Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for February, 2010

No, the SF study did NOT illustrate that half of gay marriages are “open”

Timothy Kincaid

February 10th, 2010

One of the primary purposes of Box Turtle Bulletin is analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric. And perhaps the largest component of that is to review “studies” that relay astonishing “facts” about gay people and to determine whether they have any basis in fact.

Sometimes these are efforts conducted by anti-gay activists seeking to support their presumptions, but more often it is misrepresentation of legitimate work. One such misrepresentation has been making the rounds purporting to show that gay couples reject monogamy.

For several years, Sean Beougher and Colleen Hoff of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University have been looking sexual agreements among gay men. This interest was generated by incidences of HIV transmission within relationships and a desire to understand how sexual agreements relate to this phenomenon.

But analysis of investment of couples into agreements and how that correlates with adherence (which impacts transmission within relationships) doesn’t make sexy headlines. So when the New York Times’ Scott James reported on this study, he decided to talk about something else entirely:

Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret

A study to be released next month is offering a rare glimpse inside gay relationships and reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many. Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.

New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years — about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.

The sensational (but as I’ll illustrate, flatly untrue) statement that monogamy is not a central feature for many gay relationships is exciting and sure to elicit conversation. But it just wasn’t defamatory enough for those who wish to portray gay people as sex-crazed and incapable of commitment.

Conservative NewsMax reported:

Study: Gay Marriage Involves More Outside Relationships

A federally-funded study by San Francisco State University that followed 556 local male couples for three years found that half “have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners,” according to The New York Times.

On its website, the Center describes the importance in conducting the study as revolving around the fact that “gay and bisexual men in relationships engage in substantially higher rates of unprotected” homosexual activity than do “single men with their casual partners.”

A commentary on GetReligion.org took the opportunity to say

I’m not sure if the description of the study’s findings is written up as well as it could be. If 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their primary relationship with the knowledge and approval of their partners, that’s an utterly fascinating, and newsworthy statistic. Still, I’m curious about the remaining half. What percentage of those surveyed have sex outside of their primary relationship but don’t have the knowledge and/or the approval of their partners? It seems like a key piece of information.

Certainly there’s at least one person in the world who thinks that sex with multiple partners is not the key to a successful marriage, right? And I’m not just talking about advocates of traditional marriage vows, or advocates of spousal fidelity.

The bottom line, though, is that this study breaks news. Really interesting and important news.

And even gay sites got on board with this notion with Edge Magazine running the headline, Surprise! Lots of Gay Marriages Are ’Open’, and Dan Savage declaring Half of All Gay Couples Non-Monogamous (though Edge did note some caveats).

But those who delight in denouncing the hedonistic sex-driven homosexuals and their non-monogamous marriages share a problem with those gays who may champion the abandonment of the heteronormative demands of conformity and spearhead the evolution of marriage: this study tells us nothing whatsoever about gay marriage and little about monogamy within gay relationships as a whole.

In order for a study to report on the characteristics of a population, it must be representative of that population. If a study selects a convenience sample rather than a statistically valid sample, the non-representative demographics of the sample cannot be presented as a “finding”.

For example, if I went to Dodger Stadium, i might find a sample which was useful to tell me whether Dodger fans think Dodger Dogs taste better than garlic fries, but I could not claim that my sample proves that 80% of all baseball fans support the Dodgers. That is simply a non-representative demographic of my sample, not a finding of my study.

So to see if this study supported the claim that half of gay marriages are open (non-monogamous), I contacted the study authors and obtained previously published information that reveals the sample methodology. I do not have all of the data on which the final study is to be reported, but the sampling methodology was consistent.

Let’s look at how the sample for this study was constructed and how that differs from the population as a whole.

Definition of relationship:

To be eligible participants had to have been at least 18 years old, have been in a their current relationship for at least 3 months, have knowledge of their own and their partner’s HIV status, be fluent in English, and be residents of the San Francisco Bay Area.

All were men. Contrary to James’ breathless reporting (and the example with which he started his article) the researchers said nothing about lesbian relationships. They were excluded.

The study was conducted in several phases and the details of each is not available, but the sampling methods were consistent. The breakout for Study 2 found that only 13% of participants identified as being married (perhaps the 2004 San Francisco variety) and only a third had made any sort of public commitment.

It is ludicrous to suggest that a study which includes three month long relationships without any public commitment is informative about marriage. The average length of the relationships was 7 years (more or less) but the median length was about three years earlier (half of the relationships were less than 4 years in length), suggesting that there were a few very long relationships and many much shorter ones.

The way this study has been reported, it has been suggested that gay relationships are more likely to be open than straight relationships, but no comparison was made and I’m not aware of any study that looked at the level of fidelity in three-month-old heterosexual relationship and pretended that they were representative of straights as a whole.

As the research was not applied separately by relationship structure or length, this study says nothing about gay marriage or even domestic partnerships. And any use of the results which makes (or even implies) a comparison to straight relationships is bogus and irresponsible.

Location and social perspective of the population sampled:

It must be emphasized that gay men living in the San Francisco Bay Area are not representative of gay men as a whole. In fact, it would be difficult to identify a group of gay men less representative of the US gay population.

Significant factors in the consideration of monogamy surely must include attitudes about sexuality and whether one’s general approach is more conservative or liberal overall. Additionally, the perspectives of the community in which one lives most certainly effect the values that one adopts.

