A Prudent Response to the Science
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, January 27, 2007

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had it right the first time - the science on climate change is still evolving. The degree to which global warming is the result of man made greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols and the degree to which it is the result of natural variables such as solar radiation and volcanic eruptions remains unclear. Neither do computer models allow for a future of depleted oil supplies – an eventuality even peak oil skeptics concede. Nonetheless, the Kyoto Protocol requires major reductions in man made gases. Only prudent regard for the world’s economy and informed dissent on the science prevented a rush to implement them.

The science on homosexuality, too, is still evolving. The latest development, namely hormonal experiments on pregnant ewes at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), fueled recent media speculation about the possibilities for in utero detection and re-engineering of sexual orientation that the university has since dismissed as “science fiction”.

It was at the OHSU where experiments identified a smaller hypothalamus in homosexual rams. These confirmed the work of thoughtful gay advocate and neuroanatomist Simon LeVay who earlier discovered a smaller hypothalamus in the homosexual victims of AIDS. OHSU then established that those in sheep resulted from hormonal fluctuations at the gestational time sexual orientation is determined.

We rightly worry about the uses to which such scientific information is placed but questions inevitably remain. Are hormonal fluctuations normal or abnormal? If the former, does this render homosexuality an identity? If the latter, is it a disorder?

Unlike climate change, incomplete science on homosexuality hasn’t prevented a rush to legislative and court ordered judgments that at once re-order and divide society. After same-sex marriage came Canada’s Orwellian elimination of the words husband/wife/mother/father and ‘natural’ parent from its laws. Now, in British Columbia, it’s the school system.

Battling “systemic discrimination through omission and suppression of queer issues in the whole of the (B.C. school) curriculum”, gay activists Peter and Murray Corren concluded a deal with the B.C. Ministry of Education last June allowing them unprecedented oversight in curriculum development. A course for grade 12 students on Social Justice will be optional but courses discussing sexual diversity issues will be mandatory.

Curriculum content isn’t yet available but the fact that parents won’t be able to remove their children from controversial classes has mobilized parent and faith groups alike. Some 15,000 signatures later, groups like the Concerned Parents of B.C. and the Catholic Civil Rights League are invoking the UN Declaration of The Rights of the Child stating that “the best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents.” A letter writing campaign by regional director Sean Murphy to public school district trustees has so far resulted in 4 districts representing 23% of B.C.’s student population, including B.C.’s 2 largest districts (in Surrey and Vancouver), agreeing they will accommodate parents’ wishes.

Again, questions remain. Why has it come to this? What’s so difficult about seeing the human condition in all its contexts, the social, moral, spiritual, biological … and if the view is unclear, then on matters of policy to proceed cautiously?

In an article entitled Sexual Orientation: Science and Social Impact excerpted on the website of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, Simon LeVay discusses sexual re-orientation therapies and how hormonal influences may suggest that biological error renders homosexuality a developmental disorder. But sexual identity is a philosophical, not a scientific, premise, he says. “Science cannot render judgments about … what constitutes normality or disease. These are value judgments that individuals must make for themselves, while possibly taking scientific findings into account… we should as far as possible, respect people’s personal autonomy, even if that includes … misguided desires to change one’s sexual orientation.”

LeVay offers much for us and the framers of the B.C. schools curriculum to ponder while on the subject of global warming, U.S. President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address showed more concern about depleting and unstable oil supplies than greenhouse gases. Conserving oil, he seemed to say, will buy time to create alternative energy sources and also reduce carbon emissions. This is prudent and sensible. Now where are the prudent accommodations our growing understanding of homosexuality will ultimately suggest?

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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