The LIAAC Blog

News and thoughts from the Long Island Association for AIDS Care

In Memory of Dr. Isay

By Dr.Gail Barouh

Although many members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) stopped classifying homosexuality as a disease in 1973 most association members continued to regard it, and treat it as an illness. Dr. Richard Isay fought for years to make them see differently until in 1992, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) he threatened a lawsuit to stop the association from discriminating against gay people. Through position statements, training, hiring and promotions, the group slowly, reluctantly changed their positions until 1997 when the group became the first national mental health organization to support gay marriage.

Dr. Isay trained before the 1973 decision when homosexuality was viewed as something to be cured in therapy and openly gay professionals were  barred from training as analysts at APA accredited institutions. Early in his career, concerned about his own sexuality, Dr. Isay underwent 10 years of therapy. It was after this treatment and his pronouncement as being “cured,” he realized he was a homosexual. At this time he had a wife and two sons. When he finally told his wife, they decided to stay together until the children were grown, after which he had a relationship with Gordon Hessel. They were married last year in Manhattan. On June 18, 2012, Dr. Isay succumbed to cancer, he was 77. Dr. Isay was credited as changing the way the world viewed the subject of homosexuality, making the field of psychology see their view was based on ideology, not evidence. He pushed the field to do what it should have done and did not stop, he was a gay rights pioneer.

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