LGBT History Part IV: Mental Health
The history of the LGBTQ+ and mental health communities have had a tumultuous past together. Although turbulent at times, recent years have seen consensus in psychological circles, that being LGBTQ+ is not mental illness or something that needs to be treated. However, there was a time not too long ago, it was.
History records homosexual behavior as far back as the 5,000 BCE. What is interesting when we look back, is how homosexuality was tolerated in different cultures of the past. There have been times when gay culture has flourished. A relatively recent example of such a time was between World War I and World War II. There were thriving kindred groups in such cities as New York, Chicago, and even Berlin. Roughly around the same time, a new science of the mind was beginning to go mainstream.
Psychology was still being established as a science in late the 1800s and as such still in it’s infancy. However, it was one of the first scientific disciplines to study homosexuality as a distinct phenomenon. A founding father of psychology, Sigmund Freud thought it was a natural variation in human sexuality and did not see a need for the condition to be treated in itself. However, because society did not see it that way at the time he amended his view to say that having these sexual impulses did create other divergent concerns in the mental landscape. But he was firm on that he didn’t believe it could be cured and that all people are born bisexual. Freud’s wasn’t the only opinion of the subject. Many disagreed and thought that it was a mental disorder. Something that required intervention. Little understood at the time the treatments were painful and cruel by our standards today. They varied from incarceration, compulsory commitment to mental institutions. Involuntary procedures ranging from aversion therapies, castration, electro-shock treatments, and even lobotomies. Some even tried to “pray away the gay”.
It wasn’t until 1973, that the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality as a condition in the DSM altogether. The World Health Organization followed in 1990. Today therapists and counselor’s can specialize in LGBTQ+ issues that are unique to our community. Gay affirmative psychotherapy and sexual orientation identity exploration are powerful tools used to help the LGBTQ+ client through experiences that can be exclusive to our community.
Although, in certain parts of the world today and even our very own backyards, the LGBTQ+ community are still persecuted, bullied, and face daily stigmas. But it’s safe to say that things are better for us than they have ever been. Regardless of the strides we have made in mainstream society, we must remain diligent to keep the progress we have made and that must begin within ourselves. Our mental health must be maintained and looked after just as we look after our bodies.
If you find yourself in a position where you think you might be in need of help, I encourage you to reach out to someone. Need to talk to someone? Find LGBTQ+ friendly resources at: