Peter LaBarbera should spend more time trying to restore the tax-exempt status of his group than advancing crackpot theories.

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed a diagnosis of “homosexuality” from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual II. The religious right has promoted the mythology that the APA only did so out of political correctness. Wednesday, according to Hate Group Leader Peter LaBarbera (Americans for Truth About Homosexuality:

Gay activism pressured and prodded to the point that eventually the American Psychological Association (APA) normalized homosexuality.

That is untrue. To be fair, the gay community most certainly prodded the APA to re-evaluate its position but the road to declassification from a disorder was long and arduous and not all of the gay community was on board. Some were still insistent on finding a cure for something that they could not accept. A re-evaluation meant an examination of evidence; not an examination of social issues.

A faction of the gay community was concerned that the diagnosis of homosexuality stigmatized gay people. Members disrupted APA meetings in 1970 and 1971. At the risk of repeating myself, the APA might have been motivated by the stigma argument to explore the issue but whether or not homosexuality would be considered a psychiatric disorder was a scientific matter.

One of the prevailing theories at the time was that homosexuality was caused by immaturity. Sigmund Freud posited that people were born bisexual and that homosexuality was a normal phase of heterosexual development that children grew out of.

Much of the thought about homosexuality in the mid 20th century (after Freud’s death) was due to the theories of Dr. Sandor Rado. It became generally accepted that homosexuality was a disease and that it could be cured. According to the first edition of the DSM, homosexuality was a “sociopathic personality disturbance.”

At this time it was believed that homosexuality was extremely rare. This was doubtlessly due to the fact that the only gay people apparent to the psychiatric community were those seeking treatment for their sexual orientation. Most were afraid to even do that. Alfred Kinsey came along and he sampled thousands of people who were not in treatment. Kinsey reported that 10% of the population is gay causing a major disturbance to the psychiatric establishment (current estimates are about 4%).

In 1951, Drs. Clellan Ford and Frank Beach published their research as Patterns of Sexual Behavior. It was an extensive study of many cultures as well as the animal kingdom. Ford and Beach confirmed that homosexuality was far more prevalent than previously thought and that it existed in nature. Kinsey might have been wrong in his estimate but he was right about homosexuality being far more prevalent than the psychiatric establishment understood,

In 1957, Dr. Evelyn Hooker published The adjustment of the male overt homosexual. Hooker compared, through psychological testing, a group of gays who were not psychiatric patients with a comparable group of heterosexuals. She determined that the gays were no more psychologically disturbed than the control group of heterosexuals. The prevailing belief among psychologists was that gay people were severely psychologically disturbed. So, 16 years prior to removing homosexuality from the DSM psychologists had evidence that gay people were not emotionally ill.

American psychiatry had an obvious vested interest in maintaining that homosexuality was a curable disease and they were extremely resistant, even hostile, to mounting evidence to the contrary. The APA membership was getting younger and less rigid. The gay community certainly got the APA’s attention. Getting their attention and causing an esteemed professional group to abandon science out of political correctness are two entirely different things.

This culminated in a 1973 symposium to deal with whether or not homosexuality was a psychiatric disorder. Both sides were represented. Dr. Robert Spitzer (later notorious for his flawed conversion therapy study which was eventually withdrawn) was the chair of one of the sub-committees. After careful analysis of numerous psychiatric disorders he concluded that, with the exception of homosexuality, the disorders cause considerable distress and some degree of impairment.

Spitzer’s work eventually made its way through various sub-committees. In 1973 the board of trustees of the APA removed homosexuality from the DSM. But that was not the end of the story. Psychoanalysts petitioned the APA board of trustees to put the matter to a referendum. In the end nearly 60% of the membership upheld the decision made by the trustees.

Eventually some of those who petitioned for a vote then reversed positions and claimed that science cannot be decided by a vote. Apparently a vote was valid only if the result was to their liking. The trustees had already made a determination based strictly on the science which is based on evidence. Furthermore, it might have dawned on many of the shrinks that they were not curing anyone. Not really.

So the next time some blowhard claims that the APA was pressured into political correctness, remind them that the pathology argument began to unravel in the 1950s. Remind them that, although the gay community got the attention of the APA, the APA made its decision based on the science which means based on evidence. The issue was studied through the lens of objective scientific research.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.