On September 16, 2016, Elder Dallin H. Oaks presided over a question-and-answer fireside in Frederick, MD. In this fireside, Elder Oaks was asked the following question: “…what would you tell a friend who was once in the church and is struggling with gender identity?”
Part of Elder Oaks’ answer included the following:
“There was a study about, published about a month ago from Johns Hopkins University in this very state, where we are, and these were two MDs, one a psychiatrist, one a professional medical researcher, and they studied 500 scientific studies about the problem were talking about. One of their findings was that when young people are feeling gender confusion when they are young, 80% of them will lurk through that and not have that gender confusion when they’re older. Now that’s the study of two very eminent scholars. The media for reasons that I won’t go into has hardly taken any notice of that study. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to read it, but consider that fact when you think about an experience you may be going through or somebody else is going through, it’s a good thing just to be patient and keep the commandments of the lord, don’t label yourself.”1
The study Elder Oaks cited as well as the description he gave of the authors of the study sounded really familiar. After a very quick investigation, I discovered that Elder Oaks was in fact citing a study published in The New Atlantis titled “Sexuality and Gender; Findings from the Biological, Psychological and Social Sciences.” (Yes, this is the same New Atlantis study praised in a recent Mormon Women Stand blog post.) So what’s the problem? It is not a peer reviewed scientific journal and it was not published by Johns Hopkins University. Yes, the author is a scholar in residence at that university, but the paper did not come from that institution. And that is a huge problem.2
In a recent essay published on Rational Faiths, BYU psychologist, Dr. Mikle South pointed out one of the many problems with The New Atlantis article. Dr. South wrote, “[the] New Atlantis report does not represent good science, despite its claim that “this report is about science and medicine, nothing more and nothing less.”3
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Elder Oaks has cited a flawed study when talking about LGBTQ people. In his October 2012 talk “Protect the Children,” Elder Oaks said this: “A New York Times writer noted ‘the striking fact that even as traditional marriage has declined in the United States … the evidence has mounted for the institution’s importance to the well-being of children.’”4
The New York Times article Elder Oaks cited is footnoted: ”Gay Parents and the Marriage Debate.” 5 And the New York Times writer cites a Slate article written by Dr. Regnerus.6 The Regnerus article states the following:
“The basic results call into question simplistic notions of “no differences,” at least with the generation that is out of the house. On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who’ve had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologically-intact mom-and-pop families, displaying numbers more comparable to those from heterosexual stepfamilies and single parents.”
What study is Dr. Regnerus referencing in his article? Well, he is citing his own July 2012 study published in Social Science Research entitled, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.”7
So what’s the problem with this one? It is in fact a peer-reviewed journal. Well, Dr. Regnerus’ study was found to be seriously flawed.8 It was so flawed that Dr. Regnerus’ department chair issued a disavowal of the Regnerus study:
“[Regnerus’ conclusions] do not reflect the views of the Sociology Department of The University of Texas at Austin. Nor do they reflect the views of the American Sociological Association, which takes the position that the conclusions he draws from his study of gay parenting are fundamentally flawed on conceptual and methodological grounds and that findings from Dr. Regnerus’ work have been cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ partners and their families. We encourage society as a whole to evaluate his claims.”9
And the Regnerus’ study was so flawed that United States District Court Judge Bernard Friedman wrote:
“The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 “study” was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it “essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society” and which “was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study.”10
Now we see that, not once, but twice, Elder Oaks has cited bad science in order to back up his claims. I plead with Elder Oaks to stop doing this. Please. I can understand it happening once, as Elder Oaks is not scientifically trained, but doing so twice is a disaster. The lives of our LGBTQ Mormon youth literally depend on it.
“The media for reasons that I won’t go into has hardly taken any notice of that study.”
Is it possible out of respect to accuracy, the “media” chose to not spread false information? Perhaps Oaks could take the time to also explain his understanding of media workings as well…
I feel deceptive to me. Oaks is a smart man. He’s is more than capable of discerning whether a study is good or bad. This is a carefully crafted message. He is citing this study, and then intimating the media isn’t citing it because of some kind of agenda. That agenda just happens to be credibility, which Oaks no longer has.
I think he’s just grasping at straws> looking for any ‘evidence’ that supports his position and using it. even when he realizes the study is flawed, he won’t care. he’ll just say ‘even if there’s no evidence this is the right stance’ because it is his stance
Oaks 80% reference from Mayer and McHugh is from footnotes 130, 131, and 142, which are all from the same paper “The Dubious Assessment of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents of Add Health” Archives of Sexual Behavior, April 2014, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 413–422
The primary author is Ritch C. Savin-Williams
Professor of Developmental Psychology at Cornell University
Anyone have access to this paper and can assess the validity of the study?
