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«D.F. Swaab and M.A. Hofman, Brain Res. 537 (1990): 141-48, as cited in Dennis McFadden and E.G. Pasanen, “Comparisons of the auditory systems of ...»

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Science Does Not Support the Claim

That Homosexuality Is Genetic

By Robert Knight

The debate over homosexual “marriage” often becomes focused on whether homosexuality is a

learned behavior or a genetic trait. Many homosexual activists insist that “science” has shown

that homosexuality is inborn, cannot be changed, and that therefore they should have the “right

to marry” each other.

Beginning in the early 1990s, activists began arguing that scientific research has proven that homosexuality has a genetic or hormonal cause. A handful of studies, none of them replicated and all exposed as methodologically unsound or misrepresented, have linked sexual orientation to everything from differences in portions of the brain,1,2 to genes,3 finger length,4 inner ear differences,5 eye-blinking,6 and “neuro-hormonal differentiation.”7 Meanwhile, Columbia University Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Robert Spitzer, who was instrumental in removing homosexuality in 1973 from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, wrote a study published in the October 2003 Archives of Sexual Behavior. He contended that people can change their “sexual orientation” from homosexual to D.F. Swaab and M.A. Hofman, Brain Res. 537 (1990): 141-48, as cited in Dennis McFadden and E.G. Pasanen, “Comparisons of the auditory systems of heterosexuals and homosexuals: Click-evoked otoacoustic emissions,” Proceedings of the National.

Academy of Science USA 95 (March 1998): 2709-13.

Simon LeVay, “A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure Between Heterosexual and Homosexual Men,” Science Vol. 253 (1991): 1034-37.

D.H. Hamer, S. Hu, V.L. Magnuson, N. Hu and A.M.L. Pattatucci, Science 261(1993): 321-27, as cited in McFadden.

B.J. Sigesmund, “Let Your Fingers Do the Talking,” Newsweek “Web Exclusive,” 31 March 2000.

McFadden and Pasanen.

“Sexual orientation ‘hard-wired’ before birth – startling new evidence revealed in the blink of an eye,” press release, University of East London (UEL), England, October 2, 2003, reporting on findings by the UEL’s Dr. Qazi Rahman, along with the Institute of Psychiatry’s Dr. Veena Kumari and Dr. Glenn Wilson. In terms of eye-blink reactions to sudden loud noises, “The team discovered significant differences in the response between male and female, and heterosexual and homosexual subjects.” Rahman: “The startle response is pre-conscious and cannot be learned.” Qazi Rahman, “Comments on the Neuroanatomy of Human Sexual Orientation and Proposed Neuroendocrine Hypotheses,” Contemporary Neurology (1999): Number 2A: http://mitpress.mit.edu/jrnls-catalog/cont-neuro.html.

25SR-004 heterosexual.8 Spitzer interviewed more than 200 people, most of whom claimed that through reparative therapy counseling, their desires for same-sex partners either diminished significantly or they changed over to heterosexual orientation. Although still a proponent of homosexual activism, Spitzer has been attacked unmercifully by former admirers for this breach of the ideology that people are “born gay and can’t change.” Immutability is a central tenet of demands for “gay rights” and “gay marriage.” Because no single study can be regarded as definitive, more research on people who have overcome homosexuality needs to be done. But a considerable body of previous literature about change from homosexuality to heterosexuality has been compiled, and the sheer number of exceptions to the “born gay” theory should be a warning to researchers and media to proceed with caution before declaring that science has “proved” that homosexuality is genetic.9 Other recent developments also suggest that homosexuality is not genetically determined. The Washington Post reported that bisexuality is fashionable among many young teen girls, who go back and forth from being “straight” to “gay” to “bi” to “straight” again.10

Post reporter Laura Sessions Stepp writes:

Recent studies among women suggest that female homosexuality may be grounded more in social interaction, may present itself as an emotional attraction in addition to or in place of a physical one, and may change over time.11 She cites one such study by Lisa M. Diamond, assistant professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, who in 1994 began studying a group of females aged 16 to 23 who were attracted to other females.12 Over the course of the study, “almost two-thirds have changed labels,” Stepp reports.

Against increasing evidence that homosexual behavior is neither inevitable nor impossible to resist, a number of studies have been widely publicized as “proof” of a genetic component. But they are either poorly constructed or misreported as to their significance.

In 1993, Columbia University psychiatry professors Drs. William Byne and Bruce Parsons examined the most prominent “gay gene” studies on brain structure and on identical twins, and published the results in the Archives of General Psychiatry. They found numerous

methodological flaws in all of the studies, and concluded that:

Robert L. Spitzer, “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?”, Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5, October 2003: 403-417.

See, for instance, Charles Socarides, A Freedom Too Far: A Psychoanalyst Answers 1,000 Questions About Causes and Cure and the Impact of the Gay Rights Movement on American Society (Phoenix, Arizona: Adam Margrave Books, 1996), pp. 115particularly pp. 151-152.

Laura Sessions Stepp, “Partway Gay? For Some Teen Girls, Sexual Preference Is a Shifting Concept,” The Washington Post, January 4, 2004, p. D-1.


Lisa M. Diamond, “Was it a phase? Young women’s relinquishment of lesbian/bisexual identities over a 5-year period,” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology (in press as of 2004).

–  –  –

After he was roundly attacked by homosexual activists, who accused him of providing ammunition for conservatives to challenge the gay rights/civil rights comparison based on immutability, Byne denounced the “false dichotomy: Biology or Choice?” and stated that he was also skeptical of environmental theories of sexual orientation. He wrote: “There is no compelling evidence to support any singular psychosocial explanation,” and that he would never “imply that one consciously decides one’s sexual orientation.”14 But the fact remains that Dr. Byne has poked gaping holes in the most influential studies purporting to prove that homosexuality is inborn.

In May 2000, the American Psychiatric Association issued a Fact Sheet, “Gay, Lesbian and

Bisexual Issues,” which includes this statement:

“Currently, there is a renewed interest in searching for biological etiologies for homosexuality.

However, to date there are no replicated scientific studies supporting any specific biological etiology for homosexuality.” Beyond the false comfort that homosexuals need not seek to alter their behavior in any way,

there may be another motive behind the release and enthusiastic reporting of these studies:

political advantage. As Natalie Angier wrote in The New York Times on September 1, 1991:

[P]roof of an inborn difference between gay and heterosexual men could provide further ammunition in the battle against discrimination. If homosexuality were viewed legally as a biological phenomenon, rather than a fuzzier matter of “choice” or “preference,” then gay people could no more rightfully be kept out of the military, a housing complex or a teaching job than could, say blacks.15 Simon LeVay, whose brain study in 1991 “jumped from the pages of the periodical Science to The New York Times and Time, then to CNN and Nightline, and from there to the dinner tables and offices of the country,” according to writer Chandler Burr, was quite open in his assessment of the possible impact of his work. “[P]eople who think gays and lesbians are born that way are also more likely to support gay rights.”16 William Byne and Bruce Parsons, “Human Sexual Orientation: The Biologic Theories Reappraised,” Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 50, March 1993: 228-239.

Letter from William Byne to Dean Hamer, 2 July 1993, as quoted in Chandler Burr, A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation (New York, New York: Hyperion, 1996), p. 81.

Natalie Angier, quoted in Charles W. Socarides, “A Freedom Too Far,” (Phoenix, Arizona: Adam Margrave Books, 1995), p.


Simon LeVay, quoted in A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D., Shirley E. Cox, Ph.D., and Jeffrey W. Robinson, Ph.D., “The Innate-Immutable Argument Finds No Basis in Science,” 2002, the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, http://www.narth.com/docs/innate.html.


