The mistaken belief that sexual orientation is a choice — instead of a fixed aspect of a person’s identity — underpins the anti-gay laws in Uganda, Nigeria and many others among the 76-plus countries with anti-homosexuality statutes.
That faulty thinking is challenged by scientific evidence about the nature of homosexuality, summarized by Dr. Chris Beyrer in a review of relevant scientific studies from recent decades. Beyrer is a medical doctor who also has a master’s degree in public health and leads the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.
On the basis of his review, Beyrer criticized a supposedly scientific report that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni used to justify signing that country’s Anti-Homosexuality Law. Beyrer stated:
“The report deviates widely from available scientific evidence and repeats the longstanding and non-evidence-based argument that since homosexuals cannot reproduce, they must ‘recruit’ children and inculcate them into adopting a homosexual lifestyle.”
Similar claims were made “as part of the argument for the passage of the anti-homosexuality propaganda law in the Russian Federation in 2013,” he noted. In addition, he said:
“Statements by the Ugandan authorities after the recent raid on a Makarere University Walter Reed HIV clinic in Uganda (in April, 2014), and similar statements from the Kenya Government after a recent (April, 2014) clinic raid in Kisumu, Kenya, both assert the (false) allegation that these clinics were attempting to ‘recruit’ young men into homosexuality.”
Beyrer found no scientific evidence that such “recruitment” has occurred or is even possible. He concluded:
“Homosexual ‘propaganda,’ such as it can be said to exist, is no more likely to change heterosexual orientation then heterosexual propaganda is likely to change homosexual orientation. This reality is critical to undermining the argument that homosexuality is a threat to heterosexuality, and that LGBT persons seek to recruit and convert heterosexuals.”
Similar findings were presented by Chinese scientists in a report that was publicized after Beyrer wrote his report. The nervous system of straight women and gay men responds automatically to a sex-linked steroid emitted by men, those scientists stated, while the nervous system of straight men and lesbians responds automatically to a different sex-linked steroid emitted by women. (That scientific report, “Chemosensory Communication of Gender through Two Human Steroids …,” was discussed in a Gay Star News article last week.)
Beyrer’s full report (below) also includes evidence about the negative consequences of conversion therapy and other related issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) in Uganda and beyond.
EVIDENCE REVIEW ON LGBT ISSUES
Recruitment, Conversion Therapy, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
By Professor Chris Beyrer, M.D., M.P.H.
Director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
The recent passage of laws criminalizing same sex behavior or identity among consenting adults, including laws criminalizing what has been termed “homosexual propaganda” have to varying degrees made arguments for these laws based on purported scientific evidence. In the case of the Bahati bill in Uganda signed into law by Uganda President Museveni in 2014 , a request for a review of evidence on the origins of homosexuality in humans was requested by Museveni and provided prior to his signing the law. The document, entitled “Scientific Statement from The Ministry of Health on Homosexuality,” and dated February 10th, 2014, was tasked by the Ugandan President with answering two questions:
Is there a scientific/genetic basis for homosexuality?
- Can homosexuality be learned and unlearned?
The process for attempting to answer these questions was not reported by the committee, and after the release of the document, two scientists resigned from the committee in protest, stating that the findings had been manipulated and did not accurately report the committee’s findings. ["Ugandan advisers falsified report to boost anti-gay bill."] Nevertheless, President Museveni signed the bill into law.
The White House Press Secretary issued a statement on February 24, 2013 noting that the legislation further criminalizing homosexuality in Uganda is a step backwards for freedom, justice and equal rights and will undermine public health, including efforts to address HIV. A health impact assessment of the legislation predicted that it would likely erode social capital, increase stigma, hinder care for those living with HIV, and have negative public health consequences (Semugoma et al., 2012).
Since several other countries are considering similar legislation, including Kenya, DR Congo, Ghana, and Gambia, and as Nigeria, Russia, and India have already seen significant legal setbacks to LGBT rights, it is important to understand the thinking behind the legislation and the uses of information and data on which the decision to sign it was at least partially based.
The Uganda report explores a quite wide range of evidence regarding homosexuality. It acknowledges that homosexuality is present in Uganda, and was a part of Ugandan society prior to European colonization. Given the degree of stigma and discrimination against LGBT Ugandans, these assertions are something of an advance in evidence-based thinking.
