage.  Also, for those who consider HO to be a perversion, only HO reversal will provide the payoff sought.  Thus, presuming one and three mostly cancel each other out, the most critical factors become two and three, which are essentially the same factor: the actual success rates of orientation reversal. 
To ascertain this success rate the reasonable decision maker looks to the outcomes of those around her that are similarly situated.  Over the past 30 years, she will look to her homosexually oriented predecessors and peers that were/are similar if not equal to her- similar in age, similar in standing before God (i.e. His child), similar in willpower, similar in therapeutic approach, similar in access to the Atonement, similar in how they became HO (homosexually oriented), and similar in their sincere desire to change their orientation.  What does this reasonable HO decision maker observe when viewing these similar others, which observations will help her decide whether a change attempt is worth it?  After his term finished, one bishop reported:
“My experience with the fifty or so homosexuals with whom I have had a close relationship over the past twenty years can be summarized as follows: I have not met a single homosexual Latter-day Saint who chose or was able to change or alter his or her sexual orientation. I also have not met a single homosexual Latter-day Saint who had not tried valiantly, generally over a long period of time, to change his or her orientation. Some of the most painful experiences I had as a bishop related to homosexual members recounting their desperate, even heroic efforts to change their sexual orientation. For many, these efforts took place over a number of years and involved incredible sacrifice and self-denial. Because they had been led by priesthood leaders to believe that they could change if they were just righteous or self-sacrificing enough, when change didn't come, they tended to blame themselves. Such self-blame often led to alienation from God and his church and at times to self-destructive behavior, including suicide.[29]
The bishop’s account matches my personal experiences of talking with HO members of the church, who again and again report something like this:
“For twenty years I listened to the message of self-loathing preached from LDS authorities.  For twenty years I believed in their false hope that I could pray and fast and serve away my sexual orientation and God would then reward me with “righteous” heterosexual desires.
When the change never came, the blame became even more internalized, and I lost hope.  But after a thankfully failed attempt to end the misery of this life, I finally found the true peace of my divine identity.  I finally realized that all of those years I didn’t change because I didn’t need to.  I was the way God intended me to be.[30]
Going to BYU as a factor in changing homosexual orientation[31]:
"Mike said, ‘Most gays I know went to BYU initially with an undying desire to change;”
“’Everyone counseled me to come to BYU,’ said Byron. "My stake president knew I was gay, and he told me 'Go to BYU—everything will be OK.' It turned out not to be OK."
Getting married as a factor in changing homosexual orientation[32]:
“Many people are convinced that the homosexual is simply afraid of having sex with a girl and that he only needs to try it and discover how much he likes it to get over his fears. Some Church authorities have encouraged the young man along this line, urging him to just go ahead and get married and that he will get to like having sex with his wife... I have talked with the women who have been on the receiving end of this emotional duplicity. For many, their lives have been irreparably damaged…. I wish you could visit for a few hours with just such a young woman whose husband married her at President Kimball's urging. She is now struggling to piece together her shattered life and raise their young daughter on her own while her ex-husband is drawing other women into the vortex… in an effort to convince himself he is a man. Even in these recent attempts, he has had the encouragement and blessings of his Church leaders.”
"’I never should have married, but I thought at the time I could pull it off. Now I have two beautiful children whom I love very much, but I never should have had them. In spite of the joy they bring me, if I had it to do again, I would never marry. It is very difficult for me to hold my marriage together, but I feel I must now for the sake of my children.’"
I would also note here that some heterosexually married homosexuals, including a good friend of mine, report happiness in heterosexual marriage.
Another friend of mine wrote:
“It has been hurtful at times when some people have assumed that someone's orientation was a matter of choice, or the result of bad parenting or bad influences, etc. As the son of wonderful parents, and having grown up in a fairly sheltered LDS environment (and I've always been active in the Church and still am), none of those explanations have made any sense in my life….
