Chapter Seven: Stonewall and the American Psychiatric Association

Monday 10 April 2017.
 

Chapter Seven Stonewall and the APA

∑Stonewall

In short, the political and cultural environment had undergone a liberalizing shift which had created the opportunity for the emergence of a mass homosexual movement. (Engel, The Unfinished Revolution: Social Movement Theory and the Gay and Lesbian Movement, p.38)

Ironically, when the uprising finally occurred, many people failed to recognize its significance. Looking back, however, there is no denying that what began, as a skirmish at a Greenwhich Village bar became the harbinger for a new movement of human rights. Detailed accounts of Stonewall have taken on the quality of myth, as more people remember being there than could have possibly have fit in the tiny grimy bar. It is generally accepted that a diverse group of bar patrons, led by the drag queens who were Stonewall regulars, spontaneously began to fight back during a police raid. The resistance turned into a riot, which lasted for several days. (Kranz & Cusick, Gay Rights: Revised Edition, p. 35)

The years leading up to Stonewall saw a breach in the assimilationist attitudes of the docile homophiles of the previous generation in favour of more revolutionary ones of people who craved more purely sexual freedom. (Archer, The End Gay, p.91)

But in the 1960s and 1970s, the gay movement broke decisively with the assimilationist rhetoric of the 1950s by publicly affirming, celebrating, and even cultivating homosexual difference. (Chauncey, Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality, p.29)

An event that took place on June 12, 1969, in New York City at a gay bar called, the Stonewall Inn, had great social and cultural historical significance in the development of the concept of the modern homosexual; who soon adopted what is known as a gay identity. This was an act of resistance, a riot by drag queens mourning the death of Judy Garland. It was a group of effeminate men, wearing women’s clothes resisting police authority, during a raid on the gay bar. What started out as a typical raid by the police, a shake down for bribery from a gay bar turned out much differently. This event is often linked with the beginning of the gay liberation movement. It should be noted that it was a fringe group of homosexuals, and not representative individuals of the homosexual community at large who displayed this physical resistance.

Stonewall was an act of resistance to police authority by multiracial drag queens mourning the death of Judy Garland, long divinized by gays. Therefore, Stonewall had a cultural meaning beyond the political: it was a pagan insurrection by the reborn transvestite priests of Cybele. (Paglia, Vamps and Tramps, p. 67)

In the 1970s gay liberation was the name of a major theoretical challenge to assimilation as well as minoritization. Early activists and writers argued that gay liberation could transform all sexual and gender relations; they argued against marriage and monogamy and against existing family structures (Altman 1981; Jay and Young 1972). (Phelan, Sexual Strangers: Gays, Lesbians, and Dilemmas of Citizenship, p. 108-109)

Gay liberation had somehow evolved into the right to have a good time-the right to enjoy bars, discos, drugs, and frequent impersonal sex. (Clendinen and Nagourney, Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, p.445)

American Psychiatric Association

Another historically significant event in the development of the concept of the modern homosexual occurred in the early 1970s. This was the decision in 1973 by the APA, American Psychiatric Association, to remove homosexuality from the lists of sexual disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Homosexual advocates acknowledge the hijacking of science for political gain.

The principle source of information about the controversy over homosexuality is Spitzer. Bayer’;s (1981) book length description of these events was heavily dependent on materials provided by Spitzer. This is evident not only from reading his account, but also because he collaborated with Spitzer (Bayer and Spitzer, 1982) on an edited report of the correspondence of the principals. Bayer and Spitzer (1985) also coauthored an account of another closely related episode, the attempt to extirpate neurosis and other Freudian aspects of DSM. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 81)

In the last 15 years, the APA has battled groups who wanted certain conditions withdrawn from the DSM list of mental disorders. Homosexuality is the most celebrated case of a controversial diagnosis, which psychiatrists were forced to discard in 1974 (Bayer). Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 237)

Of course, to mount this counterattack, gays and lesbians must challenge authority of scientists, and that is exactly what gay rights activists did when they campaigned to have homosexuality removed from the APA’s list of mental disorders. In fact, those activists argued that homosexuality is not a disease but a lifestyle choice. Although that argument was successful in the early 1970s, the political climate has changed in such a way that gay rights advocates no longer want homosexuality to be thought of as an immutable characteristic, and the gay gene discourse helps them in this effort. (Brookey, Reinventing the Male Homosexual: The Rhetoric and Power of the Gay Gene, p. 43)

A standoff persisted until late in 1972 between the protesters and psychoanalysts such as Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides who insisted that the "scientific evidence," principally derived from studies that they had conducted, demonstrated that homosexuality was a pathological condition, and that a positive response to gay demands would constitute an unjustified political accommodation. Enmeshed in the controversy was a challenge to psychoanalytic orthodoxy. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 82)

The man who took control was Robert Spitzer. Although he was a member of the Committee on Nomenclature and Statistics, which produced DSM-II, he had not been assigned to resolve the conflict. As the story has been told, he was at a meeting in October 1972, when more than a hundred gay activists protested antihomosexual bias. This was his first contact with gays protesting against psychiatric mistreatment and he stayed afterwards to talk with one leader of the protest, Ron Gold. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 83)

The result of this encounter was that Spitzer agreed to arrange a meeting with the Committee on Nomenclature and to schedule a panel at the next meeting of the APA in May 1973 in Honolulu. Although this chance encounter has been reported in several different accounts of the controversy of the diagnosis of homosexuality, the story leaves much to be explained. Spitzer, by all accounts, was unfamiliar with the literature and had little, if any, clinical experience with homosexuals. Nevertheless, as a result of an unanticipated discussion, he agreed to undertake a major role in this struggle. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 83)

Although he expressed "severe discomfort" (Bayer, 1981:143) over the idea of a referendum, he and gay activists drafted a letter that was signed by all of the candidates in an upcoming election for president and vice president of the APA. The letter was sent to the entire APA membership, paid for by funds raised by gay groups, although their participation was concealed. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 87-88)

In 1973, by a vote of 5,854 to 3,810, the diagnostic category of homosexuality was eliminated from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association (Bayer 1981) (Donohue and Caselles, Homophobia: Conceptual, Definitional, and Value Issues, p. 66 Wright, and Cummings. Destructive Trends in Mental Health The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm, editors Wright, and Cummings)

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association seemingly rejected this view of homosexuality by removing it from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, an official listing of mental illnesses. But the step was taken under pressure from gay-liberation activists and did not stimulate a rethinking of the theory of sexual preferences. In fact, most psychiatrists disagreed with the removal; just under 70 percent of 2,500 psychiatrists who responded to a survey conducted by the journal Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality opposed it. The eminent senior psychoanalyst Abram Kardiner complained that the decision was mistaken because the suspicion with which middle America views homosexuality cannot be voted out of existence." (Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality, p.429-430)

The vote was not close although it was described this way in later accounts: 58% were in favor of deleting homosexuality from DSM, while only 37% voted against the proposal. Those familiar with voting patterns among large groups of people would characterize this as a landslide, but describing the vote as close served other purposes in subsequent conflicts over the diagnosis of homosexuality. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 88)

The decision of the American Psychiatric Association to delete homosexuality from its published list of sexual disorders in 1973 was scarcely a cool, scientific decision. It was a response to a political campaign fueled by the belief that its original inclusion as a disorder was a reflection of an oppressive politico-medical definition of homosexuality as a problem. (Weeks, Jeffery. Sexuality and Its Discontents Meanings, Myths and Modern Sexualities, p. 213)

Perhaps the greatest policy success of the early 1970s was the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973-74 decision to remove homosexuality from its official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual list of mental disorders. This decision did not come about because a group of doctors suddenly changed their views; it followed an aggressive and sustained campaign by lesbian and gay activists. (Rimmerman, From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States, p. 85-86)

Writing about the 1973 decision and the dispute that surrounded it, Bayer (1981) contended that these changes were produced by political rather than scientific factors. Bayer argued that the revision represented the APA’s surrender to political and social pressures, not new data or scientific theories regarding on human sexuality. (Donohue and Caselles, Homophobia: Conceptual, Definitional, and Value Issues, p. 66 Wright, and Cummings. Destructive Trends in Mental Health The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm, editors Wright, and Cummings)

Charles Socarides forced the board to submit its decision to a referendum of the APA membership. Many people ridiculed the idea that a scientific issue should be settled by a plebiscite. Ironically, Socarides and Bieber, who had complained that scientific decisions were being subjected to political pressures by gays, now justified the use of a political device to reverse the decision. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 87)

The APA’s very process of a medical judgment arrived at by parliamentary method set off more arguments than it settled. Many members felt that the trustees, in acting contrary to diagnostic knowledge, had responded to intense propagandistic pressures from militant homophile organizations. Politically we said homosexuality is not a disorder, one psychiatrist admitted, but privately most of us felt it is. (Kronemeyer, Overcoming Homosexuality, p.5)

“Actually, Spitzer’s position paper, "Homosexuality as an Irregular Form of Sexual Development and Sexual Orientation Disturbance as a Psychiatric Disorder," did not recommend the entire elimination of homosexuality from the manual. Although homosexuality per se was not enough to warrant a diagnosis, those who were troubled should be given a new diagnosis of Sexual Orientation Disturbance. Spitzer did not accept the position of gay activists that homosexuality was a normal variant of sexual behavior. He proposed a middle ground between their position and the assertion that homosexuality was pathological.” (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 85)

“Finally, in December 1973, the matter was considered by the board of trustees. After listening politely to the objections of opponents, the board voted unanimously to delete homosexuality and to replace it with the diagnosis of Sexual Orientation Disturbance. The final text made a distinction between homosexuality per se and Sexual Orientation Disturbance. "This diagnostic category is distinguished from homosexuality which by itself does not necessarily constitute a psychiatric disorder" (APA press release cited in Bayer, 1981:137). The meeting was followed by a press conference attended by the president of the APA, gay activists, and Robert Spitzer. Major newspapers across the country carried stories announcing the revision. Many reports missed the nuances of the compromise. For example, the Washington Post reported "Doctors Rule Homosexuals Not Abnormal" (December 12, 1973, p. 1). Their headline ignored the careful denials of the APA president and Spitzer that the board had not declared that homosexuality was normal. Spitzer’s statement infuriated gays, but it made little difference in the public perception of what had happened. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 87)

The removing of homosexuality as a sexual disorder was as a result of a three year long social/political campaign by gay activists, pro-gay psychiatrists and gay psychiatrists, not as a result of valid scientific studies. Rather the activities were public disturbances, rallies, protests, and social/political pressure from within by gay psychiatrists and by others outside of the APA upon the APA. The action of removing homosexuality was taken with such unconventional speed that normal channels for consideration of the issues were circumvented. This action taken in the APA had dramatic consequences on psychosexual life according to Charles Socarides in a article published in The Journal of Psychohistory, Sexual Politics and Scientific Logic: The Issue of Homosexuality. Socarides writes the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was a false step with the following results.

At the 1970 annual convention of the APA in San Francisco and at subsequent psychiatric meetings, gay activists picketed and disrupted conference events in order to draw attention to their demand that homosexuality be dropped as a psychiatric category. In addition to disrupting the presentations by psychoanalysts who were well known for their views that homosexuality was a form of pathology, gay activists forced the APA to schedule panels at the annual meetings where the protesters presented an alternative view of homosexuality as a normal variation of sexual activity. This pattern of protest persisted for several years and at the 1972 meeting a masked and cloaked psychiatrist, "Dr. Anonymous," joined the panel and declared that he was a homosexual as were more than two hundred of his associates, some of them members of the Gay Psychiatric Association, which met socially but secretly during the annual APA meetings. (Kirk and Kutchin, The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry, p. 82)

Spitzer figured out that what he had to do was propose a policy that would give therapists the option of treating homosexuals for something. So, he wrote a statement that homosexuality by itself, while an irregular sexual development, is not a psychiatric disorder unless the homosexuals are distressed by their homosexuality. For the next six or seven months, Spitzer’s comprise wound its way through the many levels of the psychiatric bureaucracy. Bolstering the series of votes on the proposal to change the treatment of homosexuality in the DSM was the firm commitment of Freedman and the insurgents at the top to seeing this get done.
Finally, on December 15, 1973łthe Spitzer proposal was presented to Freedman’s liberal of trustees. Freedman knew that he had the votes. But Freedman wanted this profound social and professional conversion to be as close as possible to unanimous. To gather more support, Freedman agreed to weaken some of the pro-homosexual language. Thus, the original statement that homosexuality in itself does not by itself constitute a psychiatric disorder was changed by the board to say that homosexuality in itself does not necessarily constitute a psychiatric disorder; This was no small change, but, at the end of the day, the first proposal in history to withdraw homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders passed unanimously. Victory for Homosexuals, the New York Times proclaimed the next morning.
(Hirshman, Victory The Triumphant Gay Revolution, p. 139)

This amounted to a full approval of homosexuality and an encouragement to aberrancy by those who should have known better, both in the scientific sense and in the sense of the social consequences of such removal. (Socarides, Charles W. Sexual Politics and Scientific Logic: The Issue of Homosexuality, p.320-321)

In this article, he described a movement within the American Psychiatric Association that through social/political activism resulted in a two-phase radicalization of a main pillar of psychosocial life. The first phase was the erosion of heterosexuality as the single acceptable sexual pattern in our culture. This was followed by the second phase the raising of homosexuality to the level of an alternative lifestyle. As a result, homosexuality became an acceptable psychosocial institution alongside heterosexuality as a prevailing norm of sexual behavior.

In essence, this movement within the American Psychiatric Association has accomplished what every other society, with rare exceptions, would have trembled to tamper with, a revision of the basic code and concept of life and biology: that men and women normally mate with the opposite sex and not with each other. (Socarides, Charles W. Sexual Politics and Scientific Logic: The Issue of Homosexuality, p.321)

The hijacking of science in the APA by those advocating for homosexuality has now taken a very interesting twist. Thirty years later after this decision by the APA, Robert L. Spitzer, M.D. who was instrumental in the removal of homosexuality in 1973 from the lists of sexual disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is once again facing the anger of others. The first time was by those who opposed the normalization of homosexuality. Now after publishing the results of a study showing that some people may change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, it is those advocating for homosexuality. Dr. Spitzer’s study and peer commentaries have just been published in the October 2003 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

An additional personal parallel-the anger that has been directed towards me for doing this study reminds me of a similar reaction to me during my involvement in the removal of the diagnosis of homosexuality from DSM-II in 1973. (Spitzer, Reply: Study Results Should Not be Dismissed and Justify Further Research on the Efficacy of Sexual Reorientation Therapy, p. 472)

Bibliography

Archer, Bert. The End of Gay (and the death of heterosexuality). Thunder’s Mouth Press. New York, 2002.

Bayer, Ronald. Homosexuality and the American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis. Basic Books. New York, 1981.

Brookey, Robert Alan. Reinventing the Male Homosexual: The Rhetoric and Power of the Gay Gene. Indiana University Press. Bloomington & Indianapolis, 2002.

Chauncey, George. Why Marriage? The History Shaping Todays Debate Over Gay Equality. Basic Books/Perseus Books Group. New York, 2004.

Clendinen, Dudley and Adam Nagourne. Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. Simon and Schuster. New York, 1990.

Engel, Stephen M. The Unfinished Revolution: Social Movement Theory and the Gay and Lesbian Movement. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK, 2001.

Greenberg, David F., The Construction of Homosexuality. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago & London, 1988.

Hirshman, Linda. Victory The Triumphant Gay Revolution. Harper. New York, 2012.

Kirk, Stuart A. and Herb Kutchins. The Selling of the DSM The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry. Alindine De Gruyter. New York, 1992.

Konemeyer, Robert. Overcoming Homosexuality. Macmillan. New York, 1980.

Kranz, Rachel and Tim Cusick. Gay Right: Revised Edition. Facts on File, Inc. New York, 2005.

Paigila, Camille. Vamps & Tramps. Vintage Books. New York, 1994.
Phelan, Shane. Sexual Strangers: Gays, Lesbians, and Dilemmas of Citizenship. Temple University Press. Philadelphia, 2001.

Rimmerman, Craig A. From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States. Temple University Press. Philadelphia, 2002.

Socarides, Charles W. Sexual Politics and Scientific Logic: The Issue of Homosexuality. The Journal of Psychohistory Winter 1992, 19 (3), 307-329.

Spitzer, M.D., Robert L. Reply: Study Results Should Not be Dismissed and Justify Further Research on the Efficacy of Sexual Reorientation Therapy. Archives of Sexual Behavior October 2003, Vol. 32, No. 5, 469-472.

Weeks, Jeffery. Sexuality and Its Discontents Meanings, Myths and Modern Sexualities. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1988.

Wright, Rogers H. and Nicolas A. Cummings. Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. New York and Hove


Signatures: 0

forum

Date Name Message