Of concern, however, is the report’s handling of the second question, on whether homosexual can be learned or unlearned.
In this section the report deviates widely from available scientific evidence and repeats the longstanding and non-evidence based argument that since homosexuals cannot reproduce, they must “recruit” children and inculcate them into adopting a homosexual lifestyle. This is the familiar argument of conservative religious movements in many countries, including the U.S., and also appeared as part of the argument for the passage of the anti-homosexuality propaganda law in the Russian Federation in 2013.
Statements by the Ugandan authorities after the recent raid on a Makarere University Walter Reed HIV clinic in Uganda (in April, 2014), and similar statements from the Kenya Government after a recent (April, 2014) clinic raid in Kisumu, Kenya, both assert the (false) allegation that these clinics were attempting to “recruit” young men into homosexuality. The “recruitment” argument is consistently at the core of these anti-gay allegations. The fact that the scientific and clinical evidence so consistently demonstrates that sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, or other) is a strongly fixed attribute of the self and not amenable to change by external influence, attempts at therapy, or faith-based approaches, is of critical important to countering these arguments.
The data and references which counter the recruitment and conversion arguments include:
Evidence that early experiences with same sex behavior do not “lead” to homosexual orientation later in life (Bell and Weinberg, 1978 ).
Same-sex parents are no more likely to have homosexual children than those raised by heterosexual parents ( Stacey and Biblarz, 2001 , Bailey et al., 1995 , Bozett, 1 980 , Hanson and Bozett, 1987 , Bozett, 1989 , Golombok et al., 1996 , Green, 1978 , Huggins, 1989 , Miller, 1979 ). 3
Conversion and/or reparative therapies, which seek to change sexual orientation, have not been shown to work, but have been shown to … cause harm, particularly to LGBT adolescents (Beyrer, 2011). Negative consequences of conversion therapy include measurably increased levels of self-hatred, depression, thoughts of suicide, long-term sexual dysfunction, increased anxiety or aggression, decreased self-esteem, social isolation, loss of family and spirituality, and, though rarely, death during aversive therapy (Beckstead and Morrow, 2004 , Haldeman, 1994 , Haldeman, 2004 , Johnston and Jenkins, 2006 , King and Bartlett, 1999 , Shidlo and Schroeder, 2002 , Steigerwald and Janson, 2003 , Tozer and McClanahan, 1999).
Most studies of conversion therapy have been found to be methodologically flawed. A review of literature on the efficacy of conversion therapy reported that most studies failed to meet the American Psychological Association’s criteria for evidence-based treatment (Cramer et al., 2008 ).
Conversion therapy has been rejected by virtually all professional organizations including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Medical Association, the American Association of Physician Assistants, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the Psychological Society of South Africa. Because of the well documented harms of this approach, conversion therapy has been made illegal in a number of U.S. states, including California and, most recently, New Jersey, and in many countries internationally. [See also this blog's article " ‘Ex-gay therapy’: What reputable experts have to say."]
Taken together, this large body of evidence is conclusive that homosexuality is not a choice and is not “learned” or “unlearned” or affected by exposure to homosexual persons, any more that heterosexual orientation is a choice.
It is rather, a variant of human sexual orientation and an unchanging aspect of the self.
Homosexual “propaganda,” such as it can be said to exist, is no more likely to change heterosexual orientation then heterosexual propaganda is likely to change homosexual orientation. This reality is critical to undermining the argument that homosexuality is a threat to heterosexuality, and that LGBT persons seek to recruit and convert heterosexuals.
Here is a link to the article including footnotes with specific references.
- Ugandan advisers falsified report to boost anti-gay bill (76crimes.com)
- Uganda police: HIV/AIDS group ran ‘homosexual recruitment project’ (washingtonblade.com)
- Africa: homophobia is a legacy of colonialism (The Guardian)
- Researcher: In raid, Uganda police were clueless
- U.S. blames Uganda for raid on gay-friendly AIDS clinic
- Ugandan AIDS clinic hopes to reopen despite anti-gay raid
- Uganda police raid U.S. military AIDS clinic, order it shut