Beginning in the 2010s, various media personalities promoted conspiracy theories claiming that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemical pollutants in the water supply are responsible for an alleged increase in the gay or transgender population. These claims are not supported by scientific evidence and appear to be a conflation with active research claims that endocrine disruptors induce a feminizing effect on certain non-human animals.[1][2]

African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis)

Research in the 2000s suggested that the herbicide atrazine, an endocrine disruptor, may have a feminizing effect on male frogs causing them to become hermaphrodites.[3][4] Other research failed to reproduce these results in frogs,[5][6][7] though reports of reproductive impact has been reported for other animals, and a meta-analysis conducted in 2010[8] on selected amphibians and freshwater fish showed sublethal reproductive effects at ecologically relevant concentrations. Reviewing 19 studies in total, the United States Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2013 that atrazine has no consistent effects on development in amphibians;[5] this review has subsequently been criticized on grounds of a substantial conflict of interest between Syngenta, which manufactures atrazine, and the EPA.[9][10][11][12]

In 2015, American conspiracy theorist and radio personality Alex Jones claimed that atrazine had caused a majority of frogs in the US to become homosexual, and that the US government was waging a "chemical warfare operation" to increase rates of homosexuality and decrease birth rates.[13][14] This claim, which is far beyond what was originally reported in the scientific literature, subsequently became an internet meme.[15][16]

This idea was later revived by American politician and anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who claimed that gender dysphoria in children might be linked to atrazine contamination of water.[1] Kennedy's theory was criticized in various popular media outlets,[2][17][18] and the evidence of endocrine disorders and gender dysphoria remains unclear.

Scientific consensus, as summarized in a 2016 review in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, is that there is "no persuasive evidence that the rate of same-sex attraction has varied much across time or place".[19] In contrast to claims about chemicals in the water, the effects of hormones on sexual orientation appear to occur at the prenatal stage, during organization of the brain.[19] Endocrine disruptor exposure during fetal development has been shown to affect sexual differentiation of the brain in animals,[20] however any effect on human sexual orientation or gender identity requires further research.[20][21]

