The "Dr. Phil" TV program & sexual orientation
Analysis of the "I'm gay, OK?"
episode of 2005-OCT-19
The "I'm gay, OK?" episode:
This episode was broadcast on 2005-OCT-08. It
included a great deal of information about sexual orientation that is of particular
interest to lesbians, gays and bisexuals and their families and friends. 1 The show involved three segments. This essay will cover the first
two. The third discusses parents' concern about a latent homosexual orientation
in their 4 year-old son.
A conservative Christian family in conflict.
Anjela, 30, describes herself as a
bisexual lesbian. From the age of 17, she has been: "...emotionally, intellectually, physically attracted
to women more than men." The family is devoutly Christian. She, her mother
Marty and sister Em experience a major conflict between their conservative
Christian beliefs and Anjela's sexual orientation & behavior.
Angela worked with a number of counselors, seminars, support groups, and ex-gay
ministries in an attempt to overcome her attraction to women, but found them
all to be ineffective. She said that she had tried: "Really everything that I could do,
that I felt was going to lead me down the path of righteousness. And none of
which was working."
Later in the program Em, her sister, discounted
her sister's effort to change her sexual orientation. Em said:
"I believe that if it were something
that she wanted to overcome, if it were something that she strongly wanted to
give over to God, that he could heal her from it. Now, if she doesn't want to
overcome it, then she doesn't want to overcome it."
This makes a lot of sense from a conservative Christian perspective. God is
considered omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibeneficient (all
powerful, knowing, present and loving). He seen as hating homosexual behavior.
Thus God would be expected to cure a bisexual of her same-sex attraction if
she sincerely sought help. Since she remains a bisexual, then the most
obvious explanation is that she doesn't sincerely want to change.
From a secular
point of view, there is almost a complete absence of reliable data on
the effectiveness of reparative therapy and programs
by transformational ministries in helping a person change their sexual
orientation. What little data is available seems to indicate that the failure
rate is in excess of 99.5%, and the risk of adverse consequences such as
severe depression and suicide ideation is high. Thus, Angela's experience
with groups that failed to change her sexual orientation appears to be very
"If it was really God's desire for us to not be gay, then why would it be such
a struggle to overcome that?"
Marty said that:
"Anjela was not born gay; it's a choice she's made. I love her, but I would
like to tell her to walk away [from same-sex sexual activity]. I feel my daughter's lifestyle is wrong. It's
the promiscuity that's the problem. My daughter's attraction to women does not
need to be acted on, and can be retrained.
Marty expressed some of the basic beliefs about homosexual orientation that is found among fundamentalist and other
evangelical Christians, as well as other religious conservatives:
As we list in our "two solitudes" essay, these
beliefs are rare among GLB individuals, religious liberals, therapists, etc.
||That genes and hormones while in-utero have no influence in determining a person's sexual
orientation as an adult.
||That same-sex attraction and sexual behavior is a choice that a person
||That her daughter's bisexuality is a lifestyle. The term "lifestyle"
generally refers to a item that a person chooses: whether to live in a city,
suburbs, town or rural area; whether to work for a large company, small
business, or be self-employed. etc. Most therapists, human sexuality
researchers, and GLBs believe that sexual orientation is something that one
discovers, not one that is chosen.
||That through reparative therapy or transformational ministries, a person
can change their sexual orientation and become heterosexual.
Em, her sister, is concerned: "... that Anjela will take the Bible and
take pieces of what she wants to believe from the Bible and leave the rest
The Bible has about six passages that deal with
same-sex behavior. Bible scholars more or less agree on what these passages
say. However, they have been unable to reach a consensus on what they
Most religious conservatives believe that all six passages condemn all
forms of same-sex sexual behavior today, whether it is a one-night stand
or a long-term, loving, committed relationship. |
||Most religious liberals and secularists believe that these six passages
||Sex with same-sex temple prostitutes (2 passages in Leviticus),
||Men sexually abusing boys,
||Heterosexuals who go against their natural feelings and engage in same-sex
||Men who engage in bestiality with male angels.
They conclude that the Bible is silent on sexual behavior within loving,
committed same-sex relationships. although they sometimes wonder about
Ruth & Naomi, David & Jonathan, and Daniel & Ashpenaz....
