In fact, he said, many of his subjects had been despondent and even suicidal themselves, for the opposite reason — "precisely because they had previously thought there was no hope for them, and they had been told by many mental health professionals that there was no hope for them, they had to just learn to live with their homosexual feelings."
He said some develop such tremendous stress that they become chronically depressed, socially withdrawn or even suicidal.
But Spitzer says his study shows that some homosexuals making some effort, usually for a few years, make the change.
Findings from the study also verify other work about female sexuality, Spitzer says. "We found that women in our sample moved from a less extreme homosexual to a more heterosexual level than did men," Spitzer says. "Now that's actually what you might expect from the literature. It is known that female sexuality is more fluid.
"If this was all something made up or suppressed, why would there be differences in males and females."
A Religious-leaning Sample?
Haldeman, however, noted that some 43 percent of those sampled were referred by religious groups that condemn homosexuality. Another 23 percent were referred by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which says most of its members consider homosexuality a developmental disorder.
"The sample is terrible, totally tainted, totally unrepresentative of the gay and lesbian community," said David Elliot, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington.
But Spitzer says while the people in his sample were unusual — more religious than the general population — it doesn't mean their experiences can be dismissed. And, he said, it doesn't mean they aren't telling the truth.
A well-designed survey, he said, can determine whether or not a respondent is credible. And his respondents, each of whom was asked some 60 questions over 45 minutes, have all the earmarks of credibility.
In fact, he said, to dismiss his survey would be to dismiss an awful lot of psychological and psychiatric research. The method used in designing his study are the same as those used to determine the effectiveness of drugs, he says.
"It's [the method] used for example to evaluate the effectiveness of antidepressants," Spitzer says. "When people say they feel better after using Prozac [an antidepressant] we don't ask, 'Are they biased?'"
He said he asked very detailed questions not only about sexual attraction, but about fantasies during masturbation and sex, and yearnings for romantic and emotional involvement with the same sex and a variety of other variables that indicate sexual orientation.
"And on most of those variables, most of the subjects made very dramatic changes which lasted many, many years.
Battling an Agenda?
Rick McKinnon, who is openly gay and works as an editor at the weekly Seattle Gay News, is concerned the study results can be used to forward an anti-gay agenda.
"Conservative, anti-gay, anti-diversity folks are going to embrace it and they're gonna use it for their own agenda to push their point of view that, yes, you don't need equality in American society for gay people because they can change," he said. "And I think that's so bogus."
But Spitzer — who described himself as a "Jewish, atheist, secular humanist" with no axe to grind — says maybe there are gays who are happy being gay and ex-gays who are happy being straight, and that both sides deserve more respect.
Ironically, Spitzer had until now been something of a hero in the gay community. In the early 1970s, he spearheaded the effort to get homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders.
ABCNEWS Radio contributed to this report.