An objective look at Rick Perry’s scientific claims about homosexuality

September 30, 2014

Alcoholism, Gay Rights

Rick Perry Commonwealth Club San Francisco

Let’s separate issues of ethics from science and medicine when talking about Rick Perry’s comments about homosexuality.

Back in June of 2014, Rick Perry and the Texas Republican Party made several controversial scientific statements, including comparing homosexuality to alcoholism, and endorsing “reparative therapy.”

In an interview with the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, he stated: “Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that.”

“I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

Also, here is the Texas Republican Party’s statement on homosexuality in their 2014 platform: (Available online)

Homosexuality- Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

Reparative Therapy- We recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.

When asked if “reparative therapy” works, Rick Perry replied, “I don’t know.” “The fact is we will leave that up to the psychologists and the doctors.” (Source)


How well do these claims hold up?

First of all, Rick Perry’s statement and the Texas Republican Party’s platform completely contradict each other. The Texas Republican Party asserts its scientific claim, while Perry claims to defer to medical science.

If Perry defers to the American Psychological Association, he should acknowledge that the APA does not recognize homosexuality as a mental disorder. 

To quote their website: (Seen here)

  • “No, lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders.”
  • Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology.”
  • “Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality.”
  • “Several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience.
  • “Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.

They also discuss “reparative therapy” on their website: (Seen here)

  • All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation.
  • To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective.
  • It seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons.

Is homosexuality a choice? Let’s look at this from as objectively as possible.

This question is usually tangled up in ethics. If being gay is a choice, then people who oppose homosexuality feel justified in trying to alter it and criminalize it. On the other hand, if it is not a choice, then people who oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation feel justified in opposing ‘reparative therapy’ and discriminatory laws.

However, I submit that it is possible to consider the possibility of homosexuality not being entirely genetic or voluntary, and also that this idea would in no way justify prejudice, in part because of the medical and psychological differences between homosexuality and a disorder such as alcoholism.

The APA on their website says that there is no conclusive science that says whether homosexuality is genetic or not, but studies have found some interesting results.

  • A 1993 study (available here) found a connection between a DNA marker on the X chromosome and sexual orientation in males.
  • A 1991 study (available here) found a difference in the construction of the hypothalamus when comparing homosexual and heterosexual men’s brains.
  • A 2012 study (available here) using rats found that exposure to certain sex hormones during critical periods of brain development could affect sexual orientation.

However, brain development does not stop at birth, and so we have to consider possible environmental factors. A great deal of brain development continues through childhood. On the other hand, attempts to “cure” homosexuality through procedures such as lobotomies and hormonal methods have failed.

We also have to be careful with terminology. Making someone abstain from homosexual relationships is not the same as “curing” homosexuality. With social stigma, threats and intimidation it is possible to discourage people from acting on their desires, but that does not equate to fundamentally altering a person’s brain chemistry.

In short, there are no recognized scientific studies proving that sexual orientation can be altered through any kind of “therapy.”


Lastly, why is Rick Perry’s comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism unwarranted?

As previously mentioned, homosexuality is not a disorder, and there are no detrimental health effects of simply being homosexual. The primary mental and physical health problems associated with homosexuality result from prejudice against homosexuality, not homosexuality itself. (See my previous post debunking the myth about gays have shorter lifespans.)

On the other hand, alcoholism is recognized as a form of addiction, with a wide variety of potential effects on mental and physical health.

The APA website lists the following. (Source)

Short-term effects:

  • Memory loss
  • Hangovers
  • Blackouts.

Long-term problems associated with heavy drinking:

  • Stomach ailments
  • Heart problems
  • Cancer
  • Brain damage
  • Serious memory loss
  • Liver cirrhosis.

Additional risks:

  • Increased chance of dying from automobile accidents, homicide, and suicide.
  • Risk for worsening existing conditions such as depression or inducing new problems such as serious memory loss, depression or anxiety.
  • Increase in domestic violence towards spouse/children
  • Women who drink during pregnancy run a serious risk of damaging their fetuses.
  • Relatives, friends and strangers can be injured or killed in alcohol-related accidents and assaults.

These differences should make it clear that homosexuality should not be treated legally and medically the same way as alcoholism.

Rick Perry and the Texas Republican Party should consider listening to the medical and psychological community, instead of letting preconceived ideologies to prevent them from making intelligent scientific and medical policy.

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About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

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4 Comments on “An objective look at Rick Perry’s scientific claims about homosexuality”

  1. crestwind24 Says:

    Great post! Rick Perry needs a lot of help when it comes to science, history, current events, or even his own platform … ooops.

    Like

    Reply

  2. Alex Autin Says:

    Nicely written. Though Perry’s claims about homosexuality are not surprising considering other claims he’s made, they should definitely be called out.

    Like

    Reply

  3. lachmand@comcast.net Says:

    Hello Joseph: Excellent and thoughtful writing Thank you for the background on the Republic Platform and Perry Very interesting. Their words would become one of my main weapons against their harmful and bigoted policies

    I bet they embraced similar words and policies to prevent the advancement of civil rights during the 50′, 60’s and 70’s Best to always wrap your bigotry and racism with religion, founding fathers as well as traditional values.

    I particularly think the ending is strong regarding status as actual disorder Also this statement caught my attention Bravo! ” However, I submit that it is possible to consider the possibility of homosexuality not being entirely genetic or voluntary, and also that this idea would in no way justify prejudice , in part because of the medical and psychological differences between homosexuality and a disorder such as alcoholism.”

    Like

    Reply

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