Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

The APA and Homosexuality

Via Kathy Shaidle, Sally Satel’s review of The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder contains an interesting tidbit about the APA’s decision to eliminate homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders:

In the early 1970s, annual meetings of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) were home to angry showdowns between the gay rights lobby and organized psychiatry. Activists picketed convention sites, shouted down speakers, and waged ad hominem attacks on psychiatrists who sincerely believed that homosexuality was a sickness. The goal of their flamboyant campaign against the APA — an impressive display of “guerrilla theater,” as one psychiatrist put it — was to force the association to take homosexuality out of its official handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, second edition, popularly known as the DSM-II.

In December 1973, they won. A decisive majority of the APA board of trustees voted to remove homosexuality from the professional nomenclature.”Doctors Rule Homosexuals Not Abnormal,” read the headline in the next day’s Washington Post. It was a major victory both for gay people and for the enlightened wing of the psychiatric establishment. But rather than calm the critics of psychiatry, the APA’s acknowledgment that homosexuality was not a mental illness only inflamed them. They took this as further evidence that the profession was a sham, and asked in outrage how psychiatry could claim to be a legitimate, scientific branch of medicine if its members determined the very existence of an illness by vote.

More. The APA changes its position on homosexuality after protest and harassment and people lose faith in the authority of its pronouncements? Go figure. It’s worth noting, though, that the conduct members of the APA were subjected to by those gay activists is just an extreme example of the social pressures scientists, academics, and other professionals are subjected to generally to conform their conclusions to the opinions of their social group. A researcher whose work tends towards some politically unpalatable conclusions is not likely to have people picketing his house, but he is likely to face a subtle ostracism from his friends and colleagues.

Exactly how much this tends to skew their work in the face of such pressure cannot be known (any more than we can know what the results of the APA vote on homosexuality would have been without the “guerrilla theater” of the gay activists). But it is certainly a bias that must be taken into account.


February 17, 2008 - Posted by | Homosexuality, Science


  1. I’ve been following a few NARTH articles lately because of the prop 8 upheaval in our area and my eyes have truly been opened.

    Ever wonder where that ubiquitously nifty word that doubles as a spiked club actually came from? Scientists? Medical Doctors? English Majors? Nope. Activists! Convenient isn’t it? My thanks to everyone who has been a part of this fight for years. I cannot go back to sleep on this issue, my eyes are wide open!

    Comment by beetlebabee | December 4, 2008 | Reply

  2. great post.

    Comment by rubyeliot | April 6, 2009 | Reply

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