A few weeks ago, This American Life rebroadcast a story called “81 Words” about how homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973.
At the time, the definition of a mental disorder had less to do with science than with a doctor’s personal prejudices.
The story described how a clandestine group within the APA — the GAYPA — worked to excise the association of its “white-haired conservative business psychiatrist” board members and play a more active role in social issues.
The day after the broadcast, it was revealed that Canada’s minister of immigration, Jason Kenney, had removed all references to gay rights from the immigration handbook — with the exception of a photo of Mark Tewksbury. At least immigrants will know what a gay person looks like.
I guess the only real surprise here is he didn’t add a paragraph on the sponsorship scandal the Conservatives are constantly beating off to.
I was struck by the similarities between the old DSM and the new immigration guide: both affect how people see themselves in society; both were guided by prejudice and both were overseen by straight white men.
Where the stories diverge is, in the case of the DSM, it took a number of people working inside and outside the APA to achieve progress, whereas it took only one person to prevent progress in the immigration guide.
Opponents to the changes claimed the APA and Kenney were bowing to political pressure.
At least the psychiatrists who argued that homosexuality is a disease did their research. Granted, they studied self-loathing homosexuals, but at least they studied something.
Kenney did no such thing. He repeatedly ignored advice telling him to leave the references to gay rights alone. Instead, he pulled a Sarah Palin and went rogue.
Ronald Bayer, a public health historian, says that both sides of the DSM argument wrapped themselves in the banner of science. He says opinions on homosexuality have nothing to do with science but with morals and people’s interpretations of what sex is for.
Kenney — who won’t even admit he authorized the changes, despite the paper trail — has not offered gay Canadians the benefit of any reasonable explanation.
On a positive note, more people are appalled by Kenney’s decision than emboldened by it.
All we can really hope for now is that people both inside and outside the Conservative party are working to excise it of its ideologues, so that maybe John Baird can someday come out of the closet for real.