September 15, 2007

Swagger and Sway

Posted at 11:18 am (Pacific Time)

Anyone who saw The Birdcage probably remembers the hilarious scene in which Armand (Robin Williams) tries to teach Albert (Nathan Lane) how to walk like John Wayne.

Classic film lovers will remember a similar, albeit more serious scene in the 1956 film, Tea and Sympathy, in which Tom (John Kerr), a heterosexual teenager falsely accused of being gay, asks Al (Darryl Hickman), his (straight) friend, to help him with his walk.

In both films, of course, it wasn’t walking per se that concerned the characters. Rather, it was having others believe one is straight. Audience members understood that there are “masculine” and “feminine” ways to walk in American culture, and that men who walk in a feminine manner are likely to be labeled gay, regardless of their actual sexual orientation.

Relevant to the experiences of the characters of Albert and Tom, a study by Prof. Kerri Johnson and her colleagues, published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP), systematically examined just how observers make judgments about whether someone is male or female, and gay or straight, based on their body shape and gait.

However, media coverage and public discussions of the article have been focusing on an incidental component of the study. More about that below.

First, let’s review the study findings. Like many research papers published in JPSP, this one reported data from three related studies, all conducted with samples of undergraduate college students.

Studies 1 and 2: Animated Figures

In the first two studies, the researchers showed students computer animations of walking human figures. They systematically varied two aspects of the models, each of which they hypothesized would be used by observers to make judgments about the figure’s sex and sexual orientation.

One variable was the figure’s overall body shape, which they characterized in terms of waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Although there are many exceptions, women tend to have a lower WHR than men. In other words, women tend to have broad hips relative to their waist (in the extreme, an “hourglass” shape), whereas men tend to have what the researchers described as a “tubular” shape, that is, relatively similar measures of waist and hip size.

The second variable was the figure’s gait, which the researchers defined in terms of the amount of shoulder motion relative to hip motion. The stereotypical masculine walk — what Albert in The Birdcage and Tom in Tea and Sympathy were trying to achieve — involves more shoulder motion than hip motion. The researchers characterized this as a “swagger” (à la Robin Williams channeling John Wayne). By contrast, the stereotypical feminine walk involves more hip motion than shoulder motion — what the researchers called a “sway” (for the counterpart to John Wayne, think Jessica Rabbit).

When students viewed the animations, they tended to judge the cartoon walkers with more swagger to be men, and those with more sway as women. They also tended to judge walkers with more hourglass-shaped bodies to be women, and those with more tubular shaped bodies to be men. If an hourglass-shaped figure walked with swaggering shoulders, they tended to assume it was a lesbian. Tubular-shaped figures that walked with swaying hips were often assumed to be gay men.

If the body shape was androgynous but the student was told the figure’s sex, he or she then tended to rely on the image’s gait for making a guess about its sexual orientation. Once again, swaggering males were usually assumed to be straight whereas swaying males were often guessed to be gay. The pattern was usually reversed for female figures.

Thus, absent all other information about an individual, the research suggests that a male who walks with a feminine sway is often taken for gay (at least by this group of NYU undergraduates). Ditto for a female who walks with a masculine swagger.

Study 3: Videos of Live Actors

In their third study, the researchers used videos of actual human beings. Or rather, they used stripped-down videos that obscured many physical details of the real-life actors who were filmed.

To make the videos, they asked 8 men and 8 women to be filmed while walking on a treadmill. Half were heterosexual, half were gay or lesbian. The JPSP article didn’t provide any other information about the actors — such as their age or ethnicity, how they were recruited, or whether they considered themselves to be masculine, feminine, or androgynous. Presumably, however, the 4 gay male and 4 lesbian actors were all sufficiently out of the closet that they were willing to be filmed. In other words, they weren’t trying to pass as heterosexual.

As in Studies 1 and 2, the researchers showed the videos to students and asked them to guess about each walker’s sex and sexual orientation.

When it came to guessing the women walkers’ sexual orientation, the students essentially did a mental coin toss. They correctly guessed the sexual orientation of the lesbian models 43% of the time, but incorrectly guessed that the heterosexual women were lesbians 46% of the time.

They were somewhat better with the male walkers, but nevertheless were wrong about the gay male models most of the time. They correctly labeled the gay male model as homosexual only 38% of the time, and incorrectly guessed that the gay model was straight 62% of the time. They incorrectly labeled the straight men as gay 15% of the time.

Missing the Point

In summary, the three studies show that NYU students (and probably other people as well) use gender-stereotypical movement cues to make assumptions about sexual orientation in artificially created figures, and to a lesser degree in real models. When judging the real models, they use the motion cues somewhat for men, but not for women.

To the extent that people actually use these cues in their day-to-day interactions, it can have important consequences. Other research suggests that once a heterosexual observer categorizes someone as lesbian or gay, this judgment often affects their subsequent perceptions of that individual. For example, they may dislike the individual and are likely to assume that he or she conforms to a variety of gay-related stereotypes.

Although the findings reported by Prof. Johnson and her colleagues are about observers’ judgments, media coverage has been paying a lot of attention to the swagger and sway of those live actors who were videotaped for Study 3. In many reports, the study has been incorrectly characterized as revealing something about the person who’s walking rather than the people who are observing that walk (and who make guesses about the walker’s sexual orientation).

Perhaps this can be traced to the UCLA press release about the study, which was headlined “Sexual Orientation Revealed by Body Type and Motion, Study Suggests.” To read that press release, you’d think the study’s focus was on determining whether gay and straight men and women actually have different body types and walk differently. Two paragraphs placed early in the 9-paragraph release described the 16 models who were videotaped for Study 3, concluding:

…the researchers determined that the gay subjects tended to have more gender-incongruent body types than their straight counterparts (hourglass figures for men, tubular bodies for women) and body motions (hip-swaying for men, shoulder-swaggering for women) than their straight counterparts.

This is true for the 16 models. But the study didn’t show that gender-specific body movements are reliably associated with a person’s sexual orientation. As noted above, the researchers videotaped only 4 gay men, 4 lesbians, 4 heterosexual men, and 4 heterosexual women. You simply can’t generalize about an entire population from a handful of people. And we don’t even know how these models were recruited in the first place.

Nevertheless, MSNBC pursued this tangent in its story, quoting another researcher (not connected with the study) who opined:

“There’s reason to think that gay people can’t conceal their homosexuality…. I don’t think it’s a performance that gay people enact. I think it’s something that either is inborn, or it’s acquired very early, perhaps by watching members of the other sex.”

To be fair, the quoted researcher didn’t appear to be suggesting that the JPSP study proves his point — he was simply stating his personal opinion.

My own hunch, though, is that thousands of gay men and lesbians who have successfully concealed their sexual orientation from their straight friends and relatives would disagree with him. As would a lot of straight males who, like Tom in Tea and Sympathy, have worried about the way they walk.

# # # # #

Swagger, sway, and sexuality: Judging sexual orientation from body motion and morphology” was authored by Kerri L. Johnson, Simone Gill, Victoria Reichman, and Louis G. Tassinary, and it appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 93, #3, pp. 321-334 (2007).

Some of the video clips that the researchers used in Studies 1 and 2 are posted at the American Psychological Association’s journals website. Some of the videos used in Study 3 are posted at the website and the APA website.

See Mike Airhart’s comment on media coverage of the study at

Copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.


July 4, 2007

Nice Work (If You Can Get It)

Posted at 12:21 pm (Pacific Time)

“The only work that really brings enjoyment
Is the kind that is for girl and boy meant.”

–George & Ira Gershwin (Nice Work If You Can Get It)

Opinion surveys consistently show that the American public opposes workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. In a 2007 Gallup poll, for example, 89% of US adults agreed that “Homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities.” This percentage represents an increase of more than 30 points since the question was first asked by Gallup in 1977, when 56% supported equal employment opportunity.

Despite this near-consensus that sexual minority individuals shouldn’t face job discrimination because of their orientation, federal law still doesn’t protect workers in this regard (although 20 states and the District of Columbia do, according to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.)

Is job-related bias a problem? A new study by economist Dr. Lee Badgett and her colleagues at UCLA indicates that it is. Their report, Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination, was released last week and is available from the Williams Institute’s web site.

Dr. Badgett and her coauthors reviewed findings from more than 50 studies that addressed employment discrimination among sexual and gender minorities. As would be expected in any such review, the methodologies and results varied considerably across the studies. The data clearly show, however, that workplace discrimination is disturbingly widespread.

Some of Dr. Badgett’s main findings:

  • Depending on the study, between 15% and 68% of the sexual minority respondents said they had experienced employment discrimination at some point in their lives because of their sexual orientation.
  • In studies that asked respondents more specific questions about the type of discrimination they experienced, 8%-17% said they were fired or denied employment, 10%-28% were denied a promotion or given negative performance evaluations, and 10%-19% reported receiving unequal pay or benefits.
  • Many heterosexuals reported witnessing sexual orientation discrimination against their coworkers.
  • In states that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, sexual minorities file complaints of employment discrimination at roughly the same rates as women and racial minorities.
  • Gay men earn 10%-32% less than similarly qualified heterosexual men. Data for lesbians don’t reveal a consistent pattern of pay differences from heterosexual women but, like heterosexual women, lesbians earn less than men.
  • Six studies that surveyed transgender individuals separately found that 20% to 57% of transgender respondents reported having experienced employment discrimination at some point in their life. More specifically, 13%-56% said they were fired, 13%-47% were denied employment, 22%-31% were harassed, and 19% were denied a promotion based on their gender identity.

Three of the studies reviewed by Dr. Badgett were based on nationally representative samples of self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults. Because of the nature of their samples, they probably provide the best estimates of the extent of workplace discrimination experiences in the sexual minority population.

  • A 2000 Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 405 lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in 15 large metropolitan areas found that 18% of the respondents reported experiencing discrimination when applying for a job or keeping a job.
  • In a 2001 paper published in the American Journal of Public Health (vol. 91, pp. 1869-1876), Drs. Vicki Mays and Susan Cochran analyzed self-reports of discrimination in a large nationally representative sample of adults aged 25-74 years. They found that 8% of sexual minority respondents reported being fired, 13% were denied employment, and 11% were denied a promotion. (However, the survey did not ask whether these specific incidents were based on the respondent’s sexual orientation or another factor, such as race or gender.)
  • In my own study with a nationally representative sample of 662 lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults, 10% of the total sample reported having been fired from a job or denied a job or promotion since age 18 because of their sexual orientation. Broken down by sexual orientation groups, 16% of lesbians and gay men said they had experienced job discrimination, compared to 6% of bisexual women and 3% of bisexual men. (More information about this study is available in a previous blog post. The paper can be downloaded from my website.)

Dr. Badgett’s report highlights the need for workplace protections for sexual minorities. Congress is currently considering one potential source of such protection, The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (HR 2015). ENDA would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The experiences of women and racial minorities teach us that ENDA and similar laws won’t eliminate workplace discrimination. By making such discrimination illegal and providing remedies for individuals who experience it, however, they are an important step toward addressing the problems documented by Dr. Badgett’s study.

Copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.


June 26, 2007

Hate Crimes Hit 1 in 5 Sexual Minorities

Posted at 12:05 am (Pacific Time)

What percentage of sexual minority adults in the United States have experienced hate crimes because of their sexual orientation?

Every year, the FBI reports the number of hate crimes tallied by local law enforcement agencies during the previous 12 months. Those statistics are useful but, as I explained in an earlier post, they only include crimes that victims reported to the police. Data from the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) indicate that about 58% of crimes based on sexual orientation went unreported between July 2000 and December 2003.

In addition, the FBI and NCVS data only tell us about the number of hate crimes committed during a particular period. They don’t yield information about the prevalence of such victimization among sexual minorities — that is, the proportion of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual population that has been targeted for criminal victimization because of their sexual orientation.

Until recently, hate crime prevalence had to be estimated from community-based samples. Those data were tremendously useful but, because of the study designs, none of the samples could be assumed to be representative of the national population of sexual minority adults.

Now, however, prevalence data are available from a survey conducted with a national probability sample. And they show that such victimization is alarmingly common: About 1 in 5 sexual minority adults report they have experienced a crime against their person or property based on their sexual orientation.

I conducted the survey in 2005 with a nationally representative sample of 662 lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults. Participants reported their experiences with violence, property crimes, and harassment based on their sexual orientation since they turned 18. A paper reporting the survey results has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in 2008.

Here are some key findings:

  • 13% of respondents said they had been hit, beaten, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted because of their sexual orientation.
  • 15% had been robbed or had their property stolen, vandalized, or purposely damaged.
  • Combining these two groups, 21% had experienced either violence or a property crime.
  • 14% said someone had tried to attack them, rob them, or damage their property, but didn’t succeed.
  • 23% had been threatened with violence.
  • 13% had an object thrown at them.
  • 49% had been verbally insulted or abused because of their sexual orientation.

The risks for victimization weren’t uniform throughout the sample. Gay men were significantly more likely than lesbians or bisexuals to be victimized.More than one third of the gay men had experienced one or both types of crimes, compared to between 11% and 13% of lesbians, bisexual men, and bisexual women. Gay men also reported higher levels of harassment and verbal abuse than the other sexual orientation groups.

These patterns are consistent with previous research. Data from the FBI and NCVS indicate that men are generally more likely than women to be the targets of most kinds of violent crime, especially crimes perpetrated by strangers. This pattern seems to hold in antigay hate crimes as well. Among the men in the sample, those who were gay were more open about their sexual orientation than those who were bisexual, and this greater visibility probably further increased the gay men’s relative likelihood of victimization.

Despite variations within the sample, the survey findings show that hate crime victimization is an all too common experience among all sexual minorities.

Other research has shown that gay and lesbian survivors of hate crimes show higher levels of psychological distress for a longer time period, compared to sexual minority victims of other kinds of violent crime. The data from the new survey indicate that a substantial number of Americans are at risk for this kind of victimization and its often debilitating consequences.

More information about the study is available on my website.

Data collection was made possible by a grant from the Gill Foundation.

Copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.


December 27, 2006

Relationship Science

Posted at 10:33 am (Pacific Time)

An early episode of the old TV sitcom, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, was titled “Love Is A Science.” In it, Zelda Gilroy introduced Dobie to the concept of propinquity as a source of romantic attraction.

Propinquity refers to physical proximity. Because of their last names, Dobie and Zelda regularly experienced it, thanks to Central High School’s alphabetically arranged student seating charts.

As it happens, social scientists who study relationships have indeed found that propinquity is often a precursor to attraction. In fact, researchers have learned quite a bit about romantic relationships during the decades since Dobie and Zelda’s first on-camera meeting in 1959.

For years, that research focused on heterosexual couples. In the late 1970s, however, Dr. Anne Peplau, a respected social psychologist and relationship researcher, began to study the intimate relationships of same-sex couples with the goal of broadening scientific understanding of all close relationships.

Three decades later, Prof. Peplau is still a leading scholar in relationship science. With new challenges to state marriage laws now proceeding through the Maryland, Connecticut, and Iowa courts, the recent publication of her newest review of the scientific literature on same-sex couples is especially timely.

The article, by Dr. Peplau and her UCLA graduate student, Adam Fingerhut, appears in the 2007 volume of the Annual Review of Psychology, a widely-cited source of authoritative and analytic reviews of current research on a variety of topics.

Titled “TheClose Relationships of Lesbians and Gay Men,” the article summarizes the current state of scientific knowledge about same-sex relationships. It also highlights recent research trends and discusses how the growing body of research on same-sex couples has contributed to scientific understanding of close relationships in general.

Here are some of the main research findings discussed by Peplau and Fingerhut:

  • Lesbians, gay men, and heterosexuals seek similar qualities in their romantic partners. “Regardless of sexual orientation, most individuals value affection, dependability, shared interests, and similarity of religious beliefs. Men, regardless of sexual orientation, are more likely to emphasize a partner’s physical attractiveness; women, regardless of sexual orientation, give greater emphasis to personality characteristics.”
  • Traditional heterosexual marriages are organized around a gender-based division of labor and a norm of greater power and decision-making authority for the man. By contrast, same-sex couples appear to place greater value on achieving a fair distribution of household labor that is not linked to traditional roles and they often strive for power equality. However, like many heterosexual couples that espouse equality, not all same-sex couples actually achieve equal sharing of day-to-day household responsibilities or power equality.
  • Heterosexual and same-sex couples display “striking similarities” in their reports of love and relationship satisfaction. “Like their heterosexual counterparts, gay and lesbian couples generally benefit when partners are similar in background, attitudes, and values” and when they both “perceive many rewards and few costs from their relationship.”
  • “Among same-sex and heterosexual couples, there is wide variability in sexual frequency and a general decline in frequency as relationships continue over time. In the early stages of a relationship, gay male couples have sex more often than do other couples…. Lesbian couples report having sex less often than either heterosexual or gay male couples.”
  • While having a sexually exclusive relationship tends to be associated with satisfaction in lesbian and heterosexual couples, this pattern is less common among gay male couples. Gay men are less likely than lesbians or heterosexuals to believe sexual exclusivity is important for their relationship, and are more likely to engage in sex with someone other than their partner. Gay male couples often explicitly negotiate the extent to which they will or won’t be sexually exclusive.
  • “Lesbian, gay male, and heterosexual couples report a similar frequency of arguments and tend to disagree about similar topics, with finances, affection, sex, criticism, and household tasks heading the list.” The problem-solving skills of lesbian and gay couples appear to be at least as good as those of heterosexual couples. “As with heterosexual couples, happy lesbian and gay male couples are more likely than are unhappy couples to use constructive problem-solving approaches.”
  • As with heterosexual couples, three main factors affect gay and lesbian partners’ psychological commitment to each other and the longevity of their relationship: (1) positive attraction forces, such as love and satisfaction, that make partners want to stay together; (2) the availability of alternatives to the current relationship, such as a more desirable partner; and (3) barriers that make it difficult for a person to leave the relationship, including investments that increase the psychological, emotional, or financial costs of ending a relationship, as well as moral or religious feelings of obligation or duty to one’s partner.

Of course, these conclusions are based on aggregate data and refer to general patterns in the population at large. Every couple — gay, lesbian, or heterosexual — is unique and doesn’t necessarily conform to all of the patterns described here.

As for Zelda and Dobie, propinquity apparently was important after all. They appeared as a married couple in the 1987 reunion movie Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis.

In real life, however, events took a different turn. The role of Zelda was played by Sheila James, now the Honorable Sheila James Kuehl, state senator for California’s 23rd District. When she joined the California Assembly in 1994, Sen. Kuehl became the first openly gay person elected to the California legislature. She has been a leading advocate for children, civil rights, the environment, and women’s issues.

* * * * *

Peplau and Fingerhut’s Annual Review of Psychology article has been published on-line (access is restricted to subscribers) and will be available in print in January.

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.


November 3, 2006

LA Times on Lesbian/Gay Parents: He Said/She Said?

Posted at 11:37 am (Pacific Time)

I didn’t plan my October 30 posting about parenting by same-sex couples to coincide with an article on the same topic in the Los Angeles Times.

But there it was in last Monday’s edition — the story by Kevin Sack, titled “Do Children of Gay Parents Develop Differently?“, a sidebar to his 3-part series on a gay male couple attempting to have children.

The headline’s question was answered — sort of — in the sub-headline, which read “Research suggests there’s no distinction. But the field is a young one, and studies are often colored by politics.”

The questions raised by that “but” prompted me to write this post.

To begin, it’s important to note that the Times accurately characterized current knowledge in many respects:

  • It reported (correctly) that experts generally agree that no empirical basis exists for concluding the children of lesbian and gay parents fare worse or better than those raised by heterosexual parents.
  • It (correctly) summarized the conclusions of sociologists Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz in their 2001 literature review published in the American Sociological Review: “Almost uniformly, they wrote, the research found no systematic differences between children reared by a mother and father and those raised by same-sex parents.”
  • It quoted Dr. Charlotte Patterson, one of the leading researchers in this field (whose recent paper I summarized in Monday’s posting), as saying the children of lesbian and gay parents display “pretty positive adjustment.”
  • And it noted (correctly) that major professional organizations with relevant expertise — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and American Medical Association — have endorsed the conclusions summarized by Dr. Patterson.

In discussing the limitations of current research, however, the article raised three questions that may have left many readers doubting the validity of this entire area of research.

Question #1. Is the research definitive?

I’m sure everyone working in this area would agree that more research is needed on parenting and sexual orientation. In making this point, however the Times adopted what struck me as an accusatory and dismissive tone that cast undue doubt on the findings to date:

“Despite three decades of research on gay parenting, social scientists cannot conclusively determine whether children raised by homosexuals develop differently, for better or worse, than those raised by heterosexuals. Though the early consensus is that they do not, even the investigators acknowledge the field is too young, the numbers too few, the variables too many and the research too values-laden to qualify as definitive.”

The message seems to be that the lack of conclusive findings is damning. In truth, however, social scientists lack “definitive” findings on practically every topic we study. The investigators are usually the first to acknowledge this fact.

Yes, we need more research on parental sexual orientation and its effects (or lack of them) on children. Yes, that research should be conducted with bigger and better samples. But the published studies now number more than two dozen. Over time, the measurement techniques and sampling strategies used in this research have grown increasingly sophisticated. Recent studies have reported findings from a representative sample of the US population.

On the specific questions of (a) whether the children of gay parents are less well adjusted than the children of heterosexuals, and (b) whether their parents are less fit, we actually know quite a lot, especially about families headed by lesbians. The research to date has consistently found no inherent deficits among gay parents, and their kids have proved to be as well adjusted as children with heterosexual parents. The burden of proof rests with those who claim that being raised by lesbian or gay parents harms children.

As more data become available, our understanding of parental sexual orientation and child development will become even more extensive and nuanced. We’ll be better able to describe the entire population of kids with sexual minority parents. But scientists’ reflexive caution and our oft-repeated mantra that “more research is needed” hardly mean we know nothing in this area today.

Question #2. Do scholars disagree about how some of the data should be interpreted?

The Times quoted Dr. Stacey, who questioned researchers’ interpretations of some of their findings, echoing the comments she and Dr. Biblarz made in their 2001 paper.

Drs. Stacey and Biblarz agreed there are clearly no deficits in the psychological or social adjustment or intellectual abilities of children raised by sexual minority parents. However, they hypothesized that those children might differ from kids with heterosexual parents in other areas, namely, conformity to traditional gender roles and sexual attitudes and behavior. They discussed a few studies that reported such differences, and speculated that other studies might also have found significant differences if the researchers had recruited larger samples or used different statistical techniques.

I reviewed the latter studies myself and, for the record, I respectfully disagree with Drs. Stacey and Biblarz about most of them, as I noted in my 2006 American Psychologist paper. But the questions Drs. Stacey and Biblarz raised are legitimate and useful.

This is how science works. Researchers report their data in detail so other scholars can examine the results, debate them, and build on them in future studies.

However, it’s important to stress that, while Drs. Stacey and Biblarz proposed alternative interpretations of the data, they didn’t equate differences with deficits. Rather, they concluded:

“Most of the differences in the findings discussed above cannot be considered deficits from any legitimate public policy perspective. They either favor the children with lesbigay parents, are secondary effects of social prejudice, or represent ‘just a difference’ of the sort democratic societies should respect and protect.” (p. 177)

Nor did they question the researchers’ honesty or integrity. Such accusations have been the province of the Christian Right. This leads to the final question raised in the Times article.

Question #3. Do the researchers in this area lack integrity? Are they merely pursuing their own political agenda?

This charge came from Timothy J. Dailey, to whom the Times implicitly accorded the status of social scientist. Dailey, however, isn’t a scientist. He’s a representative of the Family Research Council, a Christian Right organization with an unabashedly antigay political agenda.

(Regular readers of this blog may remember that Mr. Dailey also wrote the FRC’s report claiming child molesters and pedophiles are disproportionately likely to be gay men; see my October 7 posting.)

Dailey’s allegation (quoted by the Times) is that much of the existing research on sexual minority parenting has been “compromised by methodological flaws and driven by political agendas….”


” ‘openly lesbian researchers’ — he named Patterson specifically — ‘sometimes conduct research with an interest in portraying homosexual parenting in a positive light….’ To do so, Dailey wrote, ignores ‘the accumulated wisdom of cultures and societies from time immemorial, which testifies that the best way for children to be raised is by a mother and a father who are married to each other.’ “

Although the Times article gave voice to Dailey’s ad hominem attack on Dr. Patterson’s work, it didn’t note that her research has been subjected to extensive peer review and published in the most highly regarded professional journals in the field. Unlike the FRC, scientific reviewers base their evaluations on the quality of the research, not the researcher’s personal characteristics or claims about “the accumulated wisdom of cultures and societies from time immemorial.”


On balance, the Times mostly got it right. However, by granting unwarranted legitimacy to the FRC’s claims, the article probably led some readers to dismiss the research in this area as simply “colored by politics.” If so, this is unfortunate.

Empirical research can’t reconcile disputes about core values, but it is very good at addressing questions of fact. Policy debates will be impoverished if this important source of knowledge is simply dismissed as a “he said, she said” squabble.

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.


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