September 16, 2014

Choice, Immutability, and the 7th Circuit Marriage Equality Decision

Posted at 1:00 am (Pacific Time)

Last week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld lower court rulings striking down anti-marriage laws in Indiana and Wisconsin. Even those of us who aren’t legal scholars can find good reading in Judge Richard Posner’s written opinion, which skewered the states’ arguments against marriage equality.

As a social scientist, I was pleased that his legal analysis was informed by data from social and behavioral research. And I was gratified that he referenced some of my own work.

Early in his 40-page decision, Judge Posner wrote,

“We begin our detailed analysis of whether prohibiting same-sex marriage denies equal protection of the laws by noting that Indiana and Wisconsin … are discriminating against homosexuals by denying them a right that these states grant to heterosexuals, namely the right to marry an unmarried adult of their choice. And there is little doubt that sexual orientation, the ground of the discrimination, is an immutable (and probably an innate, in the sense of in-born) characteristic rather than a choice. Wisely, neither Indiana nor Wisconsin argues otherwise.” (p. 9, my emphasis)

The evidence he cited in support of this assertion included materials from the American Psychological Association and a paper on which I was the lead author, describing findings from a survey I conducted with a nationally representative sample of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults.

This blog post is about the research and the context in which I conducted it.

*          *          *          *          *

Early research on sexual minority subcultures in the United States tended to focus on gay men. And the researchers often reported that most gay men felt they hadn’t chosen their sexual orientation. For example, in his 1951 book, The Homosexual in America: A Subjective Approach, sociologist Edward Sagarin (writing under the pseudonym Donald Webster Cory) wrote:

“This does not mean that sexual inversion [homosexuality] is voluntary, and that one need only exercise good judgment and will-power in order to overcome it or to choose some other pathway. Not at all. It is entirely involuntary and beyond control, because one did not choose to want to be homosexual.”  (p. 183)

And psychologist Evelyn Hooker, in her 1965 paper, Male Homosexuals and Their “Worlds” (in Judd Marmor’s edited book, Sexual Inversion: The Multiple Roots of Homosexuality), reported from her ethnographic observations of gay male communities:

“One of the important features of homosexual subcultures is the pattern of beliefs or the justification system. Central to it is the explanation of why they are homosexuals, involving the question of choice. The majority believe either that they were born as homosexuals or that familial factors operating very early in their lives determined the outcome. In any case, homosexuality is believed to be a fate over which they have no control and in which they have no choice.” (p. 102)

In recent years, religious conservatives have strongly disputed this view, and the argument that homosexuality is a sinful choice has achieved considerable prominence in their public rhetoric. In the 1990s, they mounted media campaigns promoting the notion that people can and should stop being gay. The director of one of these ex-gay campaigns told the New York Times that its goal was to strike at the assumption that homosexuality was immutable and that gay people therefore need protection under anti-discrimination laws.

Not surprisingly, public opinion reflects this dimension of the culture wars. Heterosexuals’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men are reliably correlated with their beliefs about choice. Antigay heterosexuals are likely to assert that homosexuality is a choice, whereas unprejudiced heterosexuals are likely to believe that sexual orientation is inborn or otherwise not chosen. (As discussed below, the question of whether heterosexuals choose their orientation is rarely asked.)

*          *          *          *          *

In the 1990s, I was surprised to discover that, despite all the debate and heated rhetoric, relatively little empirical research had directly examined how people perceive their own sexual orientation.

Indirect evidence for a lack of choice was available. For example, most participants in the Kinsey studies of the 1940s and 1950s reported they had experienced sexual attraction only to one sex (men or women) throughout their entire lives; but the Kinsey team did not ask directly about perceptions of choice.

Illuminating research was conducted by sociologist Vera Whisman, who set out to study lesbians and gay men who said they had chosen their sexual orientation. However, as she reported in her book, Queer By Choice, most of her sample did not experience their patterns of sexual attractions as a choice. Those who were “queer by choice” were typically referring to choosing their sexual behaviors and the labels and identities they adopted for themselves.

Otherwise, anecdotal and autobiographical accounts were available and a few studies reported relevant questionnaire data from small samples. But as best I could tell, no large-scale studies had asked people whether they perceived their own sexual orientation (whether hetero-, homo-, or bisexual) as a choice.

*          *          *          *          *

This lack of data prompted me to begin asking about choice in my own research.

Based on the available evidence, I expected to find that many – probably most – gay men didn’t perceive their sexual orientation to be a choice.

For women, however, I thought the pattern might be different. Many feminists argued that lesbianism is a choice women can (and should) make for themselves. And in some early studies, gay men tended to report having been aware of their homosexuality at an earlier age than lesbians, which might be evidence of a gender difference in the experience of choice.

These and other patterns led me to tentatively hypothesize that lesbians would be more likely than gay men to report they experienced some degree of choice about their sexual orientation.

In an exploratory study during the 1990s with a relatively small community sample that included 125 gay and lesbian adults, these hypotheses were supported. My colleagues and I found that most of the gay men (80%) said they had no choice at all about their sexual orientation. The proportion of lesbians who said they had no choice was smaller, but still a majority (62%).

While these findings were interesting, the sample was small. I subsequently decided to ask a similar question in two survey studies with larger and more representative samples that also included enough bisexual women and men to permit meaningful analyses of their responses.

