Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc

Dr. Elizabeth SaewycAssociate Professor
University of British Columbia

In June 2006, Focus on the Family grossly distorted a study by this Canadian researcher that showed teenage lesbians had a higher rate of suicide attempts. Unconscionably, Melissa Fryrear, a spokesperson for Focus on the Family, blamed gay activists for causing the deaths, saying that teaching self-acceptance caused the young women to be suicidal.

“Regrettably, they think they have to embrace homosexuality because pro-gay advocates told them that they were born gay,” said Fryrear.

This interpretation of the data “baffled” Dr. Saewyc who conducted the study.

“Nothing in the brief results we presented or in our overall study could lead to such conclusions,” she said after Truth Wins Out contacted her and showed her how Focus on the Family portrayed her study results. “Population surveys cannot determine cause and effect, they can only suggest possible links. Even so, other researchers have not found these sorts of links, and neither have we.”

The Canadian Press, a wire service, interviewed Sawwyc and she expressed further alarm on how her scholarly work had suddenly ended up as culture war fodder.

“The research has been hijacked for somebody’s political purposes or ideological purposes and that’s worrisome.”

This is not the first time right wing groups have mangled research on gay youth. In May 1998, Dr. Robert Garofalo published a study in Pediatrics showing that self-identified gay high school students are more likely to engage in a variety of “risk behaviors” than other students are.

In a survey of 4,159 Massachusetts high school students, the researcher found 104 students who said they were gay, lesbian or bisexual. The gay youths were 2-3 or even more times more likely than other students to smoke pot, use alcohol, use cocaine, inject drugs, be threatened with a weapon, miss school out of fear or attempt suicide.

On July 14, a group of religious right and “ex-gay” groups, led by Focus on the Family’s political arm, The Family Research Council, placed an advertisement in the Washington Post citing Garofalo’s research as proof that gay life is self-destructive.

“Studies also show a high degree of destructive behavior among homosexuals, including alcohol, drug abuse, and emotional or physical violence,” said the ad, “it’s not lack of acceptance… it’s… the visible response to a broken heart.”

“It’s a complete misrepresentation of what the research actually says,” Garofalo said in an Aug. 4 interview with the Boston Globe. “It comes to the completely opposite conclusion of what the paper concluded.” Garofalo told the Globe that the youths’ behavior was actually a result of the alienation that gay teenagers face “in a culture that is often unaccepting.” In other words, the cultural climate created by these anti-gay groups is directly responsible for harming GLBT youth.