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Activism and LGBT Psychology: An Introduction

Activism and LGBT Psychology:
An Introduction
Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD
Jack Drescher, MD
This special issue of the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy
focuses on integrating activism into the mental health fields in Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual and Transgender psychology.1The impetus for this issue
was inspired by events within the mental health field, including the sup-
port for marriage equality by the American Psychological Association
(2003) and the American Psychiatric Association (2005), as well as the
2003 death of an early psychologist-activist Martin Rochlin, PhD.
Judith M. Glassgold is a psychologist in private practice in Highland Park, NJ
and a visiting faculty member at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional
Psychology of Rutgers University.
Jack Drescher is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy.
Address correspondence to: Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, 324 Raritan Avenue, Highland
Park, NJ 08904 (E-mail:
[Haworth co-indexing entry note]: “Activism and LGBT Psychology: An Introduction.” Glassgold,
Judith M., and Jack Drescher. Co-published simultaneously in Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy (The
Haworth Medical Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc.) Vol. 11, No. 3/4, 2007, pp. 1-8; and: Activism
and LGBT Psychology (ed: Judith M. Glassgold, and Jack Drescher) The Haworth Medical Press, an imprint
of The Haworth Press, Inc., 2007, pp. 1-8. Single or multiple copies of this article are available for a fee
from The Haworth Document Delivery Service [1-800-HAWORTH, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (EST). E-mail
Available online at
©2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1300/J236v11n03_01 1
Rochlin2was an activist, par excellence. A psychotherapist for much
of his career, he was fully engaged with the issues of his times. In 1972,
he was the first out psychologist in Los Angeles. He was active in the
struggle to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Asso-
ciation Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and was an initial organizer of
the Association of Gay Psychologists, the first organization for lesbian
and gay psychologists. Rochlin was also involved in the creation of Di-
vision 443of APA and later served in leadership roles. He founded a
Gay Studies program at Sacramento State Community College. In other
words, Rochlin was the epitome of how a psychologist could advocate
for change within the mental health fields themselves for LGBT issues.
Rochlin did not write much, but what he wrote was important: “Sexual
orientation of the therapist and therapeutic effectiveness with Gay cli-
ents” (1982) is one of the first articles of its time discussing important is-
sues such as homophobia and bias in treatment as well as, the need for
identification and role models in gay clients. More important, is his “Het-
erosexual Questionnaire,” which is wonderful tool to debunk stereotypes
about same-sex orientation and heterosexist assumptions. His question-
naire is still being disseminated, and is now spread all over the Internet,
has been translated into many languages and immediately accessible by
simply typing into any search engine.4First circulated in 1972, it predates
the removal of homosexuality from the DSM by a year (Bayer, 1981). It
exemplifies Rochlin’s acute intelligence, as well his ability to use humor
and paradox to debunk stereotypes. The questionnaire remains timeless,
unfortunately, as the stereotypes of LGBT lives have still not changed.
Thus, this issue is dedicated to Rochlin’s memory. We also dedicate
it to all the other early activists in LGBT mental health who challenged
their respective disciplines of psychology, psychiatry, and social work
to rethink the pathologization of homosexuality and to become involved
in efforts to change the social conditions that caused and still cause the
LGBT community such distress.
The publication of two resolutions supporting same sex marriage by
the major mental health organizations in the United States is an example
of the new trend within mental health to apply science to social prob-
lems and to view mental health issues not as isolated personal phenom-
ena, but as resulting from real-life conditions. This type of activism runs
counter to the stereotype of the mental health practitioner, which is of an
individual who in devotion to objectivity is removed from the concerns
of everyday life. The myth of the objective mental health observe was put
forward by Freud (1912) who urged his colleagues “to model them-
selves during psycho-analytic treatment on the surgeon, who puts aside
all his feelings, even his human sympathy, and concentrates his mental
forces on the single aim of performing the operation as skillfully as pos-
sible” (Freud, 1912). As LGBT mental health professionals know all
too well, one did not have to be a psychoanalyst to wrap oneself in the
mantle of “scientific objectivity.” Early activists like Rochlin under-
stood that the professions of psychiatry and psychology held privileged
roles in science and society that allowed them to define what is normal
and what is not. This privilege brings with it responsibility to fairness,
both within and outside the profession.