While I cannot point to a study and state with certainty that those who view themselves as “conservative” are more likely or less likely to value monogamy, I can state that selecting only participants from the SF area sharply skews the sample towards those who identify as “liberal” and significantly under-represents a sizable segment of the gay community.

The means of reaching participants:

Active and passive recruitment strategies were implemented in community settings. Field research staff reached potential participants either by handing out study postcards or placing flyers and postcards in gay-identified social venues such as bars, clubs, and cafes, as well as in community health and HIV and AIDS service organizations and by placing advertisements in gay-oriented publications, Web sites, and listserves.

Recruitment materials contained text describing the study as “one which examines important relationship dynamics associated with HIV.” Recruitment strategies were designed to produce a diverse sample in terms of race or ethnicity as well as serostatus.

Recruitment in bars and clubs and on listserves skews the sample towards those who are actively seeking sexual connections. While some gay people go to bars solely for social interaction, monogamous couples that do not regularly go to bars or look at Craigslist were far less likely to hear of this study.

Additionally, this study was more likely to attract those who were interested in how relationship dynamics impact HIV transmission. I think it is a reasonable assumption that, on average, couples committed to monogamy might not have the same interest level as those who have open relationships.

The demographics of the sample:

For two of the studies, 41% of the participants were HIV positive (Study 3 had 32%). While this may be advantageous to a study which seeks to look at sexual agreements, it is not representative of the population of San Francisco, and has almost no reflection of the gay male population at large. Only about 12% of gay men in the United States are infected with HIV.

While this is undoubtedly useful for looking at variances of agreement structure among sero-concordant and discordant couples, claiming a blended rate of monogamy as though it were reflective of the community would be bad science.

This study found that couples which were both HIV negative were far more likely to establish monogamy than those in which one or both parties were positive. So by significantly over-representing HIV positive participants, the percentage who embrace monogamy were skewed downward.

About half of the sample had a bachelors degree (more than 20% had a post-graduate degree). Yet only about 43% were employed full time, with another 10-12% employed part time and 9-12% self employed. I don’t know whether there is a correlation between employment and valuing monogamy, but I think that we can all agree that 35% unemployment is not reflective of gay men as a whole, especially in the mid 2000′s when the participants were questioned.

About half of the men made less than $30,000 per year, with only a quarter making over $60,000. The average salary for San Francisco Bay Area jobs is about $65,000 and it is absurd to assume that gay men make, on average, less than half of their heterosexual counterparts.

I do not have adequate research at hand to correlate gay male monogamy (or fidelity) with employment or economic position. However, I believe that social position can influence relationship structure so it is a reasonable assumption that a study which is skewed towards a lower economic status may not accurately reflect the extent to which gay male couples as a whole value monogamy.

Conclusion:

The Gay Couples Study does reveal valuable information about the formation of sexual agreements among gay couples. For example, it reveals that gay men are almost universally talk about monogamy and fidelity and define the rules of their relationship. This seems true regardless of the structure, length, or investment into the relationship. And research into breached agreements and how it impacts HIV transmission is essential to targeting prevention efforts.

But in my opinion, Scott James’ statement that “New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area” may be among the most irresponsible reporting I’ve ever seen. The study says nothing whatsoever about lesbians and it tells us little about “just how common open relationships are” among anyone. It’s pure sensationalism and shoddy journalism.

But the real culprits are those who saw this study and decided that it says something about, for example, gay couples marrying in Iowa or New Hampshire. This was either lazy response or a deliberate attempt to fraudulently demonize gay couples for political gain.

In short, those reporting on this study got it wrong. If there is any story here, it would be that a study of San Francisco bay area gay male couples, a sample which was highly skewed to include many participants who are less likely to value monogamy and which defined “couples” to include those who have been dating as little as three months, still found that half of them set monogamy as the agreement for their relationship.

Iowans couldn’t care less about gay marriage

Timothy Kincaid

February 8th, 2010

When the Iowa Supreme Court determined that denying state services based on sexual orientation was unconstitutional and that the State of Iowa must provide marriage equality, you could almost slice the glee of the Iowa Republican Party. Finally, there was an issue which they could use to perhaps increase their influence and maybe even win a few elections. So they because the “no gay marriage” party.

Last year they made several attempts at getting an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment up for a legislative vote and were unsuccessful. They chortled that Democrats would be sorry come election time.

But as it has turned out, running opposed to gay marriage has not proven to be a winning strategy. To their surprise, Iowans couldn’t care less about stopping gay folk from marrying. Literally.

The Des Moines Register conducted a poll of Iowans asking, “The state Legislature can address large and small issues during the course of the session. For the following issues, please tell me if you think the issue does or does not deserve the Legislature’s limited time.” Banning gay marriage did not make the cut; only 36% thought it was worth the time discussing.

Not only was it not deemed worthy of legislative time, of the six issues that Iowans were questioned about, addressing gay marriage concerned them the least. Iowans were more concerned about payday loans and puppy mills than they were about whether same-sex couples married.

This lack of interest appears to be reflected in a change in strategy in the campaigns of Republicans running for the party’s nomination for governor. Just a brief while ago they were all running to see who could be more extreme and reactionary.

Bob Vander Plaats pledged to halt such weddings with an executive order (an authority the governor does not wield) while Chris Rants declared that he’d veto every bill that reached his desk until the legislature voted on a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. Most of them supported calling for a constitutional convention so they wouldn’t have to wait for two sessions and a popular vote.

Only former governor Terry Branstad, also an opponent of gay marriage, chose not to run as a raving loon. Branstad took a more nuanced approach and expressed recognition of the difficulties that gay couples face when denied certain rights.

But that has changed. The race now appears to be between Branstad and Vander Plaats, and the latter has now discovered a different campaign strategy. (Register)

I’ve talked to Vander Plaats from time to time, but hadn’t really seen him out on the stump since last fall. His speeches used to give prime attention to conservative issues and gay marriage. This time, he focused entirely on job creation, state spending and education. Nobody even asked about the social issues.

I mentioned to him afterward that was a significant change from last summer, when he told me in an interview that he thought the election would hinge on two issues: gay marriage and the state smoking ban.

“Did I say that?” he asked. Yes, I told him.

“Campaigns always evolve, no doubt about it,” he said. (He didn’t mention the smoking ban at all today.)

Yes, there is no doubt that campaigns evolve, especially when the voters care less about your pet issue than they do about monitoring dog breeders.

“Super Uncle” theory gets support from study

Timothy Kincaid

February 4th, 2010

Those who study the etiology of sexual orientation know that genetics is not fully responsible for whether or not a man is gay. Other factors which are hypothesized to play a roll including either biological conditions (e.g. in utero hormone levels), natural environmental influences (early childhood infections), psychological influences, and many others.

But the results of twin studies have long since indicated that for at least some gay men, part of the causation of their orientation is due to genetics.

However, evolutionary biologists have been uncertain as to why this would be. Knowing that men who are primarily same-sex attracted and not opposite-sex attracted are less likely to reproduce, what evolutionary advantage would these genes have and how would they have carried for millions of generations without dying out?

One theory is that the advantages of having a small number of men without children of their own would be adequate to advantage the shared genes of their siblings, “super uncles” as it were. Now it appears that at least one study provides some credibility to that idea. (Montreal Gazette)

Interestingly, the study was conducted by someone who set out to prove it wrong. Paul Vasey, associate professor in the University of Lethbridge’s department of psychology, went to Samoa to study the fa’afafine [men who were raised female] to provide the conclusive evidence that the “super uncle” theory could be discarded. He found the opposite.

Researchers conducting similar studies in the U.S. and England did not find any supporting evidence for the theory, said Vasey. “So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do it in a non-Western culture and chances are I’m going to find exactly the same results and it’ll be the nail in the coffin for this hypothesis,’” he said.

Vasey found that the fa’afafine said they were significantly more willing to help kin, yet much less interested in helping children who aren’t family — providing the first evidence to support the “kin selection hypothesis.”

It would be ill advised to draw too many conclusions based on this one study. And directly equating of fa’afafine to gay men in the West is a rather large leap.

However, this does provide additional data to inform the ongoing question as to why some people find themselves attracted to the same sex and others do not.

The Advocate’s foolish and sad “Gayest City” ranking

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

January 22nd, 2010

I appreciate the Advocate for many reasons, not least of which is that they are a gay magazine that is still in business. But their recent effort to light-heartedly identify the “gayest cities” in the United States betrayed our community’s occasional inclination to still buy into the most negative stereotypes as though they define us.

“Intrepid amateur sociologist Mike Albo” wanted to make the point that gay folk have fled from big cities and now are now scattered to unlikely places (an unlikely assumption).

About 10 years ago everyone else moved back into these nicely gentrified metropolises, and the lavender diaspora began. Now a slew of secondary cities are becoming gay epicenters.

So to identify these secondary epicenters and find which is gayest, he came up with seven measurements, some of which are reasonable, some of which are perplexing, and some of which make me sad at heart.

First the reasonable: same-sex households per capita and gay elected officials. These both seem like good things to consider. A city is likely “gayer” if it has more gay couples and if it’s residents are more open to gay elected officials. gay bars per capita – while I might think that this is not the best criterion, gay bars are to some extent a measurement of gay social life, although I would compare them to the total number of bars, not the total number of people.

Now the perplexing: statewide marriage equality – I can see how this might make sense in a small homogenous state, but I find it odd that by this measure Fresno is gayer than Atlanta. gay films in Netflix favorites – I guess one might measure anti-gay hostility by who was willing to watch Milk, but this is in many ways based in a ghetto mindset. Those who feel “outside” or “other” may be more inclined to need the connection brought by gay specific cinema, while those who are in welcoming communities might be less inclined to watch films based solely on their gay content.

And now the self-loathing categories. First let me say that I’m not accusing Mr. Albo of being self-loathing; he may be the most happy and secure guy out there. And I do recognize that this was not intended to be anything other than a fun exercise. But caveats aside, the following two measurements are based on stereotypes that are tragic and reminiscent of the tales of woe from ex-gays and self-hating drama queens of the 70s. gay dating and hookup profiles for single male population – that is not a measure of gayness, that’s a measure of the extent to which that community discounts relationships or has limited alternatives to meeting someone. And the saddest is cruising spots per capita. First, cruising spots are frequently frequented by those who do not identify as gay and those who are married. And also, cruising spots are most frequent in places where there are no safe ways for gay people to meet. This is not a measure of gayness, this is a measure of the closet in a hostile environment.

