WebMD: Sexual Orientation

Sexuality is an important part of who we are as humans. Beyond the ability to reproduce, sexuality also defines how we see ourselves and how we physically relate to others. Sexual orientation is a term used to refer to a person’s emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to individuals of a particular gender (male or female).

Sexual orientation generally is divided into three categories:

  • Heterosexual: attracted to individuals of the opposite sex
  • Bisexual: attracted to members of either sex
  • Homosexual: attracted to individuals of one’s own sex

Sexual orientation involves a person’s feelings and sense of identity; it may or may not be evident in the person’s appearance or behavior. People may have attractions to people of the same or opposite sex, but may elect not to act on these feelings. For example, a bisexual may choose to have a monogamous (one partner) relationship with one gender and, therefore, elect not to act on the attraction to the other gender.

Why Are Some People Homosexual or Bisexual?

Most scientists today agree that sexual orientation (including homosexuality and bisexuality) is the result of a combination of environmental, emotional, hormonal, and biological factors. In other words, there are many factors that contribute to a person’s sexual orientation, and the factors may be different for different people.

However, homosexuality and bisexuality are not caused by the way a child was reared by his or her parents, or by having a sexual experience with someone of the same sex when the person was young. Also, being homosexual or bisexual does not mean the person is mentally ill or abnormal in some way, although there may be social problems that result from prejudicial attitudes or misinformation.

How Do People Know Their Sexual Orientation?

For many people, their sexual orientation becomes evident to them during adolescence or young adulthood, and in many cases without any sexual experience. For example, homosexuals become aware that their sexual thoughts and activities focus on people of the same sex. It is possible, however, to have fantasies or to be curious about people of the same sex without being homosexual or bisexual, or choosing to act on these impulses/attractions.

Can a Person’s Sexual Orientation Be Changed?

Most experts agree that sexual orientation is not a choice and, therefore, cannot be changed. Some people who are homosexual or bisexual may hide their sexual orientation and/or live as heterosexuals to avoid prejudice against people who are homosexual and bisexual. They may live as heterosexuals in order to avoid their own moral dilemmas when their sexual orientation is incompatible with their personal beliefs.

Are There Support Groups for People Struggling With Their Sexuality?

Yes. There are a number of different support groups and systems available to those struggling with sexual orientation. They can help a person develop strategies for dealing with the prejudice associated with homosexuality and the damaging effects of bias and stereotypes.



Pro-LGBT Catholic Group Petitions Knights Of Columbus To Stop Funding Anti-Gay Hate

Catholics United today is protesting at the Knights of Columbus offices and handing the KoC 5000 signed petitions demanding they stop funding anti-gay hate. Since 2005, the Knights Of Columbus has spent almost $16 million to fight same-sex marriage and the LGBT community, and spent at least $630,000 on ballot initiatives in four states this year.

READ: Catholic Knights Of Columbus Spends $15.8 Million To Fight Gay Marriage

“As Catholics who love the church, many of whom like myself have dedicated my life to the church, are saddened that the faith is increasingly aligned with a far right reactionary political agenda,” said James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, as reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today:

The Knights, which provides life insurance and is the largest lay Catholic organization in the world, said it supports Catholic social teaching, including on moral issues. The group says its first concern has always been charity, and over the past decade has donated more than $1.4 billion and 664 million hours to charitable causes.

“At a time when so many Americans are suffering, it saddens me that the Knights of Columbus have dedicated a large portion of their charitable donations to fund a far-right political agenda,” Salt said via a statement on the Catholics United website. “The Knights of Columbus’ work against civil same-sex marriage laws has the unfortunate effect of pushing younger generations of Catholics out of the church. Younger Catholics don’t want our faith known for its involvement in divisive culture wars, we want our faith known for serving the poor and marginalized.”

Last month in an extensive report (PDF), Equally Blessed, a pro-LGBT Catholic group, in conjunction with HRC, detailed the Knights’ spending on anti-gay initiatives:

Today the Knights of Columbus is at the nexus of a small group of organizations working to block marriage equality in the United States that includes the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Organization for Marriage and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The leadership of these three organizations is closely intertwined, and the Knights of Columbus provides funding to each for their work against marriage quality and for broader efforts to give religious-affiliated organizations the right to discriminate against gay or lesbian couples in the name of religious freedom. Since 2005, the Knights of Columbus has provided more than $15.8 million dollars toward these efforts, providing $6.25 million directly to anti-marriage equality efforts and $9.6 million to organizations to build a conservative religious and political culture to oppose efforts for marriage equality.

Image via Freedom To Marry


New Archbishop Justin Welby pledges re-think on gay relationships

The Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, who was formally announced as successor to Dr Rowan Williams yesterday, insisted that he supported the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

But he promised to reassess his own traditional line on the issue “prayerfully and carefully” and pointedly emphasised his support for civil partnerships.

It comes amid speculation that the Church of England – which fears the introduction of same sex marriage could threaten its position as the established church – might reconsider whether or not to offer formal blessing services for same-sex couples as a compromise.

The Church is due to publish a review of its stance on issues around sexuality next year.

Bishop Welby, 56, made his remarks in his first public appearance since being officially confirmed as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

In a relaxed and confident performance he said he spoke of his belief that Britain could be coming back to faith after years of declining congregations.

He said he was “utterly optimistic” about the future of the Church, insisting that “the tide of events is turning” and that he was taking over at a time of national “spiritual hunger”.

The Eton – educated former oil trader brushed aside the preoccupation with his privileged background saying he hoped he would not be “pigeonholed” because of his education.

He spoke of his “astonishment” but “excitement” at becoming the leader of the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion, revealing that his initial reaction on being offered the job was to think “oh no”.

And he laughed off the leaks of his appointment, which was confirmed by The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, joking that it had been “the best kept secret since the last Cabinet reshuffle”.

He will be enthroned in March next year, three months after Dr Williams steps down to become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

At a press conference at Lambeth Palace, Bishop Welby and his wife Caroline were joined by a large line of extended family, including his children and his two-month-old granddaughter, in the arms of her father, the bishop’s son, Tim.

In a wide-ranging address he gave his strong endorsement to plans to ordain women bishops, which will be decided in a vote at the General Synod in less than two weeks.

And h vowed to speak out on issues be believed were important and said he would ignore those who told him to “shut up”, adding that he would even continue to Tweet – unless his advisers manage to stop him.

And, despite his strong evangelical background, he made much of his links with the Roman Catholic church highlighting the influence of Benedictine and Franciscan monks on his spiritual development as well as Catholic social teaching.

In a reference to his meteoric rise through the ranks of the Church – he has been a bishop for less than a year – he said: “I’m very conscious of my weaknesses, and great need, I will need advice and wisdom, especially from those who are senior among the Bishops.”

He singled out for praise several of the leading churchman who had been tipped as alternative choices for the role including the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu and the bishops of London and Liverpool as well as describing Rowan Williams as “one of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury”.

Bishop Welby confirmed he exepcetd to remain on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards adding that he expected its report to be “fairly radical”.

Speaking about the scale of the challenge he faces, he acknowledged “deep differences over the issue of sexuality”.

“It is absolutely right for the state to define the rights and status of people cohabiting in different forms of relationships, including civil partnerships,” he said.

“We must have no truck with any form of homophobia, in any part of the church.”

He underlined his support for the Church’s opposition to gay marriage but added: “I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully.

“I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us.

“Above all in the church we need to create safe spaces for these issues to be discussed honestly and in love.”

Speaking afterwards, he pointedly declined to comment on the question of church blessings for civil partnerships or same-sex couples.

The law was recently relaxed to allow civil partnership ceremonies to be held in religious buildings, enabling a handful to take place through the Unitarian church.

Although the Church of England itself currently does not offer civil partnership blessings -officially at least – here are suggestions it could consider offering them as a compromise to prevent same-sex marriage.

Rev Canon Giles Goddard, of the Inclusive Church group, said: “There is a desire amongst a significant number of people to move forward on this issue and I’m sure this is part of that.

“He has chosen his words carefully so as not to give a hostage to fortune.

“But his comments are welcome.”

Among those who sent messages of support to the incoming Archbishop were the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the Chief Rabbi Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

Meanwhile David Cameron said his experience in the business world would bring as “breath of fresh air to the Church of England.”

And the Tory MP Tony Baldry, who is a Church Estates Commissioner, added that he looked forward to a future Archbishop being a woman.



How Gay Republicans Lost Dismally When 2012 Should Have Been Their Year

This really could have been the year that the Log Cabin Republicans earned some respect from the GOP, as well as from Democrats, independents and LGBT activists of all stripes. Had the group of gay Republicans not endorsed Mitt Romney, which seemed like the plan early on, they’d be winners right now in the GOP and beyond. Instead, they proved to be irrelevant.

Log Cabin came into 2011 and the presidential election cycle with a successful lawsuit, having gotten “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) ruled unconstitutional in federal court. It’s fair to say that Log Cabin’s case, in addition to full-throttle pressure from LGBT activists, helped propel the effort by the White House and Senate Democrats to make DADT repeal happen. The group created a lot of good will. It had also benefited from the 2009 formation of GOProud, the conservative, Tea Party-inspired gay group that ridiculously made Ann Coulter its honorary co-chair, heralded Donald Trump and didn’t even have a position on same-sex marriage. Next to GOProud, Log Cabin seemed reasonable.

When GOProud early on endorsed Romney, a man who backed a constitutional ban on gay marriage and had said that “it’s not right” for gays to have children, many in the LGBT community laughed it off. GOProud was like a joke, and the group, splashy as it was, had little following or influence, with a loosely organized, seemingly tiny membership.

Certainly no one thought Log Cabin would follow GOProud (which had called Log Cabin too liberal). Log Cabin had withheld a presidential endorsement in 1992, when Pat Buchanan declared a culture war at the Republican National Convention in Houston, and Log Cabin also hadn’t endorsed George W. Bush in 2004 after he came out in full support of a federal marriage amendment. For that reason it was expected that the group wouldn’t endorse a candidate in 2012 who was further to the right than Bush was on gay issues (Romney didn’t even support civil unions, whereas Bush did). Well into the fall, that seemed to be the case: Log Cabin didn’t announce an endorsement in August, as it has done during every election in which it had endorsed a candidate, and as October rolled in, it was believed that Romney wouldn’t get Log Cabin’s backing.

But two weeks before the election, Log Cabin announced that it was indeed backing Romney, just when Romney was brazenly and transparently moving to the middle, turning around on so many of his hard-right positions and wanting to convince independents and moderates that he wasn’t so harsh. An endorsement from a gay group could help in that regard. Log Cabin clearly drank the GOP Kool-Aid and thought Romney was actually going to win the election. They probably naively thought that by endorsing him, they’d have a place at the table, even though they’d backed a man who only made promises to the enemies of gay rights.

Log Cabin threw away all the good will it had built up, as LGBT Democrats, independents and even some Republicans reacted with disbelief and anger. And then Log Cabin lost big when Romney lost big. Had the group not endorsed him, not only would it have retained the respect that it had earned, but it would now have more pull within the GOP. So much of politics is about perception, and Log Cabin would be able to tell GOP leaders, in the midst of the handwringing over the party’s “demographic problem,” that had Romney backed off his harsh line on gay rights, and had Log Cabin endorsed him then, the group could have helped him win. LGBT voters made up 5 percent of the electorate and, as The New York Times notes, have “a claim on having been decisive,” with 76 percent of LGBT voters having supported President Obama.

I’m not saying that a great many of those voters would have gone for Romney if he hadn’t been so harsh on gay issues, but, again, in politics perception is reality. Log Cabin could have made that claim, and it could have been part of helping the GOP reach out now, instead of seeming irrelevant and as if its endorsement had no influence among gay voters. (George W. Bush, whom Log Cabin didn’t endorse, won more of the LGBT vote in 2004 than did the man whom the group did endorse in 2012.) The group now comes off like a bunch of hacks who took a gamble at the last minute on a deeply flawed candidate, selling their souls while getting nothing in return.


Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin is first openly gay person elected to Senate

(CNN) — Tammy Baldwin made history Tuesday night — twice. She became the first openly gay politician, and first Wisconsin woman, elected to the U.S. Senate.

The seven-term Democratic congresswoman edged past former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson in a win that advocacy groups hailed as a significant stride toward bringing diversity to the Senate.

Baldwin said she ran “to make a difference” and not to make history. But she said she hopes the Senate will be more reflective of America and the “life experience” of women.

“Having a seat at the table matters and I think we will see a Senate that is more reflective of America. We’re certainly not there yet, but this will be a change that moves us forward,” she told CNN.

“People … see our country and our states moving toward full equality in many respects,” Baldwin said. “When you have legislative bodies that look more like America, that happens.”

Baldwin was one of many successful gay and lesbian candidates in local and state races this election cycle, which also included her successor in her legislative district in Madison, state Rep. Mark Pocan. At least 118 gay and lesbian candidates won their races as of Wednesday, according to political action committee Victory Fund, which supports gay and lesbian candidates.

Political commentator Sally Kohn was ecstatic.

Baldwin elected first openly gay senator

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“This is a big day for gay women in America, and really, for all communities who aren’t the typical straight, white, wealthy men elected to Congress,” she said.

Share your reaction to the election

There has never been an openly gay or lesbian member of the U.S. Senate, according to several LGBT advocacy groups. Baldwin is one of four openly gay House members of the 112 U.S. Congress, along with fellow Democrats Barney Frank of Massachusetts, David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Jared Polis of Colorado.

