Last edited: February 14, 2005

Sick No More

Washington Post, December 16, 1999

After the American Psychiatric Association’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973, only "ego-dystonic homosexuality" — meaning a condition of emotional distress about one’s sexual orientation — remained on the list. That was removed in 1987. Earlier this year, the APA spoke out strongly against the practice of "conversion" therapy, which seeks to make gay people straight.

An excerpt from The Washington Post of December 16, 1973:

By Victor Cohn, Washington Post Staff Writer

In what both psychiatrists and homosexual leaders called a historic act, the American Psychiatric Association yesterday struck homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

Spokesmen for the nation’s main psychiatric group said new knowledge and changing attitudes dictated the move, which reverses a medical definition going back nearly 100 years.

The psychiatrists predicted a still more rapid liberalization of views about homosexuality throughout society.

The association’s trustees urged an end to "cruel" private and public discrimination in jobs, housing, and other areas. They asked 42 states and the District of Columbia to repeal "irrational" laws against sodomy or "unnatural" sex acts (as Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, Ohio and North Dakota have done since 1961).

The trustees refused, however, to declare homosexuality normal – the recommendation of its Task Force on Nomenclature. And they inserted a new psychiatric disorder called "sexual orientation disturbance" for the many homosexuals who either want to change their orientation, or need to adjust to the one they have.

Leaders of self-styled "gay" groups, invited to a news conference at association headquarters here, nonetheless hailed the actions as a "psychiatric turnaround" and "the greatest gay victory."

"This represents the culmination of a decade-long battle," said Dr. Franklin Kameny, former Army astronomer and head of the Mattachine Society of Washington. "We’ve won," said Ronald Gold of New York, communications head of the National Gay Task Force.

The psychiatrists conceded their claims. "We were prompted by the homosexuals’ pressure, but what we’re doing is psychiatrically sound," said Dr. Robert L. Spitzer of Columbia University, who led the group that rewrote the nomenclature.

"We decided a medical disorder either has to be associated with subjective distress — pain — or general impairment of social functioning. Homosexuality is not regularly associated with either."

By a 15-to-0 vote with two abstentions, the trustees agreed. Both Spitzer and the gay leaders voiced disappointment that they struck the word "normal" from the task force recommendation calling homosexuality "a normal variant of human sexuality." The trustees also made the task force finding that homosexuality "by itself does not constitute a psychiatric disorder" read, "does not necessarily constitute a disorder."

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