Homosexuality Is Delisted by the APA

The American Psychiatric Association removed “homosexuality” from its list of mental disorders, largely ending the social and cultural labeling of homosexuality as a disorder and disease and the labeling of lesbians and gays as mentally ill. The delisting has led to wider discussions of the origins not only of homosexuality but also sexuality in general.

Summary of Event

On December 15, 1973, the board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted 13-0 with two abstentions to remove “homosexuality” from its list of mental disorders. The APA had included the classification in 1952. The 1973 vote effectively lifted the burden and stigma of the mental-illness label from gays and lesbians and laid the groundwork for the removal of “homosexuality” from international health typology. [kw]Homosexuality is Delisted by the APA (Dec. 15, 1973)
[kw]APA, Homosexuality Is Delisted by (Dec. 15, 1973)
American Psychiatric Association;and homosexuality as mental disorder[homosexuality]
Homosexuality;American Psychiatric Association and
[c]Health and medicine;Dec. 15, 1973: Homosexuality is Delisted by the APA[1010]
[c]Science;Dec. 15, 1973: Homosexuality is Delisted by the APA[1010]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Dec. 15, 1973: Homosexuality is Delisted by the APA[1010]
[c]Publications;Dec. 15, 1973: Homosexuality is Delisted by the APA[1010]
Hooker, Evelyn
Kinsey, Alfred
Kameny, Franklin
Gittings, Barbara

The board’s vote was followed by a vote of the entire APA membership, which supported the board of trustees’ decision by 5,854 (58 percent) to 3,810 (37 percent). In 1992, “homosexuality” was removed from the list of mental disorders in the publication International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems
International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (World Health Organization) (ICD), published by the World Health Organization, World Health Organization;and homosexuality[homosexuality] and from the diagnostic manuals of other national associations, such as the Chinese Psychiatric Association Chinese Psychiatric Association in 2001.

This vote was the culmination of years of work by GLBT rights advocates. In the mid-1960’s, Franklin Kameny, a scientist by profession and president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, fought openly against the listing and confronted the APA in 1970. Kameny and others, including longtime lesbian activist Barbara Gittings, disrupted the annual APA conference in San Francisco and demanded that the APA include a panel on homosexuality at its next conference in 1971, which it did. The APA delisted “homosexuality” two years later.

The decision to delist was more than simply a scientific one. It was also a political and social decision that has had far-reaching implications in the United States and around the world. It laid the foundation for the movement to include those discriminated against because of “sexual orientation” as a protected group in civil rights laws.

The APA is a professional organization of physicians trained in psychiatry whose members represent not only the United States but other countries. The association publishes various professional journals and pamphlets, as well as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association) better known as the DSM. The DSM codifies generally accepted psychiatric conditions and the guidelines for diagnosing those conditions. It is the most frequently used handbook in the United States in diagnosing mental disorders, and it is used in the training of all mental-health professionals, not just psychiatrists. This book has seen a fourth edition; hence, the most common reference to it in current literature is DSM-IV or, simply, DSM. Another version is the “Text Revision” of the DSM-IV, also known as the DSM-IV-TR. Although widely accepted among psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and other mental-health professionals, the manual has proved controversial in its past listing of certain characteristics as mental disorders, such as homosexuality.

The basis for labeling homosexuality a mental disorder and disease is found in the psychoanalytic Homosexuality;psychoanalysis and professions. In 1896, Sigmund Freud Freud, Sigmund began to publish his ideas on psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis, Psychoanalysis dealing as it did with sexual urges that are often unconscious or subconscious, was frequently used in the “treatment” of homosexuality. Also, much psychoanalytic discussion was devoted to the issue of homosexuality as a paraphilia, or sexual disorder. For example, psychoanalysts theorized that either castration anxiety or a family with a dominant mother was the basis for male homosexuality.

The pathologizing Homosexuality;as pathological[pathological] of homosexuality increased the number of individuals placed in mental hospitals and in prisons, the places where studies concerning homosexuality in men were carried out. In addition to subjecting patients and prisoners to studies of sexuality, researchers attempted to use a variety of therapies to “cure” homosexuality specifically, including aversion therapy, nausea-producing drugs, castration, electric shock, brain surgery, and breast amputations.

The post-World War II era is considered the start of the movement by researchers and others to declassify homosexuality as a psychological disorder. Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, carried out groundbreaking studies on nonpatient groups of gays in 1953 and revealed many misconceptions held by mental-health practitioners. In particular, Hooker’s studies discovered that there was no specific psychopathology linked to homosexuality and that there was as much psychological diversity in the homosexually focused group as in the group that was heterosexually focused.

Similarly, Alfred Kinsey’s reports, Kinsey Reports
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), also revolutionized thinking on sexuality, and on homosexuality. In particular, the reports found a high occurrence of same-gender sexual behavior in both men and women. Kinsey also developed a now-famous scale of human sexual behavior that measured, or ranked, behavior that is exclusively same-gender to that which is exclusively opposite-gender. The Kinsey Scale also includes gradations between extremes.


Although the concepts of “curing homosexuality” or “homosexuality as a disease” have been, for the most part, dismissed by mental-health professionals, there persists a movement backed by the Christian Right in the United States that continues to regard homosexuality as a disorder, a disorder curable through “conversion” or “reparative” therapies. Later resolutions opposing such therapies on scientific and ethical grounds have been overwhelmingly passed by the American Psychiatric Association, American Counseling Association, and other mental-health professions.

In 2003, a gay person became the president of the American Counseling Association, the first out gay or lesbian person to be elected as the chief officer of a major mental-health professional group. His election occurred exactly thirty years after “homosexuality” was removed from the DSM as a mental disorder. American Psychiatric Association;and homosexuality as mental disorder[homosexuality]
Homosexuality;American Psychiatric Association and

Further Reading

  • Bayer, Ronald. Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis. New York: Basic Books, 1981.
  • Hooker, Evelyn. “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual.” Journal of Projective Techniques 21 (1957): 18-31.
  • Kameny, Frank. “Gay Liberation and Psychiatry.” In The Homosexual Dialectic, edited by Joseph A. McCaffrey. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972.
  • Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Oxford, England: Saunders, 1948.
  • Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, and Paul H. Gebhard. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Oxford, England: Saunders, 1953.
  • Minton, Henry L. Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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

1953-1957: Evelyn Hooker Debunks Beliefs That Homosexuality is a “Sickness”

1955: Daughters of Bilitis Founded as First National Lesbian Group in United States

1971: Kameny Is First Out Candidate for U.S. Congress

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