Science and Politics: The Role of Conversion Therapies in the American Psychiatric Association’s Declassification of Homosexuality as a Psychiatric Disorder
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On December 15th, 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a mental illness by removing it from its official catalogue of psychiatric diagnoses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Its removal is typically reported to reflect the efforts of homophile activist groups who, in opposition to the APA’s illness model of homosexuality, staged radical political and social protest in the early 1970’s (Bayer, 1987; Drescher & Merlino, 2007; Silverstein, 1991; Terry, 1999). Others, however, have defended the role of empirical science in the APA’s 1973 decision (see Bayer, 1987; Drescher & Merlino, 2007). For instance, Marmor (see Drescher & Merlino, 2007) maintained that the declassification was based upon consideration of the available scientific evidence at the time. A third group, however, accords equal weight to both politics and science in driving the APA’s abandonment of the illness model. This group includes Gonsiorek (1991), Miller (1995) and Minton (2002), each of whom present arguments that rest delicately between those of Marmor and Bayer/Silverstein, and thus somewhat reconcile the opposing narratives. In assessing the scientific validity and contextual history of conversion therapies- clinical therapeutic treatments to sexually reorient the homosexual- the plausibility of Gonsiorek, Miller and Minton’s perspective(s) is reinforced. That is, as the discussion to follow contends, active protests coupled with extensive scientific debate yielded the deletion of homosexuality as an official category of psychiatric disorder. The evidence for this conclusion is rooted in examining the contentious debates surrounding the administration of conversion therapies prior to 1973.