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Genetic Technologies and the LGBTQI Community: Myths and Facts

April 17th, 2004

Myths about reproductive cloning

Reproductive cloning would allow gay and lesbian couples to have a child that is genetically related to them.

Cloning would result in a child that is genetically "related" to one individual in the couple, but in a way unprecedented in history. (A cloned child would be a genetic near-duplicate of one person, rather than being 50 percent related, as is the case with alternative insemination or egg donation.) In the case of male couples, a donor egg would be required to create the cloned embryo and a "surrogate" mother would be needed to carry it to term.

There are other viable options for having children, including in vitro fertilization with donor gametes, alternative insemination, or adoption. Our resources are far better spent advocating for equal access to existing means of family building, legal protections for GLBT parents and children, and full social acceptance of GLBT families.

Reproductive cloning could help us better understand the "causes" of homosexuality.

Would the clone of a gay man also be gay, and if he was, what would that tell us about homosexuality? Not very much. There are already plenty of kids out there whose biological parents are both gay. Some of these kids grow up to be gay, many of them do not. Simply producing a genetic copy of a gay man does not tell us anything about the cultural, social and environmental influences on sexuality. The vast majority of traits, including physical ones, are influenced by multiple genes, and by environmental and social factors.

If sexuality is proven to be genetically determined, and embryo screening becomes commonplace, heterosexual couples would screen out "homosexual" embryos. Cloning gays and lesbians would be one way to ensure that homosexuals are reproduced.

This kind of genetic screening and selection would greatly alter the life prospects of individuals and exacerbate inequalities. Embryo screening can be considered a crude form of eugenics, since it selects among embryos based on traits that it is believed the resulting child will develop. Especially for groups that historically have been the targets of discrimination, this is a road we'd best avoid.

New forms of discrimination

There is a long and ugly history of the misuse of genetic theories and science to justify discrimination. Many people tend to seek confirmation of their prejudices in scientific studies, and continued efforts are needed to counter this.

Cloning, inheritable genetic modification (IGM), and other new genetic and reproductive technologies raise special concerns for the GLBT community and others that are targets of discrimination. For example, efforts to identify a "gay gene" and obtain statistical correlations between this and behavioral and social data could lead to gross abuse. In countries such as the US, where discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal (and widely practiced), it is easy to imagine what could happen if one's sexual orientation was genetically "identifiable" - from embryo to adulthood.

The hunt for the "gay gene"

The notion that there might be a "gay gene" first became popular in 1993 when molecular biologist Dean Hamer pinpointed a genetic marker on the X chromosome supposedly linked to homosexual behavior in men. Hamer and his team studied DNA samples from self-identified gay men and compared them to other gay male family members. The researchers discovered that most gay men within a family share a common DNA segment, or marker.

Hamer's results have since been challenged, but the question of whether there is a genetic basis for sexual orientation remains a hot-button issue for both supporters and opponents of gay rights. Many GLBT advocates believe the existence of a "gay gene" would be a welcome counter to homophobic claims that homosexuality is an "unnatural" or chosen lifestyle. Some assert that confirmation of the "gay gene" would justify legal protections against discrimination.

However, history tells us that other outcomes are possible, perhaps likely. Arguments based on biological and genetic determinism have often been used to legitimize discrimination against certain groups (think women, Jews, African-Americans).

The expression of human sexuality, like any other behavior, is influenced by a combination of biological and social factors, and will probably never be definitively linked to a particular gene or set of genes. The search for a "gay gene" can itself be seen as an act of homophobia, based on the assumption that homosexuality is an exception to the norm. Last time we checked, no one was searching for a "heterosexual gene."

Health families?

Advocates of genetic technology paint a rosier picture: Rather than being used against gays and lesbians, they say, new technologies can be used to help same-sex couples reproduce. Some have used this argument to urge the GLBT community to jump on the cloning bandwagon.

Touting cloning as a new reproductive option for same-sex couples substitutes a technical fix for committed and compassionate social engagement. If gays and lesbians had equal access to adoption and fertility services and were not judged "unfit" to parent their own biological children because of their sexual orientation, all of society would benefit. Yet instead of working towards this common goal, advocates of reproductive cloning are pouring their resources into the development of a costly and dangerous technology that - even if it is made available to gays and lesbians - would do nothing to address the underlying issues of inequality and homophobia that plague our communities.

Cloning would not help gays and lesbians build healthy families. Instead, it would have grave implications for the physical, psychological, and social well-being of all children. Even if cloning were safe, the social risks it entails would make it an unjustifiable option.

What's needed?

Bans on the most dangerous eugenic technologies, and regulation of other controversial technologies to prevent abuse, need not impede potentially beneficial medical research and applications or detract from full support for reproductive rights.

The minimal core policies needed to protect against abuse are:

National and global bans on reproductive human cloning

National and global bans on inheritable genetic modification

Effective, accountable regulation of all other human genetic technologies

In addition to the policies listed above, we recognize the urgent need for legal protections for GLBT families - including rights to adoption, custody and visitation, second-parent adoption, and access to assisted reproductive technology.

There is no reason that people of different cultures, religions, and sexual orientations cannot work together in support of the policies needed to protect our common human future. Genetic technologies cannot counter homophobia and discrimination, but effective social policies can.


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