Em also said that: "... if she [Anjela] has accepted Jesus Christ as her
savior, she is pure before the eyes of God. And that's all that matters to me."
A common belief among many conservative Christians is that one is
repenting of their sin and trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior. Many further
believe that once a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person is saved, their same-sex
attractions fade away. This is based on their interpretation of 1 Corinthians
6:11. We have never found any long-range studies that evaluate this belief.
An unstated concern in Anjela's family might be her fate
after death. Most Christians believe that people go
either to Heaven or Hell. But many, perhaps most,
fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians believe that persons who have
engaged in same-sex behavior will go to Hell. To believe that a family member
will spend eternity being tortured in Hell with no hope of relief is an immense
emotional load to handle.
Dr. Phil asked: "What do you have to do to find the common ground to
say, 'Each is entitled to their position, and we're going to love each other
around that' ?"
He suggested that the mother and sisters set boundaries
"'Let's get together where we don't talk about our sexual orientation. We don't talk about our
sex lives. We talk about kids.' You don't go there until you begin to get
some foundation under yourselves as far as your relationship is concerned."
A debate between an ex-gay and a gay:
Debates between people who disagree about sexual orientation are
rare. Sincere, open dialogue is almost non-existent.
The Dr. Phil program broadcast a debate between two
persons, a priest who identified himself as an "ex-gay" and another
male who identified
himself as "gay."
||About David: He is the ex-gay. He apparently has a bisexual, not a homosexual,
engaged in same-sex behavior for ten years, including being a male
prostitute for seven. About 1980, he went to seminary and immediately stopped
his same-sex behavior. He said that he does not
have a girlfriend or a wife because he was ordained a priest circa 1995. This
was presumably in the Roman Catholic Church, which requires celibacy of its
clergy, and has ordained few married men.|
"Any homosexual who wants to change their orientation can do so with
the help of God. ... What I was really looking for was my father's love.
Homosexual confusion develops usually from trauma, whether it's abuse or
neglect. My father was a very cold and severe and distant fellow. All of my
attempts to bond with him were not met."
It is clear that David successfully changed his sexual behavior and became
celibate. He said that he has been "...out of homosexuality for 25 years now
and I haven't relapsed." What is not clear is whether he changed his sexual
orientation as well.
||A person with a bisexual orientation can decide to not act on their
feelings of same-sex attraction and thus describe themselves as being "out of
homosexuality." However, they appear to always -- or almost always -- retain their attraction to both men and women.
||A person with a homosexual or bisexual orientation can decide to lead a celibate
while retaining his or her orientation. He or she could also
describe themselves as being "out of homosexuality"
All of the testimonies of ex-gays that we have read seem to indicate that
the individual's original sexual orientation, whether bisexual or homosexual,
has remained intact, even as they have decided to not engage in same-sex
behavior. That is, they have changed in their behavior, but not their orientation.
About Jusin: He is gay. While in college, he realized that he was attracted to men.
In a desperate effort to change his orientation to heterosexual, he attended
a number of ex-gay programs. He feels that they were ineffective. He said:|
"It makes me furious to hear people tell me that I must have had a bad
relationship with my father. I have always had a wonderful relationship with
him. I was never sexually molested. I came to accept myself as gay. Through
prayer and Bible study, I have a much, much better relationship with God now
than when I was trying to become straight. I think that ministries like Dave's
are harming more people than they're helping."
David suggested: There are many possible reasons why the ex-gay programs that Justin's
attended might have been unsuccessful. It:
"... may have been an ex-gay ministry that didn't know what they were
doing. It may have been that he wasn't willing to do all of what it takes.
It may have been that they were unable to discover all of the issues that
needed to be healed."
When Dr. Phil asked David whether he believed that transformational
ministries change behavior or sexual orientation/attraction, he
seems to have dodged the question:
"They heal the underlying cause. Whether it is a failure to bond with
your father-figure. A failure to bond with your mother, child abuse."
David appears to have admitted that, decades ago, he was a bisexual: he
certainly had an attraction towards men. His attraction towards women was
always present, but was "... just damaged and unformed."
