A state delegate from Virginia recently wrote on this page that "Sexual orientation is not limited to same- or complementary-sex attractions but includes attractions to children, prostitutes, multiple wives (polygamy), dead persons (necrophilia), animals, inanimate objects and others that could not printed in the Baltimore Sun out of deference to readers." Not only is this statement erroneous and misleading, it demonstrates a reckless disregard for the gay community.
As licensed marriage and relationship therapists in practice with straight and gay couples for 23 years, my husband and I have seen firsthand the relationships of gay and lesbian couples. Their partnerships are no different than yours or ours; only they have the additional burden of being discriminated against by people who don't know the facts.
The following facts were copied verbatim from the website of the American Psychological Association, the leading advocate for psychological knowledge and practice informing policymakers and the public to improve public policy and daily living:
•What is sexual orientation? Sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction toward others. Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality.
•Is sexual orientation a choice? No, human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight. For most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. … Psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.
•Can therapy change sexual orientation? No; even though most homosexuals live successful, happy lives, some homosexual or bisexual people may seek to change their sexual orientation through therapy, often coerced by family members or religious groups. ... The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.
•Is homosexuality a mental illness or emotional problem? No. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals agree that homosexuality is not an illness, a mental disorder, or an emotional problem. More than 35 years of objective, well-designed scientific research has shown that homosexuality, in and of itself, is not associated with mental disorders or emotional or social problems.
•Can lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals be good parents? Yes. Studies comparing groups of children raised by homosexual and by heterosexual parents find no developmental differences between the two groups of children in four critical areas: their intelligence, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, and popularity with friends. It is also important to realize that a parent's sexual orientation does not indicate their children's.
Another myth about homosexuality is the mistaken belief that gay men have more of a tendency than heterosexual men to sexually molest children. There is no evidence to suggest that homosexuals or bisexuals molest children at a higher rate than heterosexuals.
•What can be done to overcome the prejudice and discrimination that gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals experience? Research has found that the people who have the most positive attitudes toward gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals are those who say they know one or more gay, lesbian or bisexual person well, often as a friend or co-worker. For this reason, psychologists believe that negative attitudes toward gay people as a group are prejudices that are not grounded in actual experience but are based on stereotypes and misinformation.
•Why is it important for society to be better educated about homosexuality? Educating all people about sexual orientation and homosexuality is likely to diminish anti-gay prejudice. Accurate information about homosexuality is especially important to young people who are first discovering and seeking to understand their sexuality, whether homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Fears that access to such information will make more people gay have no validity; information about homosexuality does not make someone gay or straight.
These are the same positions taken by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Association of Social Workers, American Counseling Association, American Academy of Marriage & Family Therapists and American Academy of Physicians Assistants.
A simple computer search would have easily revealed all of this.
Statements and beliefs based upon individual morality are one thing. But a delegate who holds the public trust and serves the community — which includes people who are straight and gay, adolescents and young adults who are becoming aware of their sexual orientation, families of gay children, and gay parents of children — also has a moral and ethical obligation to know and put forth established scientific knowledge.
Lori W. Hollander is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in Owings Mills. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.