Thursday, June 28, 2007
• Consistencies in characteristics show orientation is inborn, expert says
• Similar research focuses on speech, hair-growth patterns
• Critics see no gay genetics, point to lack of inherited orientation
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Can you tell whether someone's gay just by the way he or she walks?
David Sylva wants to know. He straps bright red lights to people's bodies and videotapes them walking in the dark. He then shows the videotape to observers (who won't be biased by clothing or hairstyles since the walker is in the dark) and asks them to guess the walker's sexual orientation.
(Click here for access to videos to see whether you can tell if the walker is gay or straight.)
Sylva's observations focus on the physical characteristics of the individual's stride, such as the closeness of the knees.
Why does Sylva, a graduate student at Northwestern University, care so much about how gay people walk? Because he's one of a growing number of researchers who think sexual orientation may be as basic as how you walk, something inborn that you don't choose.
His premise reflects a growing belief among Americans, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. (Poll majority: Gays' orientation can't change ) For the first time a majority of respondents -- about 56 percent -- said they don't believe a person can change his or her sexual orientation. In a similar poll in 2001, 45 percent said orientation couldn't change. In 1998, 36 percent held that belief. The sampling error for Wednesday's results is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
A growing number of psychologists and geneticists are working on the "nature versus nurture" question -- a question that's set off a highly charged political debate about whether people choose to be gay, or whether gayness is determined by their DNA.
Take Richard Lippa, a professor of psychology at California State University at Fullerton. His studies show that gay people are twice as likely to be left-handed. He also collects photos of hair whorls -- those circular swirls you see atop a man's head. He says about 10 percent of the general population have whorls that rotate counter-clockwise, but about 20 percent of gay men have counter-clockwise whorls.
Lippa acknowledges that studying hair patterns sounds strange. "It sounds a little like the 'Twilight Zone' or voodoo science," he says. But to Lippa, a link between sexual orientation and something that's clearly inborn (like handedness or the way hair grows) speaks volumes. His theory: You can't choose your whorl, and you can't choose your sexuality, either.
"You're born with either a clockwise or a counter-clockwise hair whorl. It's fixed, it's biologically determined. No one's going to argue that your hair whorl is influenced by learning or culture," he says.
Lippa says his next step is see whether there are specific genes that control sexual orientation. . . .
Published: June 28, 2007
Controversy erupted in San Francisco recently, when Frameline’s LGBT Film Festival pulled Gendercator, a short film by lesbian filmmaker Catherine Crouch, which trans activists accused of being transphobic. In response, a number of lesbians protested Frameline’s actions, anti-censorship folk expressed concern and both sides called for dialogue.
Jamison Green doesn’t know if discussion is the answer. The world’s most renowned trans man, Green says that he’s strongly against censorship and he agrees that dialogue—between lesbian and trans communities—is important. But, he argues, “People come [to those discussions] with a huge amount of emotional baggage and investment in the outcome. I don’t see being able to actually have a meaningful theoretical discussion in that environment. I think we’re not at the place where we can go there—not until we actually have some ground rules.”
At the forefront of FTM activism since he transitioned in 1989, Jamison Green has served on the board of a half dozen trans organizations including FTM International (ftmi.org) and Gender Education and Advocacy (gender.org), and has received numerous awards for his activism.
Becoming A Visible Man, Green’s 2004 award-winning memoir has been utilized in universities and colleges programs. He writes a column for PlanetOut.com, lectures at colleges, is a keynote speaker at this year’s London Gay Pride and regularly helps trans people resolve “problems that professionals in the various fields don’t want to address.”
At home with his wife Heidi (who Green calls “a big ol’ lesbian activist and bisexual activist”) in a quiet San Francisco suburb, Green grapples with an issue he sees impacting the broader trans community. “I think one of the most important things that we as a community have to struggle with is balancing people’s need for connection with others who share their experience against people’s need to just live their lives. That has been tricky…especially [for] many of us who come from queer space.”
Although Green is committed to maintaining his ties with queer culture, he insists that not all trans folk need do so. “It should be ok to just live your life without having to be a martyr. Being out as trans is not always an option. And what people choose to tell other people about their lives is their own business. Nobody should have to feel compelled to be out.”
Thrilled about what’s defined as genderqueer, Green says “That’s how I felt in my late teens and early twenties. I didn’t think I was exactly female before and, although I look and am comfortable being perceived as very male, I know I’m not exactly male now.”
Still, Green acknowledges, “For all intensive purposes, I pass. On one hand, it makes me a very good spokesperson; on the other hand, it makes a lot of people angry, which is funny, because I can’t help the way I look. I’m either treated like I’m a good ‘ol boy or I’m not a real man, according to gay male standards.” . . .
Published: June 28, 2007
The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy is a think tank dedicated to the field of sexual orientation law and public policy.
Over the last ten years, many researchers have conducted studies to find out whether LGBT people face sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. These studies include surveys of LGBT individuals’ workplace experiences; wage comparisons between LGB and heterosexual persons; analyses of discrimination complaints filed with administrative agencies; and testing studies and controlled experiments. The report summarizes findings from these studies.
When surveyed, 16% to 68% of LGBT people report experiencing employment discrimination. Studies conducted from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s revealed that 16% to 68% of LGB respondents reported experiencing employment discrimination at some point in their lives. Since the mid-1990s, an additional fifteen studies found that 15% to 43% of LGB respondents experienced discrimination in the workplace. When asked more specific questions about the type of discrimination experienced, LGB respondents reported the following experiences that were related to their sexual orientation: 8%-17% were fired or denied employment; 10%-28% were denied a promotion or given negative performance evaluations; 7%-41% were verbally/physically abused or had their workplace vandalized; and 10%-19% reported receiving unequal pay or benefits.
Fifteen to 57% of transgender people also report experiencing employment discrimination. When transgender individuals were surveyed separately, they reported similar or higher levels of employment discrimination. In six studies conducted between 1996 and 2006, 20% to 57% of transgender respondents reported having experienced employment discrimination at some point in their life. More specifically, 13%-56% were fired; 13%-47% were denied employment; 22%-31% were harassed; and 19% were denied a promotion based on their gender identity.
When surveyed, many heterosexual co-workers report witnessing sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. A small number of researchers have also asked heterosexuals whether they have witnessed discrimination against their LGB peers. These studies revealed that 12% to 30% of respondents in certain occupations, such as the legal profession, have witnessed antigay discrimination in employment. In states that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, LGB people file complaints of employment discrimination at similar rates to women and racial minorities. Individual complaints of discrimination filed with government agencies provide another measure of perceived discrimination. The General Accounting Office (or “GAO”, now known as the Government Accountability Office) collected the number of complaints filed in states that outlaw sexual orientation discrimination and found that one percent of all discrimination complaints related to sexual orientation. However, comparisons of data from ten states show that the rate of sexual orientation discrimination complaints per GLB person is 3 per 10,000, which is roughly equivalent to gender-based complaints. . . .