In the first of those surveys, we collected questionnaire data from 2,259 gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults in the greater Sacramento area. One questionnaire item was, “How much choice do you feel that you had about being lesbian/bisexual?” [for men the wording was "gay]/bisexual”]. The 5 response options were “no choice at all,” “very little choice,” “some choice,” “a fair amount of choice,” and “a great deal of choice.”

The results weren’t dramatically different from those we obtained in the pilot study: 87% of the gay men reported they experienced “no choice at all” or “very little choice” about their sexual orientation. Once again, women perceived having more choice than men. Even so, most lesbians (nearly 70%) reported having little or no choice.

It is perhaps not surprising that bisexuals reported feeling they had more choice about their sexual orientation. Nevertheless, nearly 59% of bisexual men and 45% of bisexual women said they experienced little or no choice. Another 15% and 20%, respectively, said they had only “some choice.”

This study’s sample was large but it wasn’t a probability sample, i.e., one that is representative of the population at large. We had recruited the participants mainly through Northern California lesbian, gay, and bisexual community organizations and at community events, most of them in the Sacramento area. People who weren’t active in the community or weren’t open about their sexual orientation were probably underrepresented.

I subsequently had the opportunity to assess how well these findings fit the population as a whole when I surveyed a nationally representative sample of self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults. We asked them “How much choice do you feel you had about being lesbian?” [Or gay or queer or bisexual or homosexual, depending on the term they had previously said they preferred for describing themselves.] Four response options were available: “no choice at all,” “a small amount of choice,” “a fair amount of choice,” and “a great deal of choice.”

The responses of gay men and lesbians were strikingly similar to those we obtained from the Sacramento-area community sample: 88% of the gay men reported “no choice at all” about being gay, with another 6.9% saying they experienced “a small amount of choice.” Only 5% reported they experienced “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of choice. Among lesbians, 68.4% reported no choice, and another 15.2% reported experiencing a small amount of choice; only 16% experienced a fair amount or a great deal of choice.

Thus, 95% of gay men and 84% of lesbians reported experiencing little or no choice about their sexual orientation. This is the finding Judge Posner cited last week in his opinion.

In contrast to the community study, a majority of bisexuals in the national sample reported having little or no choice about their sexual orientation, although they were less likely than gay men and lesbians to say they experienced no choice at all. Among bisexual men, 38.3% said they experienced no choice, and another 22.4% experienced a small amount of choice, a total of 60.7%. Among bisexual women, the numbers were 40.6% and 15.2%, respectively, a total of 55.8%.

None of these surveys explicitly defined the term choice, so we don’t know whether respondents interpreted it as referring to their pattern of attractions, their sexual behaviors, their identity, or some other facet of sexual orientation. Based on Vera Whisman’s research, cited above, it seems likely that most were referring to the amount of choice they experience in their sexual attractions and desires.

*          *          *          *          *

What about heterosexuals? Do they perceive their sexual orientation as a choice?

To the best of my knowledge, no published research based on a probability sample of heterosexual adults reports data that directly answer this question. I intended to ask it in a national survey I conducted in the 1990s, but was dissuaded from doing so by other members of my research team. They convinced me the question would create problems during data collection because most heterosexuals simply wouldn’t know how to answer it.

This asymmetry in who can answer the choice question can be understood as a reflection of sexual stigma. One manifestation of stigma is the widespread assumption that heterosexuality is normal and unproblematic. Few heterosexuals are ever asked what made them straight, and most have probably never thought about the origin of their own attractions to the other sex.

Homosexuality, by contrast, is viewed as problematic. Nonheterosexuals are routinely asked what made them “that way” and, in the course of coming out, they often ask themselves this question. Even when a scientific study evenhandedly examines the origins of all sexual orientations, its subject matter is typically characterized as what causes people to be gay or bisexual.

In this context of stigma, it is perhaps not surprising that I encountered some raised eyebrows when I initially shared my findings about perceptions of choice with other researchers – not so much because of the numbers, but simply because I had asked the question.

Some assumed that documenting how people perceive their sexual orientation would be the basis for arguing that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people shouldn’t be persecuted because “it’s not their fault” – they never chose to be “that way.” This argument is perceived (often correctly) as implicitly suggesting that (a) being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is a defect, and (b) if people did choose to be anything other than heterosexual, they would deserve to be discriminated against.

*          *          *          *          *

But although Judge Posner’s opinion takes up the question of choice – as did Judge Vaughn Walker, who cited the same research in his decision overturning California’s Proposition 8 – he doesn’t treat homosexuality as a defect. Nor does he suggest that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people would deserve to be persecuted if they freely chose their sexual orientation.

However, Judge Posner recognizes that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people constitute an identifiable minority group defined by an immutable characteristic that is irrelevant to a person’s ability to contribute to society. Consequently, any attempt by the state to discriminate against them must serve some important government objective.

And, as he concluded, the rationale offered by Wisconsin and Indiana for their laws denying marriage rights to same-sex couples, “is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously…. The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional…” (pp. 7-8).

 *          *          *          *          *

Here are the bibliographic sources for my studies, described above.