One reference I find really sad is the one stating that gays were 2 – 3x more likely to have been sexually abused before the age of 14. One reference is to an older paper by Marie Tomeo, Archives of Sexual Behavior 30, no. 5 (2001):535–541
Anyone know of an update to this study? There has to be a correlation between sexual abuse and suicide ideation
Here’s the data. The first evaluation came when the children were between the ages of 7 and 12 (called Wave I in the literature.) They were asked again about their sexual orientation when they were between the ages of 24 and 32 (called Wave IV in the literature).
Elder Oaks was not talking to children of the Primary, so his summation of that data is irrelevant.
Alright, I read through the Savin-Williams study. The concern was that the first survey (conducted in 1994-95 to students grades 7-12, median age 15), showed that 18.4% of adolescent men were homosexual. However, when they conducted a follow-up study (mean age 28) only 2.6% of men were homosexual or mostly homosexual; women dropped from 13% to 1.9%. The study tries to find out why there was such a precipitous drop. Of the three factors they examine (moved back into the closet, misunderstanding of the question, and jokers) the third seemed the most likely. Even if adolescents were questioning and later settled on heterosexual, the 2.6% and 1.9% are consistent with other studies of adult orientation. There is no evidence in this study that labeling had any effect on adolescent orientation; it wasn’t set to measure such a question. There is no evidence in this study about adult orientation and its potential fluidity; it wasn’t meant to measure this either. It is possible that Elder Oaks was referencing a different study from the hundreds cited in the New Atlantic article, though. He’s talking off the cuff at a fireside, not a scientific conference, so we can hardly blame him for not giving us ready citations. However, since the questions he was addressing were about adults, not questioning adolescents, his answer does seem to miss the mark. Also, “gender confusion” means transgender experiences to most in the LGBTQ community, but Elder Oaks seems to be using it to refer to sexual orientation.
The article actually said that “studies suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that 80% of male adolescents who report same sex attractions no longer do so as adults.” (p. 7) And, then the article states that some researchers contest this one study’s findings. “studies suggest”, “may be”, “for some people”, “one study”, contested findings. –Not exactly bullet-proof. We hear what we want to hear.
Doug’s interview with Clifford Rosky and Lisa Diamond on Radiowest last Aug 15′ seems to show that the immutability “born that way” argument is losing popularity among scholars, although cited by Justice Kennedy and others in the landmark Obergefell decision – biological epigenetics are not the reason they should have a right to marry – equal protection held sway. The younger generation hates being labeled as a biological minority, rather than one free to make a choice – as evidenced by the criticism of Cynthia Nixon by the lgbtq community, and the emergence of the pansexual identity. Diamond hates how people twist her studies, and she has stated repeatedly that not all lgbtq’s have fluidity options – although many do.
This seems like we’re talking about all sorts of different things here. I think we do this discussion a disservice when we talk about homosexuality and trans-sexuality as part of a unified group – outside of their link from an advocacy perspective they are very different groups. In this context I take the term gender confusion as used by Oaks to be equivalent to the accepted term “gender dysphoria”. From a recognized scientific source, “Prospective and retrospective follow-up studies suggest that gender dysphoria during childhood persists into adolescence/adulthood in only a minority of children (approximately 15 percent).” (from uptodate.com – a subscription site that aggregates health research) This statement has nothing at all to do with homosexuality it is for gender dysphoria that is a precursor to trans-sexuality. I haven’t gone through the New Atlantis study in detail but it doesn’t appear to be solid science and a bias does seem to not so subtly present itself, but the idea of not all gender dysphoria kids turning into transsexual adults is scientifically grounded. And as long as we’re striving for scientific accuracy I’ll ask for some evidence to support the author’s final claim “I plead with Elder Oaks to stop doing this (using unscientific science). Please…The lives of our LGBTQ Mormon youth literally depend on it.” I’ll admit that the stance of the church can be very troubling to individuals within the LGBT community even to the point of considering a risk factor for self-harm / suicide, but overplaying the importance of Elder Oaks’ words doesn’t help anyone and perhaps distracts us as a society from taking more helpful action.
Michael: You wrote condescendingly that “It is not a peer reviewed scientific journal”. It was not intended to be peer-reviewed, because it was simply compiling previously peer-reviewed literature. Here’s what the Editor of the article said:
“You are also correct in noting that The New Atlantis is not a peer-reviewed scientific publication. It is, rather, editorially reviewed — like many other journals and magazines intended for a wide public audience (such as Democracy Journal, National Affairs, The American Interest, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, etc.). When we publish essays and articles on technical subjects, our fact-checking process is especially rigorous, and in such cases we often ask experts to help our editorial team in its work. In the case of “Sexuality and Gender,” both our editorial team and the authors consulted with a range of experts in different fields. Peer review can be a very important part of the scientific publishing process. Our aim, however, was not to publish an original research study but rather to translate into accessible prose the scientific findings that were already published in peer-reviewed publications.”
