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PostPosted: Fri Jul 19, 2013 1:06 pm 
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Deep Roots of Russian Homophobia
1 July 2013
By Alexei Bayer

A few years ago, I was in San Francisco with a group of Moscow officials and businessmen.

Well-off and well-traveled, they admired the tourist sights with dignity and restraint. And then our guide took us to the mostly gay Castro neighborhood, and they were suddenly transformed. They laughed, hooted, took pictures and pointed fingers at same-sex couples like ­excited first-graders during their first anatomy lesson, with a mixture of fascination and disgust. These were not people at peace with their sexuality.

Indeed, many writers have noted that Russia is a female-dominated culture. Russian women are often portrayed as strong, dominant and even domineering — both negatively, such as Kabanikha, the tyrannical mother-in-law in Alexander Ostrovsky's play "The Tempest," and positively, as in Nikolai Nekrasov's paean to the Russian woman, who supposedly can stop a galloping horse and enter a burning house.

Today, Russian gays find themselves victims of state-sponsored persecution much like Soviet Jews did in the 1970s.

Russian men, on the other hand, have tended to fall short and display a variety of weaknesses, such as fear of authority and predilection for drinking. This is a common problem in oppressed societies, where strong, responsible, self-respecting males are seen by the authorities as a threat. The pattern of strong women and weak men — a reversal of ­"traditional" roles — has been observed in other oppressed cultures, such as among the Irish and African-Americans.

During the Soviet era, the situation became much worse. The system was specially designed to identify and eradicate strong and honorable men. Men were also often physically missing because of wars, purges and incarcerations. The ones that remained were often useless as husbands and fathers. Several generations of Russians were raised predominantly by mothers and grandmothers.

Upbringing by females, without a strong male role model, has been identified by some psychiatrists as propitiating homosexual tendencies among men. And in societies where men are few and not very appealing, and where women live in crowded conditions, such as in barracks and even prisons, lesbian relationships are common. Balladeer Yuz Aleshkovsky, himself a one-time prisoner, has a song about lesbian inmates.

Russian homophobia has become obsessive as ugly pogroms have burst into the open with the connivance of law enforcement personnel and egged on by homophobic laws passed by the State Duma. This conforms to the original meaning of the word: the loathing of homosexual tendencies in oneself.

And then there is prison, which swallowed up huge numbers of Russians and throughout the Soviet period had a strong influence on society, culture, language, attitudes and morals. Given its dog-eat-dog conditions, it's easy to draw the false conclusion that prison is some kind of proving ground, where "real men" survive and come out on top.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A real man in civilized society is one who makes his own decisions, lives life on his own terms, is not dependent on others and can provide for his family. Prison inmates fail on all counts. Their community is a primitive, juvenile, vicious, all-male tribe, something out of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." Prison is fertile ground for homoerotic relationships and homosexual rape, refracting and heightening the pervasive self-hating homophobia of Russian society. Not surprisingly, homosexuality in prisons is surrounded by a variety of primitive, almost tribal rituals, stratified and fenced in by unbreakable taboos that turn the class of passive homosexuals, quite literally, into untouchables.

Today, Russian society is becoming increasingly like prison. Established elites consisting of siloviki, highly placed bureaucrats and their children — like "thieves in the law," or members of the criminal fraternity — are permitted to do anything: steal, take bribes, shift money abroad, drive drunk and kill ordinary Russians on pedestrian crossings. The Sergei Magnitsky case, in which a group of officials stole $230 million from the Russian state and then imprisoned and killed Magnitsky, a lawyer who uncovered their crime, is a perfect illustration of this criminalized social order. And now, with the ­Duma's anti-gay legislation, prison attitudes toward homosexuals are being transplanted to society. But then again, back in the Soviet times, inmates derisively called the world outside the prison walls "bolshaya zona," or the Big Camp.

Meanwhile, something else has happened. The LGBT community, allegedly born of weakness and collapse of "traditional values," has turned all this on its head. In Russia, gays and lesbians have become the bravest and the strongest amid pervasive cowardice and apathy of the rest of the population, marching in Gay Pride parades, despite taking blows to the head from the fists of fascist thugs and police batons. In a country that is sinking into moral degradation, where orphanages are full of abandoned children and priests wear overpriced Swiss watches and drive luxury cars, gays and lesbians fight for their right to love each other, to be committed to one another, to marry and raise children.

In many ways, Russian gays and lesbians find themselves in the same situation as Soviet Jews in the 1970s, who used to be derided for being weak and faint-hearted, but by standing up to the Soviet state and demanding the right to emigrate, Soviet Jews began to the process which eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet system.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, is a New York-based economist.

Source: The Moscow Times.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 18, 2013 7:16 pm 
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Being gay in Algeria: ‘I’ll never live with the one I love’
By Assiya HAMZA
11 October 2013

Thursday was the seventh national LGBT day in Algeria, a country in which homosexuality is illegal.

FRANCE 24 spoke with Amelle, an Algerian lesbian who hides her sexual preference rather than risk prison time and familial shame. Under Algerian law, Amelle* is guilty. Her crime: a sexual preference for women.

In order to avoid the risk of a fine or prison sentence, the 27-year-old long ago decided to renounce her right to a love life. Alouen, a gay rights association in Algeria, marked the seventh consecutive “LGBT day” on Thursday, October 10, calling for Algerians at home and abroad to light a candle in support of homosexuals in the North African country. “It’s to show that we’re there, that we exist,” Amelle told FRANCE 24.

The pain of forbidden love

Beyond lighting a candle, Amelle does little to reveal or suggest her sexuality. She says that she “always knew and felt that there was something different” about her. It wasn’t until age 16 that she realized she was gay. “It wasn’t a shock,” the Algiers resident, the oldest of four children, said softly. “I was able to talk about it with people close to me. My friends did not have a violent or negative reaction, even though they thought it was just an adolescent phase. So that helped.”

Amelle had several flings with women, but her first serious lesbian relationship came when she was 19. The experience was formative – and painful. “It was hard living a forbidden love,” she confided. “I couldn’t take it. Seeing each other twice a week wasn’t enough. When you love someone, you want to live with the person.”

As a result, Amelle made the somewhat radical decision to deny her desires and her needs. “I avoid meeting women. I know that if I like someone, I’ll fall in love and end up suffering. It’s easier to stay single,” she said. Today, she seems resigned to her fate. “I live in Algeria. I’ll never be able to live with the one I love. That’s just the way it is.”

A marriage of convenience

According to Algerian custom, a young woman leaves her family only to marry, and sexuality is not supposed to exist outside the institution of marriage. The solution, Amelle decided, was to leave Algeria and go as far away as possible. She chose Canada. She is currently applying for her visa, but leaving Algeria has proven complicated.