A measure of gayness might include a wide variety of gay social groups, citywide laws about discrimination or benefits or couples registry, supportive churches and synagogues, estimations of the gay population, the presence of an active community center, programs for gay youth or elders, and a lack of hate crime incidences. Perhaps even some comparison of the way the city voted on gay marriage bans would be informative.

But not guys lurking furtively in the bushes. That’s not gay, that’s just sad.

New Yorkers disappointed by marriage vote

Timothy Kincaid

December 15th, 2009

The Siena Research Institute has released a survey that shows that a plurality of New Yorkers were displeased that the NY Senate voted for anti-gay discrimination.

* Forty-seven percent of voters were disappointed that the Senate rejected the bill to legalize same sex marriages in New York, compared to 41 percent who were pleased by the Senate’s vote. In August, 50 percent of voters told Siena that they supported the Senate passing the same sex marriage bill, with 44 percent then opposing Senate passage.

* Liberals, young voters, Democrats and Jewish voters were most disappointed. Conservatives, Republicans, older, and African American voters were most pleased with the Senate vote.

I find this a bit surprising. I figured for the most part the general public doesn’t really experience either much disappointment or much pleasure with legislation that primarily impacts our lives.

“Overall, 40 percent of voters – 42 percent of those who were disappointed in the Senate action and 47 percent of those who were pleased – said that their Senator’s vote on the issue would be a deciding factor in their vote for State Senator next years.”

While that may be of some advantage to Republicans in conservative districts, it cannot be good news to the eight Democratic “no” votes that at least some of their constituents will be looking for an alternative in the primary.

Unlike their Senators, New Yorkers want marriage equality

Timothy Kincaid

December 3rd, 2009

NY Senators who voted against equality thinking that they were doing “the will of the people” may find themselves trying to make stuttering explanations in future debates. Cuz “the people” certainly didn’t ask for marriage to be denied to their gay neighbors.

A Marist Poll released yesterday:

Do you favor or oppose legalizing same-sex marriage in New York State?

Total:
Favor – 51%
Oppose – 42%

NYC:
Favor – 61%
Oppose – 33%

Suburbs:
Favor – 47%
Oppose – 47%

Upstate:
Favor – 48%
Oppose – 44%

Quinnipiac Poll: NJ Voters don’t want marriage equality this week

Timothy Kincaid

November 25th, 2009

Polls over marriage equality in New Jersey are hovering around even.

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll conducted between Nov. 6 and 10, found 46 percent of adult residents want to extend the right to gay couples while 42 percent oppose it. Still undecided were 12 percent of respondents.

A Quinnipaic poll taken November 17 through 22 found a plurality in opposition to equality:

By a slim 49 – 46 percent margin, New Jersey voters oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to marry, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

In this latest poll, same-sex marriage wins 60 – 34 percent support among Democrats and a narrow 49 – 45 percent support among independent voters, while Republicans oppose the measure 69 – 25 percent.

Women support same-sex marriage 53 – 41 percent, while men oppose it 57 – 38 percent. White voters split 49 – 47 percent, while black voters oppose the measure 61 – 28 percent.

While these contradicting polling numbers don’t provide incontrovertible support for any decisions, I think we can count on the negative one to be used as justification for the leadership in New Jersey to renege on promises and to shove marriage equality at least four years into the future. I very much doubt that they will act to bring about marriage equality in this lame duck session.

I have a growing contempt for the leadership in New Jersey. But it pales in comparison to the contempt they show for the principle of equality.

Yet I can be dissuaded. Prove me wrong, guys.

Comparing Gay Couples to Straight Couples

Timothy Kincaid

November 4th, 2009

Comparing gay couples to straight couples can be complex. Often it is difficult to define terms such that comparable things are being compared. What is a “couple”, what is a “relationship”?

Those anti-gays who are dishonest (or, let’s charitably say, confused) will compare the gold standard of heterosexual relationships, marriage, to the least committed of casual dating arrangements for gay people and declare that gay relationships are inferior. But little effort is made to define the terms or what qualifies as entry into the category being compared.

In society, we see a distinction between dating and being married. We don’t hold a new boyfriend to the standard we expect from a husband. And even if a man and a woman have been together for three or four years, until they marry we continue to look at such relationships as potential or temporary.

Until vows are said, commitments are not assumed. Once that step – and a significant step it is – has been taken, then family, faith, the community, society, and the law step in to collectively define this relationship as a couple, as two becoming one.

But for our community, we have in most states been denied the opportunity to take the step of marriage. We could not “tie the knot” that binds two into one. We had no couples to present for comparison because we were denied the ability to create such couples.

But change is coming. There are now a handful of states (four, soon to be five) in which the family, faith, the community, society and the law can agree that two men or two women have become a single entity, married.

And although this may be denied by majorities of voters in most of the nation, there are also those same-sex couples that are finding ways to get some of these to come to agreement. Perhaps they will get family and community to recognize their union. Or perhaps their faith and a portion of society – even in our losses, such as Maine, we see that there is a significant portion of society that will recognize such unions. And in some places where the law will not see a union of souls, it will at least acknowledge an administrative equivalency.

