The Queer Issue
Did you know that all homosexuals born before 1973 were considered nuts? Back in the day, insanity was more than just a convenient label affixed to ex-boyfriends or those who reject us at bars. The psychological establishment considered all gay people mentally ill and used "therapeutic" methods that would today be considered torture to "fix" homosexuals.
On December 15, 1973, the board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted to remove homosexuality from its widely used mental-health handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Today, gay people are only considered certifiably crazy if they vote Republican. Well, okay, maybe not—but I urge the APA to take up this issue before the next presidential election.
The road to sanity wasn't easy and required an organized campaign by radicalized gay activists to make the APA take a fresh look at this taboo issue. At the time, the diagnosis was not supported by science, but by prejudice against gay people simply because they were different. Indeed, the DSM said that gay people were "ill primarily in terms of society and of conformity with the prevailing social milieu."
A cursory look at the "scientific" theories for homosexuality at the time is downright laughable today. One doctor, I. Berent, theorized that homosexuals could be made straight by watching childbirth in hospitals. Analyst H. Lewinsky said people became gay because of a severe childhood prohibition against masturbation. (I think we've disproved that one.)
The existing "studies" were also poorly constructed and relied heavily on psychiatric patients. For example, Dr. Irving Bieber conducted a celebrated study of 106 gay patients in 1962. But of his subjects, 28 had schizophrenia, 31 were neurotics, and 42 were diagnosed with character disorders. There were almost no healthy, well-adjusted gay people in his study.
With prejudice guiding the mental-health profession, gay people were turned into guinea pigs and subjected to cruel experiments. This included electroshock therapy, lobotomies, and aversion therapy, wherein gay people were injected with nausea-inducing medication while they looked at erotic pictures of their same gender.
Enraged by rampant abuse at the hands of sadistic shrinks, gay advocates stormed the American Psychiatric Association's convention in 1970, yelling, "You are the pigs that make it possible for the cops to beat homosexuals," according to the gay-history book Out for Good.
This began a three-year sustained campaign to force the APA to consider real scientific evidence when determining the mental health of homosexuals. During this period, psychiatrists were introduced to gay people who actually had normal lives.
For the first time, they also heard from their gay colleagues—albeit from the closet. At the APA's 1972 annual convention in Dallas, a panel discussion featured "Dr. H. Anonymous," who wore a gigantic wig and a rubber mask while he told the crowd, "I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist."
The activism led to the review of studies by Drs. Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker, who showed that in a blind test, gay people were indistinguishable psychologically from heterosexuals. By 1973, the shrinks began to rethink the issue, which led to the historic new DSM policy. By a 3–2 voting margin, the APA's general membership of 18,000 ratified this decision.
Of course, making gay people instantly sane drove the anti-gay doctors crazy. Licking their wounds, the vanquished psychiatrists slunk off, only to later reemerge as today's "ex-gay therapists"—repackaging the same embarrassingly shoddy evidence that they propagated in the distant past. Fortunately, Americans increasingly realize that it's the homophobes who need therapy, not the homosexuals they condemn.
Wayne Besen is the Executive Director of Truth Wins Out (www.TruthWinsOut.org) and the author of Anything but Straight and Bashing Back.