Psychiatrist Who Normalized Homosexual Behavior Dies at 83

AP Photo/Annika AF Klercker
AP Photo/Annika AF Klercker

One of the most influential psychiatrists in the United States has died at the age of 83.

Dr. Robert Spitzer was one of the key decision-makers in the effort to downgrade homosexuality as a mental disorder in the “bible” of the mental health professions.

Spitzer was a long time professor at Columbia University and was a driving force in the development of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the handbook of treatment used by the psychiatric profession. It was there that Spitzer is credited with brokering a deal with gay activists to change the classification of homosexuality in the DSM.

Homosexual activists had long targeted the psychiatric profession because they saw the diagnosis as a mental disorder to be the major road-block in their efforts to normalize their sexual proclivities. Activists, led by Frank Kameny, who had lost his federal job after it came to light he had been arrested for lewd behavior in a San Francisco men’s room, took to invading and disrupting meetings of the psychiatric profession.

At the 1971 annual gathering of the APA, Kameny grabbed the microphone and shouted, “Psychiatry is the enemy incarnate. Psychiatry has waged a relentless war of extermination against us. You may take this as a declaration of war against you.”

Under such pressure, including death threats, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), gave Spitzer the task of exploring a change in the diagnosis. His final decision to change the DSM was decided after attending a tiki-bar gathering of gay psychiatrists.

But Spitzer also researched the issue, and concluded years later than that some gay men and lesbian women can change their sexual desires.

In 2001, Spitzer delivered a research paper to the annual meeting of the APA that concluded highly motivated individuals could change their sexual desires from same-sex to opposite sex.

He concluded this after interviews with 200 men and women and found that 66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women “had arrived at good heterosexual functioning” defined as “being in a sustained, loving heterosexual relationship within the past year, getting enough satisfaction from the emotional relationship with their partner to rate at least seven on a 10-point scale, having satisfying heterosexual sex at least monthly and never or rarely thinking of somebody of the same sex during heterosexual sex.”

The APA disavowed his paper, even though it was published in the peer-reviewed Archives of Sexual Behavior.

However, eleven years later, after meeting with a single gay journalist in 2012, the elderly Spitzer disavowed his 2001 conclusions.

Spitzer said he had no way of knowing if the subjects of the study were lying to him or to themselves about their change in sexual desires though this conclusion would seem to throw into doubt nearly all such studies and the psychiatric profession itself. How do psychiatrists or researchers know if anyone is telling them the truth? It was perhaps for this reason that the journal refused to disavow the 2001 study.

Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse



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