But the way it has been presented to the Mormon world is that The New Atlantis is a peer reviewed journal. Just look at Elder Oaks’ treatment of it and Mormon Women Stand’s treatment of the journal.
Relative to sexual orientation, reading the Mayer & McHugh study left me with a more complex picture than the over-simplistic summary statements by the authors and the interpretations by others. The authors state: “the idea that people are ‘born that way’–is not supported by scientific evidence” and “While there is evidence that biological factors such as genes and hormones are associated with sexual behaviors and attractions, there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation.” (p. 7). But, after seemingly closing the door on non-choice causes, they state: “sexual orientation is not a choice” (p. 13); that “Research suggests that while genetic or innate factors may influence the emergence of same-sex attractions, these biological factors cannot provide a complete explanation, and environmental and experiential factors may also play an important role.” (p. 26); that from “the studies of twins…” though sexual orientation isn’t determined by genes, “there is evidence that genes play a role in influencing sexual orientation” (p. 31); that “As is often true of human behavioral tendencies, there may be genetic contributions to the tendency toward homosexual inclinations or behaviors.” (p. 33); that “genes play a modest role in contributing to the development of sexual attractions” (p. 34); that “stress may also play some role in influencing …sex-typical behaviors in early childhood…” [and] “may originate from the mother” (p. 35); and finally that “Hormonal conditions [prenatal] that contribute to disorders of sex development may contribute to the development of non-heterosexual orientations in some individuals” (p. 39).
So, if it isn’t a choice (typically), but can’t be firmly shown to be biological, environmental or experiential (p. 26), then what is the cause? The authors don’t really offer one and I’m not proposing one, but I am suggesting that simplistic interpretations and reporting of this study are misleading. The study’s authors chose a poor flag bearer in the form of the phrase “born that way” to communicate a critical summary point. The phrase is polarizing and has no common definition. How do the authors mean people are not “born that way” when they cite many situations where people were born with what were contributors to non-heterosexual orientations? Does it mean completely and immutably born that way, or just born with inclinations or propensities? Unfortunately, there will be those that run the study up the flag pole and claim bullet-proof support of their positions when the meaning of the prime term “born that way” is still unclear and inconsistently used.
BOTTOM LINE: The study really just says that there isn’t bullet proof evidence that SSA is primarily caused by biological conditions, so gays are not “born that way.” But, it concedes there are biological factors that can cause or precipitate SSA and that other environmental factors likely come into play, including sexual abuse as a child being significant. In effect they are contradicting themselves, since they admit people can be born with biological features that contribute to SSA, so they are “born that way” in that sense. And, there is no common understanding of what exactly “born that way” even means. Also, they state that “it is not a choice.” So, in the end, they aren’t really stating a position that is much different than what most professionals and the Church believes today–that there are multiple pathways to homosexuality and they generally include a complex combination of biological and environmental factors and sometimes choice. Unfortunately, some aren’t seeing the nuance and are only looking at summary statements and headlines and if they support their position, they will look no further.
Dallin Oakes is a lawyer and a ver crafty one at that. He has in order to support his client (Church) looks for experts and to support the clients position. It is said they care more for their biases than fir the innocent lives they have cost!! Absolutism was what Satan proposed. Christ boils his messsage down to two. When he said “if ye love me keep my commandments” he was referencing these two. The problem arises when leaders feel they can do Christ one better and revert to the Old Testament approach–ask any Mormon a simple question–how many commandments are there? yep only 2! I seem to recall “the philosophy of men mingled with scripture” and that is what Oakes is doing and he has an agenda and is not looking for rational, scientific truth but only to support his and their biases regardless of the facts or truth.
I would agree with R Jones. Dallin Oaks is very intelligent and, as a trained and accomplished lawyer, very crafty.
I’m not sure who Oaks is working for–the church or the Becket Fund. Both probably. Oaks got an award from the Becket Fund in 2012. The Deseret News Advisory Board includes Hannah Clayson Smith and Robert P, George who work for the Becket Fund. Hannah’s sister, Jane Is also on the board (as is Jane’s brother-in-law Clayton Christensen).
I’ve lost a lot of respect for Oaks and the church on this religious freedom issue. The new LDS site about religious freedom contains a page with 13 scenarios/examples highlighting threats to religious freedom that reminds me of the “Six Consequences if Prop 8 Doesn’t Pass” missive.
Really disturbing lack of factual information and fear-mongering employed by the “true” church.
Clayton Christensen is on the editorial board, but he is not Jane Clayson Johnson’s brother-in-law. Clayton founded a company, Innosight, with Jane’s husband, Mark Johnson.
Thank you for bringing additional attention to this talk and Elder Oaks’ harmful misrepresentations. I appreciate your focus on the quoted bad science.
Non-scientists not understanding science. Film at 11.