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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 29, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 17
Psychiatrist Alfred Freedman dies at 94 - Led effort to de-pathologize LGBT community
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Psychiatrist Alfred Freedman dies at 94 - Led effort to de-pathologize LGBT community

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Dr. Alfred Freedman, psychiatrist and social reformer, died on Sunday, April 17, at the age of 94.

Freedman was president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 when the group declared that homosexuality was not a mental illness.

In spite of mounting pressure from LGBT rights advocates and changing social values, the association's members were deeply divided about its evaluation of the LGBT community.

The APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders II classified homosexuality as a 'sexual deviation' in the same class as fetishism, voyeurism, pedophilia, and exhibitionism.

Freedman - who had a reputation as an advocate of community-based psychiatric and social services - was approached in 1972 by a group of young psychiatrists calling themselves the Committee of Concerned Psychiatrists.

They persuaded him to run as a write-in candidate for the presidency of the association, which he described as a conservative 'old boys' club.'

Much to his surprise, Freedman won the first contested election in the organization's history by only three votes out of the 9,000 cast.

Immediately on taking office, he threw his support behind a resolution, drafted by Robert Spitzer of Columbia University, saying that 'by itself, homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being a psychiatric disorder.'

'We will no longer insist on a label of sickness for individuals who insist that they are well and demonstrate no generalized impairment in social effectiveness,' the resolution continued.

On December 15, 1973, the association's board, many of them newly elected younger psychiatrists, voted 13 to 0, with two abstentions, in favor of the resolution.

Among other things, the resolution helped reassure Gay men and Lesbians seeking treatment for mental health issues that doctors would have no authorization to try to change their sexual orientation or to identify their sexual orientation as the root cause of their problems.

The recently formed National Gay Task Force - now the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - hailed the resolution as 'the greatest Gay victory,' one that removed 'the cornerstone of oppression for one-tenth of our population.'

An equally important companion resolution condemned discrimination against Gays in such areas as housing and employment. In addition, it called on local, state, and federal lawmakers to repeal all statutes criminalizing sex between consenting adults, and urged them to pass legislation guaranteeing Gay citizens the same civil rights as other Americans.

The APA resolution became a model for professional and religious organizations that took similar positions in the years to come.

'I felt at the time that that decision was the most important thing we accomplished,' Freedman said in a 2007 interview.

Freedman was also very concerned about the treatment of drug addiction. In 1959 in East Harlem, he established one of the earliest drug treatment programs for adults and the following year he created a similar program for adolescents.

After completing his term with the APA, Freedman continued to take an interest in social issues. Most recently he spoke out against psychiatrists participating in the interrogation of detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

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