Homosexuality As Mental Illness

Until 1973, one year after psychiatrist John. E. Fryer testified as Dr. Henry Anonymous before an assembly of his peers, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) regarded homosexuality as a mental illness. The official classification appeared in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the APA’s encyclopedia of mental disorders.

At the 1972 APA Annual Meeting, flanked by the pioneering gay-rights activists Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, Dr. Fryer made a compelling speech that prompted a yearlong APA investigation into its diagnosis of homosexuality.

During the 1950s and ’60s, treatments for the “disease” of homosexuality were commonplace and came with catastrophic effects. Such therapies included exposing gay men to male pornographic images while administering intense electric shocks or drugs to make them vomit, chemical castration by means of forced hormone treatments, lobotomy and institutionalization.

Although the APA removed homosexuality as a mental illness from the DSM in 1973—a turning point for gay rights—it subsequently introduced a new, related diagnosis. In 1986 the APA removed all references to homosexuality as a disorder.

In October 2013, the APA named Saul M. Levin, M.D., M.P.A., its Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director. He is the first openly gay man to hold the position. The Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (AGLP), founded in 1978, celebrates its 40th anniversary in May, concurrent with the opening of 217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.