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Experts Discuss Sexual Orientation

Two-Day Event Focuses on Biology

By Peggy S.chen

A number of scientists and experts on the biology of sexual orientation discussed the implications of their research during a two-day conference held as part of Queer Harvard Month this weekend.

The conference, held Saturday and yesterday in the Science Center, attracted about 50 people to the speeches and panels each day, according to Jane I. Aceituno '97, co-organizer of the conference and co-chair of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Students' Association (BGLTSA).

Many of the speakers and panelists discussed the implications of finding a genetic or hormonal basis for homosexuality. They also addressed social issues that might arise in light of new findings in the field.

Speaker William Byne, a neuratomist at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, warned against placing too much importance on the biological basis for homosexuality and asserted that such individuals should be provided with equal rights.

"I think that we are entitled to those rights regardless of the basis of orientation,"Byne said.

Fellow panelist Michael Baum, a professor of biology at Boston University, agreed, saying, "If we have to rely on this kind of band-aid to keep civil rights alive, that is pretty sad."

The panelists also addressed fears that research into the biology of homosexuality might lead to efforts to eliminate homosexuality with medical treatments.

"There are many reproductive possibilities that could be raised by genetic research," said Boston University psychiatrist Richard Pillard. "Homosexuality is just one of them."

Pillard emphasized that the objective of research on sexual orientation is not to "cure" homosexuality.

"You're not trying to cure an illness, you're just trying to understand the human condition," he said.

However, Byne said that researchers need to be aware of the broader implications of their work, especially outside of academia.

"In a homophobic society, there is a potential for misuse," he said. "As people working in this field, we have to address the possibility."

Aceituno said she was somewhat disappointed by the turnout at the conference, which she attributed in part to incidents last Thursday, when organizers found that many posters publicizing the conference had been torn down.

"I think it did contribute. We spent a lot of time and a lot of money," she said. "By tearing down our poster, they were totally negating our efforts."

No more incidents have occurred since then, and the perpetrators have not been found, Aceituno said.

"Of course, you have to realize that this school has an incredible level of apathy," she said. "I was disappointed that there were more students from Tufts and MIT here than from Harvard."

Some attendees said they believe that the conference helped to publicize recent developments in a little-understood subject.

"I'm just interested in how people use what scientists have done in large generalizations," said Katie A. Krowikowski, a second-year graduate student in molecular and cellular biology.

"It's a first step. I think there's much more work to be done in this area," said Robin L. Stears, a Harvard postdoctoral fellow doing research on sexual orientation.

"I think people are afraid to get into the research because of the political implications," Stears added. "With more conferences like this, these political pressures might be abated.

Some attendees said they believe that the conference helped to publicize recent developments in a little-understood subject.

"I'm just interested in how people use what scientists have done in large generalizations," said Katie A. Krowikowski, a second-year graduate student in molecular and cellular biology.

"It's a first step. I think there's much more work to be done in this area," said Robin L. Stears, a Harvard postdoctoral fellow doing research on sexual orientation.

"I think people are afraid to get into the research because of the political implications," Stears added. "With more conferences like this, these political pressures might be abated.

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