“For the LGBT person growing up in Wisconsin or anywhere across the country, seeing an openly gay woman who is able to rise up to become a senator in the U.S. Congress is an incredible role model,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Though Baldwin’s sexual orientation makes her victory notable, it rarely came up during the campaign, unless it was called a nonissue. The race pitted Thompson’s “conservative leadership” platform against Baldwin’s progressive agenda. Thompson, a four-time governor and secretary of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush, said he returned to politics to make America a better place for his grandchildren.

“I wanted to so much help lead back America,” he said in his concession speech. “To be the country of growth and opportunity. To build America for future generations. I certainly didn’t need the job. And I guess I’m not going to get it.”

What started as a long shot for Baldwin eventually narrowed to a close finish, with the born-and-raised Wisconsinite capturing 51% of the vote, according to CNN projections.

“This campaign has been run on who’s the most qualified candidate and who has the best vision for the state,” Griffin said. “We’re eager to have her move from one side of the Capitol to another and take a seat in the chamber as the first openly gay person.”

Maryland, Maine approve same-sex marriage

To those watching the race, it was no surprise that Wisconsin, a state that approved a gay marriage ban six years ago, would send the first openly gay politician to the Senate. Baldwin has made no secret of her sexual orientation as she rose through local and state politics during the last two decades. When she was elected in 1998 to represent Wisconsin’s second congressional district, she was the first out candidate to be elected to the chamber, said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, a political action committee that supported LGBT candidates including Baldwin this election.

“The electorate already knew what they needed to know about her, and they continued to elect her every step of the way,” Wolfe said.

“She is a force with very deep roots in Wisconsin. She has a backbone of steel, but she’s polite and compassionate, and people enjoy their interactions with her.”

Born and raised in the Congressional district she has represented for the past decade, Baldwin’s track record reflects a commitment to LGBT issues and diversity. As a Wisconsin representative, she was a co-founder and co-chairwoman of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, leading efforts to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other civil rights initiatives. She also led successful efforts in the House in 2009 to pass expanded hate crimes legislation and was the lead author of legislation to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

“Tammy has been a driving force because of her ability to tackle issues without having to use double-speak,” Wolfe said. “Having someone like her in the Senate changes the tone and tenor of this discussion.”

Democrats keep control of Senate

Others are hopeful that more women in Congress will change the discussion of policies affecting women and families. Women in the 112th Congress made up 17% of both the Senate and the House, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

“A lot of research has shown that more women in leadership leads to better outcomes for the community,” said Tiffany Dufu, president of The White House Project, which trains women for leadership.

“We know that women in political leadership reach across the aisle more often and are inclusive when it comes to taking constituents into consideration. They care deeply not just about the outcome, but the process,” she said.

“For us, the biggest thing about Tammy Baldwin is her visibility. You can’t be what you can’t see.”


Shared Differences Examines LGBT Students of Color Experiences in School

NEW YORK – LGBT students of color face unique and diverse challenges regarding victimization at school, according to Shared Differences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students of Color in Our Nation’s Schools, a report released today by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

The report documents the experiences of over 2,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) middle and high school students of color who were African American or Black, Latino/a, Asian or Pacific Islander, Native American, and multiracial, using 2007 data collected as part of GLSEN’s biennial survey of LGBT students, the National School Climate Survey, along with results from in-depth individual and group interviews.

“While research on the experiences of LGBT students has increased in recent years, few studies have examined the specific victimization of students who identify as people of color and LGBT,” said GLSEN Executive

Director Dr. Eliza Byard. “Our schools are diverse environments, and it is important to understand how our students experiences differ based on personal characteristics such as race and ethnicity. This report provides alarming evidence that we must act now to ensure sure that America’s LGBT students of color are safe in school.”

The report also provides descriptions of the experiences of LGBT students of color in their own words.

“You could very well on any day hear someone yelling across the hall, ‘fag,’ etc,” said a 10th grade Latino male student in the report. “I’ve heard it before. … It’s hurtful because it’s just not something that you say. And it’s just generally hurtful. And I know that I’ll just be walking in a hallway, and someone will just say under their breath with a group of friends, “fag” … and hearing things like that in my school – it kind of brings me down almost. It kind of negates any hope that I have for our school to be a better place.”

