40 Years of Gay and Lesbian Affirmation by the American Psychological Association
Wow, this year marks the 40th Anniversary of Gay and Lesbian Affirmation by the American Psychological Association (APA). Yet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer folks still face challenges in many parts of the country finding supportive, safe, and truly affirming mental health care. Historically, “homosexuality” (the term preferred by the media and medical establishments for the majority of the 20th century) has been condemned not only as a mental illness, but also a crime and a sin. Even though these beliefs were never based in sound scientific research, they had the impact of causing LGBTQ people to fear the mental health establishment, and for good reason.
For many years, psychologists and psychiatrists felt that it was appropriate to view homosexuality as a disease and attempt to cure it. We now know that sexual orientation does not change as a result of any therapy and that the attempt to do is harmful to the patient and disrespectful of their humanity.
While the mental health establishment still has a long way to go in the full acceptance and support of LGBTQ individuals, this year marks an important milestone in the progress toward fully affirmative approaches to working with and for the LGBTQ population. The year 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) decision to reverse its stance on homosexuality and affirm gay and lesbian people as being as healthy and as equally adjusted as their heterosexual peers. This followed a 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality as a disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This decision had the effect of suddenly transforming an entire class of people from being perceived by the mental health establishment as being mentally ill to being recognized as people with a normal variation in sexual orientation. While this decision by no means righted the many wrongs committed in the treatment of LGBTQ individuals, it did pave the way for greater acceptance over time.
The APA’s adoption of this stance was and still is a profoundly important component of LGBTQ acceptance and affirmation in the United States. This proclamation has been cited in countless court battles as evidence for adopting laws that recognize LGBTQ people as equally entitled to rights and protections including anti-discrimination legislation, marriage and civil union availability, parenting and adoption law, decriminalized sex between consenting adults, and even protections within the medical and mental health world by prohibiting providers from denying appropriate care to LGBTQ persons.
We still have work to do.
Even 40 years later, there is still much progress to be made. For gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, only now are laws being adopted, such as this one in New Jersey, enabling the law to prosecute counselors for fraud when they claim that they can change a person’s sexual orientation. Additionally, many transgender individuals still struggle with the continued presence of “gender dysphoria” as a psychological disorder in the DSM and would like to see transgender identity honored as a normal variant of the human condition.
Despite these continued struggles, it is important to note the anniversary of a decision that changed the course of LGBTQ history and progress for the better. Below are the actual words from the APA:
Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social and vocational capabilities; Further, the American Psychological Association urges all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations.
We look forward with hope to what the next 40 years will bring.
Dr. Ian Bonner is a staff psychologist at IntraSpectrum Counseling. He specializes in working with the LGBTQ population, addiction, couples counseling, and mood disorders. Ian is a graduate of the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, and is the former case management coordinator for the Horizon Youth Program at the Center on Halsted.