It took a long time for me to understand these things in my own life; I knew that I didn't experience attractions to girls (on any level: romantically, physically, or sexually), but I was always thinking I was just a "late bloomer" and that the right hormones would kick in someday. When I was at BYU, I even went and got my hormones checked because I wondered if something was wrong. l kept praying that things would change. For several years at BYU, I went on lots of dates with girls, hoping that would spark something; there was never the slightest spark, but I didn't give up. For years I wasn't ready to directly confront the issue. Even though every week I could look around the room in sacrament meeting and see all the cute guys, knowing I didn't ever see cute girls, I still just reasoned to myself that it was just brotherly love and that I was still a late bloomer (age 26!), and that things would change when I met "the right girl". It wasn't until last December that I was ready to understand, and Heavenly Father metaphorically whacked me over the head and then gently let me know that what I was wanting and struggling to make true wasn't what He wanted.
Since then, I've become very happy about how God has created me; I think there may be reasons for it I don't completely understand, but I want to do my best in life. I don't feel it is an evil thing to feel love for another person, to care deeply about him. It is so hurtful when some people have conflated love and lust and insinuated that gay people only feel lust. I've opened my heart here because I hope it may help someone understand what it's like to be a gay member of the Church; I hope it will help someone love their brother, their sister, their son or daughter, a little bit more, and not judge them too harshly. I have two gay LDS friends who I know have tried to kill themselves, and others who I worry about, because they have felt so hurt and so conflicted after having failed to change their orientation. I know several who joined the Church and were baptized as young adults, hoping and expecting that this would change them and make them straight. I know many others who served missions for the Church, hoping the same thing, who were so disappointed when they found that it doesn't work like this. I have other friends whose orientation falls somewhere in the middle (having some attractions to both genders), some of whom have married heterosexually, with varying degrees of success in their marriage.[33]” (emphasis added)
From Cloy Jenkins:
“Brother Packer calls the assertion that homosexuality cannot be cured "a malicious and destructive lie." Is it a lie that I have faithfully and meticulously followed every particular point of advice which Brother Packer says will make me heterosexual and yet I remain homosexual? My experience with his advice is the rule, not the exception. Why is it that we never hear one of Brother Packer's "cured" homosexuals make this statement for him? Why is it that the only ones we ever hear make such a categorical claim are people who have never been homosexual? Where are all these men the Brethren have cured? What a tremendous opportunity the Church has to show the entire world that it has discovered the method by which homosexuality can be cured. This method is so accessible that all that is necessary is for the homosexual to really want to change and sincerely follow a few simple steps. Why is it that the Brethren cannot grasp the fact that many of us have already done all they say and much more? Do they not realize that most young men will have already gone to extreme lengths to understand and change their situation before they would go through the terrifying and perhaps humiliating experience of actually telling their bishop that they are homosexual? It is a desperate, last resort effort. They come away bewildered and disillusioned. They begin immediately to figure out how to convince the bishop that they have changed. That's what the bishop wants to believe after all, and he would be the last one to challenge the young man on this point. He is only too relieved to be rid of the problem.
Over and over again in the literature appears the documented failure. Nowhere, not even once, have I found a substantially documented and extensively followed-up case history of the cured homosexual.[34]
Over and over and over again in my personal discussions with homosexually oriented members of the church, I observe the same trend- including as recently as this week.  They go to extremes trying to please God (usually through extreme dedication as a missionary, attending BYU, repenting intensely, reading scriptures excessively, extreme frequency in serving in the temple, etc.), trusting that if they follow the prophets’ counsel, God will reverse their orientation.  Over and over and over again, despite their nigh-superhuman faith and efforts, God does not reverse their orientation.  They blame and punish themselves, try harder, and/or attempt suicide.  Though not conclusive evidence, Utah leads the nation in young male suicides[35].  In any case, they often feel rejected, unloved, and unclean. Robert Rees[36] (speaking of the parents of Stuart Matis):
“The story they tell about their son is also a familiar account of the arc that is, unfortunately, characteristic of too many Latter-day Saint homosexuals: denial, repression, acknowledgment, sustained and desperate attempts to change one’s orientation, vacillation between the impulse to express homosexual feelings and the desire to conform to Church standards, feeling unaccepted by the Church or loved of God, and finally abandoning all hope of finding a peaceful resolution in mortality.”