Herek, G. M., Cogan, J. C., Gillis, J. R., & Glunt, E. K. (1998). Correlates of internalized homophobia in a community sample of lesbians and gay men. Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, 2(1), 17-25.

Herek, G. M., Gillis, J. R., & Cogan, J. C. (2009). Internalized stigma among sexual minority adults: Insights from a social psychological perspective. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56, 32-43.

Herek, G. M., Norton, A. T., Allen, T. J., & Sims, C. L. (2010). Demographic, psychological, and social characteristics of self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in a U.S. probability sample. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7, 176-200.

A brief introduction to sampling terminology and methods is available on my website.

Copyright © 2014 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

September 2, 2014

Happy 107th Birthday, Dr. Evelyn Hooker

Posted at 12:01 am (Pacific Time)

Today is the 107th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Evelyn Hooker, the psychologist who is widely credited with helping to establish that homosexuality is not inherently linked to mental illness.

Dr. Evelyn HookerIn the course of her remarkable life, Dr. Hooker surmounted many of the barriers faced by women who sought an academic career in the 20th century.

She was born Evelyn Gentry on September 2, 1907, to a poor farm family in North Platte, Nebraska. The sixth of nine children, she received her early education in one-room schoolhouses on the Nebraska prairie, followed by high school in Sterling, Colorado. She subsequently earned baccalaureate and master’s degrees at the University of Colorado.

She wanted to apply to the doctoral psychology program at Yale but her University of Colorado department chairman (himself a Yale graduate) refused to recommend a woman. Instead, she entered the graduate program at Johns Hopkins University, receiving her Ph.D. in 1932.

She taught at the Maryland College for Women and then at Whittier College. While at Whittier, she received a fellowship to study psychotherapy for a year in Germany. As Hitler was ascending to power, she resided with a Jewish family in Berlin. While in Europe, she also visited Russia shortly after Stalin’s purge of 1938. Those experiences in totalitarian states further deepened her interest in working for social justice and human rights.

Whittier fired Dr. Hooker and several of her colleagues for their liberal political beliefs. She was subsequently hired by UCLA as an adjunct faculty member. According to the department chairman, she was relegated to that status because the Psychology Department faculty (all but three of whom were men) were unwilling to appoint another woman to a tenure-track position.

In 1951, she married Edward Niles Hooker, a distinguished UCLA professor of English and the man she called her “true love.” He died suddenly in 1957, a loss that deeply pained her.

Dr. Hooker is best known for her psychological research in the 1950s and 1960s with gay men.

Her studies were innovative in several important respects. Rather than simply accepting the conventional wisdom that homosexuality is a pathology, she used the scientific method to test this assumption. And rather than studying homosexual psychiatric patients, she recruited a sample of gay men who were functioning normally in society.

For her best known study, published in 1957 in The Journal of Projective Techniques, she recruited 30 homosexual males and 30 heterosexual males through community organizations in the Los Angeles area. The two groups were matched for age, IQ, and education. None of the men were in therapy at the time of the study.

She administered three projective tests to the men — the Rorschach inkblot test, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Make-A-Picture-Story (MAPS) Test). Then she asked outside experts to use the test data to rate each man’s mental health. Although today it seems like an obvious safeguard against bias, Dr. Hooker’s was the first published study to utilize raters who did not know the sexual orientation of the study participants.

Using the Rorschach data, two of the independent experts evaluated the men’s overall adjustment using a 5-point scale. They classified two-thirds of the heterosexuals and two-thirds of the homosexuals in the three highest categories of adjustment.

Hooker presented the judges with the 60 Rorschach protocols in random order and asked them to identify each man’s sexual orientation. Only six of the homosexual men and six of the heterosexual men were correctly identified by both judges. She later gave the judges another opportunity, this time presenting them with matched pairs of protocols, one from a homosexual man and one from a heterosexual. Only 12 of the 30 pairs elicited correct responses from both judges.

A third expert used the TAT and MAPS protocols to evaluate the men’s psychological adjustment. As with the Rorschach responses, the adjustment ratings of the homosexuals and heterosexuals did not differ significantly.

Dr. Hooker concluded from her data that homosexuality is not a clinical entity and that homosexuality is not inherently associated with psychopathology. Her findings have since been replicated by other investigators using a variety of research methods.

In retrospect, we can see that Dr. Hooker’s main hypothesis — that no group differences in psychological distress should exist between heterosexual and homosexual samples — actually applied too strict a test. We know today that some members of stigmatized groups manifest elevated rates of psychological distress — for example, because of the stress imposed on them by social ostracism, harassment, discrimination, and violence. Such correlations don’t mean that group membership is itself a pathology.

By documenting that well-adjusted homosexuals not only existed but in fact were numerous, Dr. Hooker’s research demonstrated that the illness model had no scientific basis. She helped to lay the foundation for the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and for the American Psychological Association’s subsequent commitment to removing the stigma that has historically been attached to homosexuality.

Dr. Hooker died at her Santa Monica home on November 18, 1996. Her pioneering research and remarkable life were honored with awards from numerous professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, and many advocacy and community groups.

* * * *

For more information, see the 1992 Oscar-nominated documentary, Changing Our Minds The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker.

A biographical sketch and a selected bibliography of Dr. Hooker’s publications can be found on my website.

