A landmark study that found there is no single “gay gene” is being used by anti-gay conservatives to justify conversion therapy.
The study, published in the journal Science, examined the genetics of almost 500,000 people from the U.S., U.K., and Sweden, in an attempt to determine if a single gene can influence sexual orientation.
Ultimately, they concluded that, “Same-sex sexual behavior is influenced by not one or a few genes but many.”
“In fact, this study provides further evidence that diverse sexual behavior is a natural part of overall human variation,” the researchers said. “Our research is intended to improve our understanding of the genetic basis of same-sex sexual behavior. It should not be misconstrued to disparage LGBTQ people.”
The authors of the study’s findings also noted that they made no determinations on environmental factors and the impact that can have on sexuality.
“We wish to make it clear that our results overwhelmingly point toward the richness and diversity of human sexuality,” they wrote. “Our results do not point toward a role for discrimination on the basis of sexual identity or attraction, nor do our results make any conclusive statements about the degree to which ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ influence sexual preference.”
But that hasn’t stopped right-wing Christians and anti-LGBTQ writers from inferring that sexuality is a choice and as such can be altered through conversion therapy, according to Out.
Conversion therapy — or “ex-gay” therapy — seeks to forcibly change a person’s sexuality through various means, such as talk therapy or more extreme methods such as electroshock therapy.
It has been widely debunked and discredited, and has been banned by 18 states and a number of municipalities across the country.
However, in a post titled “Not Born This Way After All?” Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative, argues that the study’s findings “undercut” arguments against conversion therapy.
“[If] homosexuality is primarily a matter of nurture, not nature, why is it wrong to let gay people who want to seek therapy in hope of reducing or eliminating same-sex desire undergo that treatment?” he writes. “This study undercuts the case against this kind of therapy, right?”
Writing in the Christian Post, commentator Jim Denison says that the study, “raises the nature vs. nurture question and demonstrates once more that sexual orientation is the product of a wide range of factors, from family of origin to life experiences, social context, and personal decisions.”
Denison claims to know people who ignore their sexuality or have been “liberated” from being gay by God — a claim similar to that made by religion-based conversion therapy programs.
“I have known a number of people over the years who told me they were attracted sexually to people of the same sex but did not act on this inclination,” Denison writes. “Some chose to be celibate; others felt that God liberated them from this attraction. Still others were happily married to a heterosexual partner but resist the temptation of same-sex sexual attraction, just as other married people must resist heterosexual sexual attraction outside of marriage.”
But speaking with the New York Times, one of the lead researchers of the study noted that, while social and environmental factors do play a part in whether a person experiences or acts upon same-sex sexual behavior, that doesn’t mean that homosexuality is unnatural.
“I hope that the science can be used to educate people a little bit more about how natural and normal same-sex behavior is,” said Benjamin Neale, geneticist at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard. “It’s written into our genes and it’s part of our environment. This is part of our species and it’s part of who we are.”
Neale, who is gay, predicted the conservative response to the study’s findings, telling the Times that he was “concerned that it’s going to be deliberately misused to advance agendas of hate.”
He added that the study shows that “diversity is a natural part of our experience and it’s a natural part of what we see in the genetics.”
A number of prominent conversion therapy advocates have since come out against the practice, arguing that it is ineffective and should be banned.
In February, David Matheson, a former “ex-gay” advocate who spent years promoting conversion therapy to LGBTQ Mormons, finally admitted that the practice does not work and should be stopped.
In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News, Matheson said that conversion therapy “just can’t” change a person’s sexual orientation, that it “should be stopped” in the U.S., and expressed regret over the harm caused to LGBTQ people by his work.
And in January, John Smid — former executive director of Love in Action, a conversion therapy organization — wrote in a column for the Advocate that organizations still advocating for the practice in 2019 “blithely disregard the mountain of evidence” against it.