Being Gay is worse than Smoking

Dr. Brad Harrub

Hi guys! Christina here.

Ever since I attended a 3-day seminar by Brad Harrab and wrote about a gazillion posts in response, he and I have shared a friendship of sorts, occasionally bumping into each other on Facebook (Edit 1/1/12 Aww, he defriended me!) and in real life. The other day, he posted a most *ahem* intriguing post to his wall, comparing being gay to smoking:

 How would you feel if you opened your child’s textbook and found curriculum that openly promoted smoking cigarettes? What if they started teaching your child that smoking was okay in the 1st grade (or Kindergarten?!!) Given the horrible sicknesses that often result from smoking, most parents would be outraged. After all, who wants a public school curriculum that promotes a behavior (e.g., smoking) that shortens the life of individuals?!! Moms and dads, would you sit quietly by if you knew your children were being told that this dangerous behavior was okay?

I think I smell a false analogy, and it stinks as bad as an ashtray someone left in the rain.

And yet, mom’s and dad’s consider this: a behavior far more dangerous to their physical health is being promoted. Yes, homosexuality, a behavior that is much more dangerous, is promoted in your children’s curriculum. (Oh yeah, if they attend a public school in 2011 it’s in there.) Let’s set aside the “religious” aspect for a moment and just consider the REAL danger of this behavior:

Homosexuality is not a behavior. It’s a sexual orientation. Also, citation needed.  Where does Harrub see the promotion of homosexuality in public school curriculums?  Maybe he means something like this video called Being Gay in the 21st Century, produced for schools, which covered the history of the gay rights movement and implored students not to throw rocks at gay people. Scandalous.

1. It is known to reduce life expectancy of young people age 20 between 8-20 years!!

Citation needed. I’m not entirely sure I can make sense of this poorly-worded claim. If one makes claims as astounding as this, one needs references (preferably prolific ones) to back up one’s assertions.  Since Harrub didn’t provide any, I had to do the research myself.

Perhaps he got his information from here? Google tells me most of the research claiming homosexuals have an 8-20 year lower lifespan than straight people comes from research performed by Dr.’s Paul and Kirk Cameron of the Family Research Institute, whose mission is to “generate empirical research on issues that threaten the traditional family, particularly homosexuality, AIDS, sexual social policy, and drug abuse”.  I find it strange that a “pro-family” research group is the only one coming up with these numbers. But hey, if I dismissed their research merely due to their agenda, I’d be guilty of an ad hominem.

Their research is wrong. See? Research citing this huge discrepancy in life expectancy is either outdated (as in, conducted during the height of the AIDS epidemic) or have poor methodology. It also ignores important information like the fact that half of homosexual/bi male African-American men contracted HIV through non-homosexual activity, like sharing needles. More up-to-date research with clearer methodology and larger sample sizes such as Frisch et al (2009) conclude the opposite.

Photo by Baad Lamb, Audubon Terrace, Washington Heights

You know what though, for the sake of argument, let us pretend that he had correct numbers (I said pretend. He’s still wrong) Instead of blaming homosexuality itself, a more wise and ethical person might ask why the mortality rate is different between homosexuals and non-homosexuals. Might STD’s or violence toward homosexuals play a part? Maybe gays have poorer access to healthcare? If so, we should take steps to reduce transmission of STD’s, increase access to healthcare (like by granting equal marriage to gays) and reduce violence.  Black people have a much greater incidence of HIV, but I don’t think Harrub would suggest that there is a danger to interracial dating (don’t worry, someone has made such a suggestion). Fortunately, the secular and science community works hard toward those goals. Our roadblocks are religious.

2. It increases an individual’s risk of contracting HIV by 500%!

Citation needed. Fine, I’ll look it up myself. According to the CDC, The rate of HIV diagnosis among men who have sex with men is 44 times that of men who don’t have sex with men (which is more than 500%). For some real numbers: the rates of HIV diagnosis among homosexual men are 522-989 per 100,000 vs 12 per 100,000 heterosexual men. Note that these numbers apply to homosexual men and not homosexual women. The CDC has never confirmed a case of HIV transmission from one woman to another. Maybe Harrub should promote the lesbian lifestyle as a safer alternative to women having sex with men.

I don’t know where Harrub got this 500% number from exactly. The only “500 percent” statistic related to HIV is that of the 500% increase in HIV diagnoses since 1990.  Really though, these statistics point to a need for more sex education. Homosexuality is not the problem so much as unsafe sexual behaviors are the problem. Playing on a playground puts children at risk of injury or death too, so people make playground equipment safer as a solution rather than keeping their children off monkey bars. If you want to reduce HIV, then how about advocating for comprehensive sex-ed, since it appears our children lack basic knowledge about HIV? We should especially promote comprehensive sex-ed that covers homosexual sex, so that boys and girls will know what to do with both boy and girl parts. LGBT people often can’t turn to peers, parents or adults for information related to sex, so it follows that they’d more likely engage in risky behaviors due to lack of education. Homosexuality is not the problem – lack of education is the problem. LGBT people lack support systems, in part because public schools don’t educate enough. the solution then is less stigma so that kids feel comfortable asking peers or parents for advice, and more education.

3. It increases an individual’s risk of contracting an STD by 860%!

Citation needed. Maybe you got that from here? I really can’t find a primary source for this number, but here are some numbers on STDs from the CDC. Also, do you mean a yearly increased risk of 860% or a lifetime risk? Those kinds of clarifications matter. Homosexuality itself does not increase the risk – unsafe sex increases the risk. We can reduce unsafe sex via education and normalization.

4. It increases a boys risk of contracting anal cancer by 4000%!

Citation… yeah, you get the point. Maybe you got this number from the Catholic Education Resource Center, who cited Daling et al (1982) as a primary source. I can only speculate, however. Citing journal articles published a month before my birth with a sample size of 47 might be a little on the irrelevant and outdated side.

The CDC says men who have sex with men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than men who don’t have sex with men. Okay fine, you almost win on this one. One of the easiest ways to transmit anal cancer is via anal sex, because HPV, which transmits easily via the mucus membranes on the rectum, causes 90% of anal cancers.

You know what can prevent anal cancer? The HPV vaccine! Vaccines are awesome! So go get it if you’re under 26. Have your kids get it, both boys and girls.

Homosexuality does not increase a boy’s risk of contracting anal cancer. Anal sex increases a boy’s risk of anal cancer. Many gay men don’t engage in anal sex. According to lots of citations on wikipedia something like 75% of homosexual men have engaged in anal sex. 30-40% of heterosexuals have engaged in anal sex too, so anal sex is not chiefly a behavior engaged in by homosexuals.

Education, condoms, comprehensive preventative healthcare and vaccination could fix the problem of anal cancer. I doubt Harrub would want that though, since so many religious people go out of their way to make homosexual sex (um, and heterosexual sex) as unsafe as possible. You know, because any attempt to make sex safer “promotes” sex, and we can’t have that. They’d rather see people die of preventable diseases than afford them even the tiniest scent of increased sexual safety and, by extension, sexual freedom.

5. It significantly increases their exposure to violent crime.

I can’t believe you put this in here, Dr. Harrub. Being a woman increases your exposure to rape, but if a rapist told a woman she should never venture outside of her home because she might get raped, totally overlooking the fact that he is part of the problem, we’d rightfully call him on it.

Being the target of bullying increases your exposure to bullying, but should we really implore the bullied people of the world to change fundamental aspects of their personality in order to reduce their chances of victimization? By writing that being homosexual increases exposure to violent crime, you’re a bully, pontificating on the fact that your target wouldn’t be such a target if he acted less passionate in science or less socially awkward. You blame the victim under the cloak of care, but are in fact the victimizer. Atheists experience victimization too, and so do Christians, but I doubt you’d consider telling someone to convert to a different religion to avoid victimization.

So instead of lambasting gays for being gay, why not lambaste the people committing these violent crimes, AKA members of your fucking religion. This very post you wrote contributes to hatred and bigotry experienced by homosexuals. You may as well encourage black people to act less black because acting black leads to increased exposure to violent crime. Or, you could encourage people with disabilities to stay inside their homes, because someone might victimize them should they step outside.



6. It significantly increases the likelihood of abusing drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

Citation needed. Maybe if people like Harrub didn’t compare homosexuality to cigarette smoking, people would not need to internalize homophobic social attitudes, leading them to poor self-esteem, which leads to substance abuse.  Substance abuse is not a consequence of one’s sexual orientation. It is, however, a consequence of marginalization and oppression.  Here, have a handbook on substance abuse treatment for LGBT people, it’s far more helpful than condemnation.

7. It significantly increases their risk of being victims of domestic violence.

Citation needed. According to Seelau, et al (2003) , the rates of domestic abuse don’t differ significantly. You know what else increases the risk of being victims of domestic abuse? Being really religious.

Wake up America! Cigarettes aren’t that dangerous to the human population, and yet we would be appalled if it were taught to our children.

Cigarettes aren’t that dangerous to the human population?!? Dr. Harrub, are you being intentionally obtuse?

The CDC respectfully disagrees.

*The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States.

*More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.

*Smoking causes an estimated 90% of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80% of all lung cancer deaths in women.

*An estimated 90% of all deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease are caused by smoking.

Cigarettes directly cause harm. Homosexuality does not. Educate people of all sexual orientations and give them the support system enjoyed by heterosexual people, and I bet some of these risky behaviors will diminish.

At some point we are going to have to realize that the concepts of tolerance and diversity when it comes to human sexuality are harmful. (And don’t even get me started on it being an abomination to God!) On sheer health reasons alone parents should demand this material be eradicated from every textbook in our nation!!

The problem with equating smoking to homosexuality: smoking actually does direct harm to people in a way that homosexuality does not. Homosexuals experience harm not because of their actions or behavior, but because of the actions/inaction and behavior of people in society. People like you who equate being gay with a demonstrably unhealthy behavior play a game of circular reasoning that hurts people in addition to being poor logic.

Also, what “Material”? I’d love to comment on this material. Alas, it’s just too vague.

Harrub’s statistics, when correct, work just as well as arguments for including educational materials in classrooms teaching that homosexuality is natural, normal, and acceptable, along with comprehensive sex education to teach people of all orientations how to live healthy lives. Tolerance and diversity will go a long way at helping alleviate some of the harm experienced by gays.  Dr. Harrub, you’re doing it wrong.

TL:DR:  Comparing homosexuality to smoking is a false analogy. Homosexuality is not inherently dangerous, though homosexual people do engage in risky behaviors that could easily be mitigated by acceptance and education.

Frisch M, Brønnum-Hansen H. Mortality among men and women in same-sex marriage: a national cohort study of 8333 Danes. Am J Public Health. 2009 Jan;99(1):133-7. Epub 2008 Nov 13. Abstract here.

Seelau, SM, Poorman, PB. Gender and role-based perceptions of domestic abuse: Does sexual orientation matter? Behavioral sciences & the law, 2003, Vol.21(2), p.199-214 Abstract here.

Daling JR, Weiss NS, Klopfenstein LL, Cochran LE, Chow WH, Daifuku R. Correlates of homosexual behavior and the incidence of anal cancer. JAMA. 1982 Apr 9;247(14):1988-90. Abstract here.

P.S. Yes, I actually read all of these references.


Reach Christina at Zizturiswrong {at} gmail [dotcom] or on Twitter @Ziztur


About christinastephens
  • jamessweet

    I’ve encountered this argument before and, as a thought experiment, decided to follow it through to its conclusion assuming the false analogy wasn’t so false. What if male-male sex was as dangerous as smoking? What then?

    At best, I could see it justifying public service announcements asking people not to do it. But we do let smokers get married. We let smokers serve openly in the military. We don’t deny smokers visitation rights in hospitals.

    Even if male-male sex was as dangerous as smoking, it wouldn’t justify the religious right’s policies towards LGBTQ. That’s setting aside the issue that it’s not even a choice — even if it were totally a choice and as dangerous as smoking, it still wouldn’t justify laws like DADT, DOMA, etc.

    And anyway, if we’re going to make the argument based on risk of transmitting STDs, shouldn’t the government give special incentives to same-sex lesbian couples? Just sayin’…

    • Christina

      This is brilliant – I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t think of this myself!

    • tynk

      Reading your reply gave me a good giggle,

      If we were to treat homosexuality like smoking, does that mean I can go out front of any bar or restaurant and have sex? My inner exhibitionist is intrigued!

      And very well written article Christine, it still irked me to no end when I was told I could not give blood as a lesbian… their logic was absurd and bolstered under the guise of fairness (no homosexuals at all). That was quite a few years ago though and have been able to give blood since.

      • Kate from Iowa

        It does worry me a little though…sould I be concerned about all that secondhand gay sex I might be exposed to every time I go out to a restaurant or a party? I need to know this stuff!

  • Michaelyn

    Dr. Stephens: kicking ass and taking names.

    I love this, way to go.

  • infinity

    Fantastic article….thanks for doing all the research for me when I need to refute this :-)

    Quick typo nitpick, you say “something like 755% of homosexual men have engaged in anal sex” when you likely mean 75%.

    • Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

      Kekeke, I saw that too.

      • Christina

        Bah! Fixed. Thanks!

    • Zinc Avenger

      I just assumed they were “engaging” particularly enthusiastically.

  • John Eberhard

    Well done.

  • Gayle Jordan

    Wow! Fangirling ALL OVER Christina! This guy needed 18 new assholes, and you did a delightful job helping him with that!

    55 hours well spent indeed.

    • Christina

      LMAO! *blush!*

  • kaorunegisa

    Thank you so much for posting this. While the skeptic community tends to be great allies in general, I rarely see people directly confront the misinformation being put out there by the anti-equality crowd among skeptical circles. Being a bi-sexual male, I tend to spend as much time in the gay blogosphere (which I’d kinda like to call the “fabulousphere”) as the atheiosphere, so I’m used to seeing these types of arguments and roll my eyes when I see them in the same way that skeptics roll their eyes at the argument from design. It’s refreshing to see somebody approaching these types of lies from a different perspective and without the sense of having run over all of these before.

    Really looking forward to more of your guest posts, no offense to JT.

  • ohioobserver

    BRAVO! Another wonderful refutation of a ridiculous argument. AND more evidence that all such arguments justifying restrictions on gay equality based on “practical” grounds are bogus, and that such restrictions are motivated solely by religion. Excellent post.

  • kaorunegisa

    Also, I followed the link to Dr. Harrab’s website and have to call him out for being misleading there as well.

    Times have changed. There used to be a time in which the majority of Americans believed in God and even professed some form of Christianity. Sadly today, Christianity has fallen under attack as more and more people compromise their faith or completely turn their back on God.

    Wait…so the majority of Americans don’t believe in God and don’t profess some form of Christianity today? Did I miss the memo on this? Why isn’t there some sort of global communication system to let me know that mystatistics are out of date!

    I do agree with this statement: “Christians need to know why they believe what they believe…and they need the evidence for their beliefs.” (ellipsis his, not mine) Of course, there is no evidence for their belief and can never be, but they should need that evidence in order to be taken seriously.

  • The Lorax

    Nicely done, this reads like something PZ would spit out, if his body was cooled down to near absolute zero. Seriously, drivel like what comes from this Harrab deserves no less than PZ Certified Comic Sans Font.

    And thank you for providing the much needed citations. A verbal smack-down is nice, but an intellectual one is sweeter still.

    “Cigarettes aren’t that dangerous to the human population.” This phrase should be printed a hundred times on a hundred thousand pieces of paper, each one folded neatly and packed into an envelope, then sent en masse to Mr. Harrab’s front door. It’s not just wrong, it’s not just an understatement… it is downright insane. It is comparable to being willfully ignorant of the existence of dirt. I can say no more.

