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“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 August, 2009

Lack of Clarity in Reporting on HIV and Circumcision of Gay Males

Timothy Kincaid

August 26th, 2009

Several studies have shown that in African and Asian nations heavily impacted by HIV, circumcision can reduce infection rates in males by 50 – 60%. Now a CDC doctor has announced that while circumcision is effective in reducing female to male transmission during vaginal sex, it does not assist in resisting infection between gay males during anal sex. (U.S. News & World Report)

Circumcision “is not considered beneficial” for gay men concerned about lowering their risk of becoming infected with HIV, Dr. Peter Kilmarx of the CDC told the Associated Press. He released the study findings at a conference on Tuesday.

The finding are at odds with some studies conducted in Africa, which have suggested that circumcised males may be less prone to HIV infection during heterosexual sex. But circumcision may not offer the same protection when it comes to anal sex, Kilmarx said.

In the study, the CDC team tracked the HIV infection rate of nearly 4,900 men who had anal sex with an HIV-infected partner. The researchers found an HIV infection rate of 3.5 percent — whether the men were circumcised or not.

While this may appear informative to a heterosexual, this reporting leaves more questions than it answers.

  • Were these 4,900 tops who engage in insertive sex only? Because if not, how could the circumcision of a bottom (passive partner) possibly impact HIV transmission?
  • Does the 3.5% infection rate reflect a bottom to top transmission? Was this 3.5% in a year, a decade, when?
  • Were these “partners” in relationships or just sex-partners?
  • Or did they just say, “Here are some cut men and here are some uncut men. Let’s see to what extent they seroconvert”?

This story is but another illustration of why it is important that gay men and women are included in reporting stories that effect our lives. It would be interesting to know the extent to which bottom to top HIV transmissions occur and whether circumcision of the top could impact this transmission. But reporting like this tells us nothing of much use at all.

Longitudinal Ex-Gay Study Update – Can Sexual Orientation be Changed?

Timothy Kincaid

August 12th, 2009

This week the American Psychological Association released a report that said that while religion and its value in a patient’s life should be considered and respected, therapists should not encourage clients to seek a change in sexual orientation and that there was no evidence to suggest that such efforts are successful.

This did not sit well with those organizations who build their existence on convincing their public that gay persons can “change” and that because such change is possible then public policy can be punitive to gay persons that do not submit themselves to such a change.

In response to the APA’s Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses To Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts, NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) declared

They selected and interpreted studies that fit within their innate and immutable view. For example, they omitted the Jones and Yarhouse study, the Karten study, and only gave cursory attention to the Spitzer study. Had the task force been more neutral in their approach, they could have arrived at only one conclusion: homosexuality is not invariable fixed in all people, and some people can and do change, not just in terms of behavior and identity but in core features of sexual orientation such as fantasy and attractions.

And Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International spoke to USA Today.

Its president, Alan Chambers, describes himself as someone who “overcame unwanted same-sex attraction.” He and other evangelicals met with APA representatives after the task force formed in 2007, and he expressed satisfaction with parts of the report that emerged.

“It’s a positive step — simply respecting someone’s faith is a huge leap in the right direction,” Chambers said. “But I’d go further. Don’t deny the possibility that someone’s feelings might change.”

So it was with great joy that those opposed to equality received news of evidence of change. The Baptist Press is crowing. Just “four days after an American Psychological Association task force released a 130-page report that said “gay-to-straight” therapies are unlikely to work”, they are trumpeting some amazing results of a study on Exodus International and their ex-gay ministries.

In findings that directly contradict mainstream academic thought, 53 percent of subjects in a new seven-year study reported successfully leaving homosexuality and living happily as heterosexual or celibate persons.

These “latest findings” are actually an update of the multi-year study of participants in Exodus ministries presented by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in their 2007 book, Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation.

The authors were not pleased that the study which they proclaimed throughout Christian media as an evidence of change in sexual orientation did not convince the APA.

“They selectively apply rigorous scientific standards,” he said. “So when it comes to examining the evidence that sexual orientation change can occur, they apply extraordinarily rigorous standards, and those standards allow them to disregard significant evidence that sexual orientation change can occur. That’s what happens with our study. They, I think, invalidly applied several methodological concerns to dismiss our study.

Indeed, the APA did apply concerns and dismiss the study.

Dr. Judith Glassgold, a clinical psychologist who led the APA task force, said the paper was not written in response to Dr. Jones’ work, though it did dismiss his findings.

“We don’t believe the claims were proven, to be honest,” said Dr. Glassgold in an interview. “In our looking at all the research we find that people don’t change their underlying sexual attraction. What they do is figure out a way to control their attractions. And some learn to live a heterosexual life but mostly for religious motivation.”

Presented as a counter-point to the APA’s declaration that there is inadequate evidence that therapies designed to change sexual orientation are effective, Jones and Yarhouse argue that:

the findings of this study would appear to contradict that commonly expressed view of the mental health establishment that sexual orientation is not changeable and that the attempt to change is highly likely to produce harm for those who make such an attempt.

I won’t speak to the likelihood of harm, but when it comes to change in orientation, their study convinced me of exactly the opposite.

When the Jones and Yarhouse book, was released in 2007, we hosted an exchange between Jim Burroway, BTB’s editor, and Stanton Jones.

My synopsis of the results, as published in the book, was

the Jones and Yarhouse study revealed little to no statistically measurable change in orientation in the prospective sample. The much touted “successes” were either in recollection (which again were quite small) or were those who had decided to no longer call themselves “gay”. However, they still identified their orientation as homosexual (”I’m not gay but my attractions are”).

In short, the Jones and Yarhouse study was funded and fully supported by Exodus and conducted by two researchers who were avid supporters of ex-gay ministries. They wanted to study 300 participants, but after more than a year, they could only find 57 willing to participate. They then changed the rules for acceptance in order to increase the total to 98. After following this sample for 4 years, 25 dropped out. Of the remainder, only 11 reported “satisfactory, if not uncomplicated, heterosexual adjustment.” Another 17 decided that a lifetime of celibacy was good enough.

What the 2007 Jones and Yarhouse book revealed, and what this update further confirms, is that the “change” which NARTH and Exodus loudly proclaim is not a change in sexual orientation at all and, in fact, may be nothing more that a change in identity or recollection.

Prospective v. Retrospective
In order to understand the J&Y study, you have to understand the distinction between retrospective and prospective sampling. Prospective uses currently measured data, and retrospective uses recollections about the past.

For example, if one were wanting to compare changes in the length that a student has to walk in their morning commute to school, a prospective study would select a random sample (say a selection of schools), measure the distance the students walked, and repeat the process over a long enough period of time to determine if there is change. A retrospective study would go ask Grandpa and compare today’s walking distance to “ten miles through the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways!”

Obviously, measured differences are far more accurate than recollected differences. Time has a way of providing support for what we want to believe and recollections tend to be very selective. Things were simpler then, or tougher; summers were hotter, or milder; politicians were more honest, or scoundrels.

So the best studies are prospective rather than retrospective. Oddly, the J&Y study is both.

Of the 98 participants, 57 were more-or-less prospective. These were persons who had been involved with an Exodus (ex-gay) ministry for less than a year. So while there may have been some recollection error, it was at least a discussion of reasonably recent events. These participants are called Phase 1.

Unable to get a sample size that the authors felt was sufficient, they then recruited Exodus participants that had been in the programs for one to three years. These participants are called Phase 2 and to the extent that there is a measurement from a recollected starting point, their participation is retrospective.

Fortunately, it is possible to distinguish between the results for these two groups.

The Update
The paper presented by Jones and Yarhouse to the APA is significantly less detailed than was their book, as could be expected. Specifically, the several scales of measurement were reduced to two, Kinsey and Shively & DeCecco, and while the book provided information on interim points, the paper uses only the starting point (T1) and the final point (T6).

The results in the book are based on 75 of the original 98 participants. Since J&Y presented their results in their book, an additional 14 participants have dropped out of the study, bringing the sample size down to 61. The remaining participants have now been part of the study for six to seven years.

The Results
Because the total sample is a hodge-podge of two very different subpopulations, it is informative only to the extent that it reveals information about the difference between those subpopulations.

The group that is most accurately studied, and that whose results are most revealing about the extent to which Exodus is successful is Phase 1, the prospective study. And this is what Jones and Yarhouse report about that subpopulation:

  • There was, on average, virtually no change in sexual orientation on the Kinsey scale using measures of behavior, sexual attraction, emotional/romantic attraction, and fantasy.
  • There was, on average, a small but not significant increase in homosexual behavior.
  • There was, on average, a slight but not significant reduction in homosexual attraction.
  • There was, on average, virtually no increase in heterosexual attraction.

In other words, on average, after six to seven years of participation, those who went through Exodus ministries reported over the period of their involvement no change in sexual orientation at all.

Averages v. Individuals
Averages, while meaningful to statisticians and to those who are evaluating the effectiveness of Exodus International, do not tell the full story. We must also look at individual results.

For their book, Jones and Yarhouse classified their participants into categories based on their individual reports. They came from a religious evaluation model and defined two groups as successful (conversions and chaste), two as failure (identifying as gay and considering identifying as gay), and two in the middle that were still trying but seeing little to no results. For the final report, the authors changed their procedure and allowed participants to select their own category.

As I am less interested in adherence to religious identities and more interested in sexual orientation change, I’ll group the failure and the middle two together. After time T6, J&Y report:

    Success: Conversion – 14 (23%)
    Success: Chastity – 18 (30%)
    Non-Success – 29 (48%)

This does not, however, present an accurate story of the study participants. It does not account for those who dropped out of participation and thus overstates the success rates. One could extrapolate from this reporting method that eventually only those who are successes of some sort will remain and the authors could declare with great fanfare that 100% of all Exodus participants eventually succeed.

But that would not be truthful.

When I made the observation that drop-outs should be considered a likely failure, those who defended the skewing upward of success rates argued that because we don’t know the reasons for discontinued participation, it was just as easy to believe that these individuals were now happily heterosexually married and not wanting to be reminded of their old life as that they had embraced a gay identity. But additional information in this report reveals otherwise.

Of the 14 persons who left the study between T3 and T6, two were Conversion, one was Chastity, and the remaining were Non-success. We know from the book that one of the Conversion drop-outs reported that he had never been heterosexual and was simply reporting what he thought the authors wanted to hear. So it is rather unlikely that these drop-outs went off to live heterosexual lives. Nor is it (or ever was it) likely that any sizable chunk of those who dropped out before T3 left because they are now happily hetero.

Considering drop-outs as their own category, a more accurate reporting of the self-identified placement into categories would look like this:

    Success: Conversion – 14 (14%)
    Success: Chastity – 18 (18%)
    Non-Success – 29 (30%)
    Drop-Outs – 37 (38%)

And considering just the Phase 1 participants, the results are

    Success: Conversion – 5 (9%)
    Success: Chastity – 6 (11%)
    Non-Success – 18 (32%)
    Drop-Outs – 28 (49%)

When looking at these numbers, we should consider two things about the “conversion” category shown above.

First, much of Exodus’ efforts go into changing identity. They view a “gay identity” as sinful and contrary to a “Christian identity”.

So this change in identity may not be related to an actual change in orientation. As I noted above, the first measurement of “change” reported in the book – the one trumpeted in anti-gay press upon the book’s press release – was a change in self identification. Yet is was accompanied by a measurement that spoke of one’s orientation as separate from one’s identity and found that those who claimed that they were not homosexual were willing to admit that their orientation is homosexual. It was literally a declaration that, “I’m not gay but my orientation is.”

We should be careful to recognize that those claiming conversion at T6 may be doing so for themselves and not for their orientations. The authors do acknowledge that such success may be seen as relating more to identity than to orientation:

Some may see these results as reflecting not a change in sexual orientation for most participants who reported such change, but rather a change in sexual identity. Such a change might result from how one thinks of oneself and labels one’s sexual preferences (that is, attributions and meaning-making).

But with Exodus placing heavy emphasis on identity, by allowing unanalyzed self-assignment the authors may have created a scenario in which there is an inflated increase in the “success” categories.

And second, this report differs from the book in that the qualifiers are removed. The book provided discussion of the non-traditional definitions of “heterosexual” used in the study and how those who were so identified also experienced wandering eyes, erotic dreams, and other situations that are most often associated with a homosexual orientation. In the paper, it is limited to

[W]hile we found that part of our research population experienced success to the degree that it might be called (as we have here) “conversion,” our evidence does not indicate that these changes are categorical, resulting in uncomplicated, dichotomous and unequivocal reversal of sexual orientation from utterly homosexual to utterly heterosexual. Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at T6 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and they did not report their heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.

I don’t think that I’m alone in noting that few of the heterosexuals that I know experience much homosexual arousal. Perhaps Stanton Jones himself said it best in an interview.

“A typical hetero male finds himself attracted to a wide range of females. But among the successful people who reported conversion the typical response was I’m very happy with my sexual responses to my wife, but I don’t experience much hetero attraction to other women. Also, when asked and pressed about whether they still find attraction to men, they will say: ‘Yes, if I let my mind go in that direction.’ “

And finally, when comparing the individual with the average, it must be noted that without an average change, any individual change experienced is offset by an equal and opposite experience.

In other words, for every person who came to Exodus and found that they became one Kinsey point more heterosexual, there was a person who found that Exodus made them one Kinsey point gayer. If Exodus sees their mission as rescuing those sinking in a sea of sin, for each person they pull into the lifeboat, they hit another over the head with an oar.

Failure to report Phase 2 Results
Jones and Yarhouse report the “whole population”, a commingled combination of Phase 1 and Phase 2 as though it is informative. While they do break out Phase 1 results, they do not disclose Phase 2 results.

I believe that were Phase 1 to be visually compared to Phase 2, the variances between the two would be startling. The question jumping out from the report might shift from whether there is a significant effect size in responses to why these two subpopulations are reporting opposite conclusions.

And, indeed, the results from Phase 2 can be deduced to be significantly different from Phase 1. If we know the average response of the 29 remaining participants in Phase 1 and the total average responses of all 61 remaining participants, we can back into the Phase 2 reported change.

A comparison of the two would show:

    Kinsey – behavior only
    P1, -0.21
    P2, 1.79

    Kinsey Expanded
    P1, 0.55
    P2, 1.01

    Shively & DeCecco homo
    P1, 0.40
    P2, 0.99

    Shively & DeCecco hetero
    P1, 0.05
    P2, 0.62

As we can see, there are sharp differences in the results of these two subpopulations. And although no information on Phase 2 is directly reported, the authors somewhat acknowledge that the two subpopulations vary in results

We expected that the results of change would be somewhat less positive in [Phase 1], as individuals experiencing difficulty with change would be likely to get frustrated or discouraged early on and drop out.

That is a round-about way of admitting that the Phase 2 subpopulation does not include those who got frustrated early and dropped out in the first one to three years. It avoids pointing out that results for the Phase 2 subpopulation are already skewed towards those who either believe they are experiencing “change” or have a stronger more deeply dedicated commitment to Exodus ministries.

But even so, with such astounding results in this subpopulation, why wouldn’t the authors include this separate information. It may be that isolation of Phase 2 raises questions about the validity of including them at all and, more importantly, what it says about the claims made by Exodus members both included and not included in the study.

The real difference between Phase 1 and Phase 2 is more than just that P2 has been in the program for a few more years. It is more than that they have fewer drop outs. The real difference is that P2 is based on recollection to a much greater extent than P1.

And Phase 2 participants recalled being more gay than Phase 1 reported. Significantly, especially in the area of behavior. The Kinsey 1 report was 4.52 for Phase 1 and 5.49 for Phase 2.

There is no reason to believe that those in Phase 2, having eliminated the drop outs, actually were any more homosexually oriented than those in Phase 1. Rather, it seems likely that they simply recalled being more homosexually oriented when they established their base point some one to three years later.

So all reported change in Phase 2 – and indeed all reported change – may be attributable to this variance in starting point due to reliance on recollection. Ultimately, all of Jones’ and Yarhouse’s announced success may be nothing more than, “I remember being much more gay three years ago than I am today.”

Truly Gay
The one subpopulation that Jones and Yarhouse are excited about is what they call the “truly gay subpopulation.” These are defined as those who “scored above the scale midpoint at T1 for homosexual attraction, and for homosexual behavior in the past, and for having previously embraced full homosexual or gay identity.” This subgroup reported the most change.

It is difficult to know whether these persons are mostly Phase 1 or Phase 2, but it would appear that they are a combination of both. We know from the break out of results in the book that a number of the non-successes in the truly gay subpopulation were also Phase 1. This lends itself to assumptions that those in the truly gay subpopulation that reported progress were likely in Phase 2 and that much, if not all, of their progress consisted solely of exaggerated recollection.

This is further supported by noting that most of the change reported over the seven year life of the study was between the first measurement (often as recollected) and the second. In discussing the possibility that reported change is largely identity, the authors noted:

This might also explain to some why the Truly Gay subpopulation showed more dramatic change, as their shift was away from a more pronounced gay identity. Such a departure may have been measured as a greater movement away from something that had previously been more salient to them.

Or, more likely, a greater movement away from the recollection of being very gay three years ago.