And analysis of census data shows that there is now a growing collection of same-sex couples that have found ways of becoming in their hearts, and in the hearts of those most important to them, married. (A/P)

The data from the annual American Community Survey showed that nearly 150,000 same-sex couples in the U.S., or more than one in four, referred to one another as “husband” or “wife,” although UCLA researchers estimate that no more than 32,000 of the couples were legally married.

So we now have a pool of married gays (and “married” gays) to offer up in comparison to married straights. We no longer have to weigh the value of church endorsed, white gowned, pomp and circumstanced heterosexual married bliss against a two month old “open” relationship between two boys who met at a bar.

And how do we compare?

Analysis of commonalities and differences is only in its infancy. We’ve only had for but a few years a measure for comparison. And until very recently, the census taking apparatus which might provided some answers has been banned from even discussing the matter.

But some researchers, such as Gary Gates at UCLA, have been finding ways to tweak the data to yield limited findings. And with the Obama Administration’s willingness to allow access to the data, some information is now coming to light.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, married gays aren’t so very different from married straights.

The [same-sex] couples had an average age of 52 and household incomes of $91,558, while 31 percent were raising children. That compares with an average age of 50, household income of $95,075 and 43 percent raising children for married heterosexual couples.

“It’s intrinsically interesting that same-sex couples who use the term spouses look like opposite-sex married couples even with a characteristic like children,” said Gary Gates, the UCLA demographer who conducted the analysis. “Most proponents of traditional marriage will say that when you allow these couples to marry, you are going to change the fundamental nature of marriage by decoupling it from procreation. Clearly, in the minds of same-sex couples who are marrying or think of themselves as married, you are not decoupling child-rearing from marriage.”

These are but early and surface findings.

And as time goes on, the distinction between “dating” and “partners” and “married” will become less hazy as employers and family court judges and Aunt Matilda will find greater need to know just who is committed and who is not. Ultimately the social need for distinction will outweigh the religion-based objection to recognition and our families, employers, churches, communities, and society will not only allow but demand to know which same-sex couples are in it for the long haul.

And time may reveal that there are strong distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual couples. Indeed, how could there not be; each subculture in our society adds its unique perspective to the marital dynamic.

And yet, I suspect that when terms are more firmly defined and a better comparison is made, we will continue to find that we are amazingly similar to our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors, and even to those who are convinced that we are peculiar and perverse.

HPV Vaccine OKed for Males

Timothy Kincaid

October 27th, 2009

Hardly an anti-gay activist can keep the excitement from their voice when they breathlessly declare that Gay Men Die From Anal Cancer!! And, indeed, gay men do die from anal cancer. In fact, about 0.35% of gay men do get anal cancer (a higher rate than non-gay men) and, if not treated, some of them die.

The primary contributor to anal cancer is infection with the HPV virus, the same virus that contributes to cervical cancer in women, causes genital warts, and is linked to some rare oral cancers in straight men. HPV is very common and most sexually active adults will be infected at some point in their life.

But some day that may no longer be true.

As we told you in June, a vaccine for the virus – which the CDC has been urging to be provided to all girls – is also effective in preventing infection in boys. And now the FDA has approved the vaccine for such use. (NYTimes)

The vaccine was approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration for use in boys and men ages 9 to 26. Wednesday’s action, by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is intended to guide national policy on use of the vaccine; its recommendations are typically adopted by professional medical associations and set the standards of practice for physicians.

But it probably won’t lead to universal vaccination. After all, it would be mostly appropriate to boys who may some day engage in sex with someone of the same sex, and we aren’t so foolish as to assume that public health policy will be directed by what is beneficial to future gay citizens.

The new recommendation means, in effect, that doctors and clinics may now administer the vaccine at their discretion to boys and men ages 9 to 26, but they are not expected to offer it. Parents may consider the vaccine as an option for their sons, but some health insurers may choose not to cover the shots.

Yet this is good news. And it is important that we spread the news to gay-straight alliances and gay youth groups and to parents of kids that are a bit gender-nonconforming and even those parents who put their kids’ health above their dreams of a daughter-in-law. This simple step could possibly save a life.

And in the process remove one more bullet from the arsenal of those who attack our lives and freedoms.

Poll: Good News on Question 1

Timothy Kincaid

October 27th, 2009

From the Bangor Daily News:

In the most closely watched race on the Nov. 3 ballot, Question 1, the latest survey results from Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group show the effort to repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law trailing.

Roughly 40 percent of respondents indicated they would vote to repeal versus 52 percent in support of allowing same-sex couples to marry. That is a slightly larger gap than a Pan Atlantic poll from earlier this month.

But polls don’t decide elections; voter turnout decides elections. So please do everything you can to help Mainers in their efforts to keep freedom and equality as more cherished values rather than bigotry and oppression.

UW Poll: Good News on Ref 71

Timothy Kincaid

October 27th, 2009

From Seattle PI:

The Washington Poll, which interviewed a total of 724 voters, brings very good news for supporters of same-sex domestic partnerships.

Referendum 71, where an “approved” vote upholds the state’s new expanded gay rights law, garners 57 percent ‘yes’ to 38 percent ‘no’ with 5 percent undecided. Among voters who say they’ve already mailed in ballots, R-71 was carrying by a 55-45 margin.

However, Proposition 8 taught us to be cautious in believing polling numbers. So let’s not slow down or relax in our efforts.

Maine Poll Goes Our Way

Timothy Kincaid

September 29th, 2009

A poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner taken from September 23-27 of 808 registered voters included the following question:

Q.6 Now let me ask something else. One of the questions on the ballot this November will read as follows: “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?” – If the election were held today, would you vote YES or NO on this question? Total

Yes strongly……………………………………………………………….37
Yes not strongly…………………………………………………………..4
No not strongly……………………………………………………………7
No strongly………………………………………………………………..43
(Don’t know/refused)…………………………………………………….9

Total yes…………………………………………………………………..41
Total no……………………………………………………………………50

Although the structure of the question is confusing, “No” is the answer which we wish to see.

HIV Vaccine Results Encouraging

Timothy Kincaid

September 24th, 2009

Eventually it had to happen. Eventually one of the promising vaccines trials for HIV had to provide at least some protection.

And it has. Partly. The trial showed that a vaccine was about 31.2% effective. (NY Times)

“I don’t want to use a word like ‘breakthrough,’ but I don’t think there’s any doubt that this is a very important result,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is one of the trial’s backers.

“For more than 20 years now, vaccine trials have essentially been failures,” he went on. “Now it’s like we were groping down an unlit path, and a door has been opened. We can start asking some very important questions.”

This is not the vaccine that will announce the end of the era of AIDS. But it is the first vaccine that has shown any effectivity at all and it allows researchers an opportunity to build upon this start to find something that will really work.

Iowans Not Calling for Anti-Gay Amendment

Timothy Kincaid

September 21st, 2009

The Des Moines Register released their Iowa Poll. And while it suggests that the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriage isn’t particularly popular, it really hasn’t riled up the Iowans.

The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April’s unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don’t care much or are not sure.

But even though a plurality opposes the decision, few others seem interested in changing the constitution to disallow marriage.

Iowans are almost evenly divided about whether they would vote for or against a constitutional amendment to end marriage for same-sex couples, according to The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll.

Forty-one percent say they would vote for a ban, and 40 percent say they would vote to continue gay marriage. The rest either would not vote or say they are not sure.

But the anti-gays activists have a cause to rally around. And we can fully expect that they will seek to make marriage a central focus in gubernatorial, representative, and court campaigns. This might not, however, be a wise decision.

Sixty-three percent say candidates’ stands on other issues will be more important in making their decisions in the 2010 elections.

Few poll respondents who described themselves as Republicans say the court decision is the single most important issue in the 2010 elections. But more than a third of Republicans say it is among several important issues, while only about a quarter of Democrats put it in that category.

Former state Republican Chairman Mike Mahaffey said the poll shows that, as the party searches for a winning message, the economy trumps marriage among voters.

“I think all of the candidates are going to state that they believe the people ought to be given the right to vote on a constitutional amendment. That’s a reasonable approach,” Mahaffey said. “I also think when it comes down to it, the overriding issues are going to be what can we do to create jobs and put ourselves in a better position fiscally.”

The Guardian Revisits Hair Whorls

Timothy Kincaid

September 15th, 2009

hair whorlThe Guardian has an article today revisiting the somewhat unorthodox study of Dr. Amar J S Klar and his observations about hair whirls.

Dr. Klar is a geneticist working at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland. One day on vacation he ended up on a gay beach. And there he noticed a peculiarity: gay men seemed to have counter-clockwise hair-whorls more frequently than could be expected. Far more frequently.

So the next year he went back and checked again. And, yep, gay men have gay hair.

He reports that “altogether in a combined sample of 272 mostly gay men observed, 29.8% exhibited counterclockwise hair-whorl orientation”. This, he says, is “vastly different from the value of 8.4% counterclockwise rotation found in the public at large, which included both males and females”.

Although Klar’s paper, Excess of Counterclockwise Scalp Hair-Whorl Rotation in Homosexual Men (pdf), was published in 2004, it didn’t seem to catch much attention in the gay community or among mainstream media. In fact, I don’t know whether psychologist Richard Lippa was entirely aware of Klar’s paper when he conducted similar research at Long Beach Pride in 2007 (his results – 23% counterclockwise).

Although none of this is new, it is important. One of the primary arguments against gay equality is that it is not biological in origin and thus is mutable. There is no gay gene! You can change! (So you don’t deserve civil rights!)

And as part of their argument, many anti-gays will create interesting hypotheses as to how physical distinctions are created without biology. Recently some NARTH affiliates sought to discredit measured brain variances by arguing that the brain is plastic and therefore such differences were the result of conditioning based on behavior.

But hair whorls, well there’s just no way to learn ‘em. They’re pure biology. And there’s just no credible way to explain them away.

Are You Married?

Timothy Kincaid

September 14th, 2009

lesbian_wedding_cakeThat is a question that will be asked on the 2010 US Census and it you’re heterosexual it’s a pretty easy question to answer. But not if you are a same-sex couple.

Sure, if you live in Massachusetts and are married in the eyes of your state, or if you’re a single guy or gal who is living footloose and fancy free, then you know your answer. But what if you’re somewhere in between?

Suppose you live in South Dakota and you have made vows before your community blessed by your place of worship and honored by your friends and family. Are you married?

Or suppose that you live in New Jersey and entered into a civil union which has “everything but the name”. Are you married?

