“Mark Regnerus’ claim that others are being intellectually dishonest is rather provocative.”

via Austin Institute

I want to avoid this becoming a response ad hominem but a primer on Mark Regnerus (a professor of Sociology at University of Texas, Austin), is in order, particularly in regard to his ethical shortcomings. Aside from his academic responsibilities, Regnerus, a zealous Catholic convert, was one of the founders of the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.

The president of the Austin Institute is Luis E. Tellez. Tellez, an Opus Dei numerary, is also president of the Witherspoon Institute, the organization that provided a majority of the funding for Regnerus’ supposed study of gay parenting. Witherspoon’s intent was to thwart marriage equality by “proving” that the children of gay couples are disadvantaged.

To ensure that Witherspoon got what they paid for they hooked Regnerus up with their paid consultant, W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor at UVa. Wilcox served as the consultant for the study design. Regnerus willingly participated in academic malfeasance by allowing the source of funds to influence his methodology and framework.

Somehow those two geniuses figured that people would not notice that the study compared the adult children of faithful parents with the adult children of unfaithful parents where one or both had a gay paramour. Which group do you think produced the most stable and successful children?

I am not a psychologist but I am pretty sure that kids are damaged when they know that their parents are unfaithful to each other. The fact that, as children, they knew that a parent had a gay lover means that they knew details of their parent’s or parents’ infidelity.

Regnerus claimed to be indifferent to same-sex marriage. He did so as he was peddling misinformation about gay people. He did so as he was encouraging others to peddle misinformation about gay people.

Thursday, Mark Regnerus penned: Does “Conversion Therapy” Hurt People Who Identify as Transgender? The New JAMA Psychiatry Study Cannot Tell Us. The outlet for this polemic is — wait for it — the blog of Witherspoon Institute. This time around, he claims to be indifferent to conversion therapy. One more pair of pants up in smoke.

At the very outset Regnerus demonstrates his contempt with his use of “people who identify as transgender.” Church teachings prohibit Regnerus from simply writing “transgender people” because the Vatican would like to pretend that transgender people do not exist in order for their presence not to conflict with Genesis 1:27. “People who identify …” also suggests choice.

On the whole, American Catholics are no more in conformity with the Vatican in regards to human sexuality than I am with a Hasidic rebbe and I have a special regard for my slow-cooked spare ribs. Regnerus repeats his bullshit in the subtitle:

A new study purports to prove the harms of “conversion therapy” for those who identify as transgender. But there are at least four good reasons for being leery of the results appearing therein.

The lead investigator of this study out of Harvard Medical School is Jack Turban who, by the way, outed Michelle Cretella as a religious idiot. But I digress.

Regnerus cannot help himself (emphasis added):

[The study] predicts longstanding toxic outcomes among Americans who self-identify as transgender, including greater recent suicidality and more severe psychological distress in the past month. Its results, the authors state, “support the policy positions” of such medical professional organizations as the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study did not “predict” anything. The study observed, as in evidence, something that is supposed to be the basis of science. The complete quote, in context, is:

Our results support the policy positions of the American
Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American
Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of
Pediatrics and the American Medical Association which
state that gender identity conversion therapy should not be
conducted for transgender patients at any age.

First, the study fails to define or better distinguish what it means by GICE—that is, gender identity conversion efforts—its key variable and a term the authors appear to have invented. It comes from a solitary question that respondents were asked:

“Did any professional (such as a psychologist, counselor, or religious advisor) try to make you identify only with your sex assigned at birth (in other words, try to stop you being trans)?”

Whether or not the authors invented the term is entirely irrelevant. Regnerus goes off on a verbose tangent regarding Stephen Levine, informed consent and “hormones on demand” (which is entirely inaccurate suggesting that psychiatrists, and the endocrinologists they refer patients to, are robotic simpletons).

My instrument designs are limited to management development training but the question that was asked seems to define gender identify conversion efforts in a way that was easily understood by participants and, at the same time, yielded scientifically accurate data. Regnerus goes on to write:

The authors paint an entire class of cautious therapeutic approaches as intrinsically harmful, sending a clear message to psychiatrists and psychotherapists alike.

A cautious approach (and neither Regnerus nor I are psychiatrists) would seem to be comprised of an exploration of a patient’s sexuality. That is quite different from the question about making someone exclude their gender and only identify with their natal sex. Moreover, the intent is not to “send a clear message to psychiatrists …” As Regnerus already took notice of, their professional organizations bear that responsibility and they have already sent an unambiguous message.

Second, the data come from a nonrandom, opt-in survey—the USTS—that only targeted networked, self-identified transgender or nonbinary persons by advertising their survey among “active transgender, LGBTQ, and allied organizations.” There’s nothing wrong with collecting data using a nonrandom approach like this—I’ve done it myself and will do it again. The problem is when such data are delivered to the reader, as these were, in a way that suggests the conclusions would be consonant with everyone who has identified as transgender or experienced gender identity disorder or dysphoria. …

Translation: “I do it too but …” Regnerus goes on at some length but I don’t get the “but.” According to the paper:

The findings suggest that recalled exposure to GICE is associated with adverse mental health outcomes in adulthood,
including severe psychological distress, lifetime suicidal
ideation, and lifetime suicide attempts. In this study, exposure to GICE before age 10 years was associated with adverse
mental health outcomes compared with therapy without
conversion efforts. Results from this study support past positions taken by leading professional organizations that GICE
should be avoided with children and adults.

Obviously I am not the intended audience for a scientific paper of this type. Regnerus seems to be suggesting that the conclusions should have been more modest. Perhaps, instead of “the findings suggest,” they should have written “the findings seem to hint at” or some other watered down phrasing. I would like to think that the professionals who read these papers can evaluate conclusions in consideration of methodology.

As for what the general public might perceive, how does this compare to a study of dysfunctional families leading to an unsupported claim that gays are lousy parents in order to frustrate marriage equality as a Defender of the Faith™? In this case I think that the message is consistent with the findings irrespective of the sampling method.

Regnerus further attacks the sample:

When compared with a 2017 study of the demographic characteristics of transgender adults from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System—a genuinely population-based sample—the USTS respondents appear decidedly dissimilar …

As he later concedes you would have to ask the exact same questions in the exact same way to compare the two. The question that was asked on the BRFSS came with an explanation:


If you read that carefully it leaves open the possibility of being transgender without transitioning. That is not the case with the Harvard study.

Third, building on the dubious perception of representativeness, the authors report “confidence intervals” for their statistical “estimates.” Why they do so is beyond me. It’s a charade. …

Regnerus is implying bad faith. Jack Turban’s email address is in the paper. Why did Regnerus not ask?

What Regnerus is saying is that the study authors added additional information to misrepresent the credibility of the study. He is basing his complaint on the fact that the Harvard study does not conform statistically to the CDC survey which must mean that it was not using a representative sample. Therefore, using regression analysis to prove that it is a representative sample is misleading.

Even if he is correct (which I highly doubt), this observation has no effect on either the methodology or the conclusions of the study. Mark Regnerus’ claim that others are being intellectually dishonest is rather provocative.

Finally we get to the end of this nonsense:

Fourth, the authors seem largely uninterested in putting their implied causation—that past conversion attempts affect present mood and suicidality—to the test. Instead, a subtext of injustices committed against the respondents infuses the study, suggesting a decidedly external locus of control in the lives of transgender Americans. This narrative is only interrupted once, when to their rare credit the authors admit that it “is possible that those with worse mental health or internalized transphobia may have been more likely to seek out conversion therapy rather than non-GICE therapy, suggesting that conversion efforts themselves were not causative of these poor mental health outcomes.” I think the average reader would believe this is probable, not just possible.

Dr. Regnerus is projecting. He has done research with an explicit agenda: To support the teachings of the Catholic Church. He is presuming that the authors of this study have interests other than the science. Regnerus leaves out the sentence following his quote:

This interpretation, however, would also imply a mechanism whereby
societal rejection leads to internalized transphobia and life-
threatening adult mental health outcomes.

Regnerus is also being misleading when he writes “to their rare credit.” The authors go on at considerable length to explain the inherent limitations of their study I think that Mark Regnerus judges others according to his own limitations as a scientist. His is a world of muddied water where a faith-based belief system is allowed to mingle with evidence-based science.

It is also a world where selective observation is required in order that the available evidence is in accord with the faith-based premise. It is never the other way around. That is to say that evidence never informs religious beliefs.

I do not wish to make light of the suffering of self-identified transgender persons. It is, from all discernible sources, significant. Nor am I claiming that various forms of therapy are helpful or unhelpful, ethical or unethical. My conclusion is more modest. Weak data are being used to make empirical—and then clinical and legal—truth claims while subsidized by nascent political will.…

He just did make light of the obstacles that transgender people face. He did so with his “self-identified” bullshit. Were Regnerus honest, his criticism would be directed at the world’s most egregious purveyor of anti-LGBTQ antipathy — the Vatican.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.