Monday, January 01, 2007


"Hands Off Gay Sheep"

This story comes from the Sunday Times (UK) via Thirza Cuthand who blogs at Fit of Pique via brownfemipower. Before I quote the Times article, here's an excerpt from "Love's Last Farewell" by Richard A. Bamberg in Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction, edited by Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel. (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1998):
"I'm speaking with Citizen Gerald Vanderlink. Record present date and time. Citizen Vanderlink and his life partner Citizen Dean Honeywell are considered to be the last two homosexuals in the North American federation and possibly the last two in the solar system. As we speak, Citizen Honeywell is comatose and not expected to regain consciousness."

I forced myself to remain calm. It wasn't easy.

"Citizen Vanderlink is faced with the imminent possibility of becoming the one and only homosexual in human existence. I'm here to learn a little of what it has meant for him. He has watched his subspecies go from a political force to an obscure minority. From what may have once been ten percent of the population to a single individual. One person, alone, among the seven billion inhabitants of the solar system.

"Few today remember the great controversy that raged throughout the early decades of the last century. The Morley process was developed to reverse the genetic flaw that caused homosexuality in humans. Now it has achieved 100 percent success. Tell me, Citizen Vanderlink, what was it like to live through that troubled time?"

I hadn't really expected that question, although I suppose I should have. It'd been eight, no, nearly ten years since I'd last heard the name of Morley and his damnable process. "What was it like?"

"Yes, Citizen. I can retrieve historical accounts, but I want to know what it felt like to one who was actually there and refused the process."

My voice was soft when I answered.

Okay, now, here are several excerpts from "Science told: hands off gay sheep" by Isabel Oakeshott and Chris Gourlay (my comments appear in bold):
SCIENTISTS are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of “gay” sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans.

The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes.

It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the "straightening" procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch.

The research, at Oregon State University in the city of Corvallis and at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has caused an outcry. Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player who won Wimbledon nine times, and scientists and gay rights campaigners in Britain have called for the project to be abandoned.

Navratilova defended the “right” of sheep to be gay. She said: “How can it be that in the year 2006 a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments?” She said gay men and lesbians would be “deeply offended” by the social implications of the tests.
It seems that Navratilova and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) blew the whistle on these experiments back in early November when Navratilova wrote letters to the Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Science University. In neither of the letters does she refer to any " 'right' of sheep to be gay."
But the researchers argue that the work is valid, shedding light on the “broad question” of what determines sexual orientation. They insist the work is not aimed at “curing” homosexuality.
One wonders if "the researchers" are being disingenuous here. Any light shed on 'causality' clearly has 'treatment' implications. Notice that "the researchers" have now also shifted from discussing sheep mating to human sexual orientation.
Approximately one ram in 10 prefers to mount other rams rather than mate with ewes, reducing its value to a farmer. Initially, the publicly funded project aimed to improve the productivity of herds.

The scientists have been able to pinpoint the mechanisms influencing the desires of “male-oriented” rams by studying their brains. The animals’ skulls are cut open and electronic sensors are attached to their brains.

By varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain, they have had “considerable success” in altering the rams’ sexuality, with some previously gay animals becoming attracted to ewes.

Professor Charles Roselli, the Health and Science University biologist leading the research, defended the project.

He said: “In general, sexuality has been under-studied because of political concerns. People don’t want science looking into what determines sexuality.

“It’s a touchy issue. In fact, several studies have shown that people who believe homosexuality is biologically based are less homophobic than people who think that this orientation is acquired.”
Yes, and for some of these people the belief that "homosexuality is biologically based" is a crutch that allows them to safely place LGBT people in a biodeterministic pigeonhole and evade granting them real freedom or agency in sexuality and/or gender identity.
Potentially, the techniques could one day be adapted for human use, with doctors perhaps being able to offer parents pre-natal tests to determine the likely sexuality of offspring or a hormonal treatment to change the orientation of a child.

Roselli has said he would be “uncomfortable” about parents choosing sexuality, but argues that it is up to policy makers to legislate on questions of ethics.
Yes, and the bought-and paid-for "policy makers" will pass the buck to 'the market' and the exigencies of 'scientific progress' and the market moguls will ostensibly leave it up to the 'consumer' and so it goes. This is clearly an ethical dodge by Roselli, who refuses to take any responsibility for his own choices.
Michael Bailey, a neurology professor at Northwestern University near Chicago, said: “Allowing parents to select their children’s sexual orientation would further a parent’s freedom to raise the sort of children they want to raise.”
Hmmm, "freedom to raise the sort of children they want," eh? For background on Bailey see "J. Michael Bailey and neo-eugenics" or "J. Michael Bailey Investigation"--both by transgender women.
Critics fear the findings could be abused.

Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Bioethics at Glasgow Caledonian University, who has written to the researchers pressing them to stop, said: “I don’t believe the motives of the study are homophobic, but their work brings the terrible possibility of exploitation by homophobic societies. Imagine this technology in the hands of Iran, for example.

