Friday, June 15, 2007

Vital Data Overlooked in Fight for Equality

Vital Data Overlooked in Fight for Equality

Friday, June 15, 2007

Greater advances will be made for the LGBT community if legislators, activists and policy-makers use scientific research and data to back their ideas, according to a new think tank.

“All of the currently active court cases and legislative hearings concerning same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting rights depend heavily on well-conducted and fresh research,” said Dr. Robert-Jay Green, executive director of the Rockway Institute, a San Francisco-based organization that hosted a panel discussion Thursday, June 7, at The New School to discuss the critical role research plays in policy decisions.

“Our goal is to educate the American public about LGBT issues on a scale that has never been attempted before,” said Dr. Green about Rockway Institute. The nonpartisan think aims to get scientific findings and research data about LGBT issues to legislators, courts and the media. A main priority at Rockway is combating what Green calls, “anti-gay, right-wing organizations that have inundated the media and government with misleading and flawed research doubting the fitness of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people to marry and raise families.”

In addition to Dr. Green, last Thursday’s press conference featured Dr. Ellen Perrin of Tufts-New England Medical Center, who spoke about the development of children raised by same-sex parents; Dr. David Greenan from Columbia University, who spoke about the psychological importance of marriage to same-sex couples; and Jo-Ann Shain, who is fighting for marriage equality with her partner of 25 years.

Misinformation often guides politicians’ decision-making, as Dr. Green illustrated by repeating a 2005 quote in the New York Times by President George W. Bush. When asked whether he agreed with a Florida law barring gays from adopting children, President Bush responded, “Children can receive love from gay couples, but studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman.”

Dr. Green refuted the President’s comment: “There is not a single study showing that a child does better with a heterosexual couple than with a gay couple.”

Dr. Perrin, who specializes in pediatrics, asserts that constant nurturing from at least one parent is necessary for healthy childhood development. “Gender and sexual orientation don’t figure into that statement,” Dr. Perrin said. “No matter what gender their parents are, children need constant nurturing.”
However, Dr. Perrin explained, single-parent families are less likely to be successful than two-parent families, regardless of the level of nurturing. “Because most single-parent homes are run by mothers,” Dr. Perrin cautioned, “Right-wing propaganda groups have used that information to say that lesbian couples aren’t as fit [parents] without a man. It’s a distortion of data.”

Dr. David Greenan, adjunct faculty member at Teachers College-Columbia University and practicing psychotherapist, said all families, regardless of sexual orientation, struggle with creating a family identity. But, gay couples, Dr. Greenan said, generally have less societal support than heterosexuals, which may strain their relationships. “Families that are marginalized are at a very high risk for enormous stress and tension,” he said.

Panelist Jo-Ann Shain shared how her inability to marry her partner of 25 years has made her feel marginalized. The two live in Brooklyn with their 18-year-old daughter. With encouragement from their daughter, Shain and her partner entered a joint lawsuit with four other couples demanding the right to be married in New York.

When the state Supreme Court ruled against Shain and the other plaintiffs, her daughter wrote a never-published letter, which was read at Thursday’s press conference. In it, Shain’s daughter professed, “Being raised by lesbian parents is a blessing. The healthy and loving home I’ve been raised in should be celebrated.”

The Rockway Institute’s Dr. Green believes scientific studies will lend significant credence to the personal accounts of individuals such Shain as the LGBT community fights for equality. “We urgently need studies of the psychological effects of being excluded from marriage,” Dr. Green said. “Such data would be useful immediately in court cases and legislative decisions concerning same-sex marriage bans.”

The Rockway Institute also sponsored an event last Thursday at the New School titled “Lesbian and Gay Relationships: Fighting the False Science of Antigay Groups.” The lecture and discussion focused on propaganda distributed by antigay groups about same-sex couples, gay parenting, and “ex-gay” therapies. The latter, Dr. Green said, has side effects such as depression and is rarely successful. “When conversion therapists say they are successful, it is almost always at the behavioral level. But if someone stops having same-sex sex and is still attracted to the same sex, would you say that is a success?”
Dr. Green anticipates having at least 100 experts in LGBT issues located in all fifty states within the next year. Their hope is that when legislation relative to the LGBT community comes up in each state, a local expert can testify with scientific evidence and research

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