Evelyn Hooker Debunks Beliefs That Homosexuality is a “Sickness” Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In a study of homosexual men and heterosexual men, Evelyn Hooker found that gay men were no more likely to be mentally ill than their heterosexual counterparts. Her work was a major factor in the development of studies of homosexuality.

Summary of Event

Psychologist Evelyn Hooker began a research study in 1953 that would change the world’s attitudes toward homosexuality, and in 1992, the American Psychological Association American Psychological Association;and Evelyn Hooker’s study[Hookers study] summarized her study as “revolutionary,” a study that “provided empirical evidence that normal homosexuals existed, and supported the radical idea then emerging that homosexuality is within the normal range of human behavior.” [kw]Evelyn Hooker Debunks Homosexuality as a “Sickness” (1953-1957) [kw]Hooker Debunks Homosexuality as a “Sickness,” Evelyn (1953-1957) [kw]Homosexuality as a “Sickness,” Evelyn Hooker Debunks (1953-1957) [kw]"Sickness," Evelyn Hooker Debunks Homosexuality as a (1953-1957)[Sickness] Psychology Homosexuality;as pathological[pathological] [c]Health and medicine;1953-1957: Evelyn Hooker Debunks Homosexuality as a “Sickness”[0470] [c]Science;1953-1957: Evelyn Hooker Debunks Homosexuality as a “Sickness”[0470] Hooker, Evelyn Eberhart, John

Hooker’s research, supported by the National Institute of Mental Health National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), compared nonclinical, matched samples of homosexually oriented and heterosexually oriented men. Her findings would rock the foundations of psychological assumptions and practice for counseling gay men. Those findings challenged the widespread belief that homosexuality is a psychological sickness by demonstrating that experienced clinicians using psychological tests, widely believed at the time to be appropriate, could not differentiate the nonclinical, homosexually oriented group from the nonclinical, heterosexually oriented group. She concluded that gay men were no more likely to exhibit mental illness than were their heterosexually oriented counterparts.

Until Hooker’s study, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and others who ministered to the mental health needs of gay men began their work assuming that homosexually oriented men were by definition neurotic, unstable, infantile, and identifiable. Most of the research published before Hooker’s time came from psychiatrists who studied gay men who were seeking psychological treatment and consisted of individual case studies of their patients.

When Bruno Klopfer—with whom Hooker shared an office at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the person who wrote the definitive book on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test—learned that Hooker was thinking about such a study, he “jumped out of his chair and said, ’You must do it, Eee-vah-leeeen! You must do it! Your friend is absolutely right. We don’t know anything about people like him. The only ones we know about are people who come to us as patients. And, of course, many of those who come to us are very disturbed, pathological. You must do it!’”

Despite the stigma associated with homosexuality and given that gays were being forced out of government jobs and were being arrested in police raids, Hooker boldly submitted her grant proposal for funding by NIMH. The reply was not long in coming. John Eberhart, then chief of the NIMH grants division, flew out to spend a day with Hooker to “make sure she was not a Lesbian.” Her application, she was told, was quite extraordinary, especially because it was submitted at the height of the McCarthy era, when communists, and gays, were being purged from government service.

Hooker’s research design was rigorous—and the controversial nature of her study demanded rigor. Hooker approached two gay groups, the Mattachine Society and ONE, to help her recruit seventy-four exclusively gay men who had never been in therapy or in trouble with the law. Finding volunteers for such a study during the McCarthy era was very difficult; many gay men were afraid of having their sexual orientation exposed for fear of losing their jobs. As confidentiality was imperative, Hooker insisted on conducting all of the interviews at her home office even though university officials had demanded that the research be conducted at the university.

In the study, Hooker administered three standard personality tests—the Chicago Inventory of Beliefs, the Thematic Apperception Test, and the Rorschach Inkblot Test—to two groups of thirty men. In one of the groups, the participants were gay. The two groups were matched in age, IQ, and educational level. She then had three expert clinicians examine her results. Unaware of the subjects’ sexual orientation, these expert judges could not distinguish between the two groups based on the test results, and they found no discernible pathology among the gay participants.

