US psychoanalysts apologize for labeling homosexuality an illness

Daniel Trotta, Reuters

Posted at Jun 22 2019 06:54 AM

A reveler crosses the water curtain during the LGBT Rainbow Parade at the EuroPride in Vienna, Austria on June 15, 2019. Lisi Niesner, Reuters

The American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) apologized on Friday for previously treating homosexuality as a mental illness, saying its past errors contributed to discrimination and trauma for LGBTQ people.

It may be the first US medical or mental health organization to issue such an apology. Although psychiatrists declassified homosexuality as a disorder in 1973 and psychoanalysts came around nearly 20 years later, the APsaA says it is unaware of any related professional group that had apologized.

"It is long past time to recognize and apologize for our role in the discrimination and trauma caused by our profession and say, 'We are sorry,'" said a statement by Dr. Lee Jaffe, president of APsaA. The group uses that abbreviation to distinguish it from the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Jaffe announced the apology on Friday at the opening session of the group's 109th annual meeting in San Diego, drawing a standing ovation from about 200 people present, witnesses said.

Jaffe said his group has long been active in promoting LGBTQ rights but had yet to put its contrition into words.

"It's hard to admit that one has been so wrong," Jaffe said.

One Los Angeles-based analyst said the audience interpreted the moment as significant.

"As someone who comes from a long line of analysts who have been fighting for LGBT people, this felt like a watershed moment," Dr. Justin Shubert said.

STONEWALL UPRISING

The change in the medical community's thinking about homosexuality and Friday's apology both stem from a seminal event in LGBTQ history 50 years ago: the Stonewall uprising.

Patrons of a New York City gay bar called the Stonewall Inn fought back against police harassment in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, triggering the start of the modern movement for the rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

New York police recently apologized for the raid and discriminatory laws of the time, which prompted APsaA to issue its apology, said Dr. Jack Drescher, an APsaA member and leading authority on the history of psychiatric and psychological treatment of LGBTQ people.

New York is expecting as many as 4 million people for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall next week, and gay pride parades will be celebrated around the world on June 30.

LGBTQ activists disrupted the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in 1970 in San Francisco. The protests upended the convention so much, Drescher said, that by December 1973 the APA's board removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

But APsaA did not change its position until 1991 when, under threat of an anti-discrimination lawsuit, it allowed the training of gay and lesbian psychoanalysts, Drescher said.

APsaA went on to become an early supporter of same-sex marriage and opponent of "conversion therapy" aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation.

In 2012, psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer on his own apologized for authoring an influential study 11 years earlier that supported reparative therapy to "cure" homosexuality.

Today, APsaA and other professional organizations view being gay as a normal variant of human sexuality, but until now have yet to express how wrong they were before, Drescher said.

"They did the work of apologizing but they did not say the words," Drescher said. "If the police commissioner of New York City could do it, why couldn't we do something similar?"