* * * * *

Postscript. Although homosexuality has not been classified as a mental disorder in the United States for decades, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) still lists several diagnoses related to homosexuality (although not homosexuality itself) as pathological. For example, “ego-dystonic” sexual orientation, which was removed from the DSM in the 1980s, remains in the ICD.

In preparation for the upcoming 11th edition of the ICD, the World Health Organization created a Working Group on the Classification of Sexual Disorders and Sexual Health to review these diagnoses. In a report released this summer, the Working Group, headed by Prof. Susan Cochran of UCLA, recommended that all of them be eliminated.

The Working Group’s recommendations will be reviewed by the ministers of health from more than 170 WHO countries, including Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, and other nations where sexual stigma is enshrined in law.

* * * * *

This entry is an expanded and updated version of a 2008 Beyond Homophobia post.

Copyright © 2014 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

September 2, 2008

Happy Birthday, Evelyn Hooker

Posted at 10:20 am (Pacific Time)

Today is the 101st anniversary of Dr. Evelyn Hooker’s birth.

Dr. Hooker, the psychologist who is widely credited with helping to establish that homosexuality is not inherently linked to mental illness, was born September 2, 1907, in North Platte, Nebraska.  She was the sixth of nine children.

Dr, Evelyn HookerIn the course of her remarkable life, Dr. Hooker surmounted many of the barriers faced by women who sought an academic career in the 20th century. She is best known for her psychological research in the 1950s and 1960s with gay men.

Her studies were innovative in several important respects. Rather than simply accepting the conventional wisdom that homosexuality is a pathology, she used the scientific method to test this assumption. And rather than studying homosexual psychiatric patients, she recruited a sample of gay men who were functioning normally in society.

For her best known study, published in 1957 in The Journal of Projective Techniques, she recruited 30 homosexual males and 30 heterosexual males through community organizations in the Los Angeles area. The two groups were matched for age, IQ, and education. None of the men were in therapy at the time of the study.

She administered three projective tests to the men — the Rorschach inkblot test, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Make-A-Picture-Story (MAPS) Test). Then she asked outside experts with no prior knowledge of the men’s sexual orientation to use the test data to rate their mental health. Although today it seems like an obvious safeguard against bias, Dr. Hooker’s was the first published study to utilize raters who were “blind” to the sexual orientation of the study participants.

Using the Rorschach data, two of the independent experts evaluated the men’s overall adjustment using a 5-point scale. They classified two-thirds of the heterosexuals and two-thirds of the homosexuals in the three highest categories of adjustment. When asked to identify which Rorschach protocols were obtained from homosexuals, the experts couldn’t do it at a level better than chance.

A third expert used the TAT and MAPS protocols to evaluate the men’s psychological adjustment. As with the Rorschach responses, the adjustment ratings of the homosexuals and heterosexuals did not differ significantly.

Dr. Hooker concluded from her data that homosexuality is not a clinical entity and that homosexuality is not inherently associated with psychopathology. Her findings have since been replicated by other investigators using a variety of research methods.

In retrospect, we can see that Dr. Hooker’s main hypothesis — that no group differences in psychological distress should exist between heterosexual and homosexual samples — actually applied too strict a test. We know today that some members of stigmatized groups manifest elevated rates of psychological distress because of the stress imposed on them by social ostracism, harassment, discrimination, and violence. Such patterns don’t indicate that the group is inherently disturbed.

Nevertheless, by demonstrating that well-adjusted homosexuals not only existed but in fact were numerous, Dr. Hooker’s research demonstrated that the illness model had no scientific basis. She helped to lay the foundation for the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and for the American Psychological Association’s subsequent commitment to removing the stigma that has historically been attached to homosexuality.

Dr. Hooker died at her Santa Monica home on November 18, 1996. Her pioneering research and remarkable life were honored with awards from numerous professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, and many advocacy and community groups.

*          *          *          *          *

For more information, see the 1992 Oscar-nominated documentary, Changing Our Minds The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker.

A biographical sketch and a selected bibliography of Dr. Hooker’s publications can be found at my UC Davis website.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

July 23, 2008

From 1993 to 2008: DADT and the House Armed Services Committee

Posted at 11:02 am (Pacific Time)

Today the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee holds hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The congressional hearings come as Democrats increasingly discuss repealing the policy under a new Administration, and in the wake of a July ABC News/Washington Post Poll in which 75% of respondents said  that “homosexuals who DO publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military.” (78% said those who DON’T disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve.)

The hearings also follow the recent release of a report by a team of retired senior military officers that concluded the ban on openly gay service members is counterproductive and should end, as well as a public statement signed by more than 50 retired generals and admirals that calls on Congress to repeal DADT.

With these signs of quickening movement toward eliminating the military’s discriminatory personnel policy, I’d like to be able to discuss the social science research relevant to the policy.

However, there isn’t much to say that is new.

Revisiting the Social Science Data

To be sure, new studies have been released that consider issues related to privacy, unit cohesion, and the experiences of other countries that have integrated sexual minorities into their militaries. I’ve discussed some of this work in previous posts. The Michael D. Palm Center website at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is also an excellent resource for such research.

But the conclusions of the newer research don’t differ much from those of past studies.