The study was published as “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual” "Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual, The" (Hooker)[Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual] in the Journal of Projective Techniques in 1957. Like any study on a controversial issue, Hooker’s was criticized by others in the field, who said she conducted the study on members of homophile groups who were fighting for gay and lesbian rights and were, thus, probably better adjusted than those not affiliated with such groups.

Significance

Despite criticism, Evelyn Hooker’s study influenced the American Psychiatric Association’s American Psychiatric Association;and Evelyn Hooker’s study[Hookers study] decision to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association) in 1973. She was honored with the 1991 American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest.

In September, 1967, Stanley Yolles, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, appointed Hooker as chair of a task force on homosexuality. The task force’s fifteen members included Chief Justice David Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals; Judd Marmor, University of Southern California professor of psychiatry and president of the American Psychiatric Association (who led the 1973 APA’s reclassification of homosexuality); Professors Jerome Frank, Morris Ploscowe, Seward Hiltner, John Money, and Edwin Schur; and other prestigious specialists. However, historian Jim Kepner recorded that

Hooker rejected well-qualified Martin Hoffman for the committee for fear his private gayness would be thought to invalidate the committee’s impartiality. On October 10, 1969, the Task Force recommended, with minor dissents, additional research and education, intensive research on possible prevention and treatment factors, repeal of legal penalties on private, adult consensual homosexual acts, and the ending of employment discrimination. The Nixon Administration buried the report and fired Dr. Yolles. The report finally appeared in ONE Institute’s Quarterly of Homophile Studies, its last issue, number 22, in 1972.

Hooker’s work was instrumental in the establishment of homosexuality as a legitimate area of study. The University of Chicago honored her for this accomplishment by establishing the Evelyn Hooker Center for the Mental Health of Gays and Lesbians. She is also the subject of a documentary film, Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker, Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker (documentary film) directed by Richard Schmiechen and produced by David Haugland in 1991. The film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary. Psychology Homosexuality;as pathological[pathological]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boxer, Andrew M., and Joseph M. Carrier. “Evelyn Hooker: A Life Remembered.” Journal of Homosexuality 36, no. 1 (1998): 1-17.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hooker, Evelyn. “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual.” Journal of Projective Techniques 21 (1957): 18-31.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “An Empirical Study of Some Relations Between Sexual Patterns and Gender Identity in Male Homosexuals.” In Sex Research: New Developments, edited by John Money. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1965.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Homosexuality: Summary of Studies.” In Sex Ways in Fact and Faith, edited by E. M. Duvall and S. M. Duvall. New York: Association Press, 1961.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Male Homosexuality.” In Taboo Topics, edited by N. L. Farberow. New York: Atherton, 1963.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Male Homosexuality in the Rorschach.” Journal of Projective Techniques 23 (1958): 278-281.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Male Homosexuals and Their Worlds.” In Sexual Inversion: The Multiple Roots of Homosexuality, edited by J. Marmor. New York: Basic Books, 1965.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kepner, Jim. “A Memory of Dr. Evelyn Hooker.” In ONE Institute International Gay and Lesbian Archives Bulletin. Los Angeles: ONE Institute, 1997. http://gaytoday.badpuppy.com/garchive/people/042897pe.htm.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Minton, Henry L. Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schmiechen, Richard. Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker (1991). Documentary film. Catalog description at http://catalog frameline.org/titles/changing_our.html.

May 6, 1868: Kertbeny Coins the Terms “Homosexual” and “Heterosexual”

1869: Westphal Advocates Medical Treatment for Sexual Inversion

1897: Ellis Publishes Sexual Inversion

May 14, 1897: Hirschfeld Founds the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee

1905: Freud Rejects Third-Sex Theory

1929: Davis’s Research Identifies Lesbian Sexuality as Common and Normal

1948: Kinsey Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

1952: APA Classifies Homosexuality as a Mental Disorder

1953: Kinsey Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female

December 15, 1973: Homosexuality Is Delisted by the APA

April 20, 2001: Chinese Psychiatric Association Removes Homosexuality from List of Mental Disorders

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