See also


  1. ^ a b Turner, Abby; Kaczynski, Andrew (2023-07-13). "Robert F. Kennedy Jr. repeatedly suggested that chemicals in water are impacting sexuality of children". CNN Politics. Retrieved 2023-07-20.
  2. ^ a b Contreras, Russell; Holzman, Jael (Jul 5, 2023). "Fringe gender-chemical theory goes mainstream". Axios.
  3. ^ Hayes, Tyrone; Haston, Kelly; Tsui, Mable; Hoang, Anhthu; Haeffele, Cathryn; Vonk, Aaron (2002). "Feminization of male frogs in the wild". Nature. 419 (6910): 895–896. doi:10.1038/419895a. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 12410298. S2CID 4364535.
  4. ^ Hayes, Tyrone B.; Khoury, Vicky; Narayan, Anne; Nazir, Mariam; Park, Andrew; Brown, Travis; Adame, Lillian; Chan, Elton; Buchholz, Daniel; Stueve, Theresa; Gallipeau, Sherrie (2010-03-09). "Atrazine induces complete feminization and chemical castration in male African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis)". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (10): 4612–4617. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.4612H. doi:10.1073/pnas.0909519107. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 2842049. PMID 20194757.
  5. ^ a b "Atrazine Updates | Pesticides | US EPA". 2015-09-30. Archived from the original on 2015-09-30. Retrieved 2023-07-20.
  6. ^ Renner, Rebecca (2008). "Atrazine Effects in Xenopus Aren't Reproducible". Environmental Science & Technology. 42 (10): 3491–3493. Bibcode:2008EnST...42.3491R. doi:10.1021/es087113j. ISSN 0013-936X. PMID 18546678.
  7. ^ Jooste, Alarik M.; Du Preez, Louis H.; Carr, James A.; Giesy, John P.; Gross, Timothy S.; Kendall, Ronald J.; Smith, Ernest E.; Van Der Kraak, Glen L.; Solomon, Keith R. (2005-07-01). "Gonadal Development of Larval Male Xenopus laevis Exposed to Atrazine in Outdoor Microcosms". Environmental Science & Technology. 39 (14): 5255–5261. Bibcode:2005EnST...39.5255J. doi:10.1021/es048134q. ISSN 0013-936X. PMID 16082954.
  8. ^ Rohr, Jason R.; McCoy, Krista A. (January 2010). "A Qualitative Meta-Analysis Reveals Consistent Effects of Atrazine on Freshwater Fish and Amphibians". Environmental Health Perspectives. 118 (1): 20–32. doi:10.1289/ehp.0901164. ISSN 0091-6765. PMC 2831963. PMID 20056568.
  9. ^ Suter, Glenn W.; Cormier, Susan M. (2015-10-03). "The Problem of Biased Data and Potential Solutions for Health and Environmental Assessments". Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal. 21 (7): 1736–1752. doi:10.1080/10807039.2014.974499. ISSN 1080-7039.
  10. ^ "A Valuable Reputation: Tyrone Hayes said that a chemical was harmful, its maker pursued him" Archived 2014-07-02 at the Wayback Machine by Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker, 10 February 2014
  11. ^ Duhigg, Charles (August 22, 2009). "Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-11-07. Retrieved 2015-05-02.
  12. ^ Tillitt DE, Papoulias DM, Whyte JJ, Richter CA (2010). "Atrazine reduces reproduction in fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas)". Aquat. Toxicol. 99 (2): 149–59. doi:10.1016/j.aquatox.2010.04.011. PMID 20471700. Archived from the original on 2022-03-15. Retrieved 2020-09-01.
  13. ^ Kacala, Alexander (August 7, 2018). "Infowars' Alex Jones has a long history of inflammatory, anti-LGBTQ speech". NBC News. Retrieved June 22, 2023.
  14. ^ Higgins, Tucker (2018-09-14). "Alex Jones' 5 most disturbing and ridiculous conspiracy theories". CNBC. Retrieved 2023-07-20.
  15. ^ Perret, Meg (2020-06-09). ""Chemical Castration": White Genocide and Male Extinction in Rhetoric of Endocrine Disruption". NiCHE. Retrieved 2023-07-20.
  16. ^ Boast, Hannah (2022-11-01). "Theorizing the Gay Frog". Environmental Humanities. 14 (3): 661–679. doi:10.1215/22011919-9962959. hdl:20.500.11820/62b12a6c-719b-479f-9e84-be7054aef5fc. ISSN 2201-1919. S2CID 253797376.
  17. ^ Brownworth, Victoria A. (June 21, 2023). "Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: The Shaming of a Legacy". Philadelphia Gay News. Retrieved June 22, 2023.
  18. ^ Segalov, Michael (2017-06-08). "A Quick Refresher: The Truth About Water Making You Gay". Vice. Retrieved 2023-07-20.
  19. ^ a b Bailey, J. Michael; Vasey, Paul L.; Diamond, Lisa M.; Breedlove, S. Marc; Vilain, Eric; Epprecht, Marc (2016). "Sexual Orientation, Controversy, and Science". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 17 (2): 45–101. doi:10.1177/1529100616637616. PMID 27113562. S2CID 42281410.
  20. ^ a b Cocchetti, Carlotta; Rachoń, Dominik; Fisher, Alessandra D. (2020), Pivonello, Rosario; Diamanti-Kandarakis, Evanthia (eds.), "Environmental Impact on Sexual Response" (PDF), Environmental Endocrinology and Endocrine Disruptors: Endocrine and Endocrine-targeted Actions and Related Human Diseases, Endocrinology, pp. 312–328, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-38366-4_11-1, ISBN 978-3-030-38366-4, retrieved 2023-08-18, In particular, the hypothalamus and other sexually dimorphic brain areas are highly sensitive to endogenous sex hormones, and this may determine their vulnerability to EDCs' exposure during critical periods. This evidence could lead to hypothesize a possible etiological link between prenatal exposure to EDCs and the development of sexual orientation and core gender identity. Indeed, Bejerot et al. (2011) suggested a hypothetical link between EDCs and gender dysphoria, speculating about a possible role of phthalates (Bejerot et al. 2011). Phthalates are contained in many plastics, and their environmental concentrations have significantly increased in the last few years. Fetal exposure may lead to an increased androgen exposure, increasing the risk of developing gender dysphoria. However, this specific association has never been evaluated before and most of our knowledge is based on data from rodent studies. For this reason, more systematic investigations are required to establish EDCs' interference with sexual differentiation of the brain in determining sexual orientation and gender identity.
  21. ^ Savic, Ivanka; Garcia-Falgueras, Alicia; Swaab, Dick F. (2010), Savic, Ivanka (ed.), "Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation" (PDF), Progress in Brain Research, Sex Differences in the Human Brain, their Underpinnings and Implications, Elsevier, 186: 41–62, doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-53630-3.00004-X, ISBN 9780444536303, PMID 21094885, retrieved 2023-08-13, Recent data show that environmental compounds during early development may interfere with sexual differentiation of the human brain. Plastic softeners, that is, phthalate esters, are pervasive environmental chemicals with anti androgenic effects. Exposure to these compounds is accompanied by reduced masculine play in boys (Swan et al. 2010). Higher prenatal polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) levels were related with less masculine play in boys, while higher prenatal dioxin levels were associated with more feminized play in boys as well as in girls (Vreugdenhil et al. 2002). The effect of such environmental endocrine disruptors on sexual differentiation of brain systems should be further studied in future.