  • Ben

    While I agree with your article, I would like to point out that the HPV vaccine has been attributed to several deaths and serious side effects. In your situation, I would have mentioned the vaccine, but also strongly encouraged people to research it before using it, especially in young children, where the highest number of serious side effects have been recorded. To support the distribution of the HPV vaccine in the manner you have seems irresponsible in the least.

  • Christina

    I don’t think that your citation says what you think it says:

    “VAERS data cannot be used to prove a causal association between the vaccine and the adverse event. The only association between the adverse event and vaccination is temporal, meaning that the adverse event occurred sometime after vaccination. Therefore, the adverse event may be coincidental or it may have been caused by vaccination, however we cannot make any conclusions that the events reported to VAERS were caused by the vaccine.”

    “There has been no indication that Gardasil® increases the rate of GBS above the rate expected in the general population, whether or not they were vaccinated.”

    “There have been some reports of blood clots in females after receiving Gardasil®. These clots have occurred in the heart, lungs, and legs. Most of these people had a risk of getting blood clots, such as taking oral contraceptives (the birth control pill), smoking, obesity, and other risk factors.”

    “In the 34 reports confirmed, there was no unusual pattern or clustering to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine and some reports indicated a cause of death unrelated to vaccination.”

    Here’s the thing. When thousands upon thousands of people are getting a vaccine, some of those people will have negative health events occur in their lives around the same time they get the vaccine, completely coincidentally.

    If there is a statistical increase in adverse events, we’d worry. But some adverse events will happen just because the population is so huge and people get sick. So far the CDC is reporting no clustering or increase of adverse events related to the HPV vaccine.

  • Mark

    “Homosexuality is not a behavior. It’s a sexual orientation. Also, citation needed.”
    . . . citation needed.

  • slignot

    Thank you again for this.

    I think you missed a chance for criticism here. When addressing the following claim:

    It increases a boys risk of contracting anal cancer by 4000%!

    You address the risk factors (mainly HPV) and what can be done to mitigate and prevent cancers through education, safer sex and vaccination.

    But do you notice that suddenly the population being discussed isn’t adult gay men, but boys specifically? There is no way this is accidental. This is just another tired trope (although subtler than usual, I admit) of attempting to link gay men to child sexual abuse. And I don’t think we can ever let that pass. Gay men are not pedophiles, period.

  • Christina

    I did notice that. I considered commenting on it, but felt it was more likely to be poor writing, and I don’t think hounding someone for poor writing is worth it – too cheap a shot for me.

  • adam.b

    Great break down however I think you may have misread this part (or maybe I’m just misreading you, idk)

    “Wake up America! Cigarettes aren’t that dangerous to the human population, and yet we would be appalled if it were taught to our children.”

    “Cigarettes aren’t that dangerous to the human population?!? Dr. Harrub, are you being intentionally obtuse?”

    i don’t think he’s saying that smoking isn’t dangerous he’s continuing to use smoking as a analogy. He believes that homosexually is unhealthy as is smoking, basically he’s saying ‘hey if this was about smoking you wouldn’t be ‘promoting it’ (i.e. not actively demonizing them).

    other then that great post

    • Christina

      I read it as, “Cigarettes aren’t that dangerous to the human population, yet we’d be appalled if it were taught to our children [because there are still risks involved and cigarettes are still unhealthy, though I admit cigarettes won't destroy the whole population of humans]“

  • Leila

    I sincerely hope you posted this link on his Facebook, or gave him a verbal smackdown when he posted that bullshit. He needs to be told he’s wrong.

    Very nicely written, Christina!

  • Alan

    I think this guy needs to give his brain back; it is not being used for any useful purpose

  • Saint Gasoline

    And did you know that schools teach children HOW TO DRIVE? An activity that SIGNIFICANTLY shortens a person’s lifespan?!

    The analogy is terrible and wrong on so many levels. Most of the dangers he attributes to homosexuality are better attributed to unsafe sex practices among homosexual males, but of course schools don’t tell children to have unprotected anal sex with multiple partners. Not even those crazy hippie art schools that don’t give out any grades say that!

  • gay boy

    this post is thebest and i hope you will never post something again! thanks!