A masked psychiatrist stood in front of a panel discussion at APA’s annual meeting in 1973 and proclaimed, “I was diagnