With the publication this week of “Gay Male Partnerships No Defense Against Suicide”, NARTH has disingenuously twisted yet another valid scientific study into an anti-gay weapon. NARTH (National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) is an anti-gay organization dedicated to so-called reparative therapy for gays. NARTH has a history of misrepresenting valid research and using junk science published in fake journals to fabricate “results” that fit with their anti-gay agenda.
The latest valid scientific paper* to be misrepresented by NARTH is a study by Mathy et al. (2009) on the suicide mortality rates of men and women in Denmark. The objective of the study was to determine whether gay, lesbian and bisexual people are more likely than heterosexuals to die by suicide. Previous research has mostly focused on the incidence of suicide attempts, not suicide mortality.
* Mathy, R.M., Cochran, S.D., Olsen, J. and V.M. Mays (2009) The association between relationship markers of sexual orientation and suicide: Denmark 1990-2001. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 29 Dec 2009 (online publication accessed 22 Feb 2010).The difficulty in conducting such a study is that sexual orientation of decedents is not noted in death records. However, enrollment in a domestic partnership or a marriage is part of the public record. And because in Denmark only same-sex couples can get domestic partnerships and only different-sex couples can marry, the researchers reasoned that enrollment in one of these institutions could function as an indicator of sexual orientation. Thus by noting the relationship category marked on an individual’s death record, the researchers presumed the sexual orientation of individuals who had died by suicide.
The study found that gay and bisexual men (men in domestic partnerships) had a suicide mortality rate 8 times that of men in heterosexual marriages. There was no statistically significant difference in suicide mortality rate for women in the different relationship categories.
Because it is not known what proportion of Danish LGB people are in domestic partnerships, marriages or remain single, the authors recognized that their results may not be representative of the entire Danish LGB population. Still, for the gay and bisexual men represented in the data set, Mathy et al. conclude:
These results call strongly for the development of suicide prevention programs for gay and bisexual men that target men’s concerns across the lifespan. …To date, in the United States, only gay and lesbian adolescents have been labeled as a vulnerable population for suicide morbidity by the US Public Health Service. Our findings strongly suggest a broadening of the focus to adult gay men, at a minimum.
NARTH’s Neil Whitehead came to a different conclusion. After repeatedly referring to Denmark as the Netherlands (a mistake already being replicated elsewhere) and stating a “result” that is nowhere to be found in the paper (“lesbian women in partnerships were 65% more likely to commit suicide”), Whitehead concluded:
It is rather more clear for gay males that institutional partnerships are not the protection against suicide that might be expected, and that arguments for partnership privileges on the grounds of reducing harm, must be examined very carefully.
Whitehead’s use of the paper to undermine support for relationship recognition for gays is ridiculous and is completely outside the focus and scope of the research presented. The researchers only used enrollment in domestic partnerships as a proxy indicator of sexual orientation. Whitehead twisted that methodology into a “result”, and used it to raise doubt as to whether gay and bisexual men should be allowed “partnership privileges” at all. As a Ph.D., Whitehead should be ashamed to write such rubbish.
In fact, the researchers were careful to state that there are many possible explanations for their results that aren’t attributable to sexual orientation per se, but are more likely the result of societal pressures aimed specifically at gay people. For example, LGB people still are on the receiving end of persistent anti-gay animus in Denmark, and gay and bisexual men have the added burden of living with HIV/AIDS, the fear of contracting it and/or watching loved ones parish from it. Unfortunately, the contribution of these factors to the reported results cannot be tested with the data available today.
This blatant misuse of the study clearly illustrates NARTH’s anti-gay agenda. NARTH’s clumsy abuse of legitimate research would be laughable if the organization wasn’t promoted uncritically, to devastating effect, by others. For example, the American Scott Lively recommended NARTH to the framers of Uganda’s gay genocide bill as an organization second only to his own in “restoring” gay people to “their normal heterosexual identity” (video of Lively here). If you convince people that gays can be “cured” of their sexual orientation, you give them tacit permission to punish the “unrepentant” ones. In the case of the pending bill in Uganda, the punishment is death.