AN ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE TO THE 'GAY' GENE DISCOVERY, JAN BRIDGET, LESBIAN INFORMATION SERVICE.

Homosexuality has existed since time began. Some cultures not only accepted but honoured homosexuals, Ancient Greece and many Native American tribes being examples.

Christianity has been immensely influential on Western Civilisation. According to scholar John Boswell, who has studied Christianity and homosexuality throughout the ages, for the first thousand years of Christianity there was no great disapproval of homosexuality; the passages in the Bible which are now used to condemn homosexuality were not interpreted in that way in the early Church. It was only at the turn of the 13th century that the Church began to strongly condemn homosexual acts. Thus the Christian Church, whose message is to love your neighbour, began to spread homophobia as its influence over the Western world grew. Homophobia (the fear and hatred of homosexuals) is based on the belief that homosexuality is 'chosen' and that it is a 'sin'.

Dean Hamer's findings, that a cluster of genes on the 'x' chromosome of men reveals that they are 'predisposed' to homosexuality, is yet another example in a line of recent research which suggests that homosexuality is biologically determined (Green, 1987, LeVay, 1991, Bailey, 1992).

There will clearly be more genetic discoveries as scientists around the world compete in their search to map out the genetic make-up of human beings. As more revelations occur, the need to debate the issues of 'genetic engineering' will become more urgent. However, responding to Hamer's research solely in these terms means that we could be missing opportunities of putting his findings to good use.

Research on lesbians is expected to have similar results, although the existence of feminist lesbians may mean that the findings are not as clear cut. It has been suggested that a simple test, whereby people can find out if they are 'pre-disposed' to homosexuality, may shortly be available.

Hamer has suggested, as have others, that the biological explanation is merely a part of the story and that environmental and social issues also play a role. Given that everyone is brought up to be heterosexual and that homosexuality is dreadfully stigmatised, it is highly unlikely that environmental or social issues play an important role in determining homosexuality but that they play an important role in suppressing it.

At the same time, environmental circumstances and social experiences allow some homosexuals, despite the constraints, to accept their homosexual identity and, in some cases, develop positive homosexual identities.

U.S., Australian and English research suggests that the effects of homophobia and the internalisation of a stigmatised identity can be, without support, devastating. For example, higher levels of depression and suicide; alcohol and drug misuse; promiscuity, HIV and STD infections and unwanted pregnancies; homelessness and prostitution; misuse and abuse by adults.

We need to thank Hamer, and his predecessors, for their work which could reduce the misery of 1,000's of people and save 1,000's of lives as well as saving the state millions of pounds. For example,

* Findings should enable people, especially those who are religious, to question their homophobic attitudes. How can the pope continue to say that homosexuals are 'disordered in our nature and evil in our love?'

* Homosexuality is biological therefore no amount of aversion therapy by religious and other therapists can alter it.

* There are many women who are depressed and on drugs who are told that their 'problem' is that they are 'frigid.' Based on research and the 100's of telephone calls we receive, the 'problem' is more likely the suppression (consciously or unconscioulsy) of lesbian sexuality in response to internalised homophobia. With a simple test and appropriate counselling and support these women could develop positive identities and self esteem.

* Many homosexuals, especially women, believe that they can suppress their sexuality through getting married and having children. Years later they accept that they cannot suppress it any longer. The result is often a lot of pain for both wives and husbands, awful divorces where children are wrenched from their mothers. Accepting that homosexuality is biological and cannot be 'cured,' alongside a change in attitudes towards homosexuality, could mean that the number of homosexuals who get married and divorced could be drastically reduced.

* Research suggests that up to one third of youth suicides are by lesbian and gay youth. About 80% of parasuicides are by young women. Based on research a high proportion of these young women will be lesbian. Internalised homophobia affects young gay men also, but because of the double oppression of being female and homosexual, young lesbians are even more invisible and isolated, resulting in higher levels of depression and suicide attempts. A test would stop their 'confusion' and belief that they are 'going through a phase' and, with appropriate counselling and support, enable young lesbians and gays to develop positive self esteem.

* Homophobia means that there is - in this country - little understanding of, and appropriate support for, young lesbians and gays. Lesbian Information Service have just published a Resource List which outlines over 70 papers (mostly from the U.S.A.) to help professionals (health care workers, teachers, social workers, youth workers) to understand the needs of this ignored group. Acknowledging that homosexuality is biological and that the effects of discrimination are devastating could make professionals, and the services they offer, more appropriate to lesbians and gays, especially lesbian and gay youth.

* Parents may be less likely to reject their homosexual children if they understand that their homosexuality has not been 'chosen' by their children but has been passed down, through the mother. Social services and the youth service could develop appropriate support services to enable families to understand the needs of their children, and help families to stay together. (Thereby reducing the number of homeless young people, there being research which suggests that lesbian and gay youth are disproportionately found among homeless youth.)

* If homosexuality is biological it is impossible to 'seduce' young people into homosexuality (this is not to say that adult homosexuals, like adult heterosexuals, do not abuse young people). There is, therefore, no need for section 28 of the Local Government Act, nor for the Age of Consent to be 21 for gay men, nor for the Forces Act to discriminate against lesbians and gays. All legislation which discriminates against homosexuals should be repealed and anti-discrimination laws enacted. This should also mean that lesbians and gays can get married, foster and adopt children, etc.

* Alcohol and drug misuse are other effects of discrimination and internalised homophobia which have been researched in the U.S.A. It is believed that about a third of homosexuals have serious alcohol problems and that it is probably worse among lesbians. Again, with appropriate support and the development of self esteem among lesbian and gay youth, the development of alcohol and drug misuse and dependency can be greatly reduced. Similarly, alcohol treatment services can be made more accessible to, and are likely to be more successful with, lesbian and gay clients.

* Research suggests that, in an attempt to make themselves heterosexual, many lesbian and gay youth, but especially young lesbians, become promiscuous with the opposite sex and, in the process, get pregnant. Appropriate support could reduce this likelihood.

* Research suggests that young gay men acquire information about homosexuality from sex with older gay men (because appropriate support, contact with peers and accurate information is not available). This opens them up to HIV infection and misuse by adult gay men. Young lesbians are similarly open to misuse by adult lesbians.

* Ultimately, with a more accepting society and appropriate support, more lesbians and gays will be out about their sexuality, having a better attitude towards their sexuality and providing more positive role models for lesbian and gay youth. Schools can include homosexuality in all aspects of the curricula, not only sex education but also literature, art, music, etc. Youth services can establish lesbian and gay youth groups. Health and Social services can introduce appropriate counselling and family support schemes. Professionals can be trained to understand the needs of lesbians and gays and how to provide appropriate support. Some cities in the U.S.A. have already begun this process, based on research which has been going on for over twenty years. Isn't it about time Britain did the same?

© Jan Bridget 1993