The activist perspective has gained greater support as we better un-
derstand the relationship between social conditions and mental health.
Although psychotherapy is about change, psychotherapy traditionally
defined its role as focusing solely on the individual and neglecting the
social issues that might either cause or remediate suffering. Recently,
the role of discrimination, oppression, and other adverse social condi-
tions has been seen as the root of mental health concerns of minority
groups. Ilan Meyer (2003), writing about minority stress and mental
health, notes that adversity brought about by prejudice and discrimination
causes many of the symptoms that bring individuals into psychother-
apy. The LGBT, feminist, and progressive movements have challenged
mental health providers and the professions to pay attention to prejudice
and its potential impact on treatment.
In offering some activist roles for psychotherapists, this special issue
of the JGLP builds on diverse perspectives from psychology. It presents
community, counseling and clinical perspectives, as well as personal re-
flections by professional colleagues and critiques of social policy.
This issue begins with Charles Silverstein, PhD’s “Wearing Two Hats:
The Psychologist as Activist and Therapist.” Silverstein, a distinguished
member of JGLP’s editorial board, is a long-time activist for LGB
psychology who has been previously been a subject of a journal profile
himself (Sbordone, 2003). Over the course of four decades of practice,
Silverstein was involved in many of the political struggles as well as the
evolution of gay-affirmative mental health practices. His article, from the
vantage point of personal history, gives an intimate history of political and
professional change. Silverstein looks back on activism within gay psy-
chology, and lays out future challenges as well.
The next three papers by Judith Glassgold, PsyD, Glenda Russell,
PhD and Janis Bohan, PhD, and Rupert Raj, MA, provide views on inte-
grating activism into clinical practice. The first two papers show the
influence of alternate paradigms in psychology, liberation psychology and
postmodernism and offer theoretical alternatives for clinical practice.
Introduction 3
Glassgold’s “In dreams begin responsibilities’ Psychology, Agency, and
Activism” asserts that psychology must abandon the practice of see-
ing mental health issues as individual problems and more willing to see
these issues as the consequences of social injustice. This then leads to
theoretical and intervention models that focus on social and political
awareness, including psychodynamic models that integrate paradigms
from liberation psychology.
Russell and Bohan’s “Liberating Psychotherapy: Liberation Psychol-
ogy and Psychotherapy with LGBT Clients” argues that neither science
nor psychotherapy can be separated from values, and they call on the
insights of liberation psychology to examine the role of the social and
the political in understandings of LGBT experiences. Using the concept
of internalized homophobia as an illustrative construct, their paper ex-
plores strategies for bringing these understandings to bear in psycho-
therapy with LGBT people, as well as in interventions that move beyond
the therapy hour.
In “Transactivism as Therapy: A Client Self-Empowerment Model
Linking Personal and Social Agency,” Raj, a trans-identified transactivist
and psychotherapist, outlines a number of ways in which an activist-cli-
nician can bring to the therapeutic process an integrated clinical approach
that encourage client empowerment and self-definition. Raj presents a
case vignette that permits the reader to understand the complexity of psy-
chotherapy with some Trans clients who address multiple oppressions
and clinical issues.
The next three papers deal with research, community and policy issues.
These papers are from psychologists working in non-clinical settings.
“Collaborative Community-Based Research as Activism: Giving Voice
and Hope to Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth” is by Gary Harper,
PhD, Omar Bashir Jamil, MA and Bianca D. M. Wilson, PhD who discuss
how research can be a form of social activism. They discuss ways in
which psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals
can engage in LGB youth activism through structural-level change efforts,
with a specific focus on: (1) raising awareness within the academy about
the issues that confront LGB youth and the need for activism, while
working to elevate the status of LGB research within these academic in-
stitutions; (2) creating safe settings in which LGB youth can be affirmed
and validated when they engage in self expression; and (3) improving the
capacity of local community organizations to advocate for LGB youth.
The authors purport that one way to affect structural-level factors is
through the development and execution of collaborative participatory re-
search projects that engage community members and community-based
organizations (CBOs) that serve LGB youth. By participating in research,
that permits self-reflection and participant involvement LGBT youth can
gain a greater level of self-awareness and self-actualization.
Anne Mulvey, PhD and Charlotte Mandell, PhD are next with “Using
the Arts to Challenge Hate, Create Community: Laramie Lives in Lowell.”
They describe a production of Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project
staged at a northeast public urban university and a related educational
campaign focused on changing community attitudes and thus changing
an environment. This project is an example of community psychology
within an academic environment using a theatre production as a central
intervention. Their project’s goals were to discourage homophobia, en-
courage dialog, and increase visibility and acceptance of gay, lesbian,
bisexual, and transgendered students. The project was produced by a
coalition including student groups, academic departments, and admin-
istrative units. A variety of indices show the play was immediately suc-
cessful for the audience and community and had a deeper impact on cast
members and planners. They assert that collaborative relationships span-
ning interpersonal, cultural, and political boundaries and the use of the
arts for social change were key factors in the program’s success.
Research suggests that school experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are overwhelmingly neg-
ative and that anti-LGBTQ violence and victimization in school lead to
both acute and chronic negative developmental outcomes for these youth.
The counseling psychology profession is uniquely situated to address
and ameliorate these negative environments by providing training and
support to school counselors on LGBT youth and prevention education.
In “Activism in the Schools: Providing LGBTQ Affirmative Training to
School Counselors,” Joy Whitman, PhD, Stacey Horn, PhD and Cyndy
Boyd, PhD describe a model developed in partnership between a com-
munity-based organization and a local University to train school coun-
selors and other educational professionals to be agents of change within
their own school community, so as to create safer and supportive envi-
ronments for LGBTQ youth.
The last two papers present compelling personal, yet scholarly, ac-
counts of integrating activism into the lives and roles of psychologists.
These authors illustrate how the personal is the professional is the politi-
cal. Amy Rees-Turyn, PhD, begins with “Coming Out and Being Out as
Activism: Challenges and Opportunities for Mental Health Profession-
als in Red and Blue States. She notes that for LGBT professionals, the
act of coming out or being out is a basic form of activism. In the context
of environmental pressures that professionals come out or be out, she
Introduction 5
argues that it is important to acknowledge both the potential for this ba-
sic form of activism to reduce prejudice, and the risk individual’s may
be taking. Rees feels it is important to recognize and support profession-
als in their decisions about when to come out or be out in the same man-
ner that one supports clients in similar situations.
The final paper in this issue is by Peter Ji, PhD “Being a Heterosexual
Ally to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community:
Reflections and Development.” Ji tells of his development as a hetero-
sexual ally of the LGBT community. He uses those parts of his own ex-
perience that are consistent with components of existing ally identity
development models to provide qualitative evidence regarding the validity
of those models. Ji goes on to discuss the role of affect components in
ally identity development and the implications of these models for training
allies for the LGBT community.
These varied papers focusing on clinical issues and theory, community
settings and research, and the integration of the personal and the profes-
sional outline paths for integrating activism into mental health research
and practice. Hopefully these examples will inspire others to find their
own creative ways to make sure that the mental health fields truly make a
positive difference in the lives of LGBT individuals and communities.
1. The subject of activism and some profiles of mental health activists were previ-
ously addressed in Volume 6, Number 4 of the JGLP (See Ashley, 2002; Drescher,
2002; Geltman, 2002; Levine, 2002; Mass, 2002; McFarlane, 2002; Mitchell, 2002;
Scasta, 2002).
2. For more information on Rochlin’s life, see Steven Morin and Douglas Kimmel’s
obituary in the American Psychologist.
3. Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues.
4. Heterosexual Questionnaire (Rochlin, 1972)
This questionnaire is for self-avowed heterosexuals only. If you are not openly hetero-
sexual, pass it on to a friend who is. Please try to answer the questions as candidly as pos-
sible. Your responses will be held in strict confidence and your anonymity fully
1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
2. When and how did you first decide you were a heterosexual?
3. Is it possible your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
4. Could it be that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the
same sex?
5. If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, how can you be sure you
wouldn’t prefer that?
6. To who have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies? How did they react?
7. Why do heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into their lifestyle?
8. Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Can’t you just be what you
are and keep it quiet?
9. Would you want your children to be heterosexual, knowing the problems they’d
10. A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual men. Do you
consider it safe to expose children to heterosexual male teachers, pediatricians,
priests, or scoutmasters?
11. With all the societal support for marriage, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are
there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?
12. Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?
13. Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if
everyone were heterosexual?
14. Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don’t you fear s/he
might be inclined to influence you in the direction of her/his own leanings?
15. Heterosexuals are notorious for assigning themselves and one another rigid,
stereotyped sex roles. Why must you cling to such unhealthy role-playing?
16. With the sexually segregated living conditions of military life, isn’t heterosexu-
ality incompatible with military service?
17. How can you enjoy an emotionally fulfilling experience with a person of the
other sex when there are such vast differences between you? How can a man
know what pleases a woman sexually or vice-versa?
18. Shouldn’t you ask your far-out straight cohorts, like skinheads and born-against,
to keep quiet? Wouldn't that improve your image?
19. Why are heterosexuals so promiscuous?
20. Why do you attribute heterosexuality to so many famous lesbian and gay peo-
ple? Is it to justify your own heterosexuality?
21. How can you hope to actualize your God-given homosexual potential if you
limit yourself to exclusive, compulsive heterosexuality?
22. There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed
that might enable you to change if you really want to. After all, you never deliber-
ately chose to be a heterosexual, did you? Have you considered aversion therapy
or Heterosexuals Anonymous?
American Psychiatric Association. (2005), Position Statement in Support of Legal
Recognition of Same-Sex Civil Marriage. Accessed 11/11/2005 from http://www.
American Psychological Association. (2004), APA Resolution on Sexual Orientation
and Marriage. Accessed 11/11/2005 from
Introduction 7
Ashley, K. (2002), An interview with Stuart E. Nichols, Jr., MD. J. Gay & Lesbian Psy-
chotherapy, 6(4):55-71.
Bayer, R. (1981), Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis.
New York: Basic Books.
Drescher, J. (2002), Editorial: In your face: Social activism and mental health. J. Gay &
Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6(4):1-7.
Freud, S. (1912), Recommendations to physicians practicing psycho-analysis. Standard
Edition, 12:109-120. London: Hogarth Press, 1958.
Geltman, D. (2002), An interview with Arthur Kravitz, MD. J. Gay & Lesbian Psycho-
therapy, 6(4):97-105.
Levine, J. (2002), Community: Risk, identity and love in the age of AIDS. J. Gay &
Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6(4):23-43.
Mass, L. (2002), Papa Bear: Remembering Stuart E. Nichols, Jr., MD (1936-2002).
J. Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6(4):45-54.
McFarlane, R. (2002), Lessons for psychiatry from the AIDS activist movement.
J. Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6(4):9-22.
Meyer, I. H. (2003), Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and
bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin,
Mitchell, R. (2002), An interview with Richard A. Isay, MD. J. Gay & Lesbian Psycho-
therapy, 6(4):85-96.
Morin, S. & Kimmel, D. (2004), Obituary: Martin Rochlin. American Psychologist,
Rochlin, M. (1972), Heterosexual Questionnaire. Accessed 11/11/2005 from http://
Rochlin, M. (1982), Sexual orientation of the therapist and therapeutic effectiveness
with Gay clients. In: Homosexuality and Psychotherapy: A Practitioner’s Handbook
of Affirmative Models, ed. J. Gonsiorek. New York: Haworth Press, pp. 21-30.
Sbordone, A. J. (2003), An interview with Charles Silverstein, PhD. J. Gay & Lesbian
Psychotherapy, 7(4):49-61.
Scasta, D.L. (2002), John E. Fryer, MD, and the Dr. H. Anonymous episode. J. Gay &
Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6(4):73-84.
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