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Johns Hopkins Research: No Evidence People Are Born Gay or Transgender

gay rights activist outside supreme court

Scholars at Johns Hopkins University released a new report on Monday which argues that there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that lesbian, gay, or transgender people are born with this sexual orientation or gender identity.

"The idea there that sexual orientation is fluid, that people change as people grow," Lawrence Mayer, a co-author of the report and a scholar-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University's psychiatry department, as well as a professor of statistics and biostatistics at Arizona State University, told The Christian Post. "There are probably some people that identify as hetrosexual [sic] that then later on identified as homosexual, so it goes both ways. The importance there is the fluidity and flexibility that these things change in time."

The three-part, 143-page report, which appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of The New Atlantis, also investigated other commonly accepted ideas about homosexuality and transgenderism. Mayer and his co-author Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, challenged the claim that discrimination and social stigma are the only reasons why homosexual and transgender people suffer higher rates of mental health problems and are more likely to commit suicide.

The study breaks down in three parts: First, Mayer and McHugh examined whether homosexuality is an inherited trait, and concluded that people are not simply "born that way." Second, they looked at the causes of the poor mental health associated with gay and transgender people, concluding that social stress does not explain all of it. Finally, they studied transgenderism, concluding that it is not innate and that transgender "treatments" are associated with negative outcomes.

The report found insufficient evidence to back up the idea that people are born with innate sexual attractions. Mayer and McHugh examined past studies which show a modest association between genetic factors and sexual orientation, but these studies have not been able to pinpoint particular genes responsible. Other hypothesized biological causes, such as prenatal development and hormones, have also been linked to sexual orientation, but that evidence is also limited.

"Studies of the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals have found some differences, but have not demonstrated that these differences are inborn rather than the result of environmental factors that influenced both psychological and neurobiological traits," the report explained. "One environmental factor that appears to be correlated with non-heterosexuality is child sexual abuse victimization, which may also contribute to the higher rates."

The report cited the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which tracked the sexual orientation of children aged 7 to 12 in 1994-1995 and again in 2007-2008. Eighty percent of male respondents who had reported same-sex attraction and both-sex attraction in childhood later identified as exclusively heterosexual, while more than half of the females who reported both-sex attraction as children reported exclusive attraction to men as adults.

Mayer and McHugh also analyzed twins. They pointed to a 2010 study by psychiatric epidemiologist Niklas Långström which analyzed 3,826 identical and fraternal same-sex twin pairs. Both twins had at least one same-sex partner in only 18 percent of male identical twins, and 11 percent of male fraternal twins. For women, both twins had at least one homosexual partner in 22 percent of identical twins and 17 percent of fraternal twins.

"Summarizing the studies of twins, we can say that there is no reliable scientific evidence that sexual orientation is determined by a person's genes," the researchers wrote. "But there is evidence that genes play a role in influencing sexual orientation."

"So the question 'Are gay people born that way?' requires clarification. There is virtually no evidence that anyone, gay or straight, is 'born that way' if it means that their sexual orientation was genetically determined," the report explained (emphasis added). "But there is some evidence from the twin studies that certain genetic profiles probably increase the likelihood the person later identifies as gay or engages in same-sex sexual behavior."

Next Page: What about transgender people? Are they "born that way"?

The scholars also investigated potential links between transgender identity and neurological differences. While some studies found brain-activation patterns associated with transgenderism, the report found that "these studies do not offer sufficient evidence for drawing sound conclusions about possible associations between brain activation and sexual identity or arousal. The results are conflicting and confusing."

Mayer and McHugh argued that "the question is not simply whether there are differences" in brain patterns, but "whether gender identity is a fixed, innate, and biological trait, ... or whether environmental or psychological causes contribute to the development of a sense of gender identity in such cases."

The researchers concluded that there is not enough evidence to come to firm conclusions about the causes of gender identity. "There are no serial, longitudinal, or prospective studies looking at the brains of cross-gender identifying children who develop to later identify as transgender adults," and the "neurological differences in transgender adults might be the consequence of biological factors such as genes or prenatal hormone exposure, or of psychological and environmental factors such as childhood abuse, or they could result from some combination of the two."

The report also found that gay and transgender people are at elevated risk for a variety of mental health risks, including anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. The transgender rate of lifetime suicide attempts is estimated at 41 percent, compared to under 5 percent for the overall population.

Mayer and McHugh also disputed the argument that these mental health disorders are caused by social stressors like discrimination and stigma. While they found some evidence for this widely proclaimed "social stress model," it ended up being "limited, inconsistent and incomplete," and it is not yet "a useful tool for understanding public health concerns."

Indeed, the report even found evidence that transgender "treatments" may actually do mental harm. "Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassingment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes," Mayer and McHugh wrote, citing one study that "compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide."

When asked about likely criticism from liberals and conservatives, Mayer said he suspects critics will claim the report was only issued to serve the biases of his co-author McHugh. McHugh has spoken out against transgenderism in the past, but the study was emphatically not intended to merely back up his ideas.

"Every line in this I either wrote or approved of," Mayer told The Christian Post. "There is no bias either way. The bias is just towards science."

"I think we get into these very high volume battles, particularly in this current environment," the author explained. "When science supports our position, sometimes it is better to tone down a bit. In other words, conservatives have been highly critical of the report too already because it didn't support this or didn't support that. The idea is that let the science speak and then see how they respond to it."

Science is neither conservative nor liberal, but it does provide many reasons to be skeptical of the LGBT narrative.