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The Search for the Gay Gene

People are by nature curious beings. The drive to discover the unknown and unravel mysteries has spurred many of the greatest developments in humanity. One of the most common questions children ask is “why?”. So it is understandable that people turn to science to answer troubling questions.

But one application of science I don’t like is the search for the gay gene. Thanks to experiments utlizing the most sophisticated equipment available, people feel like we are on the verge of determining a biological basis for homosexuality.

There are major implications riding on the potential outcome.

We have all heard stories about gay and lesbian people being locked in mental wards during the pre-Stonewall era. Ever since the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973, support for gay rights has seemed to hinge on whether people think being gay being a choice or learned behavior.

According to a 2003 survey by the Pew corporation, approximately 40 percent of white and Latinos believe being gay is a “lifestyle preference,” with African-Americans clocking in at 58 percent. This survey also stated that 15 percent of blacks think homosexuality is a genetic trait compared to 32 percent of whites and Latinos. A third question found that 58 percent of blacks believe sexual orientation can be changed, as opposed to 45 percent of whites (I guess they didn’t ask Latinos this question).

This insistence across racial groups that sexual orientation can somehow be molded, and the LGBT community is simply paying the price for making the wrong choice, is a major factor in anti-gay discrimination. It is the reason there is such a panic about gays and lesbians being placed in close proximity to children, whether as teachers, coaches, or Boy Scout leaders. Perhaps this is why comparisons between being gay and being black, as was suggested in a recent cover story in the Advocate, tend to infuriate so many people. After all, critics state, you can’t “help” being black. It’s an immutable characteristic. But gays and lesbians can “recruit” unsuspecting youngsters to their “lifestyle preference.”

Even personalities as disparate as former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and comedian DL Hughley, who is generally considered liberal, can find common ground when it linking gay rights to the civil rights movement. Both suggested last week that the LGBT community hasn’t had enough suffering to qualify for equality. Huckabee, in an amazing yet unsurprising display of ignorance of anti-LGBT violence, invoked the image of Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis being beaten in Selma as evidence of the “price” to be paid for getting civil rights. Hughley, in a conversation with the popular columnist Dan Savage, simply stated “you got to march a little while longer.”

With statements like these being commonly accepted by mainstream America, it’s understandable why some LGBT activists view the gay gene as a sort of trump card. If it can be proven that sexuality is as biologically determined as eye color, the belief is that societal attitudes will become more welcoming of LGBT people.

Although I feel it’s likely that sexuality is biologically determined, I think it’s a dangerous strategy to count on the gay gene theory in the struggle for LGBT rights.

First of all, what if it turns out that there isn’t a gay gene? If the science is inconclusive, or scientists prove emphatically that it doesn’t exist, where will activists turn? With one of their fundamental arguments no longer available, it may be difficult to develop an effective case for LGBT rights. If sexuality is in fact a biological trait, are folks ready to deal with issue of whether being gay is something that should be screened for in prenatal tests, like Down syndrome, spina bifida or cystic fibrosis? It does not take much imagination to envision some people trying to guarantee a straight baby via genetic modification or choosing not to have the baby. And questions about bisexuality and transgender identity will likely remain unanswered, leaving them a misunderstood population, or, possibly, the focus of future experiments.

Instead of debating nature vs nuture, I think we should be arguing that it doesn’t make a difference and we still deserve equal treatment. Equality is a concept that most people inherently agree with and should not be dependent on laboratory results to receive.

From Blackout 11/24/08 by Anthony Rucker


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