“My mother told me that I could go wherever I want, as long as I was married,” Amelle said. So, like many gay Algerians, Amelle is planning a “rainbow marriage” – the term used to describe a union between a gay man and a lesbian that allows them to avoid suspicion of their true sexual preference, bring an end to family pressure, and pursue same-sex sexual relationships if they so choose.

“Rainbow marriage” groups have flourished on social networks in recent years. For the past year, Amelle has been the administrator of a Facebook page called “Marriages of convenience between gays and lesbians” (translated from French), where individuals can publish announcements or requests. “I sense that my mother is suspicious. Everyone asks me ‘What are you waiting for to get married? You’re beautiful, and men are lining up,’” Amelle recounted. “I say that I’m not ready, but my mother reminds me that by my age, she had already given birth to me and my brother.”

For Amelle, a “rainbow marriage” would, above all, be a path to motherhood. “In our society, a single woman can’t have a child,” she noted. Amelle has met potential suitors for a “rainbow marriage”, but has no concrete plans for the moment.

A gradually evolving society

Some, though not many, gay Algerians are lucky enough to have “open-minded family members”, Amelle explained. Her aunt, for example, “often asks me why I don’t have a girlfriend”, she said.

Thanks to television, which offers Algerian society a window onto the world beyond its borders, mentalities in the country are starting to change. “Especially with what happened in France – gay marriage being legalised – that opened up a debate here,” Amelle said. “I have several colleagues who say they aren’t against it. Things are evolving, and it’s a relief.”

But Amelle’s parents are still in the dark when it comes to their daughter’s sexuality. “It would hurt them too much, especially my mother. It would be like telling them that they failed in raising their child,” she said, citing the importance of her role as the oldest sibling and her moral obligation to take care of her parents as they get older. “There is nothing more important than the love for one’s parents. What I fear most in the world is seeing my mother unhappy. I wouldn’t be able to bear being the cause of that,” she told FRANCE 24.

Amelle has often thought about coming out of the closet to her parents – before deciding against it. “I don’t have the right to break her heart,” she said. “I would rather suffer than see her suffer. It’s the price I have to pay.”

*Name changed to protect identity
Source: france24.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 9:41 am 
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What can Dick Swaab tell us about sex and the brain?
by Zoe Williams
Tuesday, 28 January 2014

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Dick Swaab. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Controversy delights Dick Swaab; brains delight him; complexity delights him, though I don't know if you'd get that from reading his book, We Are Our Brains, in which causal links are made quite casually, like a man doing a crossword with a pencil.

The Dutch neurologist is, after a 50-year career, a giant in the field. He is a professor of neurobiology at the University of Amsterdam. His directorship of the Dutch Institute for Brain Research yielded material that has been sent to 500 other research groups in 25 countries. He has propounded groundbreaking theories in his specialist area: the impact on brain development in the womb. Nonetheless, his book, despite directing itself squarely to the layperson, has been miles more successful than he thought, selling 100,000 copies ("the publishers say they knew it would be a hit. But at the start, they only printed 3,000 copies. So I know that is not true."). There are a number of lines you might file under, "Well, there's a curiosity" (for instance: "In professional violinists, the part of the cerebral cortex that directs the fingers of the left hand is five times as large as it is in people who don't play a stringed instrument"). And yet the real fireworks of the book are both more predictable and more profound: Swaab says hormones and chemical substances in utero affect the development of our sexual orientation or, put more simply, you have a gay brain by the time you are born. Male and female brains have "hundreds of differences", which explain all the ways in which men and women are different; "phobia, impulsiveness, ADHD and depression later in life" can be traced back to a mother's fearfulness during pregnancy, which activates her baby's "fear axis".

It has become fashionable to use the word "exhaustive" when what reviewers actually mean is "long", and this book has been thus described a number of times; in fact, it is not exhaustive. Differences between the sexes are stressed and constantly referred to, but not named or referenced. Very far-reaching statements are made – for instance, that children who are adopted between nought and two have average IQs of 100, while children adopted between two and six have average IQs of 80. But there's no footnote. Which children? From where? How many? Adopted by whom? For what reason? Is it possible that the ones who were adopted between two and six weren't chosen sooner because prospective parents could tell they had a learning difficulty?

And then there are Swaab's delightful manners, the smooth, twinkling charm of a man who has spent a life engaged in things that fascinate him, so that even though every answer is basically "sod off …", it is impossible not to like him. But it is not, ultimately, impossible to unshackle oneself from the confident steam train of his assertions.

"I had this problem," he reminisces. "When I found the first differences between male and female in the brain, I got attacked by the feministic movement. Because it was not allowed to have any differences, not in the brain. All differences in brain and behaviour were due to society." He says all this as though it's years since, and yet as a card-carrying feministic, I do not feel that our concerns have been totally addressed. For one, there is a circularity to the argument: a connection that is supposedly hard-wired, say that between a mother and a son, is illustrated by the fact that "a wounded soldier on a battlefield will always call for his mother, not his father". But this surely is social, because the mother will have almost certainly been the caregiver? We should at least wait until a generation has been raised equally by both parents, then mindlessly slaughter some, and then see who they call for, shouldn't we?

Hypotheses about raised testosterone in the womb due to maternal stress are offered on the basis that girls will need to be more like boys if they're to be born into a hostile environment, because they'll need to be more "robust and competitive". Yet, not long after, there's a joke about the long-discredited dominant mother theory (about homosexuality), in which Swaab says: "I made a habit over the years of asking the medical students I taught (250 at a time) which of them did not have a dominant mother. No one ever raised their hand." Sure, it's droll, but dominance, robustness, competitiveness, these are all the same essential trait – is he saying that women ultimately become men or is he saying that traits that are quintessentially male are also quintessentially female? If so, doesn't that de-sex them? Doesn't that make them "human"? He shrugs this off. "The problem often is that if scientists talk about something, it is on the basis of the population. Some women have very male types of behaviour. Some males have very feminine type of behaviour, but as a population they are different." This is the "standard-deviation" lecture – "you won't understand, because you're only a layperson." It didn't really address my question, which was, aren't you yourself assigning "maleness" and "femaleness" to traits that we actually all have? Rebecca Jordan-Young, author of Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences, argues that "Brain Organisation Theory is little more than an elaboration of longstanding folktales about antagonistic male and female essences".

Other old assumptions about men and women – for instance, that men are aroused by images of naked women, whereas women can't be aroused visually in the same way – are trotted out as fact. But there's new evidence that women respond very strongly to all kinds of erotic images, including copulating bonobos. This is based on measuring bloodflow to the vagina rather than an MRI scan. It makes this apparently "hard-wired" difference look like male wishful thinking. "Well," Swaab counters, "it's measuring bloodflow to the vagina. How did the blood flow to the vagina? By getting a message from the brain." "Then how do you account for the different results?" "Because the image is too small in the brain, you miss the small nuclei in the hypothalamus. It's a limitation of the imaging." (I was too polite to push this point. But that seems like a rum old game, publishing something as true, then recanting it so easily. You either believe that men and women respond differently or you don't.)

As much of a pain in the neck as a feministic can be, Swaab's most vocal opponents, 20 years ago, were gay men, after he identified a "gay brain". He makes the sound point, in the book and in person, that this was actually great for homosexuality – asserting sexual orientation to be innate ended all those painful discussions about whether to blame the parents, whether one could persuade or train or pray oneself out of being gay. "People can only live a happy life if they can live the way their brain has been programmed, and the state should accept that, and guarantee them the freedom to live that way so long as they don't harm others. You should have the freedom to live as a homosexual, a transsexual, a heterosexual, and be protected by the state," he says simply. And his discoveries about transsexuality had these direct political consequences; the science put sexuality on the human rights agenda, in Brussels and beyond. There are laws protecting gender reassignment that simply wouldn't exist without Swaab's findings.

And yet, his conclusions about the gay brain – specifically, that it has an enlarged biological clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus) – have run into dispute. The American neuroscientist Simon LeVay remarked recently: "Dick Swaab's group wrote in 1990 that a small group called the suprachiasmatic nucleus was larger in gay men than in heterosexual men. The suprachiasmatic nucleus is involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms, not sex. Swaab's report has not been confirmed by other groups. If the finding is correct, it is unclear whether it is meaningful."

I put this to Swaab, that neither LeVay nor anyone else had managed to reproduce his findings. He sort of waved at me, as if I was making an annoying noise. "The important thing is that it's a marker for something that happened earlier in your brain development. Of course the clock is very much linked to sexual behaviour. There are graphs of students that don't have anything else to do, but if you look to their sexual behaviour, it goes up at 10, 11, 12. There is a very clear day/night correlation in sexual behaviour. There are more nightclubs than dayclubs."

"This is absolutely true," I say. Thinking: "Seriously? Results that can't be replicated, called into question anyway because they were mainly the brains of people who had died of Aids ('We controlled for that! Because many heterosexual people at that time were dying of Aids also. So we were able to see that the enlargement hadn't affected them'), we're going to take on trust because of when nightclubs are open?"

Other times, his benign dismissiveness can be quite bracing (talking about the Dutch Hunger study, I put it to him that the Leningrad Siege study, also conducted on babies born to women who were starving, in the same time period, in the same sorts of numbers, had findings that were basically opposite. "This is not a good study," he replies. "If this were a good study, I would have heard of it." He is endearingly mischievous – at one point, explaining that anorexia was down to the brain's way of coping with glucose, which is why anorexics often have problem births; he utterly rejected the idea that it was anything to do with cultural imagery. "Fashion selects girls with anorexia and bulimia, because they look better. But that doesn't mean that fashion is causing it. It is merely using it." On the subject of mortality, and of his own brain, he is absolutely wonderful. "Some time ago, I went through a difficult period in terms of health and made some notes for my colleagues, 'Mind this', 'Don't do that'. And then I survived. I wanted to keep an eye on this and that, because I know my own character and I wanted to know the relationships between structure and function."

What characteristics did you want to investigate? "I don't tell you. You will hear in good time." The Netherlands already has laws on euthanasia that astonished me – you can apply to die for long-term mental illnesses, schizophrenia, lifelong depression. But Swaab is keen to see some provision made for people who aren't ill, who are just old. "They have pains, they don't want to live any more. It was nice, but not any more. It doesn't fit into the law in the Netherlands that was made for diseases, not for the end of a life that has been accomplished." "This is a campaign of yours?" "Yes," he says, beaming. "This is my short-term solution, and my long-term solution."

Ultimately, though, I keep returning to Jordan-Young's critique: "I think we have to start asking different questions. It isn't possible to do experiments on the causes of gender or sexuality, and we can never really go backwards and separate 'biological' from 'social' elements – that is trying to divide what is actually indivisible. So, I think that we might do better to focus on understanding plasticity and ongoing development, and also to stop obsessing so much about sex differences." Many of Dick Swaab's boldest statements turn out, on closer examination, to be an MRI scan of chauvinism. It sounds interesting, but you can't read proper meaning into it; that part of the brain is too small.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2014 5:24 am 
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Being homosexual is only partly due to gay gene, research finds
By Sarah Knapton
13 February 2014

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DNA double helix: the study found that gay men shared genetic signatures on part of the X chromosome - Xq28. Photo: GETTY

Homosexuality is only partly genetic with sexuality mostly based on environmental and social factors, scientists believe.

A study found that, while gay men shared similar genetic make-up, it only accounted for 40 per cent of the chance of a man being homosexual. But scientists say it could still be possible to develop a test to find out if a baby was more likely to be gay.

In the most comprehensive study of its kind, Dr Michael Bailey, of Northwestern University, has been studying 400 sets of twins to determine if some men are genetically predisposed to being gay. The study found that gay men shared genetic signatures on part of the X chromosome - Xq28.

Dr Bailey said: “Sexual orientation has nothing to do with choice. Our findings suggest there may be genes at play – we found evidence for two sets that affect whether a man is gay or straight. But it is not completely determinative; there are certainly other environmental factors involved. The study shows that there are genes involved in male sexual orientation. Although this could one day lead to a pre-natal test for male sexual orientation, it would not be very accurate, as there are other factors that can influence the outcome.”

Dr Alan Sanders, associate Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern University, who led the study said that it was it was an 'oversimplification’ to suggest there was a 'gay gene.’ “We don’t think genetics is the whole story. It’s not. We have a gene that contributes to homosexuality but you could say it is linked to heterosexuality. It is the variation.”

The study builds on work by Dr Dean Hamer from the US National Cancer Institute in 1993 who also found an area of the x chromosome that he believed was linked to male sexual orientation. Last year Canadian scientists found that the more older male siblings a man has, the greater change he will be gay. They believe that the immune response produced by a pregnant mother increases with each son, increasing the odds of producing more feminine traits in the developing brain of the foetus. Each older brother raised the odds that a man was homosexual by one third.

Researchers at the University of California believe that homosexuality can be explained by the presence of epi-marks — temporary switches that control how our genes are expressed during gestation and after birth.

Daryl Bem, a social psychologist at Cornell University, has suggested that the influence of biological factors on sexual orientation may be mediated by experiences in childhood. A child’s temperament predisposes the child to prefer certain activities over others. Interestingly no similar genes have been discovered which influence female homosexuality. “No-body has found something like this in women,” he added.

Dr Bailey said environmental factors were likely to have the biggest impact on homosexuality. He added: “Don’t confuse “environmental” with “socially acquired.” Environment means anything that is not in our DNA at birth, and that includes a lot of stuff that is not social.”

