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SAN DIEGO -- Is homosexuality a choice, or does our genetic makeup predetermine our sexual orientation?
For decades this has been the subject of religious and political debate, yet until recently there has been little scientific research for what determines sexual orientation, dubbed the "gay gene."
Humans have about 23,000 genes arranged on separate strands of DNA, which carry the information needed to make protein. Some proteins form the structural components of our bodies – our bones, flesh and blood. The majority, though, are enzymes that increase the rates of chemical reactions taking place in each cell of our bodies; most of which are thought to be responsible for enzymes that help determine the composition of our brains.
Harvard neuroscientist Simon LeVay is widely considered one of the first researchers of sexual orientation in relation to our biological structure. In 1991 while he worked at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, he studied the brains of men who had died from complications of AIDS.
He found that the third Interstitial Nucleus of the Anterior Hypothalamus (INAH3) was twice as large in heterosexual men as in homosexual men. His findings reported in the American Association of the Advancement of Science journal Science, quickly drew international attention and were dubbed the “Gay Brain.”
At the time, most who read the findings were critics – researches and religious clerics alike. One of the most outspoken critics of LeVay’s findings was William Byne, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist who now heads The Neuroanatomy Laboratory at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
Byne embarked on a replication study of LeVay’s findings. On Aug. 6, 2000, at an international conference in Madrid, he reported that the INAH3 was in fact larger in heterosexual men versus homosexual men as previously reported by LeVay.
“Little research had been done in the ‘90s and I am glad my initial report helped spark debate,” LeVay said.
LeVay’s newest book "Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation" details the findings of more than 650 studies that have since taken place.
“When I conducted my initial findings in 1991 and wrote ‘The Sexual Brain’ in 1993, there was no science to really talk about,” LeVay said. “The new book details the weight of the evidence, which is a lot stronger now, and bolsters my initial conclusion that homosexuals have a predisposition to being gay.”
LeVay added that his new book includes findings that he had not considered.
“I didn’t expect the avenue of research about birth order, that gay men tend to be late born in families, and that women aren’t as fixed in their sexual orientation as are men.”
Gay activists have long called for science to find the “gay gene,” proving once and for all that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice but a predetermined trait. And those against the gay community have much to fear should this trait be found, lessening their claims that homosexuality is immoral.
LeVay, who said he started his research as a “hobby project,” will be available for book signings in the San Diego area on Tuesday, Oct. 12, between 6 and 7:30 pm at the Balboa Park San Diego History Center; and on Wednesday, Oct. 13, between 7 and 8 pm at Book Works, 2670 Via de la Valle in Del Mar.
To learn more about Simon LeVay, visit www.simonlevay.com.
A. Latham Staples is the president and CEO of Empowering Spirits Foundation, a national LGBT civil rights organization based in San Diego. Staples and his husband were one of the first same-sex couples to legally wed in California. Following the passage of Proposition 8 in California in November 2008 that defined marriage to be between only a man and a woman, Staples felt the need to become active in the LGBT civil rights movement. Staples, a 2010 Echoing Green Fellow, has a bachelor of arts in journalism and political science from the Honors College at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.