Psychologist Dr. Evelyn Hooker is widely credited for establishing that gay people not mentally ill at a time when being lesbian or gay could cause arrest, being fired from a job, and being institutionalized in an insane asylum.
In 1942 while a teacher at UCLA, one of her students introduced her to other members of the gay community and then challenged her to a study about “people like him”. Namely homosexuals who weren’t troubled by their homosexuality and who had none of the features commonly associated with mental illness. Among those she came to know was noted author Christopher Isherwood, who rented a guest house from her. “She never treated us like some strange tribe,” he recalled later, “so we told her things we never told anyone before.”
Hooker quickly concluded that most gay men were socially well-adjusted, unlike the gay men characterized during McCarthy’s “lavender scare” period — So Hooker set out to prove her observations through psychological testing.
Hooker gathered two groups of men. The first group of men, made of many members of the local Mattachine Society, and a second group of men which were all heterosexual.
Hooker then administered three sets of psychological tests. The independent evaluators were unable to tell the difference between the members of the two groups. When she presented her paper, “The adjustment of the male overt homosexual“, at the 1956 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Chicago her results were met with incredulity. It was a well-established orthodoxy in psychology that all gays were mentally ill, and that the disturbances would have been obvious in the test results. But until Hooker’s study was published, there was no scientific data available about non-imprisoned, non-patient homosexuals. For the first time, Hooker’s peer-reviewed study — it would soon appear in the March 1957 edition of the Journal of Projective Techniques and Personality Assessment – would prove that there were well-adjusted, normal and healthy gay men, and lots of them.
Hooker’s research didn’t stop there.. In 1958 she penned a paper called “Male Homosexuality in the Rorschach” and challenged whether the Rorschach inkblot test could weed out gays from straights as claimed by its backers. In 1959, she published “What Is A Criterion?”, in which she again reiterated that the three most popular tests then in use for personality assessments were incapable of picking gay men out of a crowd. .
Her 1969 paper, “Parental relations and male homosexuality in patient and non-patient samples,” refused the widely accepted claim that parents were the cause of their children’s homosexuality. That same year, she chaired the National Institute of Mental Health’s Task Force on Homosexuality, which recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality and its removal from the APA’s list of mental disorders. The APA finally acted on that recommendation in 1973, but it would take another thirty years before the U.S. Supreme Court would finally eliminate the remaining sodomy laws across the nation.
Dr. Evelyn hooker retired from her research at UCLA in 1970 at the age of 63 and started a private practice in Santa Monica. Most of her clients were gay men and lesbians
In 1991, the American Psychological Association honored Dr. Hooker with its Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology in the Public Interest, saying: “Her research, leadership, mentorship, and tireless advocacy for an accurate scientific view of homosexuality for more than three decades has been an outstanding contribution to psychology in the public interest.”
Hooker was also the subject of the 1992 Academy Award-nominated film Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker
Dr. Evelyn Hooker died at her home in Santa Monica, California, in 1996, at the age of 89
We all owe her a debt of gratitude and thanks for her hard work on our behalf..
You can watch a clip of Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker below: