Thursday, 07 October, 2004

Myths About Homosexuality

In a Firing Line (letter to the editor) in the October 6 edition of The Daily Texan, the author wrote to praise the Rev. Jim Rigby for his "tolerance and respect for a lifestyle other than his own." Praising Rev. Rigby, who spoke in favor of gay marriage, took up the first paragraph. The rest of the 300-word letter is an attack on the Christian view of homosexuality. In a single paragraph, the author manages to equate Christians with Nazis, Al-Qaida, and the KKK, as well as repeat as fact two very questionable theories: that homosexuals make up approximately 10 percent of the population, and that homosexuality is a genetic trait.

The author's equating the Christian view of homosexuality with brutal and oppressive regimes probably was intended to stir controversy, and I suspect he'll get his share of fan mail and hate mail. He snuck his "facts" into the same paragraph, and from the way they're stated I'd say that he has accepted those "facts" at face value without doing a shred of research.

That gays make up ten percent of the population is an oft-cited "fact" that does not bear close scrutiny. There certainly isn't any objective evidence to support such a statement.

The United States Census Bureau doesn't ask about sexual orientation, but in 2000 it did ask about a person's relationship to the head of household. The data indicate that same sex couples make up about one percent of all couples in the United States. I'm sure that some weren't reported, and I do understand that "couples" don't make up the entirety of the gay community. It's interesting to note, though, that gay marriage advocates who believe that same sex couples are under counted often cite November 2000 polls of voters, in which about four percent of those who voted in the election identified themselves as gay. Again, I'm certain that some chose not to identify themselves, but I doubt that over half would refuse to do so. I also wonder if voters in a national election form a representative cross-section of the population.

There is some evidence that the number of gays in the country is somewhat smaller than ten percent. I've seen several articles that reference an apparently well-regarded David Binder Research poll (which I'm unable to locate) that puts the number of gays in San Francisco at about ten percent. Considering that San Francisco is recognized as home to more gays than just about anywhere else in the world, I'd be surprised to find that the percentage of gays in the general population is as high.

There are some studies which indicate that up to ten percent of men have had some type of same sex encounter, but to claim that proves ten percent of the population is gay is stretching things quite a bit. That would be akin to inferring that 80 percent of the population are alcoholics, based on survey results showing that 80 percent of the population has been drunk at least once. Let's just say that the claim that ten percent of the population is gay is, at best, questionable.

The question of nature versus nurture is even harder to answer. On the surface of it, the idea that there is a "homosexuality gene" makes little sense, because you would expect such a gene to be selected right out of the genome in pretty short order. I know it's more complicated than that, but there isn't any conclusive evidence either way. The article Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture provides a very good review of what's known to date.

I guess I'm not too terribly surprised to find a graduate student at an "institution of higher learning" making these statements. I am disappointed, though. Emotionally charged as the issue of gay marriage (and gay rights in general) is, those who strive for equal rights under the law need to present facts calmly rather than try to out-scream the other side with slogans, attacks, and questionable theories. A graduate student in American Studies should understand that and be able to recognize when he's falling into the same sort of intolerant and uninformed behavior that he accuses others of.