A rebuttal to a presentation made on sexual orientation in one of my classes.
This was done primarily because I had blown up at the people who presented on sexual orientation as a topic. I was appalled at how little research they had done and how many lies they were unwittingly spreading to the 30 kids in the class. Another classmate of mine had the gall to say "Well, what does it matter anyway? What's the big deal?" and I exploded at her. As a result, I was not allowed to present my rebuttal to the class.
However, I figured other people might be interested... so here it is:
REBUTTAL TO PRESENTATION
ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION
First of all, I would like to apologize to the presenters and the rest of the class for the way I reacted to the presentation. I did not realize, at the time, that the presenters did not know that they were presenting spin as fact. Sometimes telling the difference apart can be difficult, and not everyone has had the background in research that I’ve had, so it’s hard to remember that “found on the internet” or “read it in a book” is often seen as “must be true.” But it’s not, always, and in the case of the Internet, it very often isn’t. This is one of the reasons that Critical Thinking is a required course to graduate or transfer, and this shows why it should be a mandatory first-semester class. It’s hard to research when you don’t know how to tell fact from spin, especially convincingly-presented spin.
However, I cannot find it in me to agree with the people who complained to Dr. C and had my rebuttal shut down simply because they didn’t like the way I present myself. The fact of the matter is that we’re in college to learn, and sometimes learning involves hearing points of view and facts that shake up our preconceptions and beliefs. That’s what being in college is about – what another student talked about in his presentation on Crime and Justice – opening the mind to new ideas and different people in different walks of life. Denying someone the right to rebut misinformation simply because you don’t like him personally is undemocratic and un-American.
Regarding research, the best advice I can give in distinguishing fact from spin is to follow the money trail. Who’s funding the study that you’re citing? Are they a group that’s known to be neutral, or do they have a position on the issue that the study is discussing? Are they known to have an agenda regarding the issue? If so, the study may very well be suspect. A group funding a study should be “neutral money.” Think of the studies about cancer that were funded by tobacco companies – would you believe it if a tobacco company’s scientists said that tobacco doesn’t cause cancer, when the American Cancer Society has found that it does? Who’s more credible?
In this rebuttal, I will attempt to show how the studies and citations used in the presentation on Sexual Orientation used flawed methodology to arrive at a pre-determined goal, rather than scientifically researched, and that they were funded by biased groups.
PROBLEMS WITH THE PRESENTATION
Let’s start with definitions. What is homosexuality?
Homosexuality is defined as an attraction to the same sex by most researchers and professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association. But most reactionary religious groups, such as the Family Research Council, will define homosexuality as the act of homosexual sex. Starting right there, we have a fundamental divide in how homosexuality is defined – are we talking about attraction, or action, when these studies are published?
Defining homosexuality as action allows reactionary groups to call homosexuality a choice. Certainly acting upon one’s sexual impulses is always a choice. However, attraction to the opposite sex is not a choice. Any reputable medical or psychiatric organization will say the same. And without an agreed-upon definition of what homosexuality is, any research that claims anything about “all homosexuals” must be suspect, because we don’t know how the study is defining “all homosexuals.”
I choose to use the definition which defines orientation by one’s attractions. And there we get to the second problem, which is: How many gay people are there, anyway?
We can’t know. Certainly the Kinsey study of the 1950s had flaws – Kinsey only interviewed men for his study – but Kinsey’s number of 10% of the population has been hotly contested by anti-gay groups. Their estimate was the one presented on Wednesday – 1 to 2 percent. How they arrived at that number, they don’t say. Reasonable people would take the difference between Kinsey’s numbers and those of the religious right and say that it was probably more like 4 to 6 percent of the population.
But we can’t know for sure. Why? Because in today’s society, being gay is still a stigma. Remember the tape on Measure 9 in Oregon? The No on 9 offices were broken into and a list of gay men and women was stolen from that office. Those people began getting harassed right afterwards. I will guarantee you that even in a closed research setting, there is always a danger that answering the question “Have you ever had sexual relations/attraction with or to a member of the same sex?” with an answer of yes will put your name with that yes answer somewhere on a piece of paper or a database that can be accessed by people you don’t know. Would you risk that in today’s society? Many wouldn’t. It would be like admitting to having black ancestry in the 1950s South. The stigma is not all that different.
Since a lot of people won’t answer honestly in these kinds of studies, especially studies conducted by the reactionary right, who have an agenda against gay people, we cannot be sure of accurate raw data. And because we cannot be sure of accurate raw data, any conclusions drawn from the inaccurate data we do have available must be viewed as suspect.
The statistics cited by the presenters are a third problem. Mark Twain once said that there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics. Statistics can be and often are skewed to favor whichever organization is presenting them. It’s like choosing a jury for a trial – the voir dire process allows attorneys to pick and choose to get a jury that will be favorable to their case, based on the jurors’ biases and beliefs.
As an example, here’s the same question worded two ways:
Do you believe that gays should have the right to marry?
Do you believe that homosexuals should have special rights to marry their same-sex partner?