Richard Lane, of Stonewall, said that while studies into the origins of homosexuality have yet to produce firm evidence, they do to point to a biological root. He said: 'The thing that’s consistent across all of them is that they all point to sexual orientation being something fundamental to a person rather than the lifestyle choice some opponents of equality repeatedly suggest.’

Source: Telegraph UK.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2014 5:10 am 
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Male sexual orientation influenced by genes, study shows
by Ian Sample
Friday, 14 February 2014

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Boy Scouts at a gay pride parade in Seattle. Photograph: Elaine Thompson/AP

A study of gay men in the US has found fresh evidence that male sexual orientation is influenced by genes.

Scientists tested the DNA of 400 gay men and found that genes on at least two chromosomes affected whether a man was gay or straight.

A region of the X chromosome called Xq28 had some impact on men's sexual behaviour – though scientists have no idea which of the many genes in the region are involved, nor how many lie elsewhere in the genome. Another stretch of DNA on chromosome 8 also played a role in male sexual orientation – though again the precise mechanism is unclear.

Researchers have speculated in the past that genes linked to homosexuality in men may have survived evolution because they happened to make women who carried them more fertile. This may be the case for genes in the Xq28 region, as the X chromosome is passed down to men exclusively from their mothers.

Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University in Illinois, set out the findings at a discussion event held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago on Thursday. "The study shows that there are genes involved in male sexual orientation," he said. The work has yet to be published, but confirms the findings of a smaller study that sparked widespread controversy in 1993, when Dean Hamer, a scientist at the US National Cancer Institute, investigated the family histories of more than 100 gay men and found homosexuality tended to be inherited. More than 10% of brothers of gay men were gay themselves, compared to around 3% of the general population. Uncles and male cousins on the mother's side had a greater than average chance of being gay, too.

The link with the mother's side of the family led Hamer to look more closely at the X chromosome. In follow-up work, he found that 33 out of 40 gay brothers inherited similar genetic markers on the Xq28 region of the X chromosome, suggesting key genes resided there.

Hamer faced a firestorm when his study was published. The fuss centred on the influences of nature and nurture on sexual orientation. But the work also raised the more dubious prospect of a prenatal test for sexual orientation. The Daily Mail headlined the story "Abortion hope after 'gay genes findings' ". Hamer warned that any attempt to develop a test for homosexuality would be "wrong, unethical and a terrible abuse of research".

The gene or genes in the Xq28 region that influence sexual orientation have a limited and variable impact. Not all of the gay men in Bailey's study inherited the same Xq28 region. The genes were neither sufficient, nor necessary, to make any of the men gay.

The flawed thinking behind a genetic test for sexual orientation is clear from studies of twins, which show that the identical twin of a gay man, who carries an exact replica of his brother's DNA, is more likely to be straight than gay. That means even a perfect genetic test that picked up every gene linked to sexual orientation would still be less effective than flipping a coin.

While genes do contribute to sexual orientation, other multiple factors play a greater role, perhaps including the levels of hormones a baby is exposed to in the womb. "Sexual orientation has nothing to do with choice," said Bailey. "We found evidence for two sets [of genes] that affect whether a man is gay or straight. But it is not completely determinative; there are certainly other environmental factors involved."

Last year, before the latest results were made public, one of Bailey's colleagues, Alan Sanders, said the findings could not and should not be used to develop a test for sexual orientation. "When people say there's a gay gene, it's an oversimplification," Sanders said. "There's more than one gene, and genetics is not the whole story. Whatever gene contributes to sexual orientation, you can think of it as much as contributing to heterosexuality as much as you can think of it contributing to homosexuality. It contributes to a variation in the trait."

Qazi Rahman, a psychologist at King's College London, said the results were valuable for further understanding the biology of sexual orientation. "This is not controversial or surprising and is nothing people should worry about. All human psychological traits are heritable, that is, they have a genetic component," he said. "Genetic factors explain 30 to 40% of the variation between people's sexual orientation. However, we don't know where these genetic factors are located in the genome. So we need to do 'gene finding' studies, like this one by Sanders, Bailey and others, to have a better idea where potential genes for sexual orientation may lie."

Rahman rejected the idea that genetics research could be used to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. "I don't see how genetics would contribute more to the persecution, discrimination and stigmatisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people any more than social, cultural or learning explanations. Historically, the persecution and awful treatment of LGBT groups has been because politicians, religious leaders and societies have viewed sexual orientation as 'choice' or due to poor upbringing."

Steven Rose, of the Open University, said: "What worries me is not the extent, if at all, to which our genetic, epigenetic or neural constitution and development affect our sexual preferences, but the huge moral panic and religious and political agenda which surrounds the question."

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2014 6:59 pm 
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Gay people are not genetic aberrations
by Nick Cohen
Saturday, 15 February 2014

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Gay-rights protesters in London wear masks depicting Vladimir Putin, at a demonstration outside the Russian embassy during the Sochi Olympics.
Photograph: Heather Blockey/Corbis

After Sochi, we can dispense with the notion that sportsmen and women are "role models" we should encourage our children to emulate. All the young would receive would-be masterclasses in cowardice and selfishness if they were foolish enough to take lessons from athletes.

At the time of going to press, not one competitor had raised a rainbow flag on the slopes of Sochi or a clenched fist on the medal podium. Maybe the lesbian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff will make a stand on Sunday. She has promised Putin she will "rip on his ass" – but only after her competition is safely over. Apart from that: nothing.

The British team, most of whom are there to make up the numbers, has stayed silent. Gay and lesbian athletes have obediently accepted the status quo. "I don't think it's a good idea to make protests here," said one, the Austrian skier Daniela Iraschko-Stolz. "No one cares.''

So it appears. Putin put politics in sport. His laws against the promotion of gay rights and any public displays of affection apply to all who participate in Russian sport. But like businessmen who trade with dictatorships, everyone in the Olympics bubble maintains that politics is no concern of theirs. They want to "chase the dream" – and, they neglect to mention, the fame and money as well.

If we were more scientifically literate, we would understand that gay equality suffered a second reverse while Putin was playing his propaganda games. Dr Michael Bailey, of Northwestern University, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago that genetics is responsible for determining between 30% or 40% of a population's variation in sexual preference.

That this news was not seen as grim is the result of one of the most curious intellectual somersaults of the past two decades. To generalise, the right once believed that success was down to biological inheritance. If a man became rich, it was because his superior capabilities led him to triumph in life's struggles. The left thought that if a woman stayed poor and her horizons were stunted, it was because society kept her in poverty and sexist prejudice limited her opportunities.

Yet liberals welcomed the announcement by the American geneticist Dean Hamer in 1993 that genes influenced homosexuality in men, and have cheered on variations on his theme ever since. True, the "discovery" perturbed homophobic clerics. You only have to search for "gay gene" and "Christian" or "Islam" to see their discomfort at the thought that homosexuality has "god-given" causes.

