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  • One summer evening,

  • my eighteen-year-old son Jimmy said he wanted to talk.

  • So, after my wife Joan and I got his three much younger siblings tucked in

  • and read their bedtime stories,

  • Joan and I sat down in our bedroom.

  • Jimmy came in and closed the door behind him.

  • And he sat down on a chair across from the bed where we were sitting,

  • and says, "Mom and Dad, I have something important to tell you,

  • and it's not a problem, it's not a bad thing, it's just different."

  • We said, "Okay."

  • And he looked at us in earnest, and he said, "I'm gay."

  • So, after a few seconds of deafening silence,

  • Joan takes a deep breath and says, "Jimmy, we will love whoever you love."

  • That was about 12 years ago when he came out to us,

  • and I'll have to admit that, at the time,

  • Joan and I did think this could be a problem,

  • for his safety, even.

  • And as his father, I had this feeling that, somehow, I had failed him,

  • and maybe, because of that, he wouldn't have a chance to have kids of his own.

  • So, I'm a cardiologist,

  • and I like to imagine the world through the eyes of a hunter-gatherer ancestor

  • for clues about how to thrive in the modern world,

  • but, viewed in the light of evolution,

  • homosexuality seems to be a real self-defeating non-productive strategy.

  • I mean, gays have 80% fewer kids than heterosexuals.

  • This is a trait that ought to go extinct in a few generations,

  • but down through recorded history,

  • in every culture, and many animal species as well,

  • homosexuality's been a small, but distinct subgroup.

  • If this were a genetic error,

  • natural selection should have long ago called this from the gene pool.

  • So, while I was pondering this,

  • this paradox about the natural origins of homosexuality,

  • our babies grew up.

  • Jimmy has three younger siblings who adore him.

  • He has this magnetism and this charming wit

  • that helps them feel happy and relaxed.

  • And one day, while contemplating this "Jimmy effect,"

  • it suddenly dawned on me: homosexuality is not so much about sex;

  • it's really more about survival, the family's survival.

  • So us, Homo sapiens, we are among the most social species on Earth.

  • For us, it's not just a kill-or-be-killed struggle for existence.

  • It's a snuggle for existence, you know.

  • An ability to love our family and bond with our group

  • determines, in many cases, whether we survive or perish.

  • So it's the survival of the fittest family,

  • not the fittest individual.

  • So, you share 50% of your DNA with your siblings.

  • Your nieces and nephews share 25% of your DNA.

  • Frоm evolution's perspective,

  • you have the same genetic success if you raise one child on your own

  • or you enable a sibling to raise two children.

  • Frоm evolution's perspective,

  • this is all about cooperation and altruism.

  • Homosexuality is genetically-programmed altruism.

  • Gays are designed by nature to help us be kind to one another,

  • like Ellen DeGeneres says.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, E. O. Wilson,

  • probably the greatest evolutionary biologist since Darwin himself,

  • says homosexuality gives advantages to the group by specialized talents

  • and unusual qualities of personality.

  • So, a society that condemns homosexuality harms itself.

  • So, what does professor Wilson mean by "unusual qualities of personality"?

  • Well, let me tell you about our dear family friend Jenny.

  • She is 35, single, straight.

  • She was telling us she is looking for a man who's smart and funny,

  • who's sensitive, who's a good listener.

  • And she says she occasionally meets a guy like that,

  • but she complains, "You know, he usually has a boyfriend already!"

  • (Laughter)

  • So, although people tend to obsess over what gays do or don't do in a bedroom,

  • it's really this distinctive personality and a strong intellect

  • that are more critical, from evolution's perspective.

  • So, scientific studies do indeed show

  • that people in the sexual minority tend to be intelligent,

  • particularly when it comes to emotional intelligence.

  • So, this study showed

  • that boys and girls who scored in a very bright IQ range

  • were twice as likely to be homosexual as adults

  • as those children who scored in the low to average range.

  • And, among gay males, on psychological testing,

  • gay males tend to score higher in metrics of compassion and cooperation,

  • and lower in metrics of hostility.

  • So, if Michelangelo had been straight,

  • he might have just wallpapered the Sistine Chapel.

  • (Laughter)

  • Songwriter Sam Austin says,

  • "Homosexuality is God's way of ensuring

  • the truly gifted aren't burdened with children."

  • (Laughter)

  • But today, in the US, about 2 out of every 25 people are in the sexual minority.

  • Diversity is nature's secret weapon.

  • If all males were gay, that would be a problem,

  • but if all males were warriors, we'd always be at war.

  • The recipe for a successful human culture

  • is a synergy of many different ingredients.

  • Homosexuality is like a catalyst

  • to help emotionally connect groups of people together.

  • For heterosexuals, to disapprove of gays

  • is kind of like the white flour in bread disapproving of the yeast.

  • So, if your genome is your hardware, epigenetics is your software.

  • You have many different DNA programs downloaded on your DNA,

  • and epigenetics chooses from among these to determine

  • which version of you actually is the best fit for the environment.

  • So, ants, you probably didn't know it, but are another highly social species

  • that have epigenetic mechanisms very similar to humans.

  • These two are identical twin sisters, huh?

  • Even though their DNA sequences are exactly the same,

  • this one, the worker,

  • is a brainy little scurrier who goes out looking for food,

  • whereas the one on the right, the soldier,

  • is obviously a brawny one to fight off enemies.

  • So, the queen ant epigenetically orchestrates this

  • by placing different epigenetic tags on the developing ants.

  • So -

  • she places tags when the colony is under attack

  • to uncoil the DNA and light up the genes to make the soldier,

  • but when the colony is hungry, she puts different tags to uncoil the DNA

  • and epigenetically create the conditions for the worker.

  • So, in this way, the epigenetics -

  • the dynamic power of epigenetics changes our genetic expression,

  • so that we're born with traits that allow us and our families

  • the best chance to succeed in the current conditions.

  • So, you probably have gay genes in your DNA,

  • but, unless they were turned on in your mother's womb,

  • they remain coiled up and silent.

  • A recent groundbreaking study from UCLA found

  • that, by looking at a group of men, some gay, some straight,

  • and looking at epigenetic tags in nine different sites,

  • they could predict with 70% accuracy their sexual orientation.

  • So, what conditions in the uterus turn on those gay genes?

  • So, for a male,

  • your chances of homosexuality increase in proportion

  • to the number of previous baby boys who inhabited your mother's uterus.

  • So, for every older biological brother you have,

  • your chances of being born gay go up 33%.

  • Long before we invented the pill,

  • nature devised homosexuality as a prescription for birth control.

  • After four straight, heterosexual males, nature says, "Enough already!,"

  • and the mom's immune system switches on the epigenetic switch

  • so a gay male is born into the family.

  • This one will not be overburdening the clan with yet more mouths to feed

  • in the next generation - sometimes more isn't better -

  • and he's not going to be killing his brother

  • in a fight over who gets the girl.

  • Thankfully, the sexual minority these days have many options

  • for having kids of their own,

  • and I have a hunch my gay son may bless us with grandchildren

  • before our three straight children do.

  • So, another gene, this one on the X chromosome,

  • is called a "male-loving gene,"

  • because, when it shows up in a female,

  • she tends to mate early and have a lot of kids,

  • but, when the male-loving gene shows up in a male,

  • it predisposes to homosexuality.

  • So, this is another gene that balances a family

  • destined to have a large brood of kids and grandkids

  • with an occasional gay son whose natural tendency to promote togetherness

  • could improve the chances of survival for the whole family.

  • Now, I apologize.

  • We have a lot more science about sexual orientation in men than in women,

  • so this talk is mostly about gay males.

  • Though, I have no doubt

  • that female homosexuality is also a natural variation

  • that is advantageous for the family and the community.

  • But Jimmy has no older brothers.

  • Why is he gay?

  • So, when Joan was pregnant with him,

  • we discovered a large cancer growing in her chest.

  • Metastasis in the neck.

  • It was a scary time.

  • She had radiation therapy to her chest

  • while Jimmy was still in the third trimester.

  • It was a rocky start for little Jimmy.

  • Miraculously, they both survived and are in great health today.

  • But, in fact,

  • severe prenatal stress does predispose to homosexuality.

  • In this study, 37% of gay males

  • reported their mothers suffered severe prenatal stress

  • compared to only 3% of heterosexual males' moms.

  • This is kind of like the queen ant,

  • where the mom is placing epigenetic markers on the baby

  • to change his identity to help the future welfare of the family.

  • It's as if the mom was saying, "I'm in trouble here.

  • I need a kind and clever ally to help me hold this family together."

  • So, to summarize,

  • if the family is flushed with plenty of kids

  • and/or it's a stressful place and time,

  • nature occasionally flips these epigenetics switches

  • to turn on the gay genes.

  • This alters brain development,

  • that changes sexual orientation and also improves emotional intelligence.

  • I have no doubt that Jimmy was born gay.

  • Here's his first birthday party.

  • (Laughter)

  • When he was three, he said, "Mommy, when I grow up, I want to marry Daddy."

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, some parents send their kid away, you know, well-meaning parents,

  • to a conversion camp to pray away the gay.

  • You might as well send the kid to a camp

  • to convert his eye color from brown to blue.

  • Not happening!

  • But Jimmy is like social glue holding our family together.

  • You know, whether his brother Evan gets beat up in a bar fight,

  • or his sister Caroline gets dumped by a boyfriend,

  • or his sister Kathleen gets busted for plagiarizing Wikipedia -

  • (Laughter)

  • they know Jimmy's made them feel

  • like they belong to something bigger than their problems.

  • So, storytelling is the great survival skill of the Irish,

  • and, right here in Dublin, 162 years ago,

  • one of your finest storytellers was born:

  • Oscar Wilde.

  • Oscar ran away to the University of Oxford

  • where he met a young poet named Bosie Douglas.

  • Their long-standing openly gay relationship

  • infuriated and humiliated Bosie's father, Lord Queensburry -

  • I'm not making this up -

  • (Laughter)

  • who was so mad that he eventually had Oscar arrested for gross indecency,

  • thrown into a dungeon for two years of hard labor.

  • Oscar died three years later, a young man.

  • Oscar wrote, "Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much."

  • (Laughter)

  • But these days, open homophobia is being replaced by more of a subtle heterosexism

  • where people in the sexual minority

  • are often considered second-class citizens.

  • Boy George says, "There's this illusion

  • that homosexuals have sex and heterosexuals fall in love.

  • That's completely untrue. We all want to be loved."

  • I agree: among all the things in life it'd be hardest to live without,

  • love would come first.

  • But indoor plumbing and toilet paper would be pretty high up there too, right?

  • (Laughter)

  • I want to tell you about one more study,

  • this one a heartbreaking, nationwide study, from the US,

  • that looked at US teens, and they found that those in the sexual minority

  • were twice as likely to be bullied,

  • five times more likely to have attempted suicide.

  • Twenty-nine percent of gay teens had tried to kill themselves.

  • These days, around the world, in many countries,

  • it's illegal to have same-sex physical intimacy.

  • In many countries, it's punishable by death.

  • In the red countries, it's punishable by imprisonment.

  • In India, the law states 14 years to life,