Thus, it seems appropriate to revisit a previous set of hearings in which the House Armed Services Committee heard about social science research relevant to military personnel policy. They were held in May of 1993 and were chaired by Rep. Ron Dellums (D-CA).

I was invited to testify before the Committee on behalf of the American Psychological Association and five other professional organizations (the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the American Nursing Association, and the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States).

What follows is the bulk of my oral statement (with some introductory and background material omitted):

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to provide testimony on the policy implications of lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military….

My written testimony to the Committee summarizes the results of an extensive review of the relevant published research from the social and behavioral sciences. That review is lengthy. However, I can summarize its conclusions in a few words: The research data show that there is nothing about lesbians and gay men that makes them inherently unfit for military service, and there is nothing about heterosexuals that makes them inherently unable to work and live with gay people in close quarters.

….I would like to address two questions that have been raised repeatedly in the current discussion surrounding the military ban on service by gay men and lesbians. The first question is whether lesbians and gay men are inherently unfit for service. In the current debate, some consensus seems to have been reached that gay people are just as competent, just as dedicated, and just as patriotic as their heterosexual counterparts. However, questions still are raised concerning whether the presence of openly gay military personnel would create a heightened risk for sexual harassment, favoritism, or fraternization.

Obviously, data are not available to address these questions directly because the current policy has made collection of such data impossible in the military. However, based on research conducted with civilians, as well as reports from quasi-military organizations in the United States (such as police and fire departments) and the armed forces of other countries, there is no reason to expect that gay men and lesbians would be any more likely than heterosexuals to engage in sexual harassment or other prohibited conduct. We know that a homosexual orientation is not associated with impaired psychological functioning; it is not in any way a mental illness. In addition, there is no valid scientific evidence to indicate that gay men and lesbians are less able than heterosexuals to control their sexual or romantic urges, to refrain from the abuse of power, to obey rules and laws, to interact effectively with others, or to exercise good judgment in handling authority….

The second question I would like to address is whether unit cohesion and morale would be harmed if personnel known to be gay were allowed to serve. Would heterosexual personnel refuse to work and live in close quarters with lesbian or gay male service members? This question reflects a recognition that stigma leads many heterosexuals to hold false stereotypes about lesbians and gay men and unwarranted prejudices against them.

As with the first question, we do not currently have data that directly answer questions about morale and cohesion. We do know, however, that heterosexuals are fully capable of establishing close interpersonal relationships with gay people and that as many as one-third of the adult heterosexual population in the U.S. has already done so. We also know that heterosexuals who have a close ongoing relationship with a gay man or a lesbian tend to express favorable and accepting attitudes toward gay people as a group. And it appears that ongoing interpersonal contact in a supportive environment where common goals are emphasized, and prejudice is clearly unacceptable, is likely to foster positive feelings toward gay men and lesbians. Thus, the assumption that heterosexuals cannot overcome their prejudices toward gay people is a mistaken one.

In summary, neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals appear to possess any characteristics that would make them inherently incapable of functioning under a nondiscriminatory military policy. In my written testimony, I have offered a number of recommendations for implementing such a policy. I would like to mention five of the principal recommendations here.

The military should:

  • establish clear norms that sexual orientation is irrelevant to performing one’s duty and that everyone should be judged on her or his own merits;
  • eliminate false stereotypes about gay men and lesbians through education and sensitivity training for all personnel;
  • set uniform standards for public conduct that apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual personnel;
  • deal with sexual harassment as a form of conduct rather than as a characteristic of a class of people, and establish that all sexual harassment is unacceptable regardless of the genders or sexual orientations involved;
  • take a firm and highly publicized stand that violence against gay personnel is unacceptable and will be punished quickly and severely; attach stiff penalties to antigay violence perpetrated by military personnel.

Undoubtedly, implementing a new policy will involve challenges that will require careful and planned responses from the military leadership. This has been true for racial and gender integration, and it will be true for integration of open lesbians and gay men. The important point is that such challenges can be successfully met. The real question for debate is whether the military, the government, and the country as a whole are willing to meet them.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be happy to answer any questions that members of the Committee might have.

From 1993 to 2008

That was in 1993. Today, as then, the real question is not whether sexual minorities can be successfully integrated into the military. The social science data answered this question in the affirmative then, and do so even more clearly now.

Rather, the issue is whether the United States is willing to repudiate its current practice of antigay discrimination and address the challenges associated with a new policy.

The growing opposition to DADT among military veterans and the public indicate that we finally may be ready to take up this challenge.

*          *          *          *          *

The full text of my 1993 oral statement before the House Armed Services Committee can be read on my website.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

·

July 4, 2008

Jesse Helms: “If You Want To Call Me A Bigot, Fine.”

Posted at 12:49 pm (Pacific Time)

I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that….
If you want to call me a bigot, fine.”

Jesse Helms, in response to President Clinton’s 1993 nomination of Roberta Achtenberg as an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

AP Photo

Future students of 20th-century US history may puzzle over a section of the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act. After mandating the federal government’s annual collection of data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,” the Act includes the following passage:

“SEC. 2.

(a) Congress finds that:

  1. the American family life is the foundation of American Society,
  2. Federal policy should encourage the well-being, financial security, and health of the American family,
  3. schools should not de-emphasize the critical value of American family life.