Key Findings:

  • Across all groups, sexual orientation and gender expression were the most common reasons LGBT students of color reported feeling unsafe in school. More than four out of five students, within each racial/ethnic group, reported verbal harassment in school because of sexual orientation and about two-thirds because of gender expression. At least a third of each group reported physical violence in school because of sexual orientation. 
  • More than half of African American/Black, Latino/a, Asian/Pacific Islander, and multiracial students also reported verbal harassment in school based on their race or ethnicity. Native American students (43%) were less likely than other students to report experiencing racially motivated verbal harassment. 
  • About a quarter of African American/Black and Asian/Pacific Islander students had missed class or days of school in the past month because they felt unsafe. Latino/a, Native American, and multiracial students were even more likely to be absent for for safety reasons – about a third or more skipped class at least once or missed at least one day of school in the past month for safety reasons. 
  • Native American students experienced particularly high levels of victimization because of their religion, with more than half reporting the highest levels of verbal harassment (54%), and a quarter experiencing physical violence (26%). 
  • Less than half of students of color who had been harassed or assaulted in school in the past year said that they ever reported the incident to school staff. Furthermore, for those students who did report incidents to school staff, less than half believed that staff’s resulting response was effective. 
  • Native American (57%) and multiracial (50%) students were more likely than other students of color in our survey to report incidents to a family member. 
  • Performance at school also suffered when students experienced high levels of victimization. Students’ overall GPA dropped when they reported high severities of harassment based on sexual orientation and/or race/ethnicity. Students experiencing high severities of harassment also reported missing school more often. 
  • The report also looks at differing experiences based on the racial/ethnic make-up of students’ schools. For all groups, LGBT students of color who were minorities in their school were much more likely to feel unsafe and experience harassment because of their race or ethnicity than those who were in the racial/ethnic majority.

GLSEN is releasing the report in conjunction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Organizing Weekend, which takes place January 16-19. Dr. MLK Jr. Organizing Weekend provides an opportunity for students and Gay-Straight Alliances to honor the coalition-building work of Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, such as Bayard Rustin, by reaching out to others committed to working toward safe schools for all students.


LGBT People of Color Need More Than Health Insurance

The health care debate is still raging across the country, and ensuring that it moves forward so that all Americans have access to affordable and high-quality health insurance is a critical first step. But acquiring and keeping health insurance coverage is only half the battle for millions of Americans.


New research from the Center for American Progress, for example, shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have health care needs and challenges that are starkly different from the rest of the population. The research also shows that racial and ethnic minorities who are lesbian, gay or bisexual face some of the greatest health care challenges in our country.


For example, lesbian and bisexual black women are the least likely to have had a mammogram in the past two years. Only 35 percent of these women have had mammograms recently, compared to nearly 70 percent of heterosexual African-American, Asian or Pacific Islander, or white women. One out of every five lesbian/gay/bisexual African-American adults has diabetes. Straight African-American and straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual Asian or Pacific Islander, Latino, and white adults are much less likely to have diabetes—fewer than 8 percent of these populations have been diagnosed with the disease.


Mental health needs are also a concern. For example, lesbian/gay/bisexual Asian or Pacific Islander adults are more likely than other groups to report experiencing psychological distress. Lesbian/gay/bisexual Latinos are similarly much more likely than all other racial or ethnic groups—gay or straight—to report problems with alcohol abuse and addiction.



Data on the general transgender population is notoriously sparse and anecdotal—information on transgender racial and ethnic minorities is even more so. But based on what we do know, people in this population face the largest obstacles to finding and affording high-quality and highly competent health care.


The odds are slim that doctors, nurses and other health care providers are aware of the health realities their LGBT patients of color face and are able to effectively treat them. Ulrike Boehmer’s review of 3.8 million citations of articles in the National Library of Medicine published between 1980 and 1999 found that just 3,800, or 0.1 percent, are related to LGBT issues. And 85 percent of the articles failed to include any mention of the racial or ethnic background of the individuals studied.


A clear first step to improve health treatment for LGBT racial and ethnic minorities is building the medical community’s knowledge of their unique needs. Unfortunately, no national government health survey regularly asks about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The federal government already collects health data based on race and ethnicity, and adding questions on sexual orientation and gender identity would provide researchers with this much-needed information to better identify the health care needs of LGBT people of color. In turn, advocates could then fight for programs and funding that better and more competently serve this population. Medical schools and other institutions could also incorporate this information into their curricula and training programs to prepare future practitioners to treat and care for these patients.


Over time, this approach will reduce the disparities between LGBT people of color and other populations, and the federal government should take the lead in tackling this problem. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should particularly establish a dedicated Office of LGBT Health. Data collection should be a priority for this office, which must ensure that any federally funded health study that collects demographic information on categories such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, primary language or socioeconomic status must also include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity.


Insurance coverage is a vital health care reform issue, but it is not the only factor that prevents people from quality care in the United States. Our nation’s health care system needs to do a much better job treating the real needs of all its patients, and that includes LGBT people who are racial and ethnic minorities.


Jeff Krehely is the director of LGBT research at the Center for American Progress.