The American Psychiatric Association shocked the purveyors of religious “decency” and morality by removing homosexuality as a mental illness from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973. Officially designating homosexuals as “sick” and “perverted” enabled government, businesses and the institutions of society to criminalize, stigmatize, belittle, beat and brand as “evil” and “abnormal” anyone perceived as being this corporal corruption as less-than a human being.
And homosexuals internalized the horror, perpetually hiding and inflicting internal wounds of shame. But in the late 1960s, Gay Liberation activists and rational scientists fought back to reclaim the individual personal pride of being gay or lesbian. Those boisterous showy early Gay Pride parades served a personal, public and political purpose.
Nonetheless, the merchants of shame continue to peddle the scam of a “cure” for supposed homosexual perversion, despite more and more state governments outlawing the junk science of so-called “conversion therapy.” But now, one of the leaders in the fight for human dignity for LGBT people is the very group that originally gave a justification for the psychological harm—the American Psychiatric Association.
As an even clearer sign of the organization’s evolution, the APA’s CEO, Dr. Saul Levin, is gay. And they are now eager to tell the story of that dark time, according to award-winning filmmakers Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer who screened an excerpt from their in-production documentary “Cured” as part of an APA conference panel May 20 in San Francisco entitled “Community Activism Narratives in Organized Medicine: Homosexuality, Mental Health, Social Justice, and the American Psychiatric Association.”
Levin, Sammon and Singer were joined on the panel by Dr. Adrian Jacques H. Ambrose, who is with the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry team at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“The American Psychiatric Association is a much different organization today than it was before 1973. Certainly that’s evidenced by the fact that it’s led by an openly gay CEO. So there’s a lot of interest within the APA to have this story told,” Sammon tells the Los Angeles Blade, noting the discussions with the APA about the film have been ongoing for more than a year.
“In sitting in on the opening plenary and various sessions during the conference, it seemed really clear that the institution, APA, is explicitly dedicated to increasing diversity, the awareness of diversity,” Bennett tells the Los Angeles Blade.
“I heard a bunch of leaders talking about wanting to be sure that psychiatrists are trained and mindful of being able to work with diverse populations,” Bennett continues. “That seems it’s an institutional goal to really be mindful of diversity in all its forms. They seem to be celebrating that their medical director and CEO, Dr. Levin, is an openly gay man and feeling like that is a genuine asset to their mission. And their president, who presided over this year’s conference is an African-American woman who was also really powerful and moving in her passionate remarks about why diversity matters.”
Bennett noted that the APA has embraced its history and wants “to shine a spotlight on it to make it clear that psychiatry and the APA have evolved dramatically from the positions that they had held since 1952, which is when the first DSM was published which classified homosexuality as a ‘sociopathic personality disturbance.’ Now they’re looking at that as misguided and destructive.”
The documentary “Cured” shows that dark history and the process of APA’s transformation. The filmmakers intend to enter “Cured” in film festivals with its eventual broadcast on public television. One of their more recent interviews was with Gay Liberation Front co-founder Don Kilhefner who disrupted an APA aversion therapy conference in an October 1970 zap in Los Angeles that was caught on film.
“This all is taking place in the shadow of a world where ‘conversion therapy’ is still allowed in so many states where parents can send their minor children to get ‘fixed.’ We’re hopeful that the history of this story can help illuminate the ongoing discussion about ‘conversion therapy’ and the reality that some people still use the same bad science to justify ‘conversion therapy’ today,” says Sammon. “It’s a good opportunity to spotlight the present with this story from the past.”