A Big Step for Mental Health: Thirty Years after Homosexuality Was Declassified as a Mental Disorder, a Gay Man Takes the Helm of a Major Health Association

The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), December 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

A Big Step for Mental Health: Thirty Years after Homosexuality Was Declassified as a Mental Disorder, a Gay Man Takes the Helm of a Major Health Association


The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. Almost 30 years later, the American Counseling Association, a professional group with 52,000 members nationwide, elected Mark Pope as its president--the first openly gay head of a major mental health association.

The revealing nature of that coincidence is not lost on Pope, an associate professor of counseling and family therapy at the University of Missouri's St. Louis campus. "I represent a final and total repudiation of that past," he says.

The 51-year-old Pope, whose long career includes the creation of counseling program in Chicago and San Francisco, describes himself as a "poor gay Cherokee boy from a rural area of southeast Missouri. "He spoke to The Advocate's Chris Bull during a recent stop in Washington, D.C., as he tours the country working to make his profession better for everyone.

Did sexual orientation become an issue in your election?

I've been openly gay since I stepped in the door of counseling. I knew that who I am would not be an obstacle to my advancement. A solid 53% majority elected me. But it's true that there are some members who undoubtedly voted against me on [antigay] grounds. That's just the reality. My tack is to focus on the issues that affect everyone in this profession. I can't be a one-note leader.

How will you win over holdouts?

Everything is pointing in the right direction. When the mental health profession labeled gays and lesbians as sick, it was based on religious and political prejudices, not on data. There were no legitimate studies that made the case for homosexuality as a mental illness, and that's even clearer today. A couple of years ago I was at a conference at the University of Indiana on sexual minority youth in the heartland. …

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