Or you live in California where the Supreme Court justified the implementation of Proposition 8 by stating that domestic partnerships are acceptable equality provided that there not any provisions offered differently between domestic partnerships and marriage. Is “included on the census” a difference? Are you married?

Or you married in Connecticut but live in Virginia. Traveling cross country would have you married on one day and total strangers on the next. Or if you live in Rhode Island and the state has told you that it will not grant you a divorce for your legal Massachusetts wedding. Are you married?

At some point, state law almost becomes moot in answering this census question. Because recognition based on one’s current residence may dictate whether one’s marriage is recognized, but say very little about whether one is married. At some point the real answer becomes, “Yes, in the eyes of my family, my friends, my employer, my neighbors, my community, my city government, my church and, most importantly, me and my spouse, I am married. And if my state can’t ‘recognize’ that simple fact, then it needs to clean its glasses.”

And that is just how same-sex couples are expected to answer questions about their marriage status in next year’s census count. (WaPo)

When the U.S. Census Bureau counts same-sex married couples next year, demographers expect hundreds of thousands to report they are spouses — even though legal same-sex weddings in the United States number in the tens of thousands.

The Post goes on to suggest that the primary motivation for this will be to provide a basis for advocating for gay rights. And indeed, the data will be used to show that gay people are everywhere in this nation and that even the most conservative representative in the reddest state has married gay constituents he needs to serve.

But I think the motivation will be much more primal and personal. I think couples will tick the “married” box because, well, they are. And what else could you expect them to answer?

Americans Say Gays Face Most Discrimination

Jim Burroway

September 11th, 2009

The Pew Research Center released a report (PDF: 381KB/24 pages) which discusses Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims, but reveals that Muslims aren’t the ones that Americans see as most discriminated against. According to the report:

Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.

The report focuses almost entirely on Americans’ attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. But the interesting thing is how Americans view discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Is There A Lot of Discrimination Against… Yes No
Muslims 58% 29%
Jews 35% 54%
Evang. Christians 27% 56%
Atheists 26% 59%
Mormons 24% 56%
Gays and Lesbians 64% 30%
Hispanics 52% 41%
Blacks 49% 46%
Women 37% 59%

The poll was conducted in several groups in August 2009. The first five responses of religious groups (Muslims, Jews, Evangelical Christians, Atheists and Mormons) were from a sample size of 2,010 with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points. The last four responses were from sample sizes of from 999 to 1,011, giving a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Yes and No responses do not add to 100% due to participants either saying they didn’t know or refused to answer.

Consequences of Same-Sex Marriage: Lowest Divorce Rate Since WWII

Jim Burroway

September 4th, 2009

Massachusetts was the first state in the union to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples. They’ve been at it now for five years, and what do we have to show for it?

According to the most recent data from the National Center For Vital Statistics, Massachusetts retains the national title as the lowest divorce rate state, and the MA divorce rate is about where the US divorce rate was in 1940, prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that triggered the US entrance into World War Two.

Provisional data from 2008 indicates that the Massachusetts divorce rate has dropped from 2.3 per thousand in 2007 down to about 2.0 per thousand for 2008. What does that mean ? To get a sense of perspective consider that the last time the US national divorce rate was 2.0 per thousand (people) was 1940. You read that correctly. The Massachusetts divorce rate is now at about where the US divorce rate was the year before the United States entered World War Two.

Mormon Reorientation Efforts

Timothy Kincaid

September 2nd, 2009

On his site, conservative Christian psychology professor Dr. Warren Throckmorton has been following the debate between some same-sex attracted Mormon and some NARTH-affiliated Mormons. The discussion so far consists of

  • In Quiet Desperation, a book by Ty Mansfield, a same-sex attracted but faithfully observant Mormon and Fred and Marilyn Matis, the parents of a son who committed suicide. They argue for faithful following of teaching but also for compassion and sympathy for those who are same-sex attracted and for a change in social condemnation and rejection.
  • A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement, a review of the book by Dean Byrd, Shirley E. Cox, and Jeffrey W. Robinson. Byrd is the past president of the anti-gay therapist group, National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. In this review, they condemn Mansfield and the Matises for conceding that some people will remain same-sex attracted and that such persons should not be subjected to social condemnation. They felt that the book’s admission of the continuing existence of same-sex attraction “inadvertently limits the power of the atonement in the lives of people who struggle with homosexual attraction” and that Mansfield had “simply conceded victory to his homosexuality.” For good measure they also throw in large doses of homophobic ranting.
  • A rebuttal on Dr. Throckmorton’s site by Dr. Michael Bailey expressing that Byrd et al had taken his words out of context and given them a meaning nearly the opposite to what Bailey intended.
  • A rebuttal by Ty Mansfield expressing that Byrd et al had ascribed to him motivations and beliefs that he did not hold.
  • A response by four Mormon professors, William Bradshaw, Robert A. Rees, Ron Schow, Marybeth Raynes, which accuses Byrd et al of making baseless claims, misconstruing LDS theology, and ultimately of armchair analysis that was “not only inappropriate, [but] professionally irresponsible”.

Considering that every party in this discussion (except Bailey) is an observant member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and all hold to the church’s teachings about heterosexual monogamy, the entire exchange is a fascinating illustration of the extremism found in those who gravitate to NARTH. I recommend that those interested should at least follow Dr. Throckmorton’s highlights of the debate if not the extended discussion.

