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Robert Spitzer, the APA, and Homosexuality

December 15, 2017

On this date in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (with Jews making up about 30 percent of its membership) declared that “by itself, homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being a psychiatric disorder” and removed it from the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II). Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, who chaired the DSM committee and wrote the position paper that most facilitated the change, explained that medical science needed to be “guided by data” rather than “the authority of Freud.” He told the Washington Post at the time that “a medical disorder either had to be associated with subjective distress — pain — or general impairment in social function,” and concluded after meeting with gay rights activists that neither was in evidence. Spitzer became controversial again in 2001 when he published research suggesting that one could change one’s sexual orientation (from homosexuality or bisexuality to heterosexuality) via so-called “reparative therapy” or through religion-based “transformational ministries.” His research has been widely touted by anti-gay groups, although in 2012 he asked to retract the study while issuing a public apology to the LGBTQ community for “making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy.” Spitzer died in December 2015.

“The fact that gay marriage is allowed today is in part owed to Bob Spitzer.” —Dr. Jack Drescher, gay psychoanalyst, to the New York Times in 2015