Although it is always worth tormenting small minds, point scoring was and remains a dangerous tactic.

I am not qualified to comment on the science. Geneticist Steve Jones is however. I found it hard to keep up as he poured out his scorn.

The "findings" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science were not findings at all. The promoters of the latest gay gene theory had not published a paper and therefore had not submitted their research to rigours of peer review.

In any event, and by their own account, they had not "identified" a gene, merely a region on the X-chromosome where there were, in truth, a great many genes. Despite years of hard research, geneticists have been unable to find the genes responsible for something as straightforward as variation in height within a population, he continued. Even if they did, anyone who knows the subject acknowledges that differences in diet always work along with any changes in DNA.

The idea that they could find a reductionist explanation for a phenomenon as complicated as human sexuality was, well, optimistic. All you could say was genetic inheritance probably influenced it. But then you could say the same about anything.

A person's chances of being hit by a bus are in part genetic: men, with their Y chromosomes, are more likely to take risks, while those who inherit poor eyesight is less likely to see the bus in time. But, really, why bother?

I am a little more qualified to talk about the politics and to agree with the great human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell that the slogan "Gays can't help being gay" has a pathetic ring. It cedes acres of ground to the bigoted. It accepts their premise that homosexuality is a problem and then adds the timid caveat that it is a problem that cannot be solved.

Nor is there any guarantee that the slogan will carry gay rights campaigners to victory. If you "biologise" all aspects of human life, you have no right to be shocked if your opponents propose "cures".

On 16 July 1993, the Daily Mail greeted the arrival of Hamer's original claims with the headline "Abortion hopes after 'gay genes' findings". Doubtless its editor was motivated by pure spite. But the suggestion that parents with a prejudice could abort a gay foetus is not wholly fanciful now.

Suppose researchers claim to identify gay genes. Their discovery would be pseudo-science. A Gordian knot of environmental, cultural and hormonal influences would be as important in determining sexual preference. But there they would be on the web and in the text books: gay genes. Parents, who hated the idea of a gay child, could demand screenings and abortions. Why not? Parents who hate the idea of a daughter have unleashed a "gendercide" across China and northern India, where there are now 120 boys being born for every 100 girls.

I have never forgotten hearing Jones talk about the case of Stephen Mobley, who murdered the manager of a Georgia pizza parlour in 1991.

His lawyers tried to save him from lethal injection by arguing he was not responsible for his action because he had a gene that predisposed him to violence. George W Bush's Texas responded by ruling that anyone deemed to be a continuing threat to society would be liable for execution. Liberal lawyers proposed that a defendant's genes were his destiny. Conservatives said: "Thank you for that; the only thing to do is kill him, then."

To put it another way – if you go along with crude reductionism, you can expect to find yourself at the mercy of crude reductionists.

Better to say loudly what the Sochi Olympians are too self-obsessed to say at all: gay people are not entitled to human rights because of a gene, but because they are human.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 20, 2014 5:29 pm 
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Sex in men's prisons: 'The US system cultivates rape. If you treat people like animals, they behave like it'
by Patrick Strudwick
Saturday, 1 March 2014

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An inmate in Arizona's Maricopa County Jail who has volunteered to work on the chain gang. Corbis

The crook of another man's elbow is on my Adam's apple, pressing down, choking me. After just a couple of seconds, I panic and gasp.

Shaun Attwood, who spent more than five years in some of America's toughest prisons, including Arizona's infamous Maricopa Jail, is showing me how men in prison are raped. "Generally they put the victim to sleep with a choke hold – locking the windpipe like this," he says, rendering me unable to reply. "Within about 10 seconds you're unconscious."

Attacks don't always begin like this. Sometimes, "they'll lure them with drugs and get them really high – 90 per cent of prisoners shoot-up drugs". Sometimes they'll trick the victim into a debt and then make them repay it with sex. Other times it can start with a beating or stabbing.

Human Rights Watch estimated in 2010 – three years after Attwood left jail – that 140,000 US inmates have been raped. Other studies have helped fill in the quantitative picture: 21 per cent of prisoners in the Midwest reported being forced into some form of sexual activity, according to Prison Journal. Young inmates are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, says Just Detention International, an organisation devoted to ending prison rape. Similar statistics aren't available in the UK but in the year 2011 – there were 103 male and female prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assaults.

The statistics, then, we know. The jokes, of course, we know, too: "Don't drop the soap!" is repeated so often by so many as to become Britain and America's prison-rape refrain – a chorus of discomfort to muzzle the horror. But the 3D picture of prison rape in America, the how and why and what happens next, is scarcely uttered because those who survive the system almost invariably have no voice. Attwood, however, a tall, skinny, somewhat geeky 43-year-old from Widnes, doesn't just have a voice, but has written three books on life inside. And his latest, Prison Time, details the sex – consensual or otherwise – the prostitution, the pimping and the equal, loving relationships behind bars.

The details of which cast fresh light not only on the culture, politics and dynamics in America's penitentiary system, but on the nature of male sexuality itself. Heterosexual? Bi? Gay? Labels erode, irrelevant, in the absence of women and societal constraints. We begin by discussing rape because it is everywhere in prison and everywhere in his book, an ever-present threat.

"I was constantly mentally preparing to fight to the death to stop it happening to me," he says. "I would leave pens out [in my cell] – I was getting ready to, you know..." his voice trails off. Pens can be a deadly weapon. They can also blind. (A transgender inmate called She-Ra, whom Attwood became friends with, was so broken by gang rapes she finally stopped them by popping an eyeball out of one of her attackers.)

"I had a profound determination to stop it happening because once that's happened to you, everyone finds out and the whole prison society will treat you differently. From then on you're game for anyone to do anything to do you. Not only sexually, but in any way you will be taken advantage of."

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Shaun Attwood photographed in Widnes last month (Mike Poloway)

It's not only young men who are more likely to be raped, but obviously gay ones, too. What are the chances, then, that a young-ish gay man such as myself would be raped? Attwood looks down. "It is inevitable," he says quietly. "And no one on the outside is interested. Until someone's son is calling them from prison saying, 'I've got a cellmate with a padlock in a sock who is threatening to rape me,' they couldn't care less."

In 2003 – a year after Attwood's incarceration for dealing ecstasy on the Arizona rave scene – a federal law was passed, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, decreeing statistics must be compiled nationally and grants given to prisons to help reduce rape. This manifested in what Attwood calls "rape classes". "It involved us being taught about rape and being told we have to report rape," he says with a snort of derision. "Everyone laughed throughout and said to the teacher, 'We are not going to report rape!'. If you report anything in prison you're deemed a snitch and it's KOS – kill on sight – for snitches. At the end of the class everyone was saying, 'They might as well give us rape kits' – a how-to." Not that they needed it. Immediately after the class, "a mentally-ill prisoner was gang-raped. No one reported a thing".

