Dr. Robert Spitzer — a psychiatrist who played a leading role in establishing agreed-upon standards to describe mental disorders and eliminating homosexuality’s designation as one — died Friday in Seattle. He was 83.
Spitzer’s work on several editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the D.S.M., defined all of the major disorders . Spitzer came up with agreed-upon definitions of mental disorders by convening meetings of experts in each diagnostic category and taking notes on their observations.
Dr. Spitzer is credited with removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the D.S.M. in 1973. He decided to push for the change after he met with a group of gay activists and determined that homosexuality could not be a disorder if gay people were comfortable with their sexuality.
Spitzer told the Washington Post: “A medical disorder either had to be associated with subjective distress — pain — or general impairment in social function.”
In 2012, Dr. Spitzer publicly apologized for a 2001 study that found so-called reparative therapy on gay people can turn them straight if they really want to do so. He told the New York Times in 2012 that he concluded the study was flawed because it simply asked people who had gone through reparative therapy if they had changed their sexual orientation.
“As I read these commentaries (about the study,) I knew this was a problem, a big problem, and one I couldn’t answer. How do you know someone has really changed?”
Spitzer’s successful push to remove homosexuality from the list of disorders was a major advance for gay rights and the gay community owe him a debt of thanks for success we have had so far in achieving equality today.