I have yet to attend a gay-related conference that has a session devoted to science. It really begs the question, why do gay people not assign as much importance to biological and psychological research as it deserves?
Our opponents, even as we dismiss them as Christian loonies, have organisations such as National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) that track scientific findings and spin them to serve their cause. I can't think of similar efforts by LGBT groups.
My experience in gay activism has shown me that whenever we speak to the public, science-related questions invariably pop up. It's important to ordinary people when they try to grasp the issue, so it should be important to gay people to keep ourselves abreast of the subject. Yet, I fear there's a tendency to ignore it.
Are we unsure whether science is friend or foe? Are we afraid that research might debunk some of our pet myths? Even if so, there's still no reason to ignore it the way we do. It would just be burying our heads in the sand.
Another possibility is that we're all vaguely aware that discussing the science would only expose the fault lines within the LGBT movement. Our much-cherished solidarity would fall apart in an instant. There are those who would cheer the science on as it marches towards the biological holy grail: "See, we're born like this, how can you discriminate against us?"
No doubt, there are just as many others who shudder at the thought that biological determinism would surely open to door to test-tube manipulation of the next generation of children. They might strenuously oppose those among us who would employ such research findings in our cause.
That's if you're even prepared to believe the science. Large numbers of LGBT people still refuse to believe it, whatever the findings may be, mostly because it doesn't seem to gel with their own personal experience of their sexuality. For example, many women have a sense that they can choose whether to go gay or straight. "What has biology to do with it?" they ask.
Yet, they forget that even this is a scientific question. What is it about the neuro-biological make-up of people like you that confer upon you choice, while others don't seem to enjoy it? Science may not yet have embarked on this question, but it is no reason to say it cannot answer it.
However, the most likely reason why LGBT activists tend to avoid the science, in my opinion, is that most of us are scientific illiterates. This failing is becoming ever more obvious as science progresses. The research findings get more and more technical, and we end up feeling more and more bewildered.
In addition, we too may be victims of the mindset - just like our religious opponents - that want simple cut-and-dried answers. We find it frustrating that science provides nothing of the sort. Discoveries are incremental, subject to a zillion possible interpretations and caveats, and quickly countered by another study.
But that's how science proceeds, and it is wondrous to behold.
Let me review some of the more recent reports. As expected, none of the new findings provide any definitive answer to social and political questions, but empirical facts still have a role to play. They render certain kinds of questions invalid, and they shift the debate away from a contest of dogma to a more nuanced discussion of just what social and political choices remain within the limits set by the realities of the natural world.
Take for example, the question: Is homosexuality genetically determined? Too much of the public debate seems to revolve around Yes and No. This is what I call a contest of dogma, because the people who want a Yes answer want it for social and political ends, not because they care very much about science. Ditto for those who hope for a No.
It may surprise some gay people, but far from being a totally open question, it is now recognised as a more or less settled one, at least with respect to male homosexuality. The scientific consensus now is that it is not genetically determined in the classical Mendelian way, but it is likely that multiple genes do play a part. Moreover, it is almost surely the mother's genes that matter, not the father's.
Some latest findings that add to the growing volume of research in support of this view include Sven Bocklandt's of the University of California. He sampled 97 mothers of gay sons (42 of them had two gay sons) and 103 mothers whose sons were not gay, and found significant differences in the X-chromosomes of mothers of gay sons. Women have two X-chromosomes, of which one has to be inactivated in each cell of her body. Normally, which of the two X-chromosomes is inactivated vary from cell to cell quite randomly. However Bocklandt found that some women inactivate exactly the same X-chromosome throughout their bodies and this pattern is more commonly seen among women with gay sons than women without. Women with two gay sons exhibit this pattern most commonly of all.
A study by Andrea Camperio-Ciani from the University of Padua, Italy, sampled the families of 98 gay and 100 straight men. He found that the mothers of gay men tended to have more children. They averaged 2.7 offspring compared to 2.3 for mothers of straight men. Camperio-Ciani hypothesised that a women carrying the trait for homosexuality may gain a reproductive advantage from it.
The homosexual trait, therefore, far from being an evolutionary handicap, may in fact be an asset.
At the same time, one should not assume that a "fixed trait" which many tend to argue sexual orientation to be, must necessarily be due to genes, maternal or otherwise.
Anthony F Bogaert studied 944 homosexual and heterosexual men, inquiring into their sibling histories. He found that the larger number of biological older brothers a man has, the more likely he would be gay. Older sisters had no such effect. Growing up with non-biological older brothers had no such effect.
The pattern points clearly to something going on in the mother's womb, and how many times she has previously carried a male foetus. This does not look consistent with any genetic explanation, and yet appears to be a prenatally-fixed trait.
Once again, you are left with a frustratingly complex picture. Once again, you may say there is no clear-cut answer.
But that's the beauty of it. Our opponents tend to be the simpletons, who prefer to ignore the complexity of nature in pursuit of unrealistic and sweeping dicta. Many of these rest on archaic, unscientific assumptions about choice, about (bad) social influences or evolutionary dead-ends. Against such opposition, our ability to command the facts can be an important asset in a debate, establishing credibility for ourselves and effectively demolishing the assumptions behind their simple assertions.
It's time to put scientific illiteracy behind us.
Alex Au has been a gay activist for over 10 years and is the co-founder of gay advocacy group People Like Us. He is also the author of the well-known Yawning Bread web site.