American Psychiatry and Homosexuality: An Oral History

American Psychiatry and Homosexuality: An Oral History

American Psychiatry and Homosexuality: An Oral History

American Psychiatry and Homosexuality: An Oral History


Interviews and first-hand accounts of an historic decision that affected the mental health profession--and American society and culture

Through the personal accounts of those who were there, American Psychiatry and Homosexuality: An Oral History examines the 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from its diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM). This unique book includes candid one-on-one interviews with key mental health professionals who played a role in the APA's decision, those who helped organize gay, lesbian, and bisexual psychiatrists after the decision, and others who have made significant contributions in this area within the mental health field.

American Psychiatry and Homosexuality presents an insider's view of how homosexuality was removed from the DSM, the gradual organization of gay and lesbian psychiatrists within the APA, and the eventual formation of the APA-allied Association of Gay & Lesbian Psychiatrists (AGLP). The book profiles 17 individuals, both straight and gay, who made important contributions to organized psychiatry and the mental health needs of lesbian and gay patients, and illustrates the role that gay and lesbian psychiatrists would later play in the mental health field when they no longer had to hide their identities.

Individuals profiled in American Psychiatry and Homosexuality include:
  • Dr. John Fryer, who disguised his identity to speak before the APA's annual meeting in 1972 on the discrimination gay psychiatrists faced in their own profession
  • Dr. Charles Silverstein, who saw the diagnosis of homosexuality as a means of social control
  • Dr. Lawrence Hartmann, who helped reform the APA and later served as its President in 1991-92
  • Dr. Robert J. Campbell, who helped persuade the APA's Nomenclature Committee to hear scientific data presented by gay activists
  • Dr. Judd Marmor, an early psychoanalytic critic of theories that pathologized homosexuality
  • Dr. Robert Spitzer, who chaired the APA's Nomenclature Committee
  • Dr. Frank Rundle, who helped organize the first meeting of what would become the APA Caucus of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Psychiatrists
  • Dr. David Kessler, AGLP President from 1980-82
  • Dr. Nanette Gartrell, a pioneer of feminist issues within the APA
  • Dr. Stuart Nichols, President of the AGLP in 1983-84 and a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists of New York (GLPNY)
  • Dr. Emery Hetrick, a founding member of both AGLP and GLPNY
  • Dr. Bertram Schaffner, who was instrumental in providing group psychotherapy for physicians with AIDS
  • Dr. Martha Kirkpatrick, a long-time leader in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, both as a woman and an "out" lesbian
  • Dr. Richard Isay, the first openly gay psychoanalyst in the American Psychoanalytic Association
  • Dr. Richard Pillard, best known for studying the incidence of homosexuality in families of twins
  • Dr. Edward Hanin, former Speaker of the APA Assembly
  • Dr. Ralph Roughton, the first openly gay Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst to be recognized within the American and International Psychoanalytic Associations
American Psychiatry and Homosexuality presents the personal, behind-the-scenes accounts of a major historical event in psychiatry and medicine and of a decision that has affected society and culture ever since. This is an essential resource for mental health educators, supervisors, and professionals; historians; and LGBT readers in general.


Barbara Gittings

When our American movement for full civil rights and equality for homosexuals got launched fifty-six years ago, we had a huge range of basic problems to tackle. We were denounced as immoral and sinful. We were punished as criminals and lawbreakers. We were labeled “sick” and needing a “cure.” We were mostly invisible as gay, which made it hard for gay men and lesbians to develop good social lives and to create a movement to battle injustice and prejudice.

It’s difficult to explain to anyone who didn’t live through that time how much homosexuality was under the thumb of psychiatry. The sickness label was an albatross around the neck of our early gay rights groups—it infected all our work on other issues. Anything we said on our behalf could be dismissed as “That’s just your sickness talking.” The sickness label was used to justify discrimination, especially in employment, and especially by our own government.

Some brutal methods for curing us in vogue at one time included incarceration in mental hospitals, lobotomies, and aversion therapy. The latter is where they show you pictures of the “wrong” kind of sexual partner and give you an electric shock, and then show you pictures of a person you should like and play nice music to persuade you to change your choice of sexual partner.

There were of course other efforts at curing homosexuality that were less physically brutal, including psychotherapy, but they all thrived on the notion that homosexuality was bad for the individual

This chapter was delivered upon Barbara Gittings’ accepting the American Psychiatric Association’s first John E. Fryer, MD Award. The award is for a public figure who has made significant contributions to LGBT mental health and was given on October 7, 2006, in New York City at APA’s 58th Institute on Psychiatric Services.

American Psychiatry and Homosexuality: An Oral History © 2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1300/6049_c

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