1973: Not mad after all

In 1973, Australia’s psychiatrists discovered that homosexuals were not psychologically disordered – and said so in public.

The Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the professions peak body, had called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1972, adding its voice to the growing chorus. But 1973 was something else again.

During several months of research, a committee set up by the governing council examined the medical literature and discussed their findings. It also conducted a survey of psychiatrists, finding that less than one-third believed the homosexuality was a disorder. (Among trainee psychiatrists, the proportion was about one in five). As many as 14% (and 23% of trainees) saw it as a natural variant in the human population, much like left-handedness.

In October 1973, a clinical memorandum was released by the federal council declaring that in their professional opinion, homosexuality was not commonly or necessarily associated with neurotic symptoms. (Clearly there was not a lot of research done in any of the gay bars of the day!)

The importance of the memorandum was amplified by the fact that a copy was rushed to parliament, where John Gorton and Moss Cass were about to present their motion calling for decriminalisation. In their speeches, the findings of this authoritative body were referred to, giving it even greater publicity.

More importantly – though less tangibly – it must have contributed to the decline of the various medical ‘cures’ for homosexuality (electro-shock therapy, brain surgery and the like), as medicos found that their peers saw them treating a problem that was not one.

Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives


Posted in History Bites.