Globalizing Homophobia, Part 3: A New Life for Discredited Research
This is the third post in a four-part series exploring how American right-wing groups have supported Russia’s recent spate of anti-gay laws and its crackdown on LGBT citizens.
When Russian lawmaker Alexei Zhuravlyov introduced a bill that would allow the state to remove children from openly gay parents – classifying homosexuality along with drug abuse and child abuse as offenses that merit the loss of custody – gay rights activists noticed something interesting in the text of the bill.
Zhuravlyov, who insisted, “In the case when a parent has sexual contact with people of their own gender, the damage that can be inflicted on the psyche of a child is enormous,” had in the text of his bill quoted extensively from a 2012 study conducted by University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus that purports to show that having LGBT parents harms kids.
New evidence shows that the Regnerus study also influenced the architects of Russia’s ban on gay “propaganda” and its ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by gay couples and single people living in countries that allow marriage equality.
In the June 13 joint Duma committee hearing on the proposed gay adoption ban and a related “traditional values” roundtable discussion – attended by National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown and a number of far-right French activists – Regnerus’ research played a central role.
In her speech at the committee hearing, Yelena Mizulina, the chairwoman of the Duma’s committee on family, women and children and the sponsor of the “propaganda” bill, cited Regnerus to advocate for the adoption measure, claiming that Regnerus had provided the only “reliable” research on same-sex parents:
At the same time, the American scholar Mark Regnerus, who carried out an extensive study over the course of one and a half years of 3,000 people who had been raised in same-sex families, showed the opposite, and the data are absolutely stunning, they are published. They called for him to be fired from the university in Texas [where he worked]. An independent assessment was ordered, an independent commission, who totally confirmed the scientific validity of the study’s representativeness and the reliability of its conclusions.
Mizulina went on to hypothesize that gay parents would teach their children to be gay just as alcoholics would likely have children who drink, and compared the “social experiment” of marriage equality to the experiment of communism in Russia:
It is established that if the parents in a family smoke, their child will likely smoke. And in these families the share of children who smoke when they become adults is higher. If parents drink, the probability that children in these families will drink is much higher than in families where parents do not drink.
Why and on what basis is there an exception regarding imitation of the behavior of parents when we’re talking about homosexuality? Why? Where do they get that children will not imitate this particular behavior? It’s untenable, even without scientific studies. But scientific studies would of course be important here, too.
But this type of experiment, this sexual revolution as they call what is happening in Europe today, is a social experiment that the West is conducting on its own children. Russia has had enough of social experiments.
Last century we had social experiments where the family was destroyed. It was argued that there would be no more families, that this institution would die out, and many others. And the West watched and did the opposite.
Mikhail Zoplev, a member of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, had his own take, claiming that gay couples “renounce the ability to have their own children, so they say, ‘Give us those of others.’”
Why? By creating such pair--man with man or woman with woman—they renounce the ability to have their own children, so they say, ‘Give us those of others.’ What does this represent? It seems to me some very twisted logic.
A news report about the meetings on the TV Tsentr channel included an interview with Evgenii Makushkin, a Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development psychologist, who insisted that “a same-sex pair may raise a child with a host of sexual problems.” His evidence? An American study published in the Social Science Research journal – the Regnerus study.
Makushkin: The life principles of such a child [who has been raised by homosexual parents] may be completely distorted. The child develops psychological problems, problems learning materials in school, problems integrating with peers, problems orienting themselves during puberty. Towards whom will a child who has been raised in a homosexual family orient? It’s probably that a change in sexual orientation may even occur. This is indeed a new problem. In this way, a same-sex pair will produce a child with a host of sexual problems.
Voiceover: According to the results of a study by American psychologists, 31% of children in lesbian families and 25% of children in gay families were forced to have sex with their so-called parents In typical families in the US, this indicator stands at 8%. Almost one-third (28%) of children raised by gays or lesbian mothers cannot find steady employment.
At a July 4 meeting in France, a leader of the anti-gay group French Spring praised Mizulina for her adept use of the Regnerus study in pushing anti-gay measures.
The Regnerus study has captured the imaginations of anti-gay activists throughout the world. But in reality, it is complete bunk. Shortly after Regnerus published his work, the narrative behind it unraveled. It turned out that Regnerus had relied on a slew of flawed methodology and had only studied two people raised by same-sex couples. As one sociologist charged with auditing Regnerus’ study for an academic journal put it: “Since only two respondents were actually raised in gay or lesbian households, this study has absolutely nothing to say about gay parenting outcomes. Indeed, because it is a non-random sample, this study has nothing to say about anything.”
But Regnerus had never intended to conduct an honest assessment of the outcomes of children raised by gay and lesbian parents. Instead, Regnerus was an ideologue with a point to make and funders on the Religious Right were ready to help him make it. Regnerus received significant funding for his study from Religious Right groups: $700,000 from the Princeton-based anti-gay Witherspoon Institute and over $90,000 from the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. Both groups have deep ties with the movement to prevent marriage equality: National Organization for Marriage cofounder Robert George also cofounded the Witherspoon Institute and sits on the board of the Bradley Foundation. In addition, George helped draft the Manhattan Declaration, a religious conservative manifesto that has drawn the support of a who’s who of Religious Right leaders.
Documents obtained by the American Independent this year revealed that the Witherspoon Institute was closely involved in Regnerus’ work through the go-between of W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor at the University of Virginia who at the time ran Witherspoon’s program on family, marriage and democracy, which had recruited Regnerus to conduct the study on LGBT parents. Regnerus in turn hired Wilcox on contract to assist him with data analysis on the study. Along with working with Regnerus on his skewed interpretation of the data, Wilcox urged Regnerus to release the study in time to influence the U.S. Supreme Court in its upcoming marriage equality cases. (Regnerus later signed onto an amicus brief seeking to influence both cases, which extensively cited his own research).
Wilcox’s interest in the Regnerus study went beyond influencing American law and public opinion. He is also active in the Illinois-based World Congress of Families, which promotes anti-gay policies throughout the world. This year, Wilcox was a keynote speaker at WCF’s summit in Sydney, along with leaders from the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.
When word began to spread that Regnerus’ study was playing a key role in the Russian anti-gay movement, Regnerus backtracked, saying that the Russian effort to remove children from biological parents who are gay or lesbian was a “misuse” of his research.
While actively snatching children from gay parents might have been a step too far for Regnerus, he hasn’t stopped pushing his flawed findings around the globe. In fact, the same day that Regnerus claimed that Russian lawmakers had gone too far with his study, the anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom announced that Regnerus would join it at a panel at the United Nations seeking to inject anti-gay politics into discussions of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
In our next post, we’ll look at the role the World Congress of Families has played in promoting anti-gay laws in Russia and throughout the world.
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