Another Latter-day Saint familiar with LDS orientation reversal attempts:
G. Allen Gundry worked for decades for LDS Family Services with the assignment of counseling gay and lesbian members.  Half of the 400 males he had extended professional interaction with were single.  He describes the single gays: “For all, the beginning awareness of
same-gender attraction was unwanted, and they did everything they knew how to stop or
change it.”  He further summarized that although other positive outcomes are possible, “only 10% of the single men with whom I worked experienced enough reduction of their same-gender attraction to marry.” He classified this 10% as bisexual[37]. 
Another Latter-day Saint has written:
“Honesty compels us to consider the direct experience of a very large number of LDS gay people, who in spite of exhaustive, lengthy, and totally sincere efforts, have not been able to change the fact of who they are sexually. A testimony of the truthfulness of the restoration of the gospel, faithful church activity, fasting, prayer, missionary service, temple service - all of these are important, gratifying, motivating and allow us to increase in power and goodness, but none, in any combination, has been able to alter sexual orientation for the vast majority, and possibly for the totality[38]… Whatever other religious or social or personal standards we choose to use in attempting to understand homosexuality and respond appropriately to it, we cannot ignore this fact from the life experience of those most closely affected.[39] 

This concludes our consideration of relevant church doctrines and a purview of Latter-day Saints’ experiences.  Now we turn to see what science has to add.


HO is a persistent, core physical characteristic highly resistant to present day change therapies.  In the introduction, I proposed: “Homosexual orientation may be changeable (1) sometimes, (2) always, or (3) never.”  It seems that the best answer of the three is between #1 and #3, and for most HO people, closest to #3.  Because responses to homosexual orientation frequently result in family conflict, more accurate understanding of its changeableness holds promise for strengthening families by providing a foundation for bringing peace to these conflicted homes.  How this result plays into a SSM analysis is the subject for another paper. 

[1] Sexual Fluidity by Lisa Diamond is also one source suggesting the flexibility of sexual orientation for some.  Also, Stanton L. Jones (Wheaton College) and Mark A. Yarhouse (Regent University)- available at indicates that at least some in a six-to-seven year study report substantial movement away from homosexual orientation and toward heterosexual orientation.  More directly, David reported homosexual attractions and never being attracted to girls (pg. 161), followed by being “free of the struggles of trying to resist homosexual temptation” (pg. 164) in Erin Eldridge, Born That Way: A True Story of Overcoming Same-sex Attraction, Deseret Book 1994.  In the same book, the author reports being lesbian, then later marrying a man and experiencing freedom from same-sex attraction (pg. 29).  Eldridge also includes an account of Jeff, who was physically attracted to other boys as a young boy and through college and later “was no longer sexually attracted to other men” and “grew into my true heterosexual identity with its subsequent attractions and desires for the opposite sex” (pg. 169).  See also the second testimonial in David Matheson, “The transition from homosexuality: the role of Evergreen International,” in in Understanding Homosexuality: Perspectives of LDS Psychologists and Psychotherapists by AMCAP (Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists), 1993, pg. 109.  Also, Raymond reports changing from a homosexual to a heterosexual in Rick Phillips’s Conservative Christian Identity and Same-sex Orientation: The Case of Gay Mormons, 2005, pg. 89.
[2] Robert James, “The Fruits of Faith,” in Understanding Same-Sex Attraction: LDS Edition, Editors Dahle, Dant, Byrd, Duncan, Cox, Livingstone, and Wells, Foundation for Attraction Research, 2009, pg. 428. 