In his book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, Dr. Jeffrey Satinover writes:

We will see later the falsity of activists’ repeated assertions that homosexuality is immutable. They seek to create the impression that science has settled these questions, but it most certainly has not. Instead, the changes that have occurred in both public and professional opinion have resulted from politics, pressure, and public relations.17 Despite critical examination, as well as comments by the studies’ own authors that the “gay” research has been distorted or exaggerated, some of the studies are often cited as “proof” that “gays are born that way.” A few other studies have arisen in more recent years with as many flaws or have been misreported in similar fashion. Here is a brief overview of some of the


UCLA’s Study on Genes and Mice Brains In October 2003, the journal Molecular Brain Research published a study by UCLA researchers indicating that sexual identity is genetic.18 Reuters reported it this way: “Sexual identity is wired into the genes, which discounts the concept that homosexuality and transgender sexuality are a choice, California researchers reported.”19 A number of other media outlets picked up on this theme, creating the impression that this study was yet one more piece of evidence for a genetic theory of homosexuality.

The trouble is, the study doesn’t say anything about homosexuality. All it does is support a widely accepted theory about hormones and gender. Here is Princeton Professor Dr. Jeffrey

Satinover’s assessment:

The research is a decent piece of basic science and confirms what geneticists have long known must be the case: That the hormonal milieu that causes sexual differentiation between males and females is itself determined by genes, in mice as in men. This comes as no surprise.

But this research says absolutely nothing about homosexuality or transsexualism and any who claim it does are either ill-informed about genetics, or if not, are deliberately abusing their scientific knowledge and or credentials in the service of politics – in precisely the same way that Soviet-era geneticists such as Lysenko did – either in the naïve hope that distortion of the truth can produce a better society or out of fear for their career prospects.

In either case they should be roundly rebuked for doing so.20 Jeffrey Satinover, M.D., Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Hamewith Books, Baker Books, 1996), p. 38.

Phoebe Dewing, Tao Shi, Steve Horvath and Eric Vilain, “Sexually dimorphic gene expression in mouse brain precedes gonadal differentiation,” Molecular Brain Research, Vol. 118, Issues 1-2, 21 October 2003: 82-90.

Reuters, “Study says sexual identity is genetic,” 20 October 2003.

E-mail correspondence, 21 October 2003.

25SR-004 The Hypothalamus

The first widely publicized claim for a “gay gene” came in 1991 when Salk Institute researcher Dr. Simon LeVay published a study in the journal Science noting a difference in a brain structure called the hypothalamus when evaluating 35 men – 19 homosexuals and 16 heterosexuals.21 LeVay found that the hypothalamus was generally larger in heterosexual men than in homosexual men. He concluded that the findings “suggest that sexual orientation has a biologic substrate.”22 The media splashed the study on front pages and TV and radio broadcasts from coast to coast,

despite the fact that LeVay himself cautioned:

“It’s important to stress what I didn’t find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn’t show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain. …Since I looked at adult brains, we don’t know if the differences I found were there at birth, or if they appeared later.”23 The study also had major problems, which LeVay himself readily admits. First, all 19 of his homosexual subjects died of complications associated with AIDS. The difference in the hypothalamus might have been caused by chemical changes in the brain as a response to AIDS.

Dr. Byne argued in Scientific American that “[LeVay’s] inclusion of a few brains from heterosexual men with AIDS did not adequately address the fact that at the time of death virtually all men with AIDS have decreased testosterone levels as the result of the disease itself or the side effects of particular treatments. … Thus it is possible that the effects on the size of the INAH3 [hypothalamus] that he attributed to sexual orientation were actually caused by the hormonal abnormalities associated with AIDS.”24 In addition, six of the “heterosexual” men died of AIDS. LeVay admitted later that he didn’t actually know whether the subjects in his heterosexual sample were, indeed, heterosexual; all of these subjects were simply “presumed heterosexual.” Given that very few straight men in San Francisco were contracting AIDS at the time (and still aren’t), this was a wildly unscientific assumption.

Another weakness of LeVay’s study is that his sample included major “exceptions.” Three of the homosexuals had larger clusters of neurons than the mean size for the heterosexuals, and three of the heterosexuals had clusters smaller than the mean size for the homosexuals. LeVay LeVay, op cit.


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