Is there anything, then, that could be done to stop it?

"When you've got two guards watching hundreds of prisoners – to keep costs down – prisoners can do whatever they want. The US prison system cultivates rape. If you treat people like animals, they behave like it."

Unsurprisingly, in such an epidemic, sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates are sky-high. Attwood says in one prison, he counted up the cons with hepatitis C: it came to two-thirds. Many had HIV. The only ones receiving treatment were those who had taken legal action. And thus, some prisoners had full-blown Aids.

Without realising, Attwood himself illustrates how normalised inmates become to rape and sexual assault, to the extent they don't even recognise it. In Prison Time, he describes walking in on a young man being forced to fellate another prisoner, an act considered rape in several states and many countries. But when I ask if Attwood ever witnessed a rape, he says no. And when I ask if he felt he had been assaulted when another lag grabbed him, French-kissed him and groped him with hands moist with lubricant Attwood replies: "No, not at all. If I did that to a woman in a bar, that's sexual assault, but in prison the limits are completely different from society."

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Shaun Attwood, photographed by a fellow inmate at Buckeye Prison, Arizona, 2004

The man who grabbed him he had nicknamed Jeeves. This is because Jeeves was his "butler". Jeeves was sexually obsessed with Attwood and so offered to work for him cleaning his cell and looking after all domestic concerns – a dynamic from which he derived sexual kicks. There was no payment, just the thrill of it. He would make advances to Attwood fairly regularly, but was always rebutted. To the English inmate, Jeeves was comparatively harmless – before being moved to this cell, Attwood would have to walk past another every day in which resided a prisoner called Booga. He documents their first meeting:

"I'm pulled into a cell reeking of backside sweat and masturbation, a cheese-tinted funk. 'I'm Booga. Let's fuck,' says a squat man in urine-stained boxers, with WHITE TRASH tattooed on his torso...I can't believe my eyes when he drops his boxers and waggles his penis... He grabs me. We scuffle... When I feel his penis rub against my leg, my adrenalin kicks in so forcefully I experience a burst of strength and wriggle free."

For Attwood, escaping rape, as well as "murder, or even having bones broken or teeth knocked out", for nearly six years was "freakishly" lucky, and thanks in part to his "English wit" and "people skills" as well his friendships with some of the gang leaders. Other prisoners avoid rape – or at least consider themselves to be avoiding it – by becoming a "punk".

This relates to the word's original meaning – the receptive male partner in anal sex – but in prison becomes a job, an identity. You are a receptacle, owned by another. "They tend to be the younger, prettier inmates – or the transsexual ones," explains Attwood. "If you're a big, bad gang member, which gives you the right to have a punk to use for sex, as long as you're the 'giver', it's not considered remotely gay."

The particulars of this relationship can vary. The higher up the prison strata (which generally means the more violent) the gangster, the better looking his punk. "But he's got to fight to maintain that punk. It's a warrior society." The punk becomes their property. And as such, can either be kept for their sole use or pimped. "People use them like a commodity and rent them out," he explains. But it's only others with high status who hire them. "Some will allow their punks to be unfaithful with other punks only, which is called 'bumping pussies'. It's all tied up in notions of property ownership, with sexual jealousy a secondary factor."

The rules of ownership are also governed by race. With most prisoners grouping socially on racial lines, so, too, must their punks. "A punter – say a Mexican American – might rent a white punk from a white pimp, but a Mexican American wouldn't be running a white punk."

As Attwood utters these words in his rather resonant Cheshire tones – an excitable Gary Barlow if you will – he attracts several glances. We are in a vegetarian restaurant called The Beano, in Guildford, where he now lives. Tables of slate-haired women are seemingly unused to hearing about sexual slavery as they chow down on mushroom lasagne. They look round again when he describes a prisoner regularly selling his semen to another who used it in ways perhaps unsuitable to describe in a newspaper. And again when he enthuses about the aforementioned She-Ra melting down bits of plastic to make dildos. Needs must.

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An inmate taking exercise at Maricopa Jail (Getty Images)

Attwood is as out of place here as he was in Arizona's prisons. But the "shy" raver who went to America's Wild West aged 21 to become a stockbroker, before giving it up to supply the state's party scene with ecstasy, could scarcely care less. He is alive and five thousand miles from the world that stripped his identity like white spirit. Even his sexual identity, even after just a few years, started to wane, tracing a fairly typical trajectory for inmates. "Early on, the other prisoners told me, 'After so many years you'll start to turn', and I was like, 'No, no, no, I've got a girlfriend'. But, gradually, all my belief systems and conditioning started falling away. Being in prison made me question my own sexuality."

Three magnets started tugging at his old heterosexuality. First, prison mores.

"Any number of activities deemed 'gay' on the outside aren't inside," he says. "Being the 'top' in anal sex? Receiving oral sex from a [pre-operative] transsexual? Considered perfectly straight."

Then there were the transgender women themselves – found in male prisons because the American system doesn't recognise chosen gender. One in particular, called Gina, he describes lusting after, fantasising about, and coming "this close" to having sexual contact with, prevented only by her pimp.

And finally, there is the vast, gripping loneliness.

"The deprivation of physical contact in any form plays a huge role," he says, frowning and looking more forlorn than ever. "You miss the warmth, that bond, the intimacy, the touch." He enunciates the words as if salivating over an exquisite dessert. "Going without sex kills you – it's one of the hardest parts." At this he shrieks with laughter, a paroxysm of stress and relief. Now, he has a girlfriend.

But he wasn't just unusually lucky to avoid rape or extreme violence; he was almost anomalous in never engaging sexually with another prisoner. "The majority are at least receiving oral sex from a transsexual." One of whom, he says, cut her own testicles off in her cell, to quell testosterone.

But perhaps more striking and surprising than all of the above is the tender, loving relationships he documents. Mostly, couples keep their relationship private, as having anything valuable on display leaves one open to sabotage. But not all. "There was one couple – an older and younger guy – and the young guy had broken up with him, so he was crying his eyes out, running across the recreation field, shouting, 'You broke my heart!' in front of all the men. It was quite a sight."

And when forced apart, for example when one prisoner is moved to a lower security unit, they would then often deliberately get into trouble to be moved back with their partner. "Lots of these guys had wives or girlfriends on the outside who knew nothing about these relationships, and they'd return to them, on release."

Although unsure about the previous sexual identity of some of these men, Attwood is certain of one thing: the longer the sentence, the higher the chance of crossing the line. "Presently, I couldn't imagine ending up with a man, but I know you change over time – after a 10- or 15-year stretch I would in all likelihood be thinking differently. Your old life gets crushed out of you."

