Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gay or Lesbian No Cure Required

Gays and lesbians  do not need to be cured
Photo Credit Emily Roesly

The early 1980s was a time when women began to move into positions that had been, up until that time, generally available only to men. Being young, seemingly outgoing, and attractive, I found work as a territorial sales representative.

Even though equal pay for the same work was a dream, women moved out of pink collar ghettos, and we were working our way into what should have been higher paying positions. Although there was plenty of talk about equal pay for work or equal value, there was little discussion regarding workplace sexual harassment. In fact, it was assumed that we had moved out of the ranks of the typing pool because we were young and pretty.

Knowing the difference between good touching and bad touching seems to be part of my DNA. When men I worked with would put their arm around me, I took it for what I believed it to be, an expression of dominance. I'd simply move away, look him straight in the eye, and say, "Don't touch me."

One day my sales manager called me into his office, and said that there were rumors going around that I was a lesbian. "Maybe I am," I said. On the outside I was cool, on the inside I was jumping up and down. and shouting, "Put one on the wall for the gays and lesbians." He was speechless. I suppose I came out of the closet that day, only I'm not a lesbian.

Dr. Robert L.  Spitzer will be 80 next week. He is sometimes thought of as the father of modern psychiatry.  Into the 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association labeled homosexuals as sociopathic personalities. In 1973, directly due to the efforts of Dr. Spitzer, homosexuality was relabeled as a "sexual orientation disturbance."  And by the 1990s, all labels were removed. Today, any problems that arise from being gay or lesbian have nothing at all to do with the person, and everything to do with societal prejudices.

However, these prejudices are so strong that some gays and lesbians go searching desperately for a cure. In 1999, a group of gays and lesbians gathered at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association to protest the elimination of homosexuality as a mental illness. Their argument was that because psychiatry no longer believes homosexuality to be a problem, they couldn’t get the treatment they need.

After the 1999 incident, Dr. Spitzer researched reparative therapy, which is a kind of aversion therapy, which supposedly cures homosexuality. His research consisted of talking with allegedly "cured" gays and lesbians. He concluded that for those who had the desire to change, reparative therapy could work. After the publication of his findings, he became known as the foremost psychiatrist who believed homosexual can be cured, although that was never his intention.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report stating that reparative therapy is dangerous and a threat to the health of affected people. On the heels of the WHO declaration, Dr. Spitzer, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, managed to write a letter of apology to all gays and lesbians for the harm he has caused.

Discrimination and stereotyping ultimately leads to abuse. The abused all too often think they are the problem, and too many people blame the victims. I did not realize until I read about Dr. Spitzer that my belief in the rights of women was so closely intertwined with the rights of homosexuals. Each time there is greater understanding of any group, there is greater understanding for all of us.

Put another one on the wall for the gays and lesbians.

No comments: