So what if being gay IS a choice?

Despite some activists’ outrage over actress Cynthia Nixon’s recent comments, it doesn’t really matter how we became LGBT

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

After four decades of watching people struggle to keep up with the politically correct standard of the day in discussing LGBT life, I’m beginning to think it’s time for everyone to relax a little.

I reached that decision this week when I read about activists getting in an uproar over Cynthia Nixon, an actress who starred in Sex and the City, telling the New York Times Magazine she preferred being gay to straight because she had lived both types of lives. Her remarks created a furor among those who demand we frame all of our speech in a way they think best advances the LGBT rights movement. A few days later Nixon softened her stance in a Daily Beast interview by saying she was a bisexual by no choice of her own, presumably in an effort to quell the controversy.

Frankly, Nixon’s first remarks in the New York Times Magazine article made sense to me, and so did her later remarks about believing she never made a conscious decision to be a bisexual. It’s just that I regretted she felt compelled to revise what she had said earlier to appease her critics. I got what she meant the first time without her follow-up explanation, and I imagine most other enlightened people did as well.

Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon

Nixon, who gave birth to two children with a male partner, probably did make a choice to live a gay life when she became sexually involved with a woman. If someone is attracted to both the opposite and the same sex, there probably does come a point when the individual might need to make a choice in terms of permanent or semi-permanent partnership.
Certainly Nixon ought to be the best judge of what happened in her own life, so what’s wrong with her telling the truth as she sees it?

Nixon noted correctly that many LGBT activists shudder every time they hear the word “choice,” “preference” or “lifestyle” because they fear it supports conservative religious arguments that homosexuality is a perversion practiced by degenerates who get their kicks out of being wicked. As the theory goes, that gives credence to the evangelists’ claims that bisexuality, homosexuality and gender variance can be cured by the administration of a good dose of Bible verse in quantities sufficient enough to scare the holy bejesus out of the sinner.

As we all know, that doesn’t work. Actually, even most straight people realize that won’t work because most of them have also suffered the wrath of the evangelical community in condemnation of some aspect of their lives, such as the urge to masturbate or engage in sexual activity before marriage. In reality, the only ones who truly believe a pack of Bible thumpers can transform a person’s sexual orientation are people who are lying about it, have been brainwashed into believing it or are just too ignorant to understand scientific research.

Decades of scientific evidence make it clear that every aspect of a person’s physical and mental makeup — which certainly includes sexual orientation — comes about as a result of heritable genes and the impact of sex hormones on the brain and other body parts of the developing fetus.

In his 2011 book Gay, Straight and the Reason Why, neuroscientist Simon LeVay outlines decades of scientific studies that all point to the same conclusion: In essence, people are what nature made them.

LeVay, who served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has pointed this out in various articles and books he has authored over the years. The results of a scientific study LeVay published in Science in 1991 showing marked differences in the brain structures of gay and straight men is credited with helping spur the two-decade wave of scientific research aimed at determining a biological basis for sexual orientation.

What the body of scientific evidence does for most reasonable people is confirm what common sense had already told them. There’s just no way certain people with obvious mental and physical characteristics could have been anything other than what they became — namely gay, lesbian or transgender.

With others in the LGBT community it’s a little trickier because they display either few or none of the obvious characteristics identifying them as anything other than straight. Environment might have played some role in their development, but again the scientific evidence points to biological factors. What’s more the individuals usually report experiencing feelings since their earliest recollections that set them apart from heterosexual people.

Still, the unpredictability of humans makes it impossible to categorize all people. Some members of the community undoubtedly did feel an attraction to the LGBT lifestyle and chose to embrace it for that reason. The very size and the diversity of the world’s LGBT community is so staggering that if we come across some people who are merely practicing free will, it shouldn’t be so surprising.

That’s why I liked Nixon’s earlier remarks that it didn’t matter how people came to be a part of the LGBT community. As she said, it doesn’t matter how each and every person got here, and words will never sway the opinions of bigots and opportunists. It will require life experiences — such as coming to realize they have a child or grandchild who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender — to hopefully educate them about the realities of life.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has reported on LGBT issues for three decades for the mainstream and alternative media. He can be reached at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

The Daily Beast ranks the 20 Most Tolerant States – does the list make sense to you?

As the country commemorates Martin Luther King Day and reflects on Tucson, The Daily Beast crunches the numbers to rank the tolerances of every state across America. How did yours stack up?

In the four-plus decades since Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, America has surely moved closer to a country where people are judged more by content of their character than the color of their skin-or their gender, religion or sexual orientation. In honor of today’s national holiday, and mindful of the debate fostered by the massacre in Tucson nine days ago, The Daily Beast sought to examine which states are the most tolerant, devising a thorough point system that measures each state’s residents based on their actions and opinions, as well the scope of state laws guaranteeing equal rights and protections, which reflects the broader political will.

When you surf over to look at these rankings by The Daily Beast as described above, a state’s tolerance ranking takes into account this criteria:

1. Tolerance score: __ out of 100

2. Hate crime score: __ out of 40

3. Discrimination score: __ out of 40

4. Gay rights score: __ out of 10

5. Religious Tolerance Score: __ out of 10

6. Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: __ (+ ranking out of 50 states)

7. Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: __ (+ ranking out of 50 states)

8. Population in support of same-sex marriage: __

9. Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: __%

Now with that in mind, take a look at the top 20, without the benefit of seeing their scores on the above criteria; some of the ranking seems quite bizarre from a LGBT perspective.

The Daily Beast’s List of the 20 Most Tolerant States

1. Wisconsin

2. Maryland

3. Illinois

4. Pennsylvania

5. Hawaii

6. California

7. Minnesota

8. New Jersey

9. New Hampshire

10. New Mexico

11. Virginia

12. Iowa

13. North Carolina

14. Connecticut

15. Florida

16. Louisiana

17. New York

18. Massachusetts

19. West Virginia

20. Nevada

#1 Wisconsin actually has a marriage amendment in place.

For the life of me I cannot understand how holy-rolling Virginia and West Virginia even made it into the top 20, or for that matter, Louisiana. And what is Massachusetts doing bringing up the rear at #18? New Jersey surely should be in the top 10, but behind Pennsylvania?

And if we’re strictly going on institutionalized equality advances, California should be near or at the top because aside from Prop 8, LGBTs have parity in protections at almost every level.

I’ll share the stats for my state, NC, which is at #13. Surf back to The Daily Beast to see the other states for comparison.

13. North Carolina

Tolerance score: 63 out of 100

Hate crime score: 25 out of 40

Discrimination score: 30 out of 40

Gay rights score: 2 out of 10

Religious Tolerance Score: 6 out of 10

Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 1.1 (11 out of 50 states) Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 11.5 (10 out of 50 states)

Population in support of same-sex marriage: 36%

Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 62%

Since I can speak to the anecdotal issue of tolerance in the state, there are a couple of facts to put on the table:

* We don’t have a marriage amendment (yet; that is now in sight after the midterms, with GOP rule of the Gen Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction).

* More of the population is urban/suburban than rural now, but there is a downside. What that means is more people live near centers of business, education, techonology and medicine, which draw highly educated transplants from around the world. The problem here is that the conservative, more exurban/rural areas are hardcore conservative, and more progressive transplants/transient families don’t necessarily consistently vote. Prime example – the Wake County School Board debacle, where fundies packed the board taking control because lazy progressives didn’t bother to go out and vote to prevent the resegregation of the school system.

* Day to day life in the city centers is tolerant: I’ve encountered more overt and passive-aggressive race-based and LGBT-based discrimination  in NYC than I do here in NC. Neighborhoods tend to be more racially diverse, with the main division socioeconomic.

* Re: being out of the closet — people generally just don’t think about it, care about it, and take it in stride. Now if you drive far enough out into the stix and see trucks with Stars & Bars stickers and a gun rack, you may want to keep driving. We’re not stupid.

* Equality: um, there really is little to report when it comes to LGBT rights, but what we can report is significant. NC was the first Southern state to pass a trans-inclusive anti-bullying bill, and had equal hospital visitation rights long before the federal advance that went into effect this year. Other than that, you can be fired for being LGBT if you are a state worker or work for a private business where there is not an anti-discrimination policy. The only mitigating factor is the wealth of private corporations and universities employing many LGBTs have not only trans-inclusive anti-discrimination policies, but offer partner benefits.

All that said, a ranking of #13 seems high to me. If one of those states is your own, how do you think it should rank?
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