December 21, 1998
Final Edition


NEW YORK -- When the American Psychoanalytic Association addressed "Homophobia: Analysis of a 'Permissible' Prejudice" at a public forum Friday, the doctors started their examination close to home -- with themselves.

The forum was not a debate with opposing views presented, but rather a first extended public apology from a group that some gay men and lesbians believe gave permission and scientific cover to homophobia.

Only in the past five years did the psychoanalysts group (APsaA) drop the ideas that homosexuality is an illness and homophobia is normal and begin to admit openly gay candidates to psychoanalytic training, membership and supervisory roles.

"We were wrong. We caused pain," Ralph E. Roughton, an Atlanta psychoanalyst and first chairman of the association's Committee on Issues of Homosexuality, said to applause from an audience of about 400 in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria.

"We gave the public the image of psychoanalysts as homophobes," said Roughton, a supervising and training analyst.

He spoke of the "shame, degradation, depression and confusion" he once felt as a gay man in the association before coming out in 1996. He devoted years to "pseudo-cures," discovering that "by being false in public, I advanced my career." Now that the association has recognized that "sexual orientation and mental health are separate dimensions of an individual's life," Roughton says, it can redress past errors.

The homosexual-issues committee is considering a resolution that treatment aimed at changing sexual orientation is wrong. The association last year resolved that states should not interfere with civil marriages between homosexuals.

Roughton shared Friday's discussion with politicians, experts on gender and sexuality, and the Rev. Peter Gomes, Harvard chaplain, author and openly gay Episcopal priest.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who was scheduled to join the panel but was held in Washington for the impeachment debate, sent a statement praising the APsaA for efforts to "confront and expunge past errors."

New York City Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi said, "Bigotry is not only stupid, it leads to dangerous public policy and personal action."

While crime is down across the nation, the FBI reported an 8% increase in 1997 from 1996 in crimes motivated by the victims' sexual orientation.

Included in the statistics for 1998 will be the beating murder of gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, whose name was frequently invoked during the forum.

In recalling Shepard -- and the publicity given to those who call for "curing" gays rather than curing their homophobic killers -- one speaker chided, "It's easy to think only of extremists, the killers and the fanatics."

"It's easy when the bias is blatant and somebody else's," said another speaker, Paul Lynch, a psychiatry instructor at Harvard Medical School and the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute's first openly gay candidate.

"But what prejudices lurk within us and our institution?" asked Lynch, the moderator for the forum. He believes that psychoanalysis, the science of the unconscious mind and its connection to human behavior, "can weaken the grip of bias." As can religion, said Gomes, author of The Good Book, Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart (Bard, $ 13). He contradicts those who would confirm their biases and secure social advantages by citing Scripture.

"The Bible does not create prejudice" when it is read for its overarching principles of moral rigor, social outrage and the appeal to conscience.

Said Gomes: "It is never too late to change one's mind. It is never too late to change one's heart. It is certainly never too late to change one's habits."

He called not so much for tolerance for homosexuality as "tolerance for all sexuality as a gift from God."

If society equates heterosexuality with male dominance and calls that "normal," then homophobia is the logical outcome, said psychoanalyst Nancy Chodorow, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

"There are great varieties of normal," she said.

He calls homophobia a form of hatred rather than fear or phobia because any attraction to the feminine, the passive or the submissive in men is viewed as a deep threat that "must be attacked and destroyed."

As long as homophobia is securely cosseted in history and culture -- as racism, anti-Semitism and sexism were for centuries -- it will go unchallenged, she said.


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