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Lambda Lore

I Am Shocked! Shocked, I Tell You!

I like to tell people that I was clinically insane until I was 23 years old. I know some of you are saying that explains a lot. But really, so was every other homosexual born before April 9, 1974.

In case you think I am exaggerating a tad, I assure you I am not. The American Psychiatric Association’s Bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classified homosexuality as being “among the sociopathic personality disturbances” in its first edition in 1952, and there the definition it remained until 1974.

The American Psychiatric Association’s board of trustees voted in December 1973 to remove homosexuality from the DSM lists of disorders. However, some conservative members of the APA called for a full vote by the group’s 17,905 eligible members to settle the matter. On April 9, 1974 the results were announced. With only 10,555 eligible APA members participating, 3,810 psychiatrists voted to keep “homosexuality” in the DSM as a mental disorder. However 5,854 voted to remove it.

So, the next day, on my 23rd birthday, I was no longer considered a mental case.

After the 1974 vote, the American Psychiatric Association dropped homosexuality as “a psychiatric disorder,” and even began to advocate for laws to protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination in employment, housing, transportation and licensing. They also encouraged “the repeal of all legislation making criminal offenses of sexual acts performed by consenting adults in private.”

Prior to 1970, most trained psychiatrists generally considered desires for someone of the same sex to be a disorder. Karoly Maria Kertbeny’s 19th century term “homosexual” was the official moniker for those inflicted by this mental-physical disassociative disorder. In the early 20th century, thanks to Dr. Freud and Dr. Jung, psychiatry exercised an “authoritative voice” on public opinion. By mid-century, psychiatry’s “scientific opinion” and Alfred Kinsey’s sexology studies began to change the judicial view that homosexuality was a criminal deviancy to a mental illness. Believe it or not, this was a vast improvement. Homosexuals were now being ordered into treatment instead of prison.

But in Utah, it would appear that treatment was as bad as prison.

Cleon Skousen, while Chief of Police in Salt Lake City, was dismayed that some city judges were sending offending homosexuals to psychiatric treatment, rather than charging them with a felony and sending them to the state pen for up to 20 years as state law mandated. To sidestep the judges, Skousen got the city fathers to adopt as code the 1952 state provision which ordered sex offenders to the Utah State Hospital. In this way, Skousen said, “a conviction would enable authorities to commit offenders for life if medical examinations showed them mentally ill.” Previously, persons charged with indecent exposure or lewdness were tried in police court in Salt Lake City. Records show that homosexuals were being sent to the state mental institution in Utah County through much of the 1950s.

By the 1960s, aversion therapy or electro-shock therapy was promoted as means to cure homosexuality. As early as 1935 the American Psychological Association was told of a doctor successfully treating homosexuality by using electro-shock therapy “delivered at intensities considerably higher than those usually employed on human subjects.” Dr. Frankenstein meets Dr. Freud.

Electro-shock therapy was readily adopted in Utah to cure homosexuals, especially at LDS Church-owned college campuses. During the ’60s one man stood out as the premier proponent of this therapy: Dr. Robert D. Card, a Salt Lake psychologist. Dr. Card practiced the highly controversial bio-feedback therapy to cure homosexuality for nearly 20 years, explaining it simply as a “pairing of noxious stimulus with the stimulus trying to be reduced.” Dr. Card was judges’ and bishops’ go-to guy to fix queers, and he found no want of clients desperate to be heterosexual to fit in with the state’s dominant culture.

Dr. Card’s credibility in the professional world was spotless. He published several academic and professional papers advocating aversion therapy to eliminate homosexuality from a patient’s personality. He worked out of offices in Salt Lake City and on the BYU campus with gay Mormons. His BYU clients were treated by having electrodes attached to their genitals and then shown homosexual pornography. If they got a stiffy they were zapped.

A member of our community wrote an account of his therapy session with Dr. Card in his Salt Lake office. It goes like this: “The doctor would turn on a very graphic porno video of two or more men having sexual intercourse (and other activities). As I became excited and started to get an erection, the little ring around my penis would measure the slightest growth in circumference. This would then register on the device where the doctor sat, and he would hit me with a few seconds of volts. He would then sharply tell me to control my arousal. After a few minutes he would hit me with a few more seconds of electricity. This would go on for about five to 10 minutes. I would get aroused no matter how hard I tried not to, and I would be shocked again and again.”

Dr. Card defended this acceptable medical practice by stating, “I have an ethical responsibility to help anyone who wants to change.” However, by 1985 Dr. Card stated that he had abandoned the electro-shock therapy. When asked if he was ever successful in introducing heterosexual feelings in his homosexual patients, he was silent. He may have abandoned electro-shock therapy but it is interesting to note that in 1998 Dr. Card patented a sexual arousal device with the US Patent Office.

Today, reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, has generally replaced aversion therapy as a cure for homosexuality by those who have not accepted the APA’s 1974 decision. Reparative therapy states that homosexuality is a learned behavior, not truly an orientation. In 1998, the American Psychiatric Association passed a resolution rejecting this “treatment.” The resolution stated that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation can cause “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.” The APA feared that even the existence of reparative therapy spreads the idea that “homosexuality is a disease or is evil and has a dehumanizing effect resulting in an increase in discrimination, harassment, and violence against gays, lesbians and bisexuals.”

And yet here in Utah, Evergreen International, which embraces reparative therapy has had an annual conference for nearly 25 years feeding off referrals from LDS Family Services and from Mormons who are taught to despise their nature. Dr. Allen E. Bergin, a psychology professor at BYU, sums up the LDS position on why homosexuals must become heterosexual: “Though a person may suffer from homosexual inclinations that are caused by some combination of biology and environment, the gospel requires that he or she develop firm self-discipline and make an energetic effort to change.”

The American Psychiatric Association repeated in 2009 that reparative therapy is not “clinically sound.” However, LDS General Authority Elder Bruce C. Hafen, at that year’s Evergreen Conference, criticized the APA for claiming that sexual orientation is unchangeable. Hafen told attendees to “find a therapist who can help you identify the unmet emotional needs that you are tempted to satisfy in false sexual ways.”

In 1990, Boyd K. Packer wrote this regarding the church’s stance on homosexuality: “We are sometimes told that leaders in the Church do not really understand these problems. Perhaps we don’t. There are many ‘whys’ for which we just do not have simple answers.”

This is about the only thing Packer has ever said that I agree with.

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Ben Williams

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