This Day In History: December 15

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On December 15, 1973, at a time when society often still views gay people as deviants, the American Psychiatric Association reverses a century-old decision, issuing a resolution stating that homosexuality it neither a mental illness nor a sickness. To underline the point, the association removes homosexuality from its influential reference tool, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The APA stated in its resolution: “We will no longer insist on a label of sickness for individuals who insist that they are well and demonstrate no generalized impairment in social effectiveness.” The statement also pledged APA support for civil rights legislation that would provide “homosexual citizens the same protections now guaranteed to others.” At the time, the majority of U.S. states still held anti-sodomy laws, and uncloseted homosexuals risked losing their jobs and housing, as well as family and community acceptance.

The resolution also explains: “For a mental or psychiatric condition to be considered a psychiatric disorder, it must either regularly cause subjective distress, or regularly be associated with some generalized impairment in social effectiveness or functioning. With the exception of homosexuality…all of the other mental disorders in DSM-II fulfill either of these two criteria.”

The resolution marked a major milestone for equality for gay people. But further steps, like the legalization of gay marriage, would take decades to follow. The 1973, the APA decision also did not stop attempts, largely encouraged by conservative faith groups, to try and make gay people straight via conversion therapy—a practice widely denounced today and illegal for minors in some states.

The APA’s statement came a year after the dramatic moment in the 1972 APA Annual Meeting when a masked speaker calling himself “Dr. H. Anonymous” began his speech with this declaration: “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.” The story of how Dr. Anonymous—who later revealed himself as Dr. John Fryer—along with Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and others worked together to push the APA to remove homosexuality from the manual was explored in a 2021 PBS documentary called CURED.