“It is typical of the US to ignore the global context in which this is taking place.”
Why is it that so many Western academics never miss a chance to bash Iran? Perhaps Schuklenk had in mind the "the public hanging of two gay teenage lovers." Critical thinkers know that this charge was discredited or at least seriously undermined back in 2005. Citing Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission stated, "there is no conclusive information which suggests that the two young men were put to death based on consensual homosexual sex." As Richard Kim documents in The Nation this accusation is just another episode in a politically-driven campaign against Iran. See also "Does Iran's President Want Israel Wiped Off The Map - Does He Deny The Holocaust?"
Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, said: “These experiments echo Nazi research in the early 1940s which aimed at eradicating homosexuality. They stink of eugenics. There is a danger that extreme homophobic regimes may try to use these experimental results to change the orientation of gay people.”
Peter Tatchell mentions Nazis and eugenics but neglects to mention that eugenics laws and forced eugenic sterilizations were pioneered in the United States. Incidentally, eugenics also had deep roots in animal breeding.

also campaigns for the apartheid state of Israel or, maybe, just gay rights above all else. In 2005, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT!) called for a boycott of World Pride Jerusalem. The boycott was in response to the July, 2005, call of 171 Palestinian non-governmental organizations "... for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights."

But "gay rights campaigners" like Tatchell had other ideas.
Tatchell argued: "While a boycott would not advance the Palestinian cause one iota, it would give comfort to the oppressors of lesbians and gays and undermine a genuine attempt at global solidarity against homophobia." However, Palestinians have spoken clearly about what they think will advance their cause and last year with virtually one voice they called for broad boycotts and divestment. The boycott of this particular event was unfortunate but World Pride organizers should never have agreed to hold the event in Jerusalem while Israel maintains its illegal annexation of part of the city, an illegal and brutal occupation in Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan, and second-class citizenship for non-Jews living in Israel--all while more than 6.5 million Palestinian refugees languish in exile because Israel will not allow them to return home.
He said that the techniques being developed in sheep could in future allow parents to “play God”.
Is deciding to prevent or terminate a pregnancy for financial or other personal reasons "play[ing] God," too? I wouldn't say so and I wouldn't object to sexual orientation selection in birth control/abortion on the grounds of playing God alone but different practical and ethical questions are involved when deciding to exercise "a parent’s freedom [sic] to raise the sort of children they want to raise." For instance, in China and India where abortion is legal and even encouraged gender selection abortions are illegal (although these legal proscriptions have not proven very effective).

To see what a couple of right-wing bloggers have to say on the subject go here and here.

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with all due respect, your remarks on Iran defy belief, Sir. You might wish to consult this link to fresh up some of your beliefs about that country.
With all due respect, madam, my "remarks on Iran" dealt primarily with the fact that the case of "Iran Publicly Hangs Two Gay Teenagers," to quote, is mindlessly repeated by Western academics and activitists even though it has little or no basis in reality. Despite denials by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Pinknews still has that story from 2005 on its site without any correction. The real political agenda is evident in the quote from Peter Tatchell: "This is just the latest barbarity by the Islamo-fascists in Iran". "Islamo-fascists," of course, being a favorite term of war-mongering American neoconservatives. You probably believed in the transparently bogus WMD argument for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, too.

The Iranian government is certainly fair game for criticism on the human rights front but that criticism ought to be grounded in truth and humility (given the Western, esp. US and UK, propensity to shed copious amounts of other people's blood in the 'national interest') and not driven by an imperialist and/or Zionist agenda.
I guess we agree then that Iran is not exactly a hot bed of respect for human rights (and, as a corrollary, of gay rights). The theocracy there has been involved in too many crimes against humanity to seriously debate the issue. That neocons happen to hold the same point of view doesn't make me a neocon. Incidentally, I have not believed the transparently bogus WMD argument for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
What we probably agree upon is that Iran is "fair game for criticism on the human rights front." You wrote, "Iran is not exactly a hot bed of respect for human rights (and, as a corrollary, of gay rights). I realize that you live in the UK--the "junior partner"--but I will to focus my remarks on the "leader of the free world"--the US.

The US is a hot bed for lip service to respect for human rights but it is also the global leader in imprisonment--more than 50% Blacks and Latinos--and it is a global leader in executing people, including those whose crimes were committed when they were minors. Prison rape is routine in American prisons and considered by many Americans to be the just desserts of an inmate and more a source of humor than shame. The homeless population numbers in the millions and in some urban centers infant mortality among poor people approaches that of "undeveloped" countries.

The US has also been a leader in imposing--by overt and covert--a phony 'free' market fundamentalism on the planet much to the detriment of poor people--tens, if not hundreds, of millions have died as a result. The US is the global military hegemon and is not exactly shy to use its force. Millions of Iraqis have died as a result of US led military action and US enforced sanctions. Not to mention US financial and military backing of regimes which are known human rights abusers, such as the current Iraqi puppet government, Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.

The offenses of the Iranian regime cannot be shielded by the far greater human rights abuses of the US but I, frankly, have little respect for Westerners who are so quick to condemn Iran and other members of the "axis of evil," etc. while they mostly turn a blind eye to the much more egregious human rights abuses that they are more directly implicated in.

As for the "corrollary [sic], of gay rights" I would remind you that sodomy laws were only invalidated in the US in 2003, by a divided US Supreme Court. Despite this, the laws remain on the books in several US states. Only time will tell if Lawrence v Texas will survive. In the meantime, LGBT people cannot serve openly in the US military and same-sex marriage is legal in only one-state. Whatever one cares to say about those two institutions--the military and marriage--these proscriptions are clearly disciminatory. Domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples are under siege and the tide of human rights for LGBT people in the US may be ebbing.
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