He also received some aching love letters from ostensibly straight prisoners. One of which was from a Mexican mafia hit man called Frankie who imagined being engaged to Attwood and explaining how he wants someone he can "make love to". "I spoke to Frankie on the phone last year, he's back with his wife. I asked him how he reconciled all this and he said, 'My mind works in all kinds of ways'." He shrieks with laughter again.

After everything the writer witnessed, it is perhaps no surprise that seven years on, Attwood remains psychologically scarred. "I still have nightmares," he says. "I used to get flashbacks." This might also explain the place where he chose to make a new life. "I don't want any more mad excitement. I've had enough of it, so Guildford's perfect for me. Just to be able to walk along the river, sit on a bench and stare at the water. It's the height of ecstasy".

'Prison Time' is available now (Mainstream Publishing, £12.99)

Additional research by Andrew Mackereth
Source: Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Thu May 01, 2014 11:00 am 
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What Alan Carr taught me about gay men's homophobia
by Owen Jones
Sunday, 20 April 2014

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'That homophobia remains rife among gay men is hardly surprising. They grow up in a society that teaches that settling down with a woman is the natural order of things.' Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

I flinched when Alan Carr's new ad for animal rights campaigners Peta made its debut on social media.

There he was, smiling cheekily as he posed with a set of pink wings and a pink wand, beneath luminous pink text inviting us to "be a little fairy for animals". Yuck, I thought to myself: that'll really help along the stereotype of gay men as a bunch of mincing court jesters.

When the inevitable Twitter backlash came, I quietly empathised with it. "Anyone find the Peta ad campaign really fucking offensive?" tweeted one infuriated gay man. "Basically: gay men = fairies." But then Carr faced his detractors down with aplomb: "The most homophobia I get is from gays," he tweeted back, completing his riposte with a dig at their alleged "self-loathing". And then I felt quietly ashamed to have flinched in the first place. Carr's defiant response forced me to examine prejudices I share with all too many other gay men.

This is how I could have justified my instinctive flinch. When gay people appear on TV, it is invariably as one-dimensional, caricatured camp clowns, a kind of gay minstrel show. But Carr has never claimed to be emblematic of gay men. Of course we should see a wider spectrum of gay men – including, say, the beer-swilling, football-obsessed lad alongside the body-pumping Kylie-loving scene queen – but why does that mean discriminating against a funny comedian because he's outrageously camp? What fuelled the backlash was a sense that the likes of Carr invite homophobia with their loud-and-proud campness, and all gay men suffer as a result. It is complicity with oppression, not dissimilar to the woman who suggests wearing a short skirt is asking for a sexual attack.

Gay men have a big problem with camp. Gay dating websites abound with profiles specifying "straight-acting men only". Despite the widespread myth that campness is affected – that it's all for show – most gay men think camp is deeply unsexy. Graham Norton – another screamingly camp comedian – has said that campness is "a much harder thing to accept than being gay", because it "comes with judgment all round". This anti-camp hostility partly comes from a desire to conform to traditional gender roles, which gay men have already subverted whether they want to or not. But Carr has a point: some anti-camp bashing is driven by the homophobia of gay men.

That homophobia remains rife among gay men is hardly surprising. They grow up in a society that teaches that settling down with a woman is the natural order of things. They hear "gay" casually bandied around as an insult, a synonym for crap or rubbish. They see the horror etched on the face of a straight man misidentified as gay – the sort of expression that comes from being wrongly accused of the most heinous of crimes. Gay men know that to hold hands with a partner in public risks stares and abuse. In The Velvet Rage, the clinical psychologist Alan Downs talks of an internalised shame, too: that gay men are taught "during those tender and formative years of adolescence that there was something about us that was flawed, in essence unlovable".

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No wonder gay men suffer higher rates of mental distress and suicide. But, if most gay men are honest with themselves, they can think of more subtle ways in which their own homophobia expresses itself. They may panic when someone asks if they have a girlfriend, knowing that an honest answer means coming out for the third time that week and possibly being treated differently. They may refer to their boyfriends in ways that strip their gender away, like "my other half". They may feel a sense of flattery when someone says "I'd never have guessed you were gay!", as if feeling reassured that their leprosy is barely visible. Or they may start by coming out as bisexual (fuelling a sense of "bi now, gay later", much to the annoyance of genuine bisexuals), hoping that having one foot in the straight camp might preserve a sense of normality.

There is evidence to suggest some "straight" homophobes are self-hating closet cases. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that some homophobic people were suppressing same-sex desires, backing up another study which showed that prejudiced people were more likely to be aroused by gay porn. Even today, some gay people take "straight-acting" literally, trying to force relationships with opposite-sex partners, imprisoning both in the misery of denial.

This isn't to paint an overly bleak picture. In the UK, there's never been a better time to be gay: the majority of anti-gay laws have been overturned; and while 30 years ago half of Britons thought same-sex relations were always wrong, that figure has dropped to a fifth. Being gay can be a bit of a leveller, too: whether you're a millionaire or a barman, there's a unifying sense of being an outsider, like it or not. But homophobia is corrosive, wherever it comes from. Gay men may recognise it and challenge it when it comes from straight people. It is much harder – but still necessary – to recognise the homophobia that dwells within the ranks of gay men themselves.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:33 am 
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New York weighs kids' gay conversion therapy ban
11 June 2014
By JOSEFA VELASQUEZ

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A proposed ban against New York health professionals trying to change a child's sexual orientation through therapy comes too late for Matthew Shurka, a 26-year-old Long Island man who says he remains emotionally scarred from five years of attempts to "cure" his homosexuality.

"My anxiety was at its worst," Shurka said of the therapy that began when he was 16. "I never attempted suicide, but I had a lot of suicidal thoughts and dreams and thinking about it, considering it."

The American Psychological Association says that there is no evidence that the so-called gay conversion therapy can change someone's sexual orientation. A task force set up by the group found that it can cause distress and anxiety.

New York's Democratic-led Assembly is set to consider a bill on Wednesday that would ban the therapy on minors. Bans against gay conversion therapy have already gone into law in New Jersey and California. A proposed ban was voted down in Illinois in April. Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the measure and is the only openly gay member of the Senate, said that he heard from a man who had electrodes attached to his genitalia to curb his homosexual desires. "On one level it's pretty nutty stuff," Holyman said, "but it's happening in New York by licensed therapists."

The Democrat said that the bill would extend to New York state licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, mental health practitioners and physicians. Clergy would not be included in the ban.

Opponents of the ban say that it may infringe on a person's freedom of speech, although a federal judge in New Jersey upheld that state's ban in November saying that the law does not violate free speech.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a California licensed clinical psychologist who founded the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, believes that conversion therapy only works when patients are motivated to change. "We see homosexual behavior as the client's or the patients attempt to repair something deficit within themselves, mainly masculinity," Nicolosi said. "According to the theory of reparative therapy, the male homosexual is engaging in homosexual activity to connect to the masculinity he feels he possesses within himself."

Shurka said he decided to take part in the conversion therapy after feeling scared and confused about his attraction to men. "My only focus became becoming heterosexual," Shurka said. "I felt like this was the most important thing. It was out of fear, but no one held a gun to my head and said `you're doing conversion therapy.'" While Shurka was still underage, he said the therapist advised him to watch heterosexual pornography and practice certain masturbation techniques to curb his attraction to men. He said that didn't work, however, because he instead focused on the men.

A conversion therapist also advised Shurka to avoid women- including his mother and sister- and surround himself with male friends to pick up their heterosexual mannerisms so he could become "one of the boys." After five years of therapy, Shurka embraced being gay and said that therapy wasn't going to change that.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 09, 2015 3:50 pm 
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Homosexuality Gene May Predict Sexual Orientation of Men
By Randy Dotinga
October 8, 2015

Scientists are reporting that they've linked the way genes in certain regions of the human genome work to influence sexual orientation in males.

The findings don't explain how such variations in the workings of these genetic regions might affect sexuality in one or both genders. But the authors of the new study say they've been able to use this information to successfully predict the sexual orientation of male identical twins 70 percent of the time, compared to the 50 percent that would be expected by chance.

Twins have the same genes, so something else -- such as the way genes operate -- may explain those who don't have the same sexual orientation, the authors suggested. "Sexual orientation seems to be determined very early in life," said study lead author Tuck Ngun, a postdoctoral researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine of the University of California, Los Angeles. "Based on these findings, we can say that environmental factors might play a role in sexual orientation."

But he doesn't mean the social environment in which we grow up, such as how we're treated by our parents. "Instead, we are referring to differences that the twins could have experienced in the womb," Ngun explained.

Several past studies have linked sexual orientation to specific genetic regions, "but what's still a mystery is the specific genes that are involved," Ngun said. "Sexual attraction is a fundamental drive across all species but it is something that is poorly understood on the genetic level, particularly in humans."

In the new study, researchers sought to better understand the links between how genes work -- not just the existence of certain genes or genetic variations -- and sexual orientation. The investigators looked at identical twins because they share the same DNA. However, genes are also affected by the environment each twin experiences, so they're not clones of each other in terms of how their bodies work, according to the researchers.

The researchers began with information on 140,000 genetic regions and narrowed them down to five regions that appear to have the ability to predict -- 70 percent of the time -- whether an identical male twin is gay or straight based on how genes in those regions work or "express" themselves.

The researchers reached that level of accuracy by seeing if they could predict sexual orientation in 10 pairs of male gay twins and 37 male pairs in which one twin is gay and the other is straight, the study said. "We weren't expecting 100 percent since we are only looking at a small part of the overall picture," Ngun said.

The genetic regions in question play various roles in the body, Ngun explained, including affecting sexual attraction. Qazi Rahman, a senior lecturer in cognitive neuropsychology at King's College London in the United Kingdom, who studies sexual orientation, praised the study. While it's small, the study's design is strong, he said. Rahman added that the study "tells us something about possible environmental differences -- albeit biological differences in the environment -- which might explain the sexual orientation of men who share the same genome."

Some people in the LGBT community have expressed concern about research into the biological roots of sexual orientation because they fear it could be used to target gays and even abort fetuses who seem likely to not be heterosexual. "I am gay, so these questions have a lot of resonance with me on a personal level," study lead author Ngun said. "I do think we have to tread carefully because the potential for abuse is there. Although I think it's highly unlikely that the findings of this particular research study would lead to a genetic test, future research could ultimately lead to something like that," he added. Society is going to have to work together, Ngun suggested, "to ensure research on sexual orientation is not misused."

The study is scheduled to be presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in Baltimore. Research presented at meetings hasn't yet undergone peer review, and is generally considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Source: US News & World Report

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 09, 2015 5:35 pm 
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Scientists Get Closer to Genetics of Homosexuality in Men
October 8, 2015
By Randy Dotinga

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(HealthDay News) -- Scientists are reporting that they've linked the way genes in certain regions of the human genome work to influence sexual orientation in males.

The findings don't explain how such variations in the workings of these genetic regions might affect sexuality in one or both genders. But the authors of the new study say they've been able to use this information to successfully predict the sexual orientation of male identical twins 70 percent of the time, compared to the 50 percent that would be expected by chance.

Twins have the same genes, so something else -- such as the way genes operate -- may explain those who don't have the same sexual orientation, the authors suggested. "Sexual orientation seems to be determined very early in life," said study lead author Tuck Ngun, a postdoctoral researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine of the University of California, Los Angeles. "Based on these findings, we can say that environmental factors might play a role in sexual orientation." But he doesn't mean the social environment in which we grow up, such as how we're treated by our parents. "Instead, we are referring to differences that the twins could have experienced in the womb," Ngun explained.

Several past studies have linked sexual orientation to specific genetic regions, "but what's still a mystery is the specific genes that are involved," Ngun said. "Sexual attraction is a fundamental drive across all species but it is something that is poorly understood on the genetic level, particularly in humans."

In the new study, researchers sought to better understand the links between how genes work -- not just the existence of certain genes or genetic variations -- and sexual orientation. The investigators looked at identical twins because they share the same DNA. However, genes are also affected by the environment each twin experiences, so they're not clones of each other in terms of how their bodies work, according to the researchers.

The researchers began with information on 140,000 genetic regions and narrowed them down to five regions that appear to have the ability to predict -- 70 percent of the time -- whether an identical male twin is gay or straight based on how genes in those regions work or "express" themselves. The researchers reached that level of accuracy by seeing if they could predict sexual orientation in 10 pairs of male gay twins and 37 male pairs in which one twin is gay and the other is straight, the study said. "We weren't expecting 100 percent since we are only looking at a small part of the overall picture," Ngun said. The genetic regions in question play various roles in the body, Ngun explained, including affecting sexual attraction.

Qazi Rahman, a senior lecturer in cognitive neuropsychology at King's College London in the United Kingdom, who studies sexual orientation, praised the study. While it's small, the study's design is strong, he said. Rahman added that the study "tells us something about possible environmental differences -- albeit biological differences in the environment -- which might explain the sexual orientation of men who share the same genome."

Some people in the LGBT community have expressed concern about research into the biological roots of sexual orientation because they fear it could be used to target gays and even abort fetuses who seem likely to not be heterosexual. "I am gay, so these questions have a lot of resonance with me on a personal level," study lead author Ngun said. "I do think we have to tread carefully because the potential for abuse is there. Although I think it's highly unlikely that the findings of this particular research study would lead to a genetic test, future research could ultimately lead to something like that," he added. Society is going to have to work together, Ngun suggested, "to ensure research on sexual orientation is not misused."

The study is scheduled to be presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in Baltimore. Research presented at meetings hasn't yet undergone peer review, and is generally considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Source: US News.

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