1973 • End of Homosexuality as an Illness

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End of Homosexuality as an Illness


During much of the twentieth century, LGBTI+ activists had to fight the idea that non-normative sexualities and gender identities were diseases. The most influential example was set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) drawn up by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In its first and second editions, published in 1952 and 1968, homosexuality was diagnosed as an illness. This resulted in countless violations of the physical and mental integrity of LGBTI+ individuals, who were frequently forced into treatment, some of it lethal in effect. Especially in the United States, many psychiatrists and psychoanalysts took a homophobic stance.

In the wake of the Stonewall Riots, however, American LGBTI+ activists began to clamor for the removal of homosexuality from the DSM. By 1973, they were successful: the APA decided that homosexuality should be removed as a mental illness. (The organized psychiatrists in Australia and New Zealand beat their American colleagues to it by a few months.) This momentous change contributed not only to a reduction of medical treatment, but to an overall shift in public opinion.

Yet it was by no means the end of activist contestation, since ‘ego-dystonic homosexuality’ as well as a range of transgender and intersex conditions continued to be included in the DSM. The successive adaptations introduced during various DSM reforms over the years have not been able to reassure most trans and inter people. Contestation of the DSM, as well as of other influential lists, such as the International Classification of Diseases published by the World Health Organization, continues to be necessary.

Homosexuality as an illness Chicago Gay Crusader (1974) ⓒ Windy City Times
Chicago Gay Crusader (1974) ⓒ Windy City Times

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