Notice the differences between those two questions, which ask for the same information. The use of “homosexuals” is a way of bringing sex to the forefront. It’s a hot-button word designed to get people emotionally upset. The buzzword “special rights” is another problem. Casting the issue as one where “they want rights that heterosexuals would never want – they want to marry someone of the same sex, and they claim they don’t have the right to marry, but it’s really a special right because they have the same right to marry an opposite-sex partner that we do” is a common tactic among reactionary religious groups that dislike gays. The issue is not about being able to do the same thing straights do in a literal sense (marry someone of the opposite sex) but in terms of the spirit of what marriage means (marry the person you love, regardless of gender). “Same-sex partner,” as a phrase, is yet another problem. Of course gay people are going to want to marry same-sex partners, but the second question brings up the word “sex” twice in one sentence, pushing people’s minds not toward loving relationships but towards what they cannot comprehend – gay sex. It does skew the results.
Unbiased, neutral polling groups such as Rutgers or Gallup will use the first question in their polls. Biased groups like Focus on the Family are much more likely to use the second wording, because it’s more likely to give them the results they want.
Let’s look now at the sources of some of the statistics that were cited by the presenters last week.
The “Obituary Study,” which determined that bogus age-of-death number for gay men, has significant problems. It was created by a man named Paul Cameron, who founded and is funded by the Family Research Council, an anti-gay religious group. The flawed methodology employed by Paul Cameron to reach the conclusions he did quickly becomes obvious when you look at his raw data. In 1983 and 1984, during the height of the AIDS crisis, he surveyed gay newspapers and used the obituaries of gay men to determine an average age of death. The problem is, he only determined the average age of death for one specific, very small segment of the gay population and tried to apply that finding to all gay men. When we look at how many people were excluded from each of these groups (all the closeted gays who were not male who did not die between 1983 and 1984 whose obituaries were not published in gay newspapers) the flaws in the study become blatantly obvious. The study tried to draw conclusions about the large group (gays) by looking at one specific subset of the group (out gays who are male who died between 1983 and 1984 and whose obituaries were published in gay newspapers). This is flawed methodology.
Cameron was looking only for confirmation of his theories, which is not valid research. He only gathered data that would support his theories, not data that would disprove them. Valid research of this nature involves taking a theory and trying to find data to disprove it. If you can’t disprove it, then it must be valid. That’s the sort of research that’s accepted by peer-reviewed professional journals and associations such as the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and American Pediatric Association, among others.
Paul Cameron was expelled from the American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, and several other professional organizations because of his biased methodology and research. No reputable professional organization will associate itself with him or his findings. His funding is from the Family Research Council, a group he headed himself, which is funded mostly by reactionary religious groups.
The Pew Research Centers, which were also cited heavily by the presenters, are likewise biased. Here is their mission statement regarding religion: “The Pew Research Centers seeks to advance a deeper public understanding of religion's contribution to the ideas, beliefs, morals and institutions that shape American society, and to help people of faith make a positive contribution to contemporary public life.” The Family Research Council’s statement is even more heavily biased: “The Family Research Council (FRC) champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society. FRC shapes public debate and formulate public policy that values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family. Believing that God is the author of life, liberty, and the family, FRC promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society.”
These statements, boiled down, essentially say: “We like things the way we think they have been, and we don’t want them to change, and we want to be the boss. We want our religious ideals to set the standard.”
Another problem is the definition of “all religious people.” How do you define “religious people”? Is that only Fundamentalist Christians? Only Christians? Christians and Jews? Christian, Muslims and Jews? Which “religious people” were actually surveyed for those polls?
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Laws and political campaigns draw from statistics for their messages and purposes. Policymakers are influenced very strongly by statistics when making laws or policies. For many years, the statistic that was used to justify equating gays with pedophiles (a misperception that still exists today, and is actively encouraged by anti-gay groups) and therefore classifying us as criminal was taken from another Cameron “study,” where gay men were asked if they had ever had sex with a partner below the age of eighteen. Many said yes. However, what was left out of the published statistics is that many of those men were underage themselves at the time! Now, be fair: would we take a survey of straight men and ask them if they had ever had sex with an underage girl and use their teenage romances as evidence of pedophilia? Of course not. But this bogus statistic has been bandied about for years, and gays are still saddled with it.
As last Wednesday’s presentation showed, gays are still perceived as the only carriers of AIDS. AIDS, even after almost thirty years, is still seen as a “gay disease.” But look at the CDC statistics. 33% of all new AIDS infections in this country are from heterosexual sex, and another 25% are from intravenous drug use – this is hardly a gay-only disease. Over half of the new AIDS infections in this country are not from gay sources! But we’re still blamed for it.
Being gay and participating in gay relationships has finally been taken off the law books of this country as a crime. But gays in this country still do not have equal rights. And the more misinformation that’s out there, the more difficult it will be for us to ever obtain the equal rights that should be ours by birthright as American citizens. Much of that misinformation is out there precisely because of the spin that anti-gay rights groups produce. The words “special rights,” “family values,” “destroying the traditional family,” “a choice,” “sinful,” “pathological,” “sick” – these words are more than words. They’re ideas. They’re accusations. They’re weapons used to keep gays from obtaining full citizenship.
Remember that the next time you hear someone call an idea “gay,” or accuse one of us of being a child molester. It’s not true. It’s not right. And it’s completely un-American.