Oregon’s Psychiatric Establishment’s
Pioneering Support of Gay Civil Rights
By George T. Nicola
Last updated 12-29-2012
Although Oregon gay movement had only started in 1970, within two years we were preparing to work for statewide civil rights protection. In 1973, with help from some sympathetic Legislators, we were able to get a bill introduced into the Oregon House that would ban discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation.
At that time, the American Psychiatric Association maintained a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-1) in which homosexuality was designated as a "sociopathic personality disturbance." Who would want to employ a sociopath?
As the lobbyist for the bill, I needed to figure out how to neutralize that potential fear. Someone told me that there was a psychiatrist who was sympathetic to gays. His name was Ira Pauly.
I contacted Dr. Pauly and he agreed to assist us. He would meet with people from the Oregon District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association. I asked if I could accompany him, but he wanted to do it alone. I don’t think I even gave him much suggested verbiage other than requesting endorsement of civil rights based on sexual orientation.
Dr. Pauly came back to me within a week or so, bearing a supportive statement from the Oregon District Branch of the APA dated April 17, 1973. The statement explained that “there is no proper medical basis to accord homosexuals less than full and equal protection. No evidence exists that proves that homosexuals function less well in occupations than heterosexuals.” Thus, “A policy of judging job applicants on their individual merit would be most consistent with the furthering of each person’s mental health.”
The statement concluded:
“We therefore would support legislation that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in basic areas of human rights such as employment, housing, public accommodation, and education. Specifically, we endorse HB 2930 now pending before the Oregon Legislature.”
This is quite a statement. Here is the state’s official psychiatric group saying that gay civil rights would further people’s mental health! And all this while the national group maintained that we had a “sociopathic personality disturbance.”. In December of 1973, the national APA removed homosexuality from the DSM, while at the same time advocating civil rights for gays. (http://www.aglp.org/gap/1_history/#declassification)
One reason this chronology becomes important is that some critics maintain that the psychiatric reform was a result of gay intimidation of the psychiatric profession nationally. But if that were the case, how would they explain what happened in Oregon so many months before the national reform? I was the only activist who talked to Pauly, and I had neither the intention nor the power to intimidate anyone. Furthermore, I did not even suggest the strong verbiage. That came directly from the state’s APA.
In researching Dr. Pauly later, I found out that he was a pioneer supporter of what at that time was called transsexualism. Some additional information on him can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Pauly.
Inset above is an image of the actual statement Dr. Pauly gave me.
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