Cain: Being Gay "Washes Off"?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 21, 2011

GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain says that being a sexual minority is a "choice," whereas being a racial minority is not--because being a racial minority is not something that a person can simply "wash off," reported ThinkProgress on Oct. 20.

Cain made the comments during an Oct. 19 appearance on CNN in a discussion with host Piers Morgan.

"I respect their right to make that choice," Cain told Morgan during the exchange. "You don't see me bashing them or anything like that. I respect their right to make that choice. I don't have to agree with it. That's all I'm saying."

Morgan responded by noting that gays do not choose their sexual orientation, telling Cain, "It would be like a gay person saying, Herman, you made a choice to be black."

"We know that's not the case," Cain replied. "I was born black."

"Yes, maybe if they said that, you would find it offensive," Morgan elucidated.

"Piers, this doesn't wash off," Cain responded.

"Of course, not only is there science that shows being gay is not a choice and doesn't 'wash off,' there is scientific consensus about the enduring nature of any sexual orientation," noted the ThinkProgress article. "Homosexuality is no more likely to 'wash off' than heterosexuality."

Cain had told an ABC News host in June that being gay is a "choice," triggering controversy.

"I believe homosexuality is a sin because I'm a Bible-believing Christian," Cain said, upon being asked his opinion. "But I know that some people make that choice. That's their choice. And I believe it is a choice."

Cain has since insisted that there is no scientific basis for believing that people who are romantically and sexually attracted to others of the same gender are responding to deep, innate feelings they did not decide to have, but rather experience because such feelings are natural for them.

That argument has long been a staple in the rhetorical arsenal of the anti-gay religious right. But claims that gays "choose" their sexual orientation or else suffer from a pathological condition have been rejected by reputable mental health experts, and scientific evidence has continued to mount in recent years to suggest that there are prenatal and physiological factors involved with a person being gay.

Moreover, mental health experts warn that so-called "reparative therapy," which purports to "cure" gays, is not only ineffectual, but may put those who put themselves through it at risk of psychological and emotional damage.

The Human Rights Campaign called on Cain in the wake of his CNN appearance to find out the science for himself by speaking with Dr. Jack Drescher.

Drescher, an Oct. 20 HRC media release said, is "a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and a member of the DSM-5 Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders".

The "HRC first called on Cain to meet with Dr. Drescher after he asked for someone to 'show him the science' explaining why being gay wasn't a choice," the release recalled.

That plea from Cain was expressed during an Oct. 4 appearance on The View. Cain said during the same appearance that were he elected president, he would reinstate that anti-gay ban that long kept openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving their country in the military.

"Well, you show me the science that it's not [a choice to be gay] and I'll be persuaded," Cain said on "The View." "Right now it's my opinion against the opinions of others who feel differently. That's just a difference of opinions."

The HRC release said that such opinions pose a significant danger to GLBTs and their quest for full legal and social parity.

"Herman Cain is now one of the leading GOP candidates for President of the United States, and he is making remarks that have no factual basis and spread dangerous falsities about LGBT Americans," Joe Solmonese, the group's executive director, said.

"I strongly urge Mr. Cain to meet with Dr. Drescher--an offer he has so far ignored--to learn exactly 'what the science says' about being gay, and to develop a deeper appreciation for the very real challenges LGBT people face on a daily basis."

"Herman Cain's opinion that being gay is a choice has no basis in current scientific thinking," Drescher said. "Not only is homosexuality 'not a choice,' as most efforts to try and change a person's sexual orientation fail, but some attempts to change can cause harm and damage to an individual's well-being."

Drescher has "also served as a past Chair of APA's Committee on GLB Issues," the HRC release noted.

"All leading medical organizations--including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association--have spoken out against reparative therapy," the release continued.

Even some practitioners of "reparative therapy" have come to denounce the practice, most recently John Smid, once the leader of "Love in Action." Smid, who headed the "ex-gay" group for two decades, admitted in a recent blog posting that he had never met a gay man who had been "cured" or "converted" despite going through the sort of "therapy" that Love in Action offers. Moreover, Smid admitted that he is a gay man who remains gay despite being in a loving marriage with a female spouse--and, Smid wrote, he knew he was never going to change into a heterosexual man.

"One cannot repent of something that is unchangeable," Smid wrote in his blog, posted on the website for his new venture, a ministry called Grace Rivers.

"I also want to reiterate here that the transformation for the vast majority of homosexuals will not include a change of sexual orientation. Actually I've never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual," Smid added.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.