The right wing, especially the religious right, have struggled with the science around sexual orientation, especially genetics. Faced with the argument that people are born gay, the right has argued that the science was questionable, and in any case, it didn’t matter.
“Studies have suggested a genetic link to alcoholism, to violence, and even to adultery,” Pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s biggest boosters, has said. “But are we willing to excuse those behaviors on the basis of ‘my genes made me do it’? I don’t think so.”
But in light of a massive new study finding that the genetics behind orientation are complex and not defined by a single gene, the right is turning cartwheels. The study found that many genes play a role in determining someone’s orientation, as did social and environmental factors. Moreover, the study authors made a point of saying that being gay is “natural.”
What the religious right heard was that genetics are a minor consideration, at best, and that they were right all along.
“Even if up to 32 percent of a person’s same-sex sexual behavior is genetically conditioned, this means that more than two-thirds of their sexual behavior is not,” wrote Jim Dennison, head of the conservative Christian Dennison Institute. (Dennison has long argued against LGBTQ rights and marriage equality.)
In American Conservative, columnist Rod Dreher leaps to the conclusion that since there is only some scientific evidence that being gay is genetic, then conversion therapy is perfectly sensible.
“If homosexuality is primarily a matter of nurture, not nature, why is it wrong to let gay people who want to seek therapy in hope of reducing or eliminating same-sex desire undergo that treatment?,” Dreher wrote. “This study undercuts the case against this kind of therapy, right? If same-sex desire is not genetically hard-wired, what’s wrong with the principle behind this therapy from a scientific point of view (as distinct from a moral or political one)?”
Judging from the 3,700+ online comments at Breitbart, a lot of people agree that being LGBTQ is a conscious choice, and one that society should vehemently discourage.
“The entire purpose of the ‘born this way’ mafia is to equate homosexuality with a genetic trait like race and appropriate the cachet of a group oppressed for no other reason than having the wrong genes over which they have no control,” one commenter wrote. “Proving that there is no ‘gay gene’ destroys that argument.”
Of course, the anti-LGBTQ commenters aren’t all that concerned about science anyway. If they were, they would know that race is not a genetic trait either.
The right’s reaction does confirm the fears of some LGBTQ scientists who expressed concerns about the study before it’s publication.
“I deeply disagree about publishing this,” Steven Reilly, a geneticist and postdoctoral researcher, told The New York Times. “It seems like something that could easily be misconstrued. In a world without any discrimination, understanding human behavior is a noble goal, but we don’t live in that world.”
Sure, the right will use whatever it can as a cudgel againt LGBTQ rights. But science is meant to be about finding out the truth, and hiding results you may not like doesn’t work. Moreover, current understanding of genetics is still fairly limited, despite the leaps scientists have made in the past few decades.
There is no telling what future studies will find. The current study is unlikely to be the last word.
More to the point, science has never been the best way to advance LGBTQ rights. Polls consistently show that knowing someone LGBTQ makes people much more accepting. In the end, it’s not our genes that will win people over. It’s our humanity.