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Posts for May, 2008

UCLA to Study Identical Twins

Timothy Kincaid

May 31st, 2008

twins.png Anti-gays cling to the mantra “there is no gay gene” to comfort them when troubled about their efforts to legislate discrimination. As long as sexual orientation is not genetic then they can claim it is not innate and therefore gay people can be blamed and punished.

Anti-gays know we can’t change our genes, but if they can convince themselves that orientation is brought on by environment, well then it can be reversed and they can insist that gay persons choose to change. And if we don’t, then they have every right to deny us marriage, redress from organized bigotry, the opportunity for housing or employment, and the rights to serve our country, raise our children, and care for our own.

If “there’s no gay gene” and gays choose to stay “in the lifestyle”, then anti-gays can convince themselves that they aren’t monsters, but that we are.

Hey, we all have to find a way to sleep at night.

One of the “evidences” that anti-gays use to insist that sexual orientation is not based in genetics is the fact that not all identical twins have the same orientation. As Focus on the Family’s Melissa Fryrear puts it

The third major study trumpeted as “proof” of homosexuality’s genetic link was also conducted in 1991 by psychologist Michael Bailey and psychiatrist Richard Pillard. Using pairs of brothers — identical twins, non-identical twins, biological brothers, and adopted brothers — Bailey and Pillard attempted to show that homosexuality occurs more frequently among identical twins than fraternal twins.

Again, what the majority of people do not know, and what the media did not accurately report, is that this study actually provides support for environmental factors versus genetics! If homosexuality were in the genetic code, then both of the twins would have been homosexual 100 percent of the time, yet this was not the case.

Most researchers see the differences of orientation matching (50% in identical twins and 20% in fraternal twins compared to a general population rate of probably less than 6%) as an indication that genetics are a factor. But anti-gays magically find just the opposite. Since Melissa’s research credentials are, well, not particularly solid, she relies on NARTH’s Neil Whitehead to back up her assertions.

Identical twins have identical genes. If homosexuality was a biological condition produced inescapably by the genes (e.g. eye color), then if one identical twin was homosexual, in 100% of the cases his brother would be too. But we know that only about 38% of the time is the identical twin brother homosexual. Genes are responsible for an indirect influence, but on average, they do not force people into homosexuality. This conclusion has been well known in the scientific community for a few decades but has not reached the general public. Indeed, the public increasingly believes the opposite.

Fryrear may be excused for having but a layman’s understanding of genetics. But when Whitehead implies that genetics can be disregarded he is either demonstrating a willful ignorance or is cynically seeking to play on the public’s lack of expertise.

Genetic influence is not limited to a gene’s presence. Identical genes do not behave identically. And a research team at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Gender-Based Biology is setting out to study just what role genes play in determining sexual attraction. Out in America reports

Identical twins provide a unique model to study the role of gene regulation: “Both twins have the same genes, but they might use these genes differently,” says Bocklandt. “And that difference in gene use could explain the difference in sexual orientation.”

“If we can identify specific genes that are ‘turned off’ or ‘turned on’ among our gay and straight twins, we will have excellent genetic targets for further investigation with respect to sexual orientation,” Bocklandt adds.

Study researchers will measure the chemical signal attached to the DNA that controls if and when a gene is turned on and off. Utilizing novel DNA-chip technology, large parts of the human genome can be screened for differences in gene regulation between the twins. “Because identical twins have the same DNA sequence, we can study a ‘gay genome’ and a ‘straight genome’ within one single genetic background, and that’s extremely powerful,” says Bocklandt.

The study is headed by Drs. Eric Vilain, Cisco Sanchez, and Sven Bocklandt. Drs. Vilain and Bocklandt were part of the team that observed the extreme skewing of x chromosome inactivation in the mothers of gay men. Bocklandt also worked with Hamer on his earlier gene research (which was horribly misreported) and is one of the “gay sheep guys” who researched the variances in the brains of same-sex attracted rams. These researchers are at the very forefront of studying how genetics and orientation interplay.

This research promises to add to the growing knowledge on what does and does not contribute to sexual orientation. It may help understand whether genes can be solely, significantly, or only minimally responsible for the sex to which each of us are attracted. And while I doubt that a “gay gene” that indisputably determines orientation is likely to be the result, additional information in this field of study is very welcome.

The team currently has about 20 sets of mixed-orientation identical twins and is seeking to double that size. If you are an identical twin whose sibling does not share your orientation, check out the study to see if you would like to participate.

If you are not an identical twin but are a gay man with a gay brother, please consider contributing to the work being performed by Dr. Sanders at Northwestern University.