More on the 60 Minutes Gay or Straight Segment

During the segment, Leslie Stahl asked Michael Bailey’s views of how gay and straight men compare.

“… Straight men are more interested than straight women in having casual, uncommitted sex. Gay men are like that, too,” says Bailey.

“One has the impression that gay men are much more inclined toward casual sex than straight men,” Stahl said.

“They’re just more successful at it, because the people they’re trying to have sex with are also interested in it,” Bailey explained.

“But don’t you find this interesting that the one big area where gay men are more like straight men is in sex? I mean, that is…both amusing and odd,” Stahl said.

“It suggests that whatever causes a man to be gay doesn’t make him feminine in every respect. There must be different parts of the brain that can be feminized independently from each other,” Bailey replied.

Could be. Or this lack of consistency could mean that the theory is wrong. Saying “there must be different parts” doesn’t make it so.

The producer Shari Finkelstein was defended by Brian Montopoli on the CBS Blog by saying:

“The key for Finkelstein – as it was for Scott Pelley in a piece on global warming – was to stick to science.”

If the writers had stuck to the science, then the show would not have come to the conclusions it did. In fact, given the state of the science, there would not have been conclusions. On point, here is a quote from the piece: “There are many more questions at this point than answers, but the scientists 60 Minutes spoke to are increasingly convinced that genes, hormones, or both — that something is happening to determine sexual orientation before birth.” If there are many more questions than answers then how can the scientists be “increasingly convinced?”

How is this stance sticking to the science?

Gay or Straight? 60 Minutes and Sexual Orientation

Update: The producer made some comments about the segment on the CBS website.

Just some of my reactions to the 60 Minutes segment on sexual orientation. This is addressed to an assistant to the segment’s producer who invited me to respond.


In the piece, this narration was near the end:

“Then there’s the question of how something in the womb could affect one twin but not the other. There are many more questions at this point than answers, but the scientists 60 Minutes spoke to are increasingly convinced that genes, hormones, or both — that something is happening to determine sexual orientation before birth.”

There are many problems with the segment but this narration reveals the crux of the matter. You acknowledge there are many more questions than answers, but you still reference your experts as having the conclusion that sexual orientation is determined before birth. You documented numerous exceptions to the theories you presented and then you make a conclusion that is unwarranted by that information. Given those exceptions, you could just as easily have concluded that the certainty that many people used to feel about sexual orientation being inborn might be misguided. In fact, we do not know why people experience the sexual attractions they do.

In fact, in this body of research, there is a relationship between gender non-conformity and later homosexuality but there are numerous exceptions (some effeminate men are straight and some masculine men are gay). However, while gender non-conformity is associated with genetic similarity, sexual orientation is not strongly correlated with being genetically alike. Bailey’s own work shows this. There is a role for the environment to play in the pathway from gender nonconformity to sexual feelings. Your broadcast did not address how gender nonconformity might lead to homosexuality. It was just assumed that gender nonconformity was a precursor to homosexuality. In the process, you reinforced all of the stereotypes about gay men being effeminate and helped to reinforce the social environment that assumes effeminate boys will become gay. You could just as easily presented effeminate straight males and asked why they are straight if being gender nonconforming causes homosexuality.

The problem here is you assumed correlation means cause. A correlation between gender nonconformity and homosexuality does not warrant a conclusion that gender nonconformity directly causes homosexuality. A plausible explanation, at least for some gay men, is that the environment mediates in some way which effeminate men will become gay and which ones will not. In fact, a theory exists that suggests just this kind of mediation but it was not mentioned. Daryl Bem at Cornell has developed such a theory and it was irresponsible for you to discuss gender nonconformity without presenting Bem’s work. In my opinion, you incorrectly led your viewers to believe that no credible science supports social environmental factors which might mediate the development of sexual attractions.

Even the hormonal theory does not specify how gayness might arise from gender nonconformity. This theory only relates to how people might express gender nonconformity. A feminized brain might lead to gender nonconforming behavior but this does not specify how such people might develop attractions to the same sex.

In this context, you presented the older brother theory and allowed Dr. Breedlove to suggest an intrauterine theory for this phenomenon. However, you did not state that even the developers of that theory predict that between 15 and 29% of gay men might owe their homosexuality to the older brother effect. While interesting and important, this theory (which is not at all proven) fails to account for a large majority of people. Instead you provided no context and left the impression that hormones may account for most homosexuality. You also ignored 2002 research by Yale sociologists Bearman and Bruckner that demonstrated another familial effect: opposite sex fraternal twins. They found that boys having an opposite sex fraternal twin are twice as likely as other boys to experience same sex attraction. In contrast to your report, they found that the presence of an older brother diminished reports of same sex attractions.

I think the only fair thing for you to do is to revisit the issue and provide some kind of balance. While there are numerous ramifications of presenting incomplete and therefore, misleading information, the primary matter I am thinking about this morning is the impact of stereotyping on young sensitive, effeminate kids. With your program, you have added to this stereotyping that labels such boys as gay from an early age and results in teasing, pigeon-holing and self-doubt.

I said at the top this is a beginning and I could go on (especially about the lack of discernment of putting on air the young fraternal twin pair) but I think I will stop now. Sexual orientation research is indeed a difficult topic to present in a 15 minute segment. However, I believe future investigations could be much more accurate and balanced if you bring in a wider range of researchers, theorists and thinkers in the field. Toward that end, I would be glad to provide documentation and further nuance if desired.

Appreciate the opportunity to present these reactions,

Warren Throckmorton, PhD
Associate Professor, Psychology
Fellow, Psychology and Public Policy
Grove City College

Equality Ride: Starting a dialogue? Part Two

Here is a press release from SoulForce about Regent University. In contrast to this release, I had a conversation with Mark Yarhouse at Regent today about several matters and in the process he let me know that he was disappointed about how Equality Ride has misreprented Regent. He was looking forward to having some of the riders in on of his classes and a number of other activities were planned on campus. According to Mark, Regent backed out because the leadership could not trust the Riders to be truthful. If the Eriders said Regent was refusing dialogue (which they did on their website) at the very same time Regent was planning it, then the leadership of Regent did not feel they could trust the Riders to be honest about what went on while on campus. My impression (not Mark’s) is that Soulforce was especially anxious to give Falwell and Robertson a black eye. Every one knows there is a history between Mel White and Falwell and Robertson.

Regent University Uninvites Equality Riders, Banning the Gay Activists from Campus
Download this press release as an Adobe PDF document.
Pat Robertson’s Regent University has rescinded their previous welcome to the Equality Riders, stating they now refuse dialogue and that the riders presence will constitute trespassing.

Virginia Beach, VA (PRWEB) March 11, 2006 — Despite previously having agreed to a day of dialogue with the Soulforce Equality Riders, Pat Robertson’s Regent University has now rescinded their invitation, refusing discussion and stating that their presence on campus will constitute trespassing. Regent University is the second stop for this group of young adults on a two-month journey to Christian colleges and military academies that ban GLBT enrollment.

This comes after 24 people, some Equality Riders and other supporters from nearby colleges were arrested at Liberty University. “We had remained optimistic, despite nearly six weeks of unreturned phone calls and emails, that forums for genuine dialogue would emerge,” says Equality Rider Chad Grandy, the point person for Regent University.

=Not so, according to Mark. Forums were in planned and in place.

On February 21, the webpage on the Equality Ride site was updated to reflect the nature of that continuing dialogue, stating: Regent University has refused dialogue thus far with the Equality Ride, but the riders are undeterred in their hope for dialogue with the school. On February 22, the riders received a positive response from the University with a proposed schedule for the two days on campus.

On February 25, a subsequent press release from the Equality Ride quoted Vice President of Academic Affairs Randall Pannell when he said “We at Regent University are looking forward to the Equality Ride’s visit, and are trying to prepare so that this will be a positive experience for both Equality Ride, as well as Regent University.” In that same press release, Equality Ride Co-Director Jacob Reitan commended the school’s choice to embrace academic freedom and discussion. As of March 7 Regent is now closed to dialogue and access, citing two issues, one the continued presence on the Equality website of the phrase, “…Regent University has refused dialogue…but the riders are undeterred.” The second issue is the riders’ statement that Regent indeed has a policy banning GLBT students. “This was true before the February 22 communication from Pannell, and it remains true. The school did tacitly refuse any dialogue.”

This is hair splitting on the part of Equality Ride. Regent wanted to be treated as well as the effort had treated Biola and ACU by reflecting the nature of Regent’s involvement. Mark had worked hard to make access and dialogue possible. And anyone who knows Mark would believe this to be true.

Regent did not request that this statement change prior to fully recanting on the schedule. Pannell writes in the withdrawal letter, “In spite of the fact that the Soulforce Equality Ride is aware that we have no such policies, the facts continue to be misstated.” The activists recently discovered that the University does have a stated policy that appears to ban homosexual enrollment. The handbook reads “…homosexual conduct or any other conduct, which violates Biblical standards, is prohibited.” While the school maintains the policy refers to behavior, the Equality Riders are concerned it may be a form of discrimination. The Equality Ride is an action of Soulforce, an activist organization committed to ending the stigmatization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people–stigmatization caused by religion based bias. ###

Now I don’t know everything and am always open to new information but what I am hearing from Mark leads me to think Regent was wise not to cooperate. You can’t act in bad faith (Equality Ride) and then expect to get cooperation.

Corrected link on the First Amendment Center’s Guidelines

I posted below about the join effort of GLSEN and CEAI to endorse the First Amendment Center’s Guidelines about sexual orientation in public schools. The link was broken and now the guidlines are on the FAC’s website:

This is a good effort and perhaps should be consulted by Soulforce.

Equality Ride: Starting a dialogue?

Imagine you’re a liberal democrat and your conservative republican neighbor calls and says, “Hey, we are coming over to your house next Tuesday in order to dialogue with your kids about the benefits of conservativism.” Your neighbors say they will drop in sometime that day and leave a copy of God and George Bush by Paul Kengor; copies of the National Review and some literature from Focus on the Family for your kids to read. While they are there, they plan to strike up conversations with them about the Iraq War, the need to cut entitlement programs and about how abortion is discriminatory to the poor.

How would you respond?

Now read this from the Dallas Voice about Soulforce’s plans to visit Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA:

Members of Soulforce, which is based in Lynchburg, were greeted with cookies when they met with Liberty students on campus last spring to discuss the treatment of gays…

Soulforce has been issued a permit to demonstrate on city property, which Zuidema said would be the sidewalk or street bordering the campus. Soulforce’s goal is to meet with students to discuss freedom of expression, not to have a confrontation, Herrin said. Still, the group will not be turned away, she said. “I’m actually very excited that this is our first stop,” Herrin, a 24-year-old (Equality Rider) from Dallas, said in a telephone interview. “We have to go to these places and start this dialogue.”

So when you reply to your conservative republican neighbors, “no, we had you over here once before and we just don’t see eye-to-eye on these things,” they say “we won’t be turned away, we are going to come into your house whether you like it or not. See you next Tuesday!”

How would you respond?

Name the heterosexual: Answers

Ok, so not many wanted to guess. Can’t say I blame anyone; there wasn’t much to go on. However, these cases present some of the assumptions that conservatives often make when conceptualizing male homosexuality. I used a similar exercise about girls and eating disorders in one of my classes recently. Very few got that right either. I used that one to illustrate how clinicians can make poor judgments based on attachment to a pet theory of causation.

So here is the rest of the story…

James – Straight as can be. If one can believe self-report, no attractions to the same sex ever.

Dallas – Same-sex attracted but does not seek same-sex partners. Tried it, didn’t like it but has unmistakable attractions toward men. Weak opposite-sex attractions, may pursue heterosexual relationship if the “right” girl comes along.

John – Bisexually attracted; would rather have no same-sex attractions.

Gareth – A brief snippet of the boyhood of psychologist Gordon Allport who had a life-long heterosexual marriage. Although nothing I can find suggests he had same-sex attractions, one cannot be dogmatic about it.

ADDENDUM: A commenter said she might be able to do better with the eating disorders exercise. Here it is: who has the eating disorder?

Jill’s mother was constantly dieting and urging Jill, who had more of her father’s stocky build, to diet with her. At 14, Jill’s boyfriend dumped her for another girl, someone thinner.

Sarah’s mother was obese but did not seem troubled by it. Her parents were laissez-faire about most things and didn’t bother Sarah about her looks or weight. Sarah however was not proud of her mother’s appearance.

Jen’s parents were trim and athletic but did not force the children to be into sports. They were allowed to find their own interests and did not put much pressure on their children to achieve in school, just asking them to make good effort. Jen was involved in most school activities and is an A- student.

First Amendment Center’s Guidelines for Consensus on Sexual Orientation in Public Schools

Busy blogging day for me…

I had input early in this process and again near the end…

ADDENDUM: Here is a more comprehensive article about the guidelines with a link to the document: