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The shocking way newspapers wrote about the now-debunked ‘gay gene’ in 1993

Nick Duffy August 30, 2019
Members of LGBT rights group OutRage at the Lesbian and Gay Pride event, London in 1993

Members of LGBT rights group OutRage at the Lesbian and Gay Pride event, London in 1993 (Photo by Steve Eason/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A resurfaced newspaper clipping about the now-debunked ‘gay gene’ has underlined just how much has changed for gay rights.

Research published this week confirmed that there is no single gene that causes people to be gay, although genetic factors do hold a significant sway over people’s sexuality.

The notion of a singular gay gene was first suggested by a study in 1993, and at the time, there was a bonanza of coverage in the British media.

In 1993, Daily Mail claimed gay gene findings ‘raise abortion hopes’.

When the Daily Mail newspaper wrote about the finding in 1993, it did so under the headline “Abortion hope after ‘gay genes’ finding”.

The article raises the prospect of eugenics, claiming: “Isolation of the genes [that cause homosexuality] means it could soon be possible to predict whether a baby will be gay and give the mother the option of an abortion.”

The Mail article predicted that the research is “likely to cause a storm among radical gay and pro-life groups as well as medical interest groups already concerned about the ethics of research on human genes”.

Gay gene abortion debate was called out at the time.

The suggestion of aborting gay babies was raised in several other outlets at the time, though many expressed their revulsion with the idea.

People columnist Carol Sarler wrote: “What do we say of the woman who will opt for an abortion rather than for raising a gentle, caring boy who might – only might, mind you – grow up to love another gentle, caring boy?

“We say that she is a warped dysfunctional monster who – if forced to have the child – will make the child’s life hell. We say that no child should be forced to have her as a parent.”

Meanwhile, ITN carried an interview with a shopper at London’s Gay’s the Word bookshop, who asked: “What kind of society is it where people would even contemplate carrying out an abortion just because the unborn child might be gay?”

Sir Ian McKellen, then a prominent campaigner at Stonewall, noted at the time that “the announcement was leapt upon with lurid enthusiasm across the media”.

Michael Cashman and Ian McKellen at an LGBT+ protest march in 1988
Michael Cashman and Ian McKellen at an LGBT+ protest march in 1988 (Holborn/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

He wrote: “The one overriding issue was whether a mother should or should not have the right to abort her gay foetus. In other words, what a problem we gays cause our parents.

“We don’t provide them with grandchildren – but then the laws of adoption, fostering and donor insemination hugely discourage gay or lesbian parenting.

“We are assumed to lead unhappy, unstable and lonely lives (some of us do. Unable to be honest at work where for the most part homosexuality is acceptable grounds for dismissal).

“All this talk of abortion might well unnerve the most well adjusted gay man… I wonder how many more lesbian and gay young people, unable to face their parents’ disapproval, are now considering the final solution to society’s homophobia.”

More: abortion, daily mail, gay gene, newspaper

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