PFLAG Chapters' Guest Lecturers

Imagine if you firmly believed you were born gay and all the people in charge of your local PFLAG chapter did not believe it was possible to be born gay. Suppose that they invited a guest speaker to present evidence that a "gay gene" is very unlikely to exist, but did not invite anyone to present the opposing evidence that it's likely to exist. Suppose that the lecturer spoke mockingly and sarcastically of "gay gene" theory and said that the only people who could possibly believe in the existence of a "gay gene" were homophobes like Dr. Laura who just wanted to accuse us of being "biological errors." Now here's the kicker: imagine that you just happened to know a gay person who had been giving public lectures on behalf of the existence of a "gay gene" for 30 years and who was willing to give a free lecture to your local PFLAG chapter—and the chapter refused to allow this person to speak.

In early 1999, PFLAG New Orleans presented as a part of its Speakers Series a lecture titled  "Homosexuality: Choice or Biology." QueerByChoice member Frank Aqueno, who is also currently a dues-paying member of PFLAG, attended the lecture and complained that the lecturer spoke mockingly of choice and presented biology as the only possible explanation. He had previously volunteered to give a lecture of his own to present an alternative viewpoint—that queerness can be a good choice which more people should be encouraged to consider choosing—and his offer was refused. His offer to speak still stands to this day, and PFLAG New Orleans is well aware of our ongoing protests against their one-sided presentation of the "Choice or Biology" debate. Yet the chapter still adamantly refuses to let him speak.

Frank Aqueno is more than qualified to speak on this subject. He has been thinking, talking, and speaking with others about queer by choice issues since the early 1970s, has debated the existence of a "gay gene" against biologist Simon Le Vay on both The Donahue Show and CNBC's Real Personal, was a panel member for "Science and Politics" at the OUTWRITE '93 queer writers' conference, and co-chaired a panel called "Rejecting the Gay Brain—Queer Choice" at Emory University's 1997 "Queering the South" conference. He has been interviewed for numerous newspaper and magazine articles on queer by choice issues, as well as for Vera Whisman's book Queer by Choice: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Politics of Identity (published by Routledge in 1996), and has also written articles of his own such as "On Choosing a Homosexual Lifestyle" and "Exploding the Gene Myth: A Conversation with Ruth Hubbard." And although many experts with a resumé like his would demand good money to speak to a PFLAG chapter on this subject, Frank was generously volunteering to speak for no money at all, simply because it was important to him to see queer by choice viewpoints given fair representation.

Why is PFLAG New Orleans refusing to let Frank Aqueno speak? Because they think that only homophobes believe anyone chooses to be queer? Let's go back to our hypothetical scenario in which you're the only one at your local PFLAG chapter who believes people can be born gay. This hypothetical chapter invites a guest speaker to present evidence that a "gay gene" is very unlikely to exist, but when you find them a speaker to present the opposite view, the chapter leaders tell you that the "gay gene" theory can do nothing but harm to the queer community because it plays into the hands of homophobes like Dr. Laura who want to accuse us of being "biological errors." Do you accept that as a reason for presenting only one side of the "gay gene" debate? Of course not. You know that your interpretation of "gay gene" theory has nothing in common with Dr. Laura's, and so the objections to her views are no reason to silence yours as well. Well, guess what? People who consider ourselves queer by choice have no more in common with Jerry Falwell than people who consider themselves born gay do with Dr. Laura.

Here's an account Frank Aqueno posted to the QueerByChoice mailing list recently of the atmosphere he experienced attending the lecture called "Homosexuality: Choice or Biology?":

I'm 57, soon 58 with tons of experience speaking and performing in public and yet when I attended that local PFLAG meeting last year to hear the speaker on 'biology' I could hardly stand to ask my question at the end which was quite simply "I'm here representing individuals who reasonably and rationally choose to be queer and who do not believe they were born that way. Do you know that we exist?" The speaker, tight-lipped, nodded her head 'yes'. The person in charge of the meeting then cut off any further questions.

I felt like an outsider...even though I had enlisted a friend to attend with me. The pressure to conform, to shut up, to not disturb was immense. After, two women came up to me to say that they too rejected 'biology' and that they 'choose'. How many others were there that did not, could not stand up to that intimidation? Do you really think a teen could? Well, it is one of my goals to see that they can.

