SAN DIEGO – The American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) began its 108th Annual Meeting yesterday by issuing an apology for American psychoanalysts’ role in the pathologizing of homosexuality and transgender identities. APsaA president Lee Jaffe noted that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals considered homosexuality to be a mental illness at the time of the Stonewall Uprising fifty years ago.
“Regrettably some of that era’s understanding of homosexuality and gender identity can be attributed to the American psychoanalytic establishment,” Jaffe said. “It is long past time to recognize and apologize for our role in the discrimination and trauma caused by our profession.”
Mobilized after Stonewall, the Gay Rights movement put pressure on the psychiatric profession to reconsider its position. At the urging of activists Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to hold a debate at its annual conference on “Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to the Homosexual?; A Dialogue.” The consequence of these efforts was the removal pf homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1974.
Evan after this, however, the psychoanalytic establishment resisted this revision of psychiatric orthodoxy. “For many years, we continued to view homosexuality as an illness and we denied opportunities for learning in our training programs to LGBTQ professionals unless they concealed their sexuality,” Jaffe said. “Our views led to discrimination, both internally and in society at large.”
The American psychoanalytic establishment’s persistence in classifying homosexuality as neuropathology stood in sharp contrast to the views of psychoanalysts around the world. Sigmund Freud, the field’s founder, was unequivocal on the matter: “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness,” he wrote in 1935, “we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development.”
Although it took many years, American psychoanalysts did catch up to their international colleagues. In more recent decades, they have been leading advocates for LGBTQ rights, and Jaffe proudly noted that APsaA was one of the first mental health organizations in the United States to publicly support marriage equality. The organization has also been a leading force in the effort to ban conversion therapy and in advancing transgender rights.
Still, Jaffe said that an explicit and unequivocal apology was necessary. “As psychoanalysts, we know the power of words; we understand the value that a heartfelt apology can have toward healing past hurts,” he said. “So my hope is on this 50th anniversary of Stonewall that both our actions and our words will help repair the hurt our profession has caused.”