Conclusions
Based on the Jones and Yarhouse book, Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, and on their follow up report, Ex-Gays? An Extended Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, we can observe the following:

  • The prospective sample reported, on average, virtually no change in attractions and a small increase in homosexual behavior.
  • A retrospective look at ones perceptions of prior orientation from the perspective of one to three years yields a sharply different result from that seen by a prospective sample. This change in perspective may account for all reported change in Exodus ministries.
  • Most change reported away from homosexuality and towards heterosexuality was in the interval between the starting point (T1) and the second measurement point (T2). This change occurred most strongly in the retrospective sample and may be due to variances in recollection.
  • A combined prospective and retrospective sample experienced, on average, no significant increase in opposite sex attraction.
  • A small percentage (perhaps 9%) of those who start Exodus programs may eventually self-categorize themselves as “experiencing substantial reductions in homosexual attraction and substantial conversion to heterosexual attraction and functioning. These persons will be unlike other heterosexuals in that they will continue to experience homosexual arousal and not experience much attraction to the opposite sex.
  • Another small percentage (perhaps 11%) of those who start Exodus programs may eventually achieve a life of manageable homosexual attraction and chastity.
  • Others may continue perpetually in Exodus programs without ever achieving any significantly reduced homosexual attractions.
  • Eventually, most of those who start Exodus programs will drop out.
  • On average, for each person who enters and Exodus program and finds any movement away from homosexual attraction, another will find movement towards homosexual attraction.

But these observations are not readily obvious from the media reports of either the 2007 Jones and Yarhouse book nor this follow-up report. And those seeking “proof” that homosexuals can “change” have used both to advance a false image of the results of this study. Exodus, NARTH, and many others will spin this study to come to conclusions that are far from of those I’ve stated above.

The authors have a moral responsibility to discourage those who will make false statements or who will falsely claim that this study justifies their ex-gay or anti-gay endeavors. And they have a moral obligation not to allow their wishes about the mutability of sexual orientation cloud the results of their study and give false hope to those who believe Exodus’ slogan that “change is possible”.

Vaccine for HPV Effective in Men

Timothy Kincaid

July 2nd, 2009

Just ask any anti-gay activist and they’ll tell you: the gays get anal cancer!! In 1997 the anti-gay group Concerned Women for America, in support for their claim that “homosexuality is by its very nature dangerous to those who practice it”, declared

Homosexual men’s practice of anal sex has left many of them victims of anal cancer. One article in the New England Journal of Medicine commented, “Our study lends strong support to the hypothesis that homosexual behavior in men increases the risk of anal cancer: 21 of the 57 men with anal cancer (37 percent) reported that they were homosexual or bisexual, in contrast to only one of 64 controls.”

And even the CDC warns

Gay and bisexual men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than heterosexual men.

You may find this surprising. Looking at your friends you may wonder, “Who has anal cancer here? Why are they keeping this a secret from me?”

Well fear not. Your friends aren’t lying to you. While anal cancer is far more frequent in gay men than heterosexuals (and even more common to HIV politive men), it is still very very rare – and about to become rarer still.

HPV, the human papillomavirus, is sexually transmitted and very common. According to the CDC, “Most sexually active people in the United States (U.S.) will have HPV at some time in their lives.”

Although the virus may never present symptoms, it’s most known for causing genital warts. At any given time 1% of sexually active men in the US have genital warts.

More seriously, a number of cancers have been shown to be associated with HPV including cervical cancer, penile cancer, and anal cancer. Each of these are fairly rare.

The rate of anal cancer in men is 9 out of 100,000. In gay men that rate soars to 35 out of 100,000.

Although 0.035% is hardly the sort of occurrance rathat argues that “homosexuality is by its very nature dangerous”, we should not dismiss or treat lightly the pain and misery brought about by this disease.

Fortunatly there is a vaccine for the type of HPV that causes cancers. It is nearly 100% effective in reducing infection in women. However, the vaccine has not yet been approved for use on men.

A new study may lend support to the vaccination of men as well. (xtra)

“The numbers right now look not quite as good as the girls’ but still very, very good,” says Palefsky. “The vaccine was nearly 100 percent effective [in women] so you obviously can’t do better than that.”

Palefsky says the vaccine would still make an effective preventative health tool for everyone because the same strains of HPV that cause most cervical cancers in women also cause a majority of anal cancers in men.

“They’re entirely the same,” he says. “That’s why we’re optimistic that if boys do get vaccinated with the same vaccine that girls are using, it should prevent a substantial number of anal cancers.”

Conservatives have opposed the application of this vaccine for girls under the logic that it presumes that their little Suzy is going to be a promiscuous slut. And since they are good Christians kids wearing their purity ring they will never be exposed to a sexually transmitted virus. (In my experience, Christian kids tend to experience miracle babies – those who show up fully devoloped and health about seven months after a rapidly planned wedding.)

We can expect an even higher level of objection to vaccinating little Johnny who is undoubtedly going to give up his desire to be church organist when he grows up, develops an interest in sports, and marries a nice Christian girl.

But as a matter of policy, every child in the country should be vaccinated, regardless of sex. I care about Suzy and Johnny’s heath even if their parents do not.

Barna: Gays are Christians Too

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2009

George Barna is a respected writer and researcher in Christian America. His Barna Group reports are an attempt to make sense of the often conflicting claims, reports, images, and stereotypes that make up the broad swath of the nation that identifies as Christian.

In a new report on gay people, Barna gives us some useful information, some ludicrous nonsense, and some things that we in the gay world already knew – but which will be shocking to those who view gays as the enemies of people of faith.

First the ludicrous nonsense:

Barna tries to provide his readers with a better picture of what gay people are like, in general. And while his discription is certainly more accurate than what many conservative Christians will claim as gospel truth, some Christian mythology about gay people allows him to see differences that don’t hold up to common sense or to mathematics.

The gay and lesbian population, which constitutes about 3% of adults…

Most gay adults are male (60%) and few are married (19%). Gay adults are considerably younger than average: half are under age 40 compared to just three out of ten heterosexuals are under 40. Gays are less likely than heterosexuals to be white and are also much more likely to earn less than $30,000 annually. (That can be partially explained by being younger and thus less experienced in the marketplace.)

Politically, gays are less frequently registered to vote than are heterosexuals (76% vs. 88%).

I see the following errors in Barna’s statements:

The past several exit polls of Presidential elections have consistently reported that 4% of voters identify as gay. If gay’s are less likely to register, and they are only 3% of the population, then those that do register are far far more civic minded than their heterosexual neighbor.

Barna is simply mistaken when he reports that three out of ten heterosexuals are under 40. Actually, according to July, 2008 US Census estimates, 39.7% or four out of ten American adults are under the age of 40. Nor is there any evidence that gay persons are younger than heterosexuals.

Additionally, if “gays are less likely than heterosexuals to be white”, that would definitely come as a surprise to leaders of both gay organizations and minority organizations. Accepted wisdom is that in America there is a fairly consistant observation of same-sex attraction across race, however with ethnic minorities being statistically lower in gay identity.

Indeed, the 2005 CDC Sexual Behavior study showed that white men and women were more likely to report having had same-sex sexual experiences than either Hispanic or black men and women and that they were significantly more likely to identify as gay.

The CDC also provided information that suggest that while men are more likely to identify as gay (2.3%) that women (1.3%), when bisexuals are included both men and women identify as gay or bisexual at 4.1%. So unless we know whether Barna’s study included bisexuals, we can’t really comment about his 60/40 ratio.

No doubt many of you chuckled at Barna’s comment that only 19% of gays were married. If he means legally married, he’s terribly mistaken; the four states in which same-sex marriages have yet been sanctioned certainly have not reported nearly two million same-sex weddings. And if he’s speaking of those who are in couples, the Urban Institute reports that a “study of gay and lesbian voting habits conducted by Harris Interactive determined that 30 percent of gay and lesbian people are living in a committed relationship in the same residence.”

So, it would appear that Barna’s comparisons on demographics aren’t particularly accurate. While Barna’s gay study participants may have been younger, more ethnic, less affluent, and more male than his heterosexual study participants, neither of his samples are likely to be representative of either gay or straight people as a whole.

Now the useful information:

If Barna got his sample wrong, then we cannot rely on the exact extent to which his observations are correct. In other words, if he says that 60% of gay Americans describe their faith as “very important” in their life (as he does), we may not be able to rely on the “60″ part, but we still know that most do.

But taking the exact numbers with a grain of salt, let’s look at what Barna found:

70% consider themselves to be Christian,
60% describe their faith as “very important” in their life,
58% have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today”,
About 40% are absolutely committed to the Christian faith, and
27% qualify as born again Christians

Barna compared his gay sample to his heterosexual sample and found that, not too surprisingly, that there are differences.

Although most adults affirm the importance of faith in their life, regardless of their sexual orientation, straight adults (72%) were more likely than gay adults (60%) to describe their faith as “very important” in their life. And even though most Americans consider themselves to be Christian, there is a noticeable gap between heterosexuals who self-identify that way (85%) compared to homosexuals (70%). Another gap was then noted among those who say they are Christian: about six out of ten heterosexuals say they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith, compared to about four out of ten among homosexuals.

And even though a majority of adults have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today,” such a relationship was more common among non-gays (75%) than among gay adults (58%). The research also revealed that straight adults were nearly twice as likely as gays to qualify as born again Christians (47% compared to 27%, respectively).

He went on to explain how gay people also differ in theology, belief in scripture literally, how they contemplate God, and how they worship. In short, Barna found that gays are less Christian, less orthodox, less conservative, and less churchy.

This probably isn’t surprising to any of our readers. Considering the level of expulsion, rejection, and even hostility from some portions of the Christian family it would be shocking if they were not.

And finally, the shocking news for conservative Christians:

George Barna, whose company conducted the research, pointed out that some popular stereotypes about the spiritual life of gays and lesbians are simply wrong.

“People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” declared the best-selling author of numerous books about faith and culture. “A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.

Although there are clearly some substantial differences in the religious beliefs and practices of the straight and gay populations, there may be less of a spiritual gap between straights and gays than many Americans would assume.”

They will be so displeased.

Majority of New Yorkers Support Marriage Equality

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2009

A new Quinnipiac poll shows that a majority of New Yorkers support a law allowing same-sex couples to marry.

New York State voters support 51 – 41 percent, with 8 percent undecided, a law allowing same-sex couples to marry, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

While it is news that support finally crossed the 50% mark, support from New Yorkers has been in the 40+ range for a couple years. But we can glean some other interesting facts from this poll:

  • Marriage is supported by both NYC residents (52% – 37%) and by Upstaters (49% – 45%).
  • Marriage is supported by whites (52% – 42%), by Hispanics (55% – 39%), and by blacks (43% – 42%). This is of particular interest because some NY anti-gay activists (Sen. Diaz, for example) have tried to make this a racial issue and claim that Hispanics oppose same-sex marriage. Additionally, it suggests that the much-discussed black opposition to marriage equality may be regional and that a winning approach can be crafted to appeal to this demographic.

The poll also asked about civil unions.

New York State voters support same-sex civil unions 68 – 25 percent, with support from all groups, including 55 – 37 percent among Republicans.

As stated, there were no demographics – age, race, religion, education, location – which opposed civil unions. The largest opposition, 39%, came from weekly church goers.

It appears that recent attention given to the issue – including anti-gay advertising by NOM – has only served to increase support for marriage equality in the state.

LGBT Adults Are More Likely To Read This

Jim Burroway

June 12th, 2009

From Harris International:

…[G]ay and lesbian adults online are reading more blogs than their heterosexual counterparts. When asked, just over half (51 percent) of the gay and lesbian respondents reported reading some type of blog, compared to 36 percent of heterosexual adults. A similar question on blog readership also was asked in November 2006, and at that time 32 percent of gay and lesbian adults then reported reading blogs.

Thank you for your support.

By the way, LGBT adults also are more heavily into instant messaging, social networking, and Internet dating than their online heterosexual counterparts.

Hispanics Support Marriage Equality the Same as Whites

Timothy Kincaid

May 26th, 2009

Nate Silver, the genius behind FiveThreeEight’s voter trend analysis, has looked at attitudes towards gay marriage in **White voters and Hispanic voters and found them to be virtually identical.

There is a somewhat persistent conservative myth that Hispanic voters are vehemently opposed to gay marriage. Although a majority of Hispanics are probably are opposed to gay marriage — as most (though no longer all) surveys suggest are a majority of Americans in general — Hispanics appear to be no more opposed to gay marriage than are whites.

Silver weighted several recent surveys on the issue and found that nationally Whites and Hispanics support marriage equality at about 47%. Blacks averaged around 31%

California has a disproportionatly large population of Hispanic voters. In the efforts to overturn Proposition 8 by means of initiative, this time round leaders had best not make the mistake of ignoring racial minorities or assuming that they are, by definition, not supportive.

- – - –

** I’m always bemused at the White v. Hispanic classifications as it often leaves my friends in a bit of nowhere land. More than a few have Hispanic ancestory or a Spanish last name but are often fully assimilated into “mainstream” culture. Since Miguel speaks no Spanish, what box is he to tick? Is he culturally any less “white” than, say, my Armenian friends?

Minnesota Poll on Marraige

Timothy Kincaid

May 1st, 2009

From the Star Tribune:

As you may know, the Iowa Supreme Court recently legalized same-sex marriage in that state by declaring unconstitutional a state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Do you believe Minnesota should pass a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage or legalize same-sex marriage or make no changes in its marriage laws and leave it to the Minnesota Supreme Court to interpret the state Constitution?

33% Prohibit same-sex marriage
25% Legalize same-sex marriage
35% Leave it to the MN Supreme Court
6% Don’t know/refused

New Hampshire Voters Support Marriage

Timothy Kincaid

April 28th, 2009

The New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition is reporting that a poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center finds support for marriage.

A poll released today by New Hampshire Freedom to Marry shows that 55% of New Hampshire Voters support marriage for lesbian and gay couples, while 39% are opposed.

The Senate will vote on the marriage bill tomorrow.

Americans Shift Sharply in Favor of Marriage

Timothy Kincaid

April 28th, 2009

A poll release by CBS/New York Times shows a recent very sharp shift in support for marriage equality. For the first time, support for marriage went above 40% and opposition to all forms of recognition dropped below 30%. And, for the first time, “marriage” is the most preferred of choices offered.

42 – marriage
25 – civil unions but not marriage
28 – no recognition for couples
5 – uncertain

Although polling has shown a steady increase of about 10% in support for marriage since the devisive 2004 Presidential elections in which President Bush made it a campaign issue, this latest poll suggest that there has been about a 9% jump in support in the past six weeks.

In the period between the two polls:

  • The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples.
  • The legislature of Vermont voted for marriage equality and overrode the governor’s veto.
  • The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted for marriage equality.
  • The District of Columbia unanimously voted to recognize out-of-district marriages.
  • The legislature of Connecticut codified marriage.
  • The Governor of New York initiated a drive to push marriage equality through the legislature. He was supported by the Mayor of New York City.
  • The legislature of Washington upgraded Domestic Partnerships to include All-But-The-Name.
  • The Maryland Senate voted to increase benefits offered to Domestic Partners.
  • The legislature of Colorado passed a Designated Beneficiaries act.
  • The Delaware Senate rejected a ban on same-sex marriage amendment.
  • The West Virginia House of Delegated rejected a ban on same-sex marriage amendment.
  • The legislature of Arkansas rejected a bill that would have hindered cities and municipalities from setting up domestic parter registries.
  • The Governor of Utah publicly pondered whether the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage had any leeway to allow other forms of recognition.
  • The National Organization for Marriage release a fear-based anti-marriage ad that backfired and resulted in parody.
  • A Miss USA contestant spoke against same-sex marriage and was reviled.

Any one of these might be expected to result in negative reaction. But if this week’s poll is accurate, there has not been an uptick in voter outrage; rather, quite the opposite has occured.

Either this poll is an anomoly, or it provides support for those who claim that America is reaching a tipping point on the issue of marriage equality.

Anti-Gays Rely on Masters and Johnson

Timothy Kincaid

April 23rd, 2009

William Masters and Virginia E. Johnson were sex researcher in the 60′s through 90′s. Their books Human Sexual Response in 1966 and Human Sexual Inadequacy in 1970 were considered classics that broke through misconceptions and myths about human sexuality.

But unlike their predecessor, Alfred Kinsey, they are not hated and reviled by anti-gay activists. Because in 1979 they released Homosexuality in Perspective, in which they claimed that homosexuality could in most cases be cured. And this is a claim very much treasured by those who seek to deny rights and equality to gay citizens.

For example, Thomas E. Schmidt writes in his article Homosexual Causation: Nature or Nurture? hosted on the Exodus International website:

W. Masters and V. Johnson conducted a study of fifty-four men and thirteen women who expressed a desire to convert or revert to a heterosexual orientation. Therapists chose candidates for their apparently high degree of motivation and for their accompaniment by an understanding opposite-sex partner who could serve as a support during the transition period. The treatment format consisted of an intensive two-week program followed by periodic follow-up over a five-year period. The client couple worked with a man-woman therapy team who focused on nonjudgmental identification and explanation of the influences that had led to the client’s homosexual behavior.

The therapists then worked to reduce these influences within the context of the clients’ value system and to encourage heterosexual function on the part of the client couple. About 20 percent failed during the initial treatment period, but the five-year follow-up revealed no more than a 30-45 percent total failure rate, much lower than even Masters and Johnson had expected.

Such well known and respected names as Masters and Johnson lend great credibility to the insistence that homosexuality is not an orientation and can, indeed, be reversed. See how prominently NARTH displays their names.

Is homosexuality immutable? Is it fixed, or is it amenable to change? The 1973 decision to delete homosexuality from the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association had a chilling effect on research. The APA decision was not made based on new scientific evidence-in fact, as gay activist researcher Simon LeVay admitted, “Gay activism was clearly the force that propelled the APA to declassify homosexuality” (1996, p. 224).

In reviewing the research, Satinover reported a 52% success rate in the treatment of unwanted homosexual attraction. (Satinover, 1996, p. 186). Masters and Johnson, the famed sex researchers, reported 65% success rate after a five-year follow-up (Schwartz and Masters, 1984, pp. 173-184). Other professionals report success rates ranging from 30% to 70%.

And anti-gay gadflies Stephen Bennett and Peter LaBarbera hauled out a 1979 Time Magazine article about the book as evidence that “a permanent, or at least longterm, switch to heterosexuality is possible more than half the time among gays who are highly motivated to change.”

However, as time passed, other researchers were unable to duplicate Masters’ success.

A study conducted by conservative evangelical researchers Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse which sought to validate the reorientation efforts of Exodus International found that a change from homosexual orientation to heterosexual orientation was nowhere near 65%. They reported a “conversion” rate of 15% and defined conversion in such a way as to allow for roaming eyes, sex dreams, and other attributes that are not generally considered to be indicative of heterosexuality.

The study, while the best published to date, is fraught with problems including sample size, measurement and definition of change, comingling of retrospective and prospective samples, and lack of follow-up. At best it could be said that

Perhaps eleven percent of an nonrepresentative sample of 98 highly motivated gay people who went through Exodus programs reported that after four years there was “substantial reduction in homosexual desire and addition of heterosexual attraction and functioning”.

But even that statement is challenged by the fact that one of the eleven successes wrote to the study coordinators to inform them that he was not truthful with them and that he had no change in attraction at all. He simply wanted to tell them what all parties really wanted to be true.

So why then is it that the optimistic results of Masters and Johnson are not readily evident in later studies? After all, Masters was reporting success within the first two weeks.

Well new information suggests that the secret may not be the inferior methods of more current attempts. Rather, the fault may lie with the source.

For more information see Masters and Johnson Gay “Cures” Were Likely Faked

Prop 8 and Race: More Complex Than First Reported

Clayton Critcher

January 15th, 2009

Guest columnist Clayton Critcher emailed me (Jim) a few days ago with comments on my critique of the NGLTF report on Prop 8. Since he had some very pertinent observations — that the relationship between religion and race with regard to African-Americans and Prop 8 is more complex than reported — I invited him to write up a guest post for Box Turtle Bulletin.

Clayton Critcher is a summa cum laude graduate of Yale University, and is now a PhD candidate in social psychology at Cornell University, where he is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.  His research and publications include experimental work on political ideology and unintended consequences of anti-gay public policy.

The recent NGLTF-sponsored report on Prop 8 and race has reignited the discussion about the determinants of support for Prop 8.  Unsurprisingly, most of the interest in this report has been on what it says about African American voters’ support for the amendment.  In my opinion, the report does an impressive job of demonstrating that exit polls likely overstated Black voters’ support.  Instead, just under 60% of  both African Americans and Latinos supported Prop 8, while Whites and Asians were barely against it.

But what explains the gap between Blacks/Latinos and Whites/Asians?  This is where things get controversial.  The report suggests that the remaining gap between these ethnic groups can be explained by differences in religiosity. On Monday, Jim suggested that this analysis may have suffered from a low sample size, which can make real differences difficult to observe (statistically).  Was the NGLTF report too quick to claim that racial differences were entirely explained by religious differences?

I set out to answer this question by doing my best to reconstruct the results of the poll on which the race and religion results were based. According to a comment on BTB by Jamie Grant of NGLTF, there were 149 African Americans sampled. I used other information from the report about the poll’s sample size, data about the demographics of the sample, and the study’s assumptions about the California voting population, to complete a “best-guess” reconstruction of the racial composition of the remaining sample.

Report Modification #1: Although it is true that there is no significant effect of race after controlling for religion, there was not a significant effect of race before controlling for religion. This suggests that Jim’s point about high margins of error was right on.  If we could not find racial differences before controlling for religion, it is not very impressive that we cannot find them afterwards.

Because the first point in the report was that African Americans’ support had been overstated, and that it was African Americans and Latinos together that showed (modestly) more support for Prop 8 than Whites and Asians, I then dichotomized people racially.  I identified each person as a minority (African American or Latino) or not.  By not dividing into as many small groups, we help to bypass the sample size problem identified by Jim.

Report Modification #2: This analysis produced an unexpected finding, one that has not been considered in the discussion.  The influence of race depended on whether one was religious.  Among those who were highly religious, support for Prop 8 was equally high across the races.  But among those who were less religious, African Americans and Latinos were more supportive of Prop 8 than Whites and Asians.  The NGLTF report misses this effect because neither Latinos or African Americans by themselves show significantly higher support (in the low religiosity subsample) because of Jim’s high margins of error.

This suggests that the relationship between race, religion, and Prop 8 support is slightly more complicated than has been discussed.  Being religious was associated with increased support for Prop 8, but among those who were not religious, being African American or Latino was associated with support for Prop 8.

These conclusions aside, I must say I have been confused by the intense interest in whether religiosity can “explain away” racial differences in support for Prop 8.  Unless one believed that the skin color gene also produced support for Prop 8, racial differences in support for Prop 8 would have to be “explained through” some cultural factor.  If that factor is religion, the question simply becomes, “Why do some racial groups show more interest in homophobic religious institutions than others?”, and I do not see why this would be any less troubling to those who seek to shift this discussion away from race.  Nevertheless, my new analyses suggest that among the non-religious, an unidentified explanation for racial differences remain.

Prop 8 and Race: A Rejoinder

Jim Burroway

January 14th, 2009

I want to highlight this comment left by Jaime Grant, director of the NGLTF Policy Institute, the research arm of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Jaime critiques my critique of the NGLTF study on California’s Prop 8 shedding some light on a key figure, discusses my concern about margins of error, and disagrees outright on some of my points. This is why we have comments; well-informed commenters keep us on our toes. We will have someone else weighing in on the study, hopefully later today.

As director of the NGLTF Policy Institute, I want to thank Jim Burroway for ultimately concluding that the authors of our recent election analysis report on Prop 8 – Ken Sherrill and Pat Egan “were successful in demonstrating that the Black vote may be closer to 58% than 70%.” At no point in the Task Force report do we make a claim that 58 percent is the precise answer. Rather, we stress throughout the study that the range of data available to us leads us to the conclusion that 58% is much more accurate than 70%.

Burroway is justifiably concerned about sample size. The DBR survey includes 149 African Americans, making the margin of error for that population (as is typically calculated by pollsters) 8 percentage points. Our analysis of this minority population is of course limited by its sample size in this survey. But unlike other polls, the DBR survey makes a deliberate attempt to rectify this problem by over-sampling African Americans, resulting in an African American sample that is at least double the size of those found in typical surveys of Californians. This greatly augments the statistical power of our survey to detect differences among racial and ethnic groups.

Burroway says that we conclude that “religiosity explains the differences in how African-Americans voted relative to everyone else.” This falsely characterizes our conclusions. We say rather that “controlling for frequency of religious attendance helps explain why African Americans supported Proposition 8 at higher levels than the population as a whole.” In other words, if you’re trying to figure out why African Americans voted at higher rates for Proposition 8 than the general population, part of the answer is that they as a group are more religious than the general population–and religious people voted at high rates for Prop. 8. We show this quite clearly.

Thanks for your attention to this study, which we believe points to the value of LGBT-friendly faith based organizing in ballot measure campaigns. As all of us consider how to move the dial just a few more critical points toward marriage equality, taking a close look at the vote, while taking stock of our strategies to date, is an important next step.

Jaime Grant
Director of the Policy Institute

The NGLTF Study On Race and Prop 8: The Problem of Margins of Error

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

Jim Burroway

January 12th, 2009

Well, I’ve said before I had some homework to do this weekend. It turns out that this weekend was jam-packed with unexpected activities, but I did manage to give the NGLTF report (PDF: 420KB/17 pages) a careful read this morning while sipping tea from my family’s heirloom Fiestaware handed down from my great-great grandmother. Yes, I’m a dish queen.

Margin of Error: The Key
Timothy’s Kincaid’s analysis garnered a lot of controversy last week. Many people privately called and emailed to ask if I agreed with it. My only response at the time is that I hadn’t had a chance to look over the NGLTF report or Timothy’s analysis, but I generally trust his judgment. Well, now I have studied the report, and I do think it falls short, but in very different ways than what Timothy found.

My concerns about this report begin with one important paragraph on page 2:

Table 1 displays findings from a poll of California voters conducted by David Binder Research (DBR) between November 6th and 16th, 2008. The survey included 1,066 respondents selected at random from state voter registration lists, including an oversample of 266 African American, Latino, and Asian‐American voters. Participants were asked a series of questions about Proposition 8, as well as basic questions about their demographic background, religion, political views, and other characteristics. The sample in the DBR survey was limited to those who reported voting in the November 4 general election, and its margin of error was 3 percentage points (although the margin is greater for analyses of subgroups within the sample).

The DBR survey is the backbone of this study. That three-percent margin of error applies only to the 1,066 respondents overall, not to the smaller sample of 266 African-American, Latino, and Asian-American voters. The authors acknowledge that “the margin is greater for analyses of subgroups within the sample,” but they don’t tell you what those margins are. This is important, because as sample sizes get smaller, the margin of error gets larger.

A simple calculation for the 266 African-American, Latino, and Asian-American voters reveals that this margin of error is actually plus or minus 6 percentage points. That is margin of error for the three groups combined. Nowhere in this report is a breakdown of the three groups revealed. Of the 266 participants in the subgroup, how many were African-American?

Since they don’t tell us, we’re left to guess. If Blacks made up half of that pool, then responses from African-Americans alone are subject to an 8.5% margin of error. Cut that in about half again to separate the church-going from the non-church-going, then you’re up to about a plus or minus 12 percentage point margin of error for the two groups of African-Americans separately. If Blacks only made up a third of that pool, then the margins of error are greater still — about 10.4% and 14.7% respectively. This is huge. How do these large margins of error affect the rest of the report?

Religiosity As An Explanation
To see, let’s move on to this graphic, which illustrates the religiosity of the four ethnic groups using the DBR survey data with the margins of error we just talked about. You’ll have to click on the image to see it clearly:

According to the DBR survey, 57% of African-American voters attend church service weekly, compared to 40% for Asians, 47% for Latinos, and 42% for White. The authors assert that the differences between African-Americans and the rest of the population is statistically significant, which checks out according to the standard measures for statistical significance. Even with this small sample size and large margin of error, the DBR data does successfully demonstrate that African-Americans are more likely to attend weekly religious services than the other groups.

That then leads us to this graphic, based again on the same DBR survey. Again, you’ll have to click on it to see clearly:

The authors say that the differences shown in this graph between ethnic groups are not statistically significant, and they conclude that this shows that religiosity explains the differences in how African-Americans voted relative to everyone else.

Well, at least one part of their statement is absolutely correct. The differences between ethnic groups in the figures referenced in this table are not statistically significant according to all the standard measures of significance — but that’s because the sample sizes are so small.

There is a logical fallacy in saying that just because this data shows no statistically significant difference, that there is no actual difference. That’s not true. All we can say is that this data is incapable of showing a statistically significant difference based on these results and these small sample sizes. It cannot demonstrate that there is no difference in actuality. Remember, we’re dealing with a probable margin of error for the African-American churchgoing sample of somewhere in the neighborhood of plus or minus 12% to 14.7%. With an uncertainty that large, these numbers could be all over the place and still be a statistical tie. Any assessment of actual differences is completely swamped by the margins of error.

If the study consisted of a larger pool of African-American respondents to get a lower the margin of error, we might have been able to converge on a statistically significant difference. Or maybe then we can prove that there really is no difference in how religious African-Americans voted compared to the other groups. But with this data, we cannot tell either way. The Achilles Heel in this study remains the very small sample size for African-Americans and the resulting large margins of error for that sample. I don’t think they are able to make the case that religiosity explains the African-American vote with this data.

The African-American Vote on Prop 8
So how did African-Americans vote? Let’s go to this graphic from the NGLTF report:

The NGLTF study is being used to throw cold water on CNN’s NEP exit poll, which said that 70% of African-Americans supported Prop 8. The middle set of bars are the NEP exit poll, which shows African-Americans voting 70% for Prop 8 (in gray) versus 52% overall voting for Prop 8 (in black). The graphic also shows two surveys taken before the election (The Field Poll of 10/23 and SurveyUSA on 10/30) and two surveys taken after the election (the DBR poll we’ve already mentioned showing 58% of African-Americans supporting Prop 8 versus 51% overall on 11/11, and the SurveyUSA on 11/19). The study authors note:

As shown in Figure 2, two surveys conducted just before Election Day (by Field and SurveyUSA) found insignificant differences in support for Proposition 8 between African Americans and Californians as a whole. Two surveys conducted in the weeks following Election Day found similar results. On average, the difference in support between African Americans and all voters in these four surveys was just two percentage points. The NEP exit poll finding—that black support for Proposition 8 was 18 points higher than Californians as a whole—is most likely an “outlier,” a result that is very different than what concurrent data trends suggest to be the case. [Emphasis mine]

The authors dismiss the NEP exit poll as an outlier, an assessment that I can agree with. Exit polls, by their nature, don’t include margins of error. But since it is likely that the sample size of African-Americans was very small in this exit poll, I can accept that it is probably not an accurate snapshot of how African-Americans voted.

However, the study authors claim that the four remaining surveys show a difference of just two percentage points on average. True enough, in a strictly mathematical sense. But since the last SurveyUSA was the only survey showing African-Americans actually opposing Prop 8 to a remarkable degree compared to everyone else — that difference is a whopping eight percentage points in the other direction — I don’t see how we can regard that as anything but an outlier as well. So, with the three remaining polls, the difference is now back up to five percentage points.

Is this significant? I can’t tell, since again, we don’t know the sample sizes of African-Americans in these polls to judge whether they are robust enough to draw a reasonable conclusion.

The problem of sample sizes and margins of error, in my mind, does lay to rest one of Timothy’s concerns, and that is this:

In their Table 1, they lay out their breakdown of ethnic voting:

Well sorry, but those numbers don’t get us to 52.3% support. One of those ethnic demographics is understated.

Given the likely margins of error involved, I don’t think that this chart is off base entirely. No poll is likely to mimic the 52.3% of the actual vote at the means, but shoving all of these figures around their margins of error will get there quite easily. (I also wonder if maybe there ought to be an “other” category not included in the table.)

Fifty-eight percent as a very rough ballpark figure could be about right for the African-American vote. But given some of the margins of error we tossed around earlier, that figure could be as high as about 67% to 70%, or as low as 49% to 46%. Which means that if we used the DBR survey as the reference survey as the NGLTF study authors did, then none of those surveys which I (or the NGLTF authors) suggested were outliers may be outliers after all. The DBR survey may well validate all of them.

The study authors then replicate a 58% estimate by using data depicted in this figure, which is based on precinct-level voting data from five California counties:

The line drawn through the figure represents a “running-mean smoother” to show the overall trend as the racial mix of precincts moves from 0% to 100% African-American. Unlike Timothy, I’m satisfied with this representation which the authors use to arrive at a 58% figure for African-Americans, although I am keen to learn the algorithm for the smoother. But generally this verifies what many of us suspect: Those who live in diverse settings are more comfortable with diversity. Those who don’t, aren’t.

The reason I’m okay with this is that the authors also ran this same data set through two other independent analyses which led them to report a degree of comfort with an estimate of 58% of African-Americans voting for Prop 8. They do caution however, that “rather than being treated as definitive, these estimates should be considered as helping to corroborate the individual-level findings discussed earlier in this section of the study” — namely, the discussion of the five surveys we discussed earlier.

But in the end, I do believe the authors were successful in demonstrating that the Black vote may be closer to 58% than 70%. The higher figure, technically speaking, still barely remains in the theoretical realm of possibility, but I think we can safely dismiss it. But I would also caution that 58% might not be accurate either.

Can The Scapegoating End?
But if 58% is plausible, does this mean that the scapegoating of African-Americans can come to an end? Of course it does.

But what if the authors instead determined that the figure was closer to 70%? Would that have meant that blaming African-Americans for Prop 8′s passage was legitimate? Ask yourself this and take a hard look at how you answer, because this is critical to where our movement goes next. The answer to this question speaks loudly to our own character as a community.

If all it takes is a survey to give one oppressed minority the justification it needs to blame another oppressed minority for its woes, then we have a lot more work to do before we can credibly address society’s attitudes about fairness and equality. We will have to change our own attitudes first.

We cannot assume that one oppressed minority ought to automatically empathize with another oppressed minority’s oppression. If that were true, Jews and Palestinians would see themselves in each other and peace would break out all over the Middle East. Well that certainly hasn’t happened, has it?

Just to touch the tip of a few icebergs, gays were never enslaved or lynched in mass numbers. Non-Black gays really have no idea what it’s like to have that in their history. On the other hand, heterosexual Blacks were never obliged to undergo cruel “cures,” nor were they ostracized from their own families because of their Blackness. We really don’t know — internally know — the other’s experiences with history, and we can no longer be so naive in assuming that others will naturally see and recognize our experiences with discrimination just because they were discriminated against in a different way for different reasons.

So we must begin the task of reaching out to the African-American community, and more importantly, we need to work to raise the visibility of African-Americans within our own raucous LGBT family. If we want to confront homophobia in the Black community, we must also deal with examples of both overt and underlying racism within our own.

And we need to talk honestly and listen patiently to each other. We need to do this not to “educate” the other, as though we had some sort of special prize that we wish to arrogantly bestow on some poor, unenlightened folks. Instead, we need to do this with the sincere intent of understanding each other and ourselves better.

We need to do this not because a survey says we ought to. We need to do this because it is the right thing to do.

And we need to do this not just because elections are at stake, but because lives are at stake as well.

Proposition 8 and Race Revisited

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

Timothy Kincaid

January 7th, 2009

It disturbs me that forty years after the death of Dr. King we still as a nation seem incapable of having frank discussions about race. And this seems to me to be particularly true within the gay community.

When exit polls reported that African Americans had voted in favor of Proposition 8 by a ratio of 70 to 30 percent, gays tended to respond in one of two ways. A small number of persons seemed to see this as some vindication of their own personal racial animus. But nearly all other gay writers, bloggers, and opinion spouters immediately sought to dismiss, discount, or deny this figure and what it had to say.

There was a lot of creative talk about outreach and errors and even some race-based self-justification. But what seemed to be lacking was much honest discussion about those truths that all seem to want to overlook:

  • The Black Church is for the most part hugely homophobic
  • Even non-religious African-Americans are disproportionately politically anti-gay

This week the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has released a report that seems to exist for the sole purpose of discounting the second fact. Now, I’ve long since come to see the NGLTF as more of an agent of spin than an advocate for honesty so it didn’t surprise me much that their report seemed more appropriate on the stage of a prestidigitator than in a news report.

But I couldn’t ignore this slanting of the story. Mainstream news sites jumped right on this, making such bizarre (and completely false) statements as this from Oakland Tribune reporter Josh Richman:

Neither African-Americans nor any other ethnicity were disproportionately in support of Proposition 8, which changed California’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, according to a study of election results and post-vote surveys released Tuesday.

While the NGLTF report said no such thing, it did make two astonishing claims about the black vote:

  • Analysis of the full range of data available persuades us that the NEP exit poll overestimated African American support for Proposition 8 by ten percentage points or more.
  • Furthermore, much of African Americans’ support for Proposition 8 can be explained by the fact that blacks tend to be more religious than Californians as a whole.

The justification for the first assertion consists mostly of “because I want it to be true”. The NGLTF compares polling before and after the election to the exit poll and declared it to be an outlier. What they fail to notice is that the polling before the election predicted the failure of Prop 8 and the exit polls got it right.

Then they provide a graphic to support their claim:

This chart represents an analysis of the voters in four counties in which most black Californians live. This would seem to me to be a pretty reasonable way to verify whether exit polls got it right. But in order to gain value from such an analysis, one needs to avoid making claims that appear wacky from even the simplest glance.

The line you see on this graphic is a running-mean smoother, a way of showing a pattern in data. I don’t have access to the raw data, but something strikes me as peculiar about this line.

An “arithmetic mean” is what most folks think of as an average of numbers. You add up the totals and divide by the number of items. Considering this, take a glance at the right end of the chart – that which shows the larger percentage of African-Americans in the voting precinct. Does it look to you as though the line represents a mean average of the data points?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the skill or experience to refute the methodology of their line, but I will say that it does not, on the surface, appear to present a visual representation of Yes votes in the precincts shown.

NGLTF does admit that “a slight but unmistakable relationship exists between the proportion of a precinct’s voters who are African American and support for Proposition 8″. And they estimate that between 57 and 59% supported Proposition 8.

But that just doesn’t make any mathematical sense. In their Table 1, they lay out their breakdown of ethnic voting:

Well sorry, but those numbers don’t get us to 52.3% support. One of those ethnic demographics is understated.

Frankly, were this from a source I consider more credible, I’d delight in the reduction. I would very much like to believe that a majority of black voters are like the straight black folk I know who were all horrified that Prop 8 won. But based on the available information, I just don’t see the justification for this reinterpretation of history.

But what troubles me most about the NGLTF report is what they next assert: “much of African Americans’ support for Proposition 8 can be explained by the fact that blacks tend to be more religious than Californians as a whole”.

I do not know the credibility of the survey on which they rely for the claim, but I am pretty much willing to accept that African American Californians attend church more regularly than do other ethic groups. However, the graphic provided by NGLTF to show that religion is the reason that blacks voted disproportionately in favor of Prop 8 actually suggests exactly the opposite:

If the above chart is accurate, religion played less of an impact on the black church-goer than on any other demographic. And non-religious blacks were 12% more likely to favor Proposition 8 than non-religious whites. To suggest that it was religion rather than ethnically-shared community values that most strongly determined the outcome of the black vote requires a trip down the rabbit hole.

NGLTF then goes on to discuss how, as a whole, religion, party affiliation, conservative identification, and age are more important to predicting the state’s support for anti-gay positions than is race. There is no doubt that these played a great role. No one is surprised that conservative evangelical Republicans overwhelmingly voted for Proposition 8.

But all of that is a smoke screen. Because it is also true that liberal non-religious Democrats overwhelmingly voted against Proposition 8 … unless they were black.

And if the only difference between the voting patterns of liberal Democrats can be traced to their ethnic identity, then it requires magical thinking to say that ethnic identity is not an important factor.

Some of you, no doubt, are already crafting a reply calling me a racist. And, sadly, some are giggling while feeling justified for anti-black biases. Both of those responses are pointless (and wrong) and get us nowhere.

The fact is – regardless of how much NGLTF would wish otherwise – that the gay community does not truly have a strategic alliance with black voters. We do not have African American support. We can fully expect that unless something drastically changes, future votes on gay equality will have large percentages of African Americans voting against our rights.

Now there are a number of things we could do.

We could make a concerted effort to strategize and find allies for a long-term plan to educate and influence the African American community to recognize that discrimination based on sexual orientation is no more admirable than discrimination based on race. We know that many leaders, from Coretta Scott King and Mildred Loving to John Lewis and Al Sharpton, have been open to learning this message.

But we also know that there is a strong and unapologetic voice of harshest homophobia that has no hesitation in using race as a justification for denying that gay and lesbian Americans deserve civil equality. If we seek change, it cannot be haphazard or hesitant. It will be no picnic and we have to be willing to offend some who believe that they own the concept of civil rights and not be afraid to be called racist by those who oppose us.

Or we could also just write off this subset of the population and hope that we can sway enough whites and Asians to outweigh the African American vote. But while it may be pragmatic for winning an election, this approach strikes me as particularly cold. It not only leaves another generation of young black gay men and women growing up in a community that has pockets of severe hostility, but it also dismisses a lot of otherwise decent people as not being worth our time or effort.

There are no easy answers. And I don’t even begin to know how to go about approaching this issue in a way that is productive or appropriate.

But the one response that I believe is the height of foolishness is to say, as did NGLTF, “differences seen among racial and ethnic groups in support for Proposition 8 … do not merit the amount of attention they have received”. Ignoring it won’t make this issue go away.

Seamus Hasson’s Amazing Mathematics

Timothy Kincaid

December 10th, 2008

Seamus Hasson, new recipient of our LaBarbera Award for his comparison of Prop 8 protesters to El Qaeda, made some amazing claims on KPFK yesterday:

…there have been at least ten churches painted with swastikas, threats to close down or else. There’s been six churches with small-bore rifle fire through their windows. By my count, there have been at least six instances of burning Books of Mormon on the church steps. These aren’t isolated occurrences here and there; this is an uprising of some sort.

I checked up on Hasson’s claims by reviewing newspaper reports of vandalism following the passage of Proposition 8. While I may have missed some reports (if so, please advise), my numbers are substantially different from those of Hasson.

Instances of swastika vandalism:

Other use of swastika:

  • Days following vote – Roman Catholic Church in Riverside, CA. Yes on 8 signs arranged in the form of a swastika on the lawn – no spray painting. (from SL Tribune’s compilation of Prop 8 response)
  • 11/9/08 – Saddleback Church in Orange Co., CA. A protest sign was carried saying – “Will your rights be next?” – with a Nazi swastika drawn in place of the “x” – no spray painting.

I do know of at least one instance of spray painting on a church. In the days following the vote, a Mormon Church in Utah was tagged with “Nobody is born a bigot”. This was likely related to Proposition 8, but no swastikas were used.

So as for “churches painted with swastikas” by protesters over Proposition 8: Hasson’s count: ten; my count: zero.

Burning Books of Mormon:

So as for “instances of burning Books of Mormon on the church steps” by protesters over Proposition 8: Hasson’s count: six; my count: one.

I found no instances of churches being threatened to “close down or else”. None. And by “small-bore rifle fire”, Hasson means a bb gun (as in “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid“).

Which leaves me with the following conclusion: Either

  • There are an abundance of painted swastikas on churches and burning Books of Mormon that did not make it into the news;
  • Hasson can’t count to ten; or
  • Hasson is deliberately lying about vandalism that he claims is coming from the supporters of Proposition 8.

I’ll let you decide.

PPIC Prop 8 Poll: It’s Only Informative If You Provide Information

Timothy Kincaid

December 4th, 2008

The Public Policy Institute of California has released a new survey (pdf) which purports to tell us about how various demographics in the state voted in November. Among their observations:

Differences in support for Proposition 8 are evident across party lines, with three in four Republicans (77%) voting yes and two in three Democrats (65%) voting no, while independents were more divided (52% yes, 48% no). The measure was supported by a majority of those without a college education (62%), while a majority of those with a college degree voted no (57%). Evangelical or born-again Christians (85%) are far more likely than others (42%) to have voted yes. Whites (50%) are less likely than Latinos (61%) to have voted yes; 57 percent of Latinos, Asians and blacks combined voted yes (sample sizes are too small to report Asians and blacks separately). Voters who supported Obama (30%) were far less likely than those who supported McCain (85%) to vote yes. Support for Proposition 8 increases with age (43% for ages 18–34; 50% for ages 35–54, yes; 56% for ages 55 and older) and declines with income.

But demographic information is only useful if the sample is representative. And in the case of a vote that has already occured, we can check to see how closely the sample aligns with the actual vote.

Before the election, I gave credence to the polling of PPIC. I monitored and tracked the movement of their results. And they were just flat wrong.

So I immediately looked in this new PPIC survey to see if the respondants indicated a vote that correlated with the Secretary of State’s tally. I’m a reasonable guy and I know that both recollection and voter reluctance can cause a variation from the actual vote so I was ready to allow for a measure of difference.

But the information provided by PPIC was:

23. Proposition 8 was called the “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Initiative Constitutional Amendment.”

Did you vote yes or no on this measure?

[actual vote]

52% voted yes
48 voted no

PPIC replaced the response of their sample with the actual vote. But that is nonsense statistics.

They go on to tell us the opinion of those who reported to them that they voted “yes”, but they don’t tell us how many that was. And without some way to measure how closely their survey is to the actual vote, we have no idea whether the sample is skewed.

And the answer for Proposition 8 was not alone. They provided the [actual vote] response for all “how did you vote” questions, so I can’t even compare to see if respondants are “changing their vote” based on their emotional response to the subsequent social activism.

Frankly, without providing real answers, this PPIC survey has little value.

GLAAD Harris Interactive Survey: More Public Support

Timothy Kincaid

December 3rd, 2008

GLAAD has released a new survey by Harris Interactive that shows increased support for a number of the gay community’s goals:

  • 49% of adults favor marriage equality; 49% oppose when presented with an up or down decision.
  • When given options, 38% favor marriage; 38% favor civil unions while disallowing marriage; and 22% wish for no legal recognition at all.
  • 69% oppose adoption discrimination.
  • 64% favor overturning DADT.
  • 63% favor trans-inclusive Hate Crimes Legislation
  • 51% support trans-inclusive ENDA, 45% do not. They didn’t inquire about non-discrimination laws that did not include transgender persons.
  • 47% support immigration rights; 48% do not. This one surprises me and may be a result of the phrasing of the question: Do you favor or oppose… allowing gay Americans to sponsor their non-American life partners to become residents of the United States.

One thing that I found fascinating is that issues of homosexuality are sharply dividing Mainline Christians from Evangelical Christians. In all questions, Mainline Christians were gay-favorable and Evangelicals were among the least favorable.

This was particularly evident on issues that were in traditional areas of Christian activism (pre-Religious Right). For example, on the ENDA question, Mainline was the most supportive of all demographics while Evangelical was the least.

As the issues surrounding sexual orientation become more instilled in the war over religious dominance in the culture, a possible positive side effect could be that the non-religious come to see this as a sectarian battle and opt out of anti-gay efforts.

Some Concerns About Study Refuting Fraternal Birth Order Effect

Timothy Kincaid

December 1st, 2008

In January of 2008, Andrew Francis, an assistant economics professor at Emory University, released a paper in which he sought to apply analysis to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (“Add Health”). His results are published in the October 2008 Journal of Sex Research and have gotten some attention from those who follow the nature / nurture debate.

His abstract includes the following:

For men, I find that having one older brother does not raise the likelihood of homosexuality. Although having multiple older brothers has a positive coefficient, it is not significant. Moreover, having any older sisters lowers the likelihood of homosexual or bisexual identity.

Unfortunately, I am neither a statistician nor am I able to fully comprehend his methodology or make heads or tails of his charts. I will leave that to those better skilled than I.

But I do have some observations that cause me to be reluctant to quickly accept Francis’ assertions.

Bias: I do have concern about Francis’ motivations. In August 2007 he released a paper in which he applied economic theory to sexual behavior and HIV and declared:

I present evidence that AIDS causes some men to shift from homosexual to heterosexual behavior, whereas AIDS causes some women to shift from heterosexual to homosexual behavior. Thus, sexual behavior may respond to incentives. I consider alternative hypotheses, including biological theories of sexual orientation and stigma-related survey bias, and argue that they are unlikely to explain the results.

In a paper written in March of this year, he proposed that a 1 to 2 year incarceration be the penalty for intentionally or unknowingly transmitting HIV. And while I find that paper to be troubling, he also released a paper in October that suggested that increased social tolerance towards homosexuality causes a statistical decrease in HIV infection rates.

So please note that I am not accusing Mr. Francis of bigotry; he’s not Paul Cameron.

But behind all of Mr. Francis’ work is the assumption that sexual behavior is malleable – at least on the edges – and it’s strongly implied that orientation (what Francis calls “desire”) is as well. So it should be greeted with caution that he has released a study that confirms what he has been presuming to be true for at least a year.

Contradictory: The most important question to ask of any study is, “Does this make sense”.

While it is entirely possible for ‘common knowledge’ to be completely wrong and for research to be a tool that overthrows myth and supposition, it doesn’t overthrow mathematics or logic. And Francis’ results reveal ‘findings’ that are hard to fathom.

Francis measures sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and two measures of sexual identity: not entirely heterosexual and not even close to heterosexual. But in Francis’ model these are often contradictory and in ways that are difficult to rationalize.

For example, being raised by a single dad has no material effect on sexual desire or sexual behavior but it is a positive indicator on identity. Say huh?

Yep. Boys raised by a single father are more likely to identify as gay but they aren’t attracted to the same sex or doing anything about it.

And a few other things he found… discoveries that will certainly delight some folks who have notions about classes and races.

Young black men are more attracted to guys and are having more sex, but (except for the nelly ones) they deny being anything but 100% straight. And if a boy is more educated, he’s more likely you are to declare himself gay (while remaining virginal), while blue-collar “straight” studs are out there humping like rabbits.

Frankly, that’s a worldview that is best left to porn.

Where it all falls apart for me is in the comparison of desire and identity.

I can get that there might be some demographic that expresses desire and romantic attraction to other men but cannot or will not identify as other than heterosexual. But it makes no sense whatsoever for a study to claim that there are four demographic subgroups that are more likely to identify as gay but aren’t attracted to the same sex.

Conclusion: You can measure the credibility of a research by whether their declarations of discovery are well supported by the data.

But consider this doozy:

Given the complexity of the empirical relationship between sexual orientation and the biodemographic and other correlates, it is likely that both biological and social mechanisms may play a role.

Wait. Social mechanisms? When, oh when, did the data address social mechanisms? The closest he gets is looking at college education.

But in Francis’ assumptions, if there’s no older brother effect then it’s likely that social mechanisms may play a role. Yikes.

I don’t know whether there is adequate evidence to conclusively prove whether there is a fraternal birth order effect in male sexual orientation. And I’ll let those who are more knowledgeable tell us if this model is conducted properly.

But I think I’ve seen enough to know that I’ll not place much reliance on this paper.

Protests May Be Changing Minds

Timothy Kincaid

November 24th, 2008

I’m not a big fan of SurveyUSA. I’ll give them credit for being the only survey firm to give consistently gloomy projections about Prop 8, but I’m not convinced that this is indicative of their greater polling abilities. Nevertheless,

SurveyUSA has released a new poll with some interesting results.

One: By a nearly 2 to 1 ratio, Californians want the existing same-sex marriages that occurred prior to Prop 8 passing to remain recognized. I think that we can expect to hear anti-gay activists tell the Court exactly the opposite – but they’re not really known for their honesty anyway.

Two: Those surveyed are split on whether protests will help or hurt the cause, with 28% responding each way. The rest either don’t know, don’t care, or think it won’t at all matter.

I’ll come back to Three.

Four: About 8% of voters who say that they voted for Proposition 8 now say that the protests have changed their opinion. Were 8% of Yes voters now able to change their vote, this amendment would not pass.

Three: This is the result that I find most interesting.

The question was “Did you vote for Proposition 8? Did you vote against Proposition 8? Or did you not vote?”

We know that 52.5% of voters did, indeed, vote “yes” on Proposition 8. But those who responded to this survey reported as follows:

40% voted yes
46% voted no
3% can’t recall
12% didn’t vote

Well, obviously this is either a rather unrepresentative sample (which could be the case) or memory has magically changed.

I have a hypothesis about voters’ recollection. I think we forget that we supported positions which we later find shameful.

We know full well that a very large portion of America did not support racial equality. We know that George Wallace was a hero to many and that busing was very unpopular. But those who recall opposing the civil rights efforts are few and far between. When one has moved from a position of intolerance to a position of tolerance, one’s recollection of previous bias seems to disappear.

Now there may be some who – for political correctness reasons – voted yes on Prop 8 but responded in this survey that they voted no. But 6 or 7 percent? That seems unlikely to me.

I think what this may be showing – though this is only speculation on my part – is that there are California voters who selected “Yes” on Proposition 8 out of default or perhaps even a moment of internal bias but who now “recall” being impressed by the arguments for equality. I think that this will continue over time and is rather surprising to show up so early.

The wave of disbelief, anger, and outrage that has resulted from the proposition seems to be resonating with the public. I predict that come ten years, there will be very few people indeed who recall voting in favor of changing the constitution to exclude gay couples.

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