[3] Robert Roy Britt, “Scientists Make Fruit Flies Gay, Then Straight Again,”, Tuesday, December 11, 2007.,2933,316316,00.html
[4] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct 2007, 42–45
[5] God Loveth His Children, 2007, available at
[6] Description: “The following interview was conducted in 2006 with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, and Elder Lance B. Wickman, a member of the Seventy. These senior Church leaders responded to questions from two members of the Church’s Public Affairs staff.”  Available at
[8] Cloy Jenkins, “Prologue: An examination of the Mormon attitude towards homosexuality.” 1978.
[9] See, e.g., Simon LeVay, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why (2011).
[10] Carol Lynn Pearson, No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones pg. 16.
[12] Helt M, Kelley E, Kinsbourne M et al. Can children with autism recover? if so, how? Neuropsychol Rev. 2008;18(4):339–66.
[13] Myers SM, Johnson CP, Council on Children with Disabilities. Management of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 2007;120(5):1162–82.
[14] Sally J. Rogersa; Laurie A. Vismaraa, Evidence-Based Comprehensive Treatments for Early Autism.
[15] P. Scott Richards, “The treatment of homosexuality: some historical, contemporary, and personal perspectives,” in Understanding Homosexuality: Perspectives of LDS Psychologists and Psychotherapists by AMCAP (Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists), 1993, pg. 39.
[16] Stanton L. Jones (Wheaton College) and Mark A. Yarhouse (Regent University)- available at
[17] Bill Bradshaw, “The Evidence for a Biological Origin of Homosexuality,” available at pg. 24.
[18] Bill Bradshaw, “The Evidence for a Biological Origin of Homosexuality,” available at pg. 25.

[20] Bill Bradshaw, “The Evidence for a Biological Origin of Homosexuality,” available at pg. 27.
[21] Dallin H. Oaks, “He Heals the Heavy Laden,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 6–9. 
[22] Robert Rees in Bill Bradshaw, “The Evidence for a Biological Origin of Homosexuality,” available at EN pg. 27.
[23] Dallin H. Oaks, “Miracles,” Ensign, Jun 2001, 6
[24] Ty Mansfield, In Quiet Desperation, page 77-78.
[25] Personal email October 2010, used with permission.
[26] Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-sex Attraction, edited by Ron Schow, Wayne Schow, and Marybeth Raynes, pg. 111.
[27] Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-sex Attraction, edited by Ron Schow, Wayne Schow, and Marybeth Raynes, pg. I don’t remember- somewhere in the 324 pages.
[28] Oaks/Wickman interview,
[29] Bill Bradshaw, “The Evidence for a Biological Origin of Homosexuality,” available at pg. 30.
[30] Isaac Higman, available at  Description: “Isaac Higham resides in Utah and wrote this post in response to a talk at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) General Conference on Sunday, October 3rd 2010.”
[32] Cloy Jenkins, “Prologue: An examination of the Mormon attitude towards homosexuality.” 1978.
[33] Brent Kirby, from his Facebook note pasted September 2010.
[34] Cloy Jenkins, “Prologue: An examination of the Mormon attitude towards homosexuality.” 1978.
[35] Dillon Kinkead, Lucinda and Dennis Romboy.  "Deadly taboo: Youth suicide an epidemic that many in Utah prefer to ignore."  Deseret Morning News. Apr. 2006. 22 Feb. 2010
[36] Robert Rees, Dialogue Winter 2005, vol. 38, no. 4, pg. 210. 
[37] Bill Bradshaw, “The Evidence for a Biological Origin of Homosexuality,” available at pg. 30.
[38] Anonymous. Solus. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 10 (2), 94-99, Autumn
(1976).  Also,  Decisions of the Soul. LDS Personal Accounts of Same-Sex Orientation in Opposite-sex Marriage. The Intermountain Conference on Sexuality and Homosexuality, April 29, 1995. Dwight Cook, Rob Kilian, and Karen Swannack, Series Editors. 55.  Last, Pearson, Carol Lynn. No More Goodbyes. Pivot Point Books, Walnut Creek, CA. 2007.
[39] Bill Bradshaw, “The Evidence for a Biological Origin of Homosexuality,” available at pg. 30.

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