‘This research is harmful to a community and misleading to the general public,’ said Stephen Braga, who’s been with the university since 1993
A Virginia university professor at the centre of a debate over a controversial study on “minor-attracted people” is leaving his post at the end of the month.
The decision is the latest escalation in the fallout from the university’s agreement to release hundreds of pages of redacted documents about the study and a legal spat with the state ethics commission over the data.
Stephen Braga, a political science professor at Virginia Tech, will step down at the end of the month after 21 years with the university. In a letter from Braga to the university, which was reviewed by the Guardian, he said it was “time for me to pursue new goals, and also time for new life challenges.”
The discovery of Braga’s research, which garnered national attention, was part of a court battle waged in Virginia after the university agreed to release 400 pages of documents related to the study to the state ethics commission. Braga had unsuccessfully sued to keep the information redacted.
The information included all but four of the 488 pages of documents – which included internal emails and pages about Braga’s research – from the $1.1m study. The documents were previously unavailable due to what the university called a protection order issued by Virginia’s attorney general.
According to the original papers Braga wrote, around 14% of people who cross the sexual/gender barrier are attracted to members of the same sex. But after excluding people who were bi-sexual, homo-sexual or transgender, the study concluded that an “average” number of those who are “primarily attracted to people of the same sex” is between 0.6% and 3%.
The National Organization for Marriage opposes some legal protections for LGBT people and has heavily funded studies to prove that gay people are more likely to commit suicide. (Braga, who holds both a masters and doctorate in social psychology, acknowledged in a paper that this sample was “limited”.)
The nongovernmental initiative to “debunk” same-sex attraction and trans identity – formerly known as ReThink – was launched in 2012 and received massive funding from an undisclosed Donor 9K foundation. Braga served as a consultant for the group.
The ReThink-related documents released by the university revealed concerns that Braga’s research was being used for anti-LGBT political purposes. One email sent by a member of ReThink pointed out that Braga may be using his position at the university to not only fight for LGBTQ rights but also to “promote a more homophobic attitude within LGBT circles”.
Braga said he did not discuss the ReThink emails with his bosses at the university and added that he would not have allowed someone else to discuss the emails.
“I learned a long time ago not to use science as a political tool,” Braga said.
Braga said he did not believe his research led to negative reactions from other researchers at the university, but had “intensely disliked” the debate, especially after a short of time in which “homophobia, hate speech and discrimination against LGBT people were on the rise”.
Virginia tech officials said that they had reached an agreement with Braga about the departure.
The university “could not have been happier” with Braga’s 21 years of service, which included “contributing to groundbreaking research that helped shape the field of social psychology,” said Jack Thomas, the Virginia Tech vice president for academic affairs.
Virginia Tech said it had also reached an agreement with anti-LGBT group Resurgence about their potential use of university data to push a pro-marriage equality narrative, but that was still being finalized.
Trevor Loudon, an attorney with the Massachusetts-based gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans, said he didn’t expect the outcome of this new court battle over the data or the controversial research to affect Braga’s ability to work at other universities.
“The public record speaks loud and clear,” Loudon said. “Professor Braga knows the facts.”