But I want to step away from the discussion and pull out one interesting side note. In the response by Bradshaw et al, we find the first hint of the measure of success that the Mormon Church has had in assisting same-sex attracted Mormons to become heterosexual.

First I have to bring to your attention a peculiarity about Mormon theology (As I am not an authority on LDS theology, I welcome correction): Unlike standard Christian beliefs, celibacy is not quite adequate for fully achieving the will of God. Although a Baptist, for example, might see celibacy as adhering to God’s morality code, a Mormon would believe that only through heterosexual marriage can one attain the highest levels of the Celestial Kingdom and achieve godhood. Recognizing marriage as the goal, Bradshaw makes the following observation:

Given the fact that Byrd was the lead person directing therapy for same sex attraction at Church Social Services during a period when many hundreds of Latter-day Saints were undergoing reparative or change therapy, one would think he would cite the findings of such therapy. It is in fact scandalous that such studies either were not undertaken or have been suppressed since the findings would help enlighten our present discussion of this subject. We are acquainted with one therapist at Church Social Services during Byrd’s tenure who did a large portion of this work in that he counseled with nearly a thousand homosexuals and whose experience contradicts the point of view taken in this review.2

Footnote 2 clarifies:

2. Our informant has told us that in over a 30 year career at LDS Family Services he worked with about 400 single men, 200 of whom left therapy after 1-2 sessions. Of the remaining 200, only 20 (10%) were able to marry. Furthermore, 19 of the 20 who married identified themselves as bisexual when they entered therapy. The quality of these marriages is unknown. Another Latter-day Saint therapist with whom we are familiar reports that of the hundreds of clients with sexual identity issues she has seen only those clearly identified as bisexual are given any chance of making successful marriages.

I wish to caution that this is third hand information. Yet it comes from sources that would likely find joy in announcing that reorientation efforts in the church were largely successful, if that were true.

What I find particularly troubling is that Dean Byrd would be unavoidably aware of the measure of success or failure that Church Social Services had in achieving the reorientation (or marriage) goals of his own program. If the results were as Bradshaw and company relay, then it is difficult to understand how Byrd could say that “there is much hope and substantial evidence that those who want to overcome same-sex attraction can make changes and achieve happiness and peace in their lives” and that “many men (and women) … have successfully dealt with same-sex attraction, have married, have families, are not depressed, and are living hopeful and happy lives.”

Considering the stark disparity between Byrd’s words and his results, I have to conclude that either the report is wildly incorrect, Byrd is seriously self-deluding, or that he has willingly adopted a policy of deception and fabrication in order to advance a politico-religious social agenda.

Infection rates in gay/bi men

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

August 28th, 2009

Those leading the fight against AIDS and anti-gay activists sometimes have a common goal: portray the incidence of HIV in gay and bisexual men in the most frightening terms. This appears to me to be what is happening as the result of a presentation at the National HIV Prevention Conference (Southern Voice)

Gay and bisexual men account for half of the new HIV infections in the U.S. and have AIDS at a rate more than 50 times greater than other groups, according to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention data presented at the National HIV Prevention Conference this week in Atlanta.

That’s a pretty frightening statistic. But perhaps the raw numbers give it some perspective.

Dr. Amy Lansky of the CDC presented research at the Aug. 24 plenary in which the CDC estimated in the U.S. there were 692.2 new HIV cases in 2007 per 100,000 men who have sex with men (MSM).

In other words, the rate of new infections in the population of gay and bisexual men in 2007 was 0.69%. Or in 2007 one out of every 144 gay/bi men seroconverted.

That still is very high. And it is consistent with our calculations that about 12% of gay/bi men (or about 6% of all gay/bi people) are infected with HIV. (So play safe kids… or better yet, find someone to have and hold from this day forward.)

But, in those terms, perhaps it isn’t quite as scary as the somewhat meaningless announcement that “MSM are 50 times more likely to have AIDS than women and non-gay or bisexual men.” I think most of us already know that sexually active gay men, especially those unpartnered, are at a much higher risk of HIV than Grandpa Joe and Grandma Sally.

And I wonder at the wisdom of making announcements of such comparisons. Provided without context, this quote can seem counter-intuitive. A gay man with both gay and straight friends might think that such ratios do not reflect their observations. And using language that feels out of sync with the realities of the experiences of gay men will not encourage better behavior; rather it will cause the target audience to dismiss the information.

Further it may distract from the fact that HIV transmission is not homogeneous within the gay community; some age, ethnic, and geographic subgroups need and deserve much more attention and focus in our battle against HIV/AIDS. Making statement that sound as though “HIV is a gay disease” misses the picture and downplays the tragic way in which this virus has devastated some gay communities – especially minority and economically challenged subsets – far worse than the “Will and Grace” gay man.

Such declarations also run the risk of providing a false sense of security to others in the non-gay-male category who live in communities which are disproportionately impacted by this disease. And it may encourage those responsible for shepherding resources to overlook, for example, sexually-active single black women in specific urban settings.

So while I strongly support that accurate information be presented and disseminated as widely as possible, I’d caution those who make statements about this disease to consider that their words not only be factually correct but also convey messages that are not confusing or counter-productive.

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