Darkness to Light… Stonewall’s effect on the Mental Health Profession

From the uprising at Stonewall in 1969 to the elimination of “Homosexuality” as a diagnosable mental health disorder in 1973, it took only four short years for the mental health profession to begin moving away from the darkness and into the light.  Advocacy and protest have always been the power behind advancements in LGBT civil rights, and the depathologizing of homosexuality within the psychiatric establishment was no exception. Without the intervention of gay rights activists into psychiatry’s internal business, this relatively short time period in the declassification of homosexuality from an abnormal condition to a normal and healthy variant of sexuality could have been much longer.

(cira 1969)

Still, it was not until 1987 that “Homosexuality” was completely removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, often referred to as the DSM.  Following the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, in 1970 and 1971, lesbian and gay activists knowing that much of the anti-homosexual stigma that was promulgated against them emanated from the field of psychiatry, protested and disrupted the annual meetings of the America Psychiatric Association (APA).  These LGBT activists educated much of the psychiatric membership at the time, to modern sex research, the most important of which were the findings of Alfred Kinsey, whose research showed that homosexuality was more common than the psychiatric profession maintained.  C. S. Ford and F. A. Beach in their book “Patterns of Sexual Behavior,” through their own studies of diverse animal cultures, confirmed Kinsey’s view that homosexuality occurred commonly in nature.

As a result of the 1970 and 1971 protests and disruption at the APA’s annual meetings, the APA arranged numerous panels concerning their view of “homosexuality” as a mental disorder at their subsequent annual meetings in 1972 and 1973.  Psychiatrists were being educated, supposedly for the first time, by lesbian and gay activists concerning the stigma caused by the “homosexuality” diagnosis.  One panel entitled “Gay is Good,” featured gay activists, Frank Kamney and Barbara Gittings, who were active in two pre-Stonewall gay rights organizations “The Mattachine Society of Washington” and the “Daughters of Bilitis,” respectively.  Kamney who was fired from his job with the federal government’s US Army’s “Army Map Service,” for being gay and, Gittings both actively participated in some of the first public gay civil rights picketing and protests, one of which was held as early as 1965 in front of the White House, where they protested the federal government’s policy of purging “homosexuals” from their employment rolls.

(White House protest, 1965)

In December 1973, following LGBT protests, educational forums, and the APA’s internal “Nomenclature Committee’s” deliberations, the APA’s board of trustees voted to eliminate the diagnosis of “Homosexuality” from the DSM.  In the 7th printing of the DSM II in 1974, homosexuality was no longer listed as a disorder.  However, the  APA did not completely rid themselves of their heterosexist sexuality bias as “homosexuality” was replaced in this edition of the DSM II by “sexual orientation disturbance” (SOD) and then subsequently in DSM III by “Ego Dystonic Homosexuality” (EDH), both which contributed to the destructive practice of sexual conversation therapies.  Finally, in 1987 psychiatrists abandoned the listing of “homosexuality” altogether. 

Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny in 2005. | EQUALITY FORUM

Today, no major mental health association, society, or organization, including the APA, promotes “homosexuality” as an abnormal phenomenon.  These organizations stipulate that providers of mental health services, when treating LGBT patients view LGBT orientation as a regular variant of sexuality.

(Main Photo —  Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and “Dr. Henry Anonymous” aka Dr John Fryer, M.D. at 1972 APA Conference.  Photo by Kay Tobin. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by a respected therapist who has spent over 25 years in the field of mental health.  We are grateful for his contribution to our series and service to our Community.

Previous posts from theOUTfront series, “Generations of Pride” 

Listen to the Luscious Music of Gay Tea Dances 

Pride In My Tribe – Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS 

“Pride Plays,” a Showcase of Diversity on Stage 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Equality

Olivia Newton-John, our “hopelessly devoted” Aussie Ally 

Celebrating STONEWALL 50 with Generations of Pride 

Be part of STONEWALL 50 wherever you are by telling your story of Pride on social media using

#GenerationsOfPride

 

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