Robert Leopold Spitzer



Robert Spitzer | 15512

Robert Leopold Spitzer, an influential psychiatrist who played a defining role in creating agreed-upon standards to describe mental disorders, died on Friday 25 December 2015 in Seattle. He is credited with helping to stop homosexuality being regarded as a pathological condition.

Mr Spitzer died from complications related to heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. He was born on May 22, 1932, in White Plains, New York. He was 83.

In the early 1970s, Spitzer met with gay-rights activists and determined that homosexuality could not be called a disorder if homosexuals were comfortable with their sexuality. At the American Psychological Conference in 1973, he pushed for the association to drop homosexuality as a medical disorder from its manual. It became a major turning point for the gay rights movement.

“A medical disorder either had to be associated with subjective distress — pain — or general impairment in social function,” he told the Washington Post, explaining his reasoning. Since gay people were comfortable and happy being gay, and functioned like everyone else in their daily lives, they did not suffer from any disorder.

In 2001, after two years of interviews with 200 ‘ex-gay’ men and women who had been through sexual reorientation therapy, he courted controversy when he concluded that gay people can turn straight if they really wanted to, but in 2012 he publicly said that he wanted to redact that paper, because the study was flawed.

Some gay rights activists attribute the U.S. Supreme Court’s judgment allowing gay marriages in 2015 partially to the work done by Mr Spitzer.



The origin of AIDS in the 1920s



Kinshasa in the 1950s | Getty | 14038

A team at the University of Oxford and the University of Leuven, in Belgium, tried to reconstruct HIV’s “family tree” and find out where its oldest ancestors came from by analysing mutations in HIV’s genetic code. They found that the HIV virus originated in the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and was then called Leopoldville.

Prof Oliver Pybus said: “It was a very large and very rapidly growing area and colonial medical records show there was a high incidence of various sexually transmitted diseases.” Large numbers of male labourers were drawn to the city, distorting the gender balance until men outnumbered women two to one, eventually leading to a roaring sex trade…. “Public health campaigns to treat people for various infectious diseases with injections seem a plausible route [for spreading the virus].

“The second really interesting aspect is the transport networks that enabled people to move round a huge country. Around one million people were using Kinshasa’s railways by the end of the 1940s. The virus spread, with neighbouring Brazzaville and the mining province, Katanga, rapidly hit.


Persuading the American Psychiatric Association that homosexuality was not an illness



Uncredited and Undated Photo: A demo near the Hadson Hotel, West 31st Street, New York, probably in the 1970s | Business Insider | 14082

The American Psychiatric Association regarded homosexuality as a mental illness until 1974. The illness of homosexuality was “treated” on a wide basis. There was little or no suggestion within the psychiatric community that homosexuality might be conceptualized as anything other than a mental illness that needed to be treated.

Then in 1970 gay activists protested against the APA convention in San Francisco. These scenes were repeated in 1971, and as people came out of the “closet” and felt empowered politically and socially, the APA directorate became increasingly uncomfortable with their stance that homosexuality was an illness at all.

In 1973 the APA’s nomenclature task force recommended that homosexuality be declared normal. The trustees were not prepared to go that far, but they did vote to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses by a vote of 13 to 0, with 2 abstentions. This decision was confirmed by a vote of the APA membership, and homosexuality was no longer listed as an illness requiring treatment in 1974.


The UK lifetime ban on gays giving blood

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The lifetime ban on blood donation by gay men was put in place in the 1980s as a panic response to the spread of Aids and HIV.

Peter Tatchell launched the first campaign against the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual blood donors in 1991.

A further concerted campaign to get the ban lifted was launched on February 5, 2008 when Russell Hirst launched the campaign “Bloodban”. Mr Hirst told the BBC:

“I was very shocked when my sister was ill, needed a lot of blood, and I wasn’t allowed to donate blood. I just want to be equal. Everybody should be judged on their personal activities. If a gay man says that he’s had unprotected sex with a man, then he should not give blood for 18 months – but I don’t see why it should be a lifetime ban.”

The National Health Service denied at the time that the ban continued in order to save money. A spokesman for the National Blood Service told the BBC that the ban was in place “for good reason”, and denied there were financial reasons for a ban.

“We ask men who have had sex with men not to give blood because, as a group, they are known to be at an increased risk of acquiring HIV and a number of other sexually transmitted diseases, many of which are carried in the blood. While safer sex, through the use of condoms, can reduce the risk of transmitting infections, it cannot reduce this risk to such low levels as to make it totally risk-free.”

By 2009 the Anthony Nolan Trust had lifted its automatic ban on all donations from gay and bisexual men, taking the view that each individual donor should be assessed on their personal risk factors.

By 2011, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy and Japan had amended their policies on gay men giving blood, following a number of legal challenges in which the medical evidence was subjected to intense scrutiny and found to be inconclusive. There was found to be no appreciable change in the safety of the transfusion blood stock following the changes in arrangements and policies, which considerably weakened the justification for the outright total lifetime banning of blood donations by gay men.

In 2011 following a review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, the ban was amended rather than lifted. Men who have not had homosexual sex within the past year will be able to donate if they meet certain other criteria. Men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the past 12 months, with or without a condom, are still not eligible to donate blood. The UK’s lifetime ban was lifted on 7 November 2011.


How we were “treated”



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San Francisco’s new science museum includes “a dingy 20th century exhibit on mental health”. Mental health clipboards detail the treatment of unfortunate individuals who were institutionalized and drugged for behaviors that, today, we would consider quite normal, including homosexuality.

“Normalcy is a shifting landscape,” explains co-curator Pamela Winfrey, who wants kids and adults alike to understand how medical science helps define convention.

“Frank C” was institutionalized for what doctors called a “homosexual panic.” After being discharged from military service 1942, he went berserk outside of a restaurant. He told physicians, “I know that I am in the Kings County Hospital. I am not sick. I got excited on Fulton Street and I was throwing garbage. My blood temper. I went up. I was angry. In the Virginia restaurant I got a broken plate…I thought that someone planned to kill me.” Doctors “suspected he feared his own latent homosexsual desires; at the time, this so-called ‘homosexual panic’ was believed to lead to paranoia…he was confined in calm and quiet surroundings and treated with medication”.”

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