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Homosexuality as a Mental Illness

Until recently, homosexuality was considered to be a mental illness by both the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).


These classifications were a result of the widespread belief that sexual orientations other than heterosexuality were something needing of being cured or remedied, fostered by society’s discomfort with those who fall outside of what was considered “normal.” Now, however, both of these organizations have removed sexual orientation from their classifications of mental illnesses.


American Psychiatric Association

Protest of the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the APA. (Image Source: Cured/Patrick Sammon, Bennett Singer)

Since its founding in 1892, the APA has released five editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), providing information and listings of psychiatric diagnoses. In its first two editions, DSM-I and DSM-II, homosexuality was found as a listed diagnosis. However, in 1973, the APA decided to remove homosexuality as a psychiatric diagnosis from the DSM-III and all following editions, including the current DSM-5. This decision began the end of negative medicinal stigma surrounding homosexuality and other LGBT+ identities, and it was pivotal in generating similar shifts in other areas, such as the WHO.


World Health Organization


The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) determined by the WHO is the largest and most commonly utilized classification system for diseases around the globe. In the ICD-10, which was endorsed in 1990 and remains the most recently adopted version of the ICD, homosexuality and other variations of sexual orientation were classified as mental illnesses. In the direction of progress, however, the ICD-11, which was finalized in 2018, removes sexual orientation from its classifications of mental illnesses, following the lead of the APA in 1973. While the ICD-11 is not yet used in widespread medical practice, it reflects the understanding that neither sexual orientation nor gender identity is indicative of mental illness.


Legacy


The declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the APA and WHO were important steps in removing the negative stigma surrounding LGBT+ identities. Overall, these decisions were vital milestones in the normalization and acceptance of the LGBT+ community from a medical and social standpoint.

Dr. John Fryer giving his speech as Dr. Henry Anonymous to convince the APA to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness at the 1972 APA annual conference (Image Source: 217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous/Ain Gordan)

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