Sandy Williams spoke: She is a coordinator for the Gay-Straight Alliance Network
for Southern California. 2GSANetwork's mission statement is to be:|
"... a youth leadership organization that connects school-based
Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) to each other and community resources. Through
peer support, leadership development, and training, GSA Network supports
young people in starting, strengthening, and sustaining GSAs and builds the
capacity of GSAs to:
1. create safe environments in schools for students to support each other
and learn about homophobia and other oppressions,
2. educate the school community about homophobia, gender identity, and
sexual orientation issues, and
3. fight discrimination, harassment, and violence in schools. 3
"What I do with teenagers, is about helping people become comfortable with
themselves, because that creates healthy people. The more in line a person is
with who they are, and are accepting of who they are, that creates healthy
adults. My concern with the 'conversion therapies' is that they do damage to
That is, she does not try to change a youth's sexual orientation; she tries
to make them comfortable and accepting with the sexual orientation that they
have been given.
"I'm aware of the criticisms, but they come from gay activists, usually.
The idea that homosexuals cannot change is like saying I don't exist. We do
exist. There are hundreds of thousands of us, if not millions of us, we have
Dr. Phil: He attempted to distinguish between conversion therapies changing
behavior and changing orientation. He commented to Justin:|
"You change the behavior -- I don't think anybody would disagree with that
but what you're saying is, it shouldn't be counted as a success if somebody
goes and lives a life that is not their authentic self, but yet doesn't
practice a gay sexual relationship with somebody."
"There is a lot of pressure in ex-gay ministries to say that you've
completely changed, whether or not that's the case."
"That is a complete misrepresentation of ex-gay ministries, in what we ask
"That's why I'm always very skeptical of simply accepting anyone saying, 'I
used to be this, and now I am this'."
"It is a struggle. It takes many years for the orientation to
change. And there are times when people fail. But it's just like alcoholism.
It takes time, and you have to really want to change, or it's not going to
Beliefs of critics of ex-Gay ministries, etc.: They generally feel, like Justin, that the
ministries sometimes succeed at changing behaviors, but that sexual
orientations are always or almost always fixed. Thus, a person with a bisexual orientation who enters one of these groups is
sexually attracted to both men and women. They may be convinced to confine
their future sexual behavior to the opposite sex. Their behavior
is changed and they try to not engage in sex with persons of the same
sex. But their sexual orientation remains bisexual. They are still
attracted to both men and women. A person with a homosexual orientation who enters one of these groups
is sexually attracted only to persons of the same sex. They may be
convinced to lead a celibate life. Thus, their behavior is changed
and they try to not engage in sex with persons of the same sex. But their
sexual orientation remains homosexual. They are still attracted to persons
of the same sex.|
Webmaster comments: [Bias alert]
These debate highlighted a difference of opinion
over ex-gay groups, reparative therapy, transformational ministries, etc. that
is often seen in the media:
Representatives of ex-gay ministries and reparative therapists strongly
stress that they can help gays and lesbians change. They use that
word a lot. But they are often vague about what it is precisely that they change. They certainly try to change
behaviors and sometimes succeed. But whether they can actually succeed at changing a person's
sexual orientation is controversial. There are lots of claims, but it seems
that nobody has ever bothered to do a properly designed, long-term study.
David's comparison of sexual orientation with alcoholism is interesting. It
might be interpreted that just as an alcoholic cannot suppress their
hunger for alcohol, a person cannot suppress their sexual attraction to men
and/or women. However, in both cases, they can try to control their
behavior if that is their goal.
||Open debate being rare,
||Genuine dialogue being essentially non-existent,
||No high quality long range studies being made,
it seems obvious that this conflict will not be resolved soon.
according to Dr. Phil, gay youth experience 4 times the normal suicide rate --
and even much higher than this if the relationship with their families is
poor. The dead bodies are piling up.
" 'I'm Gay, OK?'," Dr Phil episode, 2005-OCT-08, at:
"Gay-Straight Alliance Network, home page, at:
"About the Network," GSA Alliance, at:
Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2009-OCT-21
Latest update: 2009-OCT-21
Author: B.A. Robinson