Between Frank Aqueno and the two women who spoke to him afterward, there were at least three queer by choice people attending that one single meeting of PFLAG New Orleans. How many others have attended other meetings? How many others would attend other meetings if they were made to feel welcome? And why are these people made to feel like aliens and outsiders at meetings of an organization whose purported purpose is to "support" them?

It's worth noting that the two queer by choice women at the meeting did not speak their opinions on choice and biology to the chapter leaders, but rather to Frank—the one person who they knew agreed with them. Similarly, when Gayle Madwin (owner of has spoken about choice at meetings of a different PFLAG chapter, several people have approached Gayle after meetings to express agreement—yet none of them have spoken their agreement aloud to others. Many PFLAG chapter leaders blithely assume that there are no queer by choice people attending their chapter meetings simply because no one at their chapters has spoken up and complained, but this assumption fails to consider the extreme courage necessary to put oneself forth as the only person speaking on behalf of a point of view to which all the leaders of the chapter are obviously hostile. Most people do not have this level of courage—least of all a scared teenager who may not even know for sure whether there are any others in the world who also consider their queerness a choice. So just as any queer person in a homophobic environment is more likely to come out to their fellow queers than to anyone else, queer by choice people often do not feel free to 'come out' in a choice-phobic environment unless someone else speaks on behalf of their views first.

And what about the parents of queer by choice people? There may also have been any number of such parents in the audience that night. And if there was a parent in the audience whose child chose to be queer, we can certainly speculate about some of the possible effects that the lecture may have had on them. Parents whose child has just recently come out to them often are not ready to trust that their child knows very well what sexual orientation is about. They're often much more willing to listen to what others at PFLAG meetings say than what their own child says. And if those at PFLAG meetings present a unanimous view of homosexuality as a universally and unquestionably genetic or unchosen characteristic, that can definitely make a parent more likely to insist that it's genetic and unchosen, and less willing to listen to or understand their own child's experience of choosing to be queer. Parents who are looking for a way to go into denial about their child's queerness may say things like this: "All of the gay people whose parents were at that meeting said they had no choice about being gay, so if you think you have a choice, doesn't that just prove that you don't know what you're talking about? We're a lot older than you and we know a lot more about what sexual orientation is than you do, and we know that just like everyone at that meeting said, gay people do not choose to be gay. So if you're so sure you had a choice, that just proves that you're not really gay at all."

Even for parents who accept the fact that their child is queer, it's important to see that their child has found a place in the queer community where they "fit in" and are happy and accepted by other queer people. If parents observe that PFLAG members are violently at odds with their child's views, this can be unsettling and make it harder for parents to be confident in their child's future happiness within the queer community. Parents may also try to talk their child into believing s/he was born gay or had no choice, and this is insulting to their child because parents are not in a position to debate what their child experienced. Let's go back to that hypothetical scenario again: imagine that you consider yourself born gay, and your parents try to talk you into believing that you chose it. You're not going to be very happy about that, are you? Of course not—because your belief that you were born gay is a key aspect of the way you see your gayness, and the whole idea of coming out to your parents is to help them understand you as the person you truly believe yourself to be. Similarly, queer by choice people who come out to our parents usually want our parents to understand and love us for who we truly see ourselves to be. And PFLAG members who try to convince our parents that we had no choice would do well to bear the old adage in mind: We would rather be hated for what we are than be loved for what we are not.

In fact, personally (this is Gayle Madwin speaking) I don't understand why the speaker was ever invited to present biological evidence for a genetic cause for sexual orientation at a PFLAG meeting in the first place. I think that providing support for queer people means listening to their personal experiences, not lecturing about the structures of their brains or DNA. I think it's very appropriate for all lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual people to feel free to talk at PFLAG meetings about their own experiences of sexual orientation and gender identity, including but not limited to whether or not they feel they had a choice—but I do not see how you can argue that a lecture about dissecting their brains and DNA has anything at all to do with supporting queer people's rights unless the assumption being promoted is that queer people only have rights if they can prove they had no choice about being queer. And I don't think I should need to go out of my way to point out how completely and totally and horrifically dangerous it is to queer by choice identified people to have PFLAG chapters promoting that assumption.

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