The Changing Tide of LGBTI in Psychology and Psychiatry


For gays and lesbians, the story started well with Sigmund Freud and Havelock Ellis (1901) who argued that homosexuality was inborn and therefore not immoral, it was not a condition to be treated as immoral or as a disorder and that many homosexuals made outstanding contributions to society (Robinson, 1976). In a famous letter from Freud to an American mother in 1935 is such an example of acceptance and compassion “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too….

“If [your son] is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed….” (Jones, 1957, pp. 208-209).


Unfortunately Freud and Ellis (1897) were lone voices until 1957 when psychologist Evelyn Hooker published her landmark article in the USA helped changed the tide back to Freud’s thoughts on the topic. Sadly however in the interim, the school of analysis and psychiatry there was the growing trend to be homophobic, biphobic, interphobic and transphobic with eventually more extreme forms of ‘treatment’ such as electro convulsive therapy, aversion therapy and chemical castration taking place (Bayer, 1987).   This led to LGBTi people living an under-cover life, developing a damaging communication toward self and being secretive to survive, living as an invisible citizen (Seidman 2002). Both psychology and psychiatry were on trend to brutalise the LGBTi people at the wishes and whims of family, friends and societal pressure. However Evelyn Hooker and Alfred Kinsey in his famous study on sex in 1950’s America looked at the marginalized sections of society and changed the tide for LGBTi in a huge positive life changing way.

It was notable that the first edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1953, originally listed homosexuality as a ‘sociopathic personality disturbance’ but this was ‘upgraded’ to a mere ‘sexual deviation’ in 1968 with the release of DSM-II.   In 1973, when homosexuality was removed from revised DSM-II, there was a great deal of controversy about that decision within the psychiatric community.  Many psychiatrists and psychologists still believed that homosexuality was a psychopathology, which must be treated (Ellis 2001).   However, the psychologist Evelyn Hooker (1957) concluded from her research that homosexuality was not linked to personality disorder or mental illness. Her work along side others around the world including UK June Hopkins (2002, 1969), then lead to the de-medicalisation of homosexuality in 1973.   But it still remained in the DSM III until 1986 with the last remaining diagnosis of ‘ego dystonic homosexuality’. Today the the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Psychological Society has a LGBTi section and proudly recognises the contribution of LGBTi psychiatrists and psychologists toward the field of its science. If you wish to contact the author of this blog: Matt Broadway-Horner then please click on this link; Contact


Bayer, R. 1987. Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Ellis, H. (1897), Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Vol 1: Sexual Inversion. London: Wilson and Macmillan.

Ellis, S.J. (2001), Doing being liberal: Implicit prejudice in focus group talk about lesbian and gay human rights issues. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review, 2(2):43-49.

Hooker, E. (1957), The adjustment of the male overt homosexual. Journal of Projective Techniques, 21:18-31.

Hopkins, J. (2002/1969), The lesbian personality. Lesbian & Gay Psychology Review, 3(2): 40-43. [Originally published in British J. Psychiatry, 115:1433-1436.]

Jennings, R. (2007). A Lesbian History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Women Since 1500. London. Praeger Publishing.

Jones, E. (1957). Sigmund Freud: Life and work (Vol. 3). London: Hogarth.

Jones, T.C,. & Nystrom, N.M. (2002). Looking back, Looking forward: Addressing the loves of lesbians 55 and older. Journal of Women and Aging, 14, 59-76

Robinson, P. (1976). The modernization of sex. New York: Harper & Row.

Seidman, S. (2002). Beyond the Closet: The transformation of gay and lesbian life. New York: Routledge

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