(b) Nothing in this Act shall be construed, nor shall any funds appropriated to carry out the purpose of the Act be used, to promote or encourage homosexuality”

This section of the Act is the legacy of Jesse Helms, who died today at the age of 86.

When the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was being considered by the Senate, Helms played a leading role in efforts to block it because it included antigay violence among the crimes to be monitored by law enforcement personnel. Aware of the bill’s popularity and having failed to remove sexual orientation from it, Helms attempted to thwart its passage by introducing an amendment that its supporters would find unacceptable but politically difficult to vote down.

The Helms amendment would have added the following language to the bill:

“It is the sense of the Senate that:

  1. the homosexual movement threatens the strength and survival of the American family as the basic unit of society;
  2. State sodomy laws should be enforced because they are in the best interest of public health;
  3. the Federal Government should not provide discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation; and
  4. school curriculums should not condone homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle in American society.”

Such tactics were typical of Helms, who regularly used his parliamentary skills to get his own way in the Senate. On this occasion, however, he was outmaneuvered by Senators Paul Simon (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who proposed alternative language that was less antigay.

The Simon-Hatch amendment was approved before Helms’ amendment was considered, thus providing political cover for senators. By supporting the Simon-Hatch language, they could safely vote against Helms’ amendment without being labeled pro-gay and anti-family.

And that’s why the Hate Crimes Statistics Act includes statements about “the American family” and denials that it was intended to “promote or encourage homosexuality.”

Helms’ failure at preventing passage of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was unusual. His mastery of Senate procedure, coupled with lawmakers’ fear of appearing pro-gay, frequently allowed him to succeed in enacting his anti-gay agenda.

When the US was first confronting the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, for example, Helms was instrumental in preventing the government from funding effective prevention programs among gay and bisexual men. The Senate twice endorsed his amendments prohibiting federal funds for AIDS education materials that “promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities.” By constricting the scope of risk-reduction education, Helms’ actions were widely believed to have contributed to the epidemic’s rapid spread.

Throughout his 30-year tenure in the US Senate, Helms was consistently associated with antigay stands. Given this fact, as well as his longstanding opposition to racial equality and the race-baiting tactics he used in election campaigns throughout his career, it is a fairly easy matter to accept his invitation to label him a bigot.

Personal bigotry aside, however, Helms’ legacy includes the many institutional manifestations of heterosexism that he was able to implement during his years in the Senate. Through the laws he sponsored and those he helped to defeat, he created real hardships for sexual minorities while also fostering sexual prejudice in American society. And his efforts probably contributed to the spread of HIV in the United States and the infection and deaths of many gay and bisexual men.

On this Independence Day and the occasion of Jesse Helms’ death, it is fitting to note how personal bigotry combined with political power can enable one politician to do so much harm to so many people.

And, recalling the general unwillingness of elected leaders to stand up to Jesse Helms’ antigay campaigns over the years, it is appropriate to reflect upon the words attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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June 26, 2008

Five Years Ago Today: Reflections on Lawrence v. Texas

Posted at 12:01 am (Pacific Time)

On June 26, 2003, the US Supreme Court issued its opinion in the Lawrence v. Texas case, ruling that state laws restricting adults’ rights to engage in private, consenting sexual behavior are unconstitutional.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of that historic decision, it seems appropriate to recall the events leading up to it and to consider what has happened since.

Consistent with this blog’s focus, I’ll emphasize the social science research data relevant to the case as presented to the Court in an amicus brief filed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and other professional organizations. I had the privilege of helping to write the APA’s briefs for Lawrence and the other cases mentioned below, all of which sought to inform the Court about current scientific knowledge related to homosexuality and sexual orientation.

Bowers v. Hardwick

Before discussing Lawrence, it’s important to recall the Court’s decision 17 years earlier in Bowers v. Hardwick.

Michael Hardwick was arrested in his Atlanta home after a police officer (who had been admitted to the home by a houseguest) peered through Hardwick’s partially open bedroom door and saw him engaging in oral sex with a male companion. Georgia had a sodomy law that, like the laws in many other states at the time, criminalized oral and anal sex between same-sex and different-sex partners alike.

With assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Hardwick brought a suit against the state Attorney General, Michael Bowers, challenging the law’s constitutionality. The case reached the US Supreme Court in its 1985–1986 term, and the APA filed an amicus brief jointly with the American Public Health Association.

That brief detailed the current state of scientific thinking and empirical research about homosexuality, explaining that the sexual conduct made illegal by the Georgia statute was common in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and was neither pathological nor harmful to the individual. Rather, the brief argued, such behaviors play a key role in maintaining intimate relationships, which in turn are important for the psychological well-being of heterosexual and homosexual individuals alike. The brief also explained that homosexuality is not a psychological disorder and it rebutted arguments by the Georgia Attorney General that the statute was an effective deterrent to the spread of AIDS.

By a 5–4 majority, the Court upheld the Georgia statute, declaring that states can legally regulate the private sexual behavior of consenting adults. This outcome was made all the more disappointing by later revelations that Justice Powell had initially sided with the justices who wanted to overturn the statute but then changed his vote. Justice Powell commented that he had never personally known any gay people. Ironically, several of his law clerks over the years had been gay but, out of concern for their careers, none had disclosed that fact to Justice Powell.

Three aspects of the majority opinion by Justice White and the concurring opinion by Chief Justice Burger are especially noteworthy.

  • First, the opinions framed the legal question very narrowly and addressed only homosexual conduct even though the Georgia statute made both heterosexual and homosexual sodomy illegal. As Justice White put it, “The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy and hence invalidates the laws of the many States that still make such conduct illegal and have done so for a very long time” (p. 190).
  • Second, both opinions found justification for their legal reasoning in religious and moral traditions. Justice White wrote that proscriptions against homosexual conduct “have ancient roots” (p. 194). Chief Justice Burger asserted that “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching” (p. 197).
  • Third, the opinions constructed same-sex sexuality as something very different from heterosexuality, declaring that it has no relationship to families. Justice White wrote, “No connection between family, marriage, or procreation on the one hand and homosexual activity on the other has been demonstrated, either by the Court of Appeals or by respondent” (p. 191). Elaborating further on this theme, he equated homosexual behavior with incest and heterosexual adultery, predicting that if the court were to decide that the Constitution protects the right to “voluntary sexual conduct between consenting adults, it would be difficult, except by fiat, to limit the claimed right to homosexual conduct while leaving exposed to prosecution adultery, incest, and other sexual crimes even though they are committed in the home” (p. 194).

The Bowers decision was a great blow to proponents of equality for sexual minorities. However, an opportunity to challenge it came surprisingly soon.

Lawrence v. Texas

In 1998, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in Texas for having consensual sex in Lawrence’s bedroom. The Texas sodomy law was similar to Georgia’s in that it criminalized oral and anal sex. Unlike the Georgia statute, however, the Texas law applied only to conduct between people of the same sex. In a lengthy series of appeals, the lower courts refused to overturn the law, citing Bowers v. Hardwick as precedent. Lawrence and Garner finally appealed to the US Supreme Court, which heard the case in the spring of 2003.

For several reasons, legal experts believed it might be possible to overturn Bowers v. Hardwick at this time. Many states had eliminated their sodomy laws, either through the legislative process or because courts had found them to be in violation of the state constitution. Gay people had become much more openly integrated into American life, and public opinion surveys revealed widespread opposition to antigay discrimination. The membership of the Supreme Court had also changed since 1986, and the Court’s 1996 Romer v. Evans ruling suggested it was more receptive to gay issues than in the past. In addition, many legal scholars regarded the Bowers v. Hardwick opinion as not well reasoned and considered it an embarrassment to the Court.

The APA — joined by the American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers — filed an amicus brief, one of more than two dozen such briefs submitted in the Lawrence case. As in Bowers v. Hardwick, the APA brief summarized the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to the case, citing an extensive list of empirical studies and literature reviews in support of its conclusions.

Although some aspects of the Lawrence brief were very similar to the earlier Bowers brief, a much larger body of scientific research on sexual orientation was available than had been the case 17 years earlier. In addition, consistent with the Texas statute, the Lawrence brief focused on research about homosexuality. It stressed three major conclusions from behavioral and social science research findings:

  • Homosexuality is a normal form of human sexuality. In connection with this point, the brief explained why and how sexual orientation is important to the individual; how sexual orientation develops, and the fact that most people do not perceive their sexual orientation to be a choice; and the mental health professions’ recognition that homosexuality is not a mental disorder.
  • Trying to legally suppress sexual intimacy among same-sex partners deprives gay men and lesbians of the opportunity to participate in fundamental aspects of human experience. In this regard, the brief discussed the importance to gay men and lesbians of sexual intimacy and committed relationships; the centrality of the specific behaviors proscribed by the Texas statute to sexual intimacy and, therefore, to the intimate relationships that are at the core of lesbian and gay families; the similarities between same-sex and heterosexual intimate relationships; and the ability of gay men and lesbians to be good parents.
  • Sodomy statutes — such as the Texas law — reinforce prejudice, discrimination, and violence against gay men and lesbians. Related to this point, the brief presented research findings on the discrimination, prejudice, and violence routinely encountered by gay people, and discussed how antisodomy statutes reinforce and help to perpetuate those enactments of sexual stigma.

Five years ago today, the Court declared the Texas law unconstitutional by a 6–3 majority, reversing Bowers v. Hardwick.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was sweeping in its language and its recognition of the basic humanity of gay people. This is evident in his criticism of how the 1986 Court majority had approached Bowers v. Hardwick:

To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse…. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice (p. 567).

Justice Kennedy also noted that the continuance of Bowers as precedent “demeans the lives of homosexual persons” (p. 575), and asserted that “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today” (p. 578). Near the end of the opinion, he wrote, “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime” (p. 578).

These statements represented a dramatic break with the Bowers Court’s view of gay people.

What was the impact of the APA  briefs on the Court? In 1986, Justice Blackmun cited the APA brief in his impassioned dissent to Bowers v. Hardwick. Subsequently, in overturning their sodomy laws, some state courts relied on information from the APA amicus briefs submitted to them. The 2003 brief wasn’t explicitly cited in the written opinions for the Lawrence case, although some of Justice Kennedy’s recurring themes — his recognition of the humanity of gay men and lesbians, and the fact that sexuality is central to personal identity and intimate relationships — were repeatedly stressed in it.

Although we don’t know whether and to what extent the brief affected the Lawrence decision, what matters is that it was filed. As a joint effort by the largest mental health professional associations in the United States — whose memberships also include many of the country’s leading behavioral scientists — the brief illustrated just how far psychology and psychiatry have come in their understanding of human sexuality and their renunciation of sexual stigma.

The Marriage Equality Cases

The ink had barely dried on Justice Kennedy’s decision when questions began to be raised about its impact on marriage laws. Indeed, the justices directly addressed this question in their opinions, with Justice Scalia’s dissent interpreting the majority opinion as leading inevitably to marriage equality (an outcome not to his liking), and Justice Kennedy denying that such a conclusion was in any way inevitable. Justice O’Connor, who wrote a separate concurring opinion, made a point of separating the Lawrence decision from the marriage issue.

Less than six months after the Lawrence decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court cited it in their ruling that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violated the state constitution. A few months later, Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the San Francisco County Assessor to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and officials in a few other jurisdictions did likewise. Thus began a period of intense legal, political, and cultural focus on the issue of marriage equality.

In the past 4 years, several state courts have considered challenges to their marriage laws. The APA and other professional groups filed amicus briefs in those cases which summarized the social science research related to three major lines of argument:

  • In psychological terms, intimate same-sex relationships are not fundamentally different from different-sex relationships.
  • Gay and lesbian couples are currently raising children, and are just as capable as heterosexual couples in this regard.
  • Marriage confers a variety of tangible and intangible benefits that have important effects on psychological and physical health; because they cannot marry, same-sex couples are currently denied these benefits.

I’ve discussed the social science data supporting these arguments in previous posts to this blog.

To date, most of those laws have been upheld by state courts, although the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be granted the same rights and responsibilities as different-sex married couples.

The important exception, of course, is California, whose Supreme Court ruled on May 15 that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage rights to Californians simply because they are gay.

That decision — which also declared that sexual orientation will now be considered a “suspect classification” and that laws and policies discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation will be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny — repeatedly cited the Lawrence v. Texas opinion. It also cited the APA amicus brief, as detailed in a previous post.

In the months ahead, Californians will debate whether or not the Court’s ruling should be undone by a constitutional amendment that has qualified for the November ballot. Meanwhile, a decision about Connecticut’s marriage law is expected from that state’s Supreme Court at any time, and an appeal is pending for an Iowa lower court judge’s opinion that the state’s ban on marriage rights for same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

*          *          *          *          *

Back in 1975, soon after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official roster of mental illnesses, the American Psychological Association (APA) adopted a resolution that not only endorsed the psychiatrists’ action, but also recognized psychologists’ responsibility to undo the harm their profession had historically done to sexual minorities. That resolution committed psychologists to “to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations.”

The APA’s amicus briefs in the Bowers, Lawrence, and related cases were translations of that resolution into concrete action.

Because current debates about law and policy concerning sexual orientation inevitably raise questions about the nature of intimate relationships, parenting, family dynamics, and the personal impact of sexual stigma — phenomena that have been extensively studied by behavioral and social scientists — psychologists and other behavioral scientists have an ongoing role to play in communicating our knowledge to policy makers, jurists, and the public.

By doing so, we will continue to fulfill our longstanding commitment to take the lead in removing the stigma historically attached to homosexuality and same-sex intimate relationships.

*          *          *          *          *

This essay is adapted from sections of a longer article titled “Confronting Sexual Stigma and Prejudice: Theory and Practice,” which was published in 2007 in the Journal of Social Issues, vol. 63, pp. 905-925. The original article is copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. Sources and bibliographic references can be found in the published article.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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June 3, 2008

Charles Moskos, DADT Architect, Dies

Posted at 3:36 pm (Pacific Time)

Charles Moskos, the military sociologist who helped to craft the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, died of cancer on May 31.

Moskos, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University from 1966 until his retirement in 2003, is credited with helping to design AmeriCorps and was an expert on racial integration in the military. His books include The Military: More Than Just a Job?, Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way, and The Postmodern Military. He received numerous honors and awards, including membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Distinguished Service Award, the US Army’s highest decoration for a civilian.

In recent years, however, he was best known for his role in helping to design the US military’s current policy on gay personnel.

According to an obituary posted on the Michael D. Palm Center website:

Until the end of his life, Moskos was always willing to engage his colleagues in discussions of ideas, and he held steadfastly to his beliefs even when they were unpopular. According to Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin, “Charlie consistently defended the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, but was also concerned about the effect it was having on gay and lesbian troops.” Scholars and activists on all sides of this issue were impressed over the years with Moskos’s ability to defend and critique the policy. In 2000, for instance, he called the effects of the policy “insidious” because gays and lesbians have sometimes been cowed into tolerating harassment because they were fearful that reporting it could bring them unwanted scrutiny.

Belkin added that, “Moskos operated in a tradition of practical sociology that affected people’s lives in tangible ways. His passion, intellect and good nature will be sorely missed.”

Palm Center Senior Research Fellow Nathaniel Frank’s review of Moskos’ role in the DADT debate can be found on their website.

Discussions of the social science data relevant to the DADT policy can be found in my 2006 post, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Redux, and in the Beyond Homophobia archives.

Copyright © 2008 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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