Study retracted: 20 minutes actually CAN’T change a homophobe’s mind

June 3, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

There are, at present, only a few semi-reliable ways to change a staunch anti-gay conservative’s very narrow mind on an issue like gay marriage.

The most successful is to reveal to said homophobe that his own child is, in fact, homosexual, and this child would furthermore like to marry his beloved, and would even furthermore like to have his parents’ blessing, and support, and even love, perhaps all resulting in said parents’ shell-shocked, soul-searched realization that one’s sexual orientation has nothing whatsoever to do with the true meaning of family, or God, or love, or what it means to exist in these messygorgeous shells for such a fleeting eyeblink of spacetime.

It’s far from failsafe – some parents retreat even deeper into hate and fear, ostracize said child, cause more pain – but it’s proven to work in most cases. Even on Republicans.

Another way is by way of the dramatic wake up call. It’s the homophobe’s discovery – somewhere, somehow, via epiphany or jarring, unexpected life detour – of a so-called spiritual path, an introspective journey of intense, mind-altering proportions, perhaps by way of a shaman or vision quest, a trip to an exotic land, a life-altering encounter with the Other that shatters one’s formerly rigid convictions and ignites one’s heart anew.

Ayahuasca in the jungle? MDMA in the desert? LSD on the psychiatrists’ chair? A disorienting brush with death? Could happen. Has happened. Wish it would happen a hell of a lot more.

The third approach is, quite simply, time itself, wherein the sad homophobe’s long-calcified heart eventually, maybe, with luck, the slow drip of wisdom and lots of patience, finally begins to soften, as she realizes that life is shockingly short, eternally fluxive and cannot, will not ever be pinned down by any small, cruel conviction, particularly about love.

“My position has evolved,” politicians like to say. “My position has dissolved entirely,” the wizened elder can, with much relief all around, finally sigh.

Tried and true, those three. Proven success rates.

The one way that almost certainly won’t work? A 20-minute chat with a friendly gay activist who knocks on homophobe’s door, advocating for the cause.

Too bad, really. Maybe you recall the study last fall, from UCLA grad student Michael LaCour, that seemed to prove that a person’s anti-gay position could, in fact, be reversed – perhaps permanently and with lasting ripple effects throughout the homophobe’s entire household – merely by having a short chat with a (very persuasive) gay person?

It’s not to be. As reported by Politico and elsewhere, the study’s senior author, Donald Green, just retracted the popular study – published to much media attention in the journal Science – after numerous researchers couldn’t replicate LaCour’s findings. Upshot: The data was faked. The study is bunk. Green is, quite appropriately, hugely embarrassed over his grad student’s false data. LaCour is, we can imagine, not a little bit humiliated.

What to make of it all? Well, not much, really. Minor academic scandal aside, while the study’s idea was a lovely one, as anyone who’s ever tried to talk to a true homophobe can attest, it was always a bit hard to believe. Twenty minutes? Maybe twenty years.

The fact remains: The confused, the hard-hearted and the closed-minded are not so easily swayed. Fear is, sadly, tattooed deep into millions of Americans, by the church, by Fox News, by the NRA, by lack of education, love, proper exposure to the wild, fantastically varied blessings of the world. It takes more than a few clever discussion points, no matter how convincing, to reach those dark, muddled places.

That’s not to say a 20-minute chat can’t help, and might even shift a few positions. But if you really want to change the mind of a homophobe, you gotta aim a bit… lower. You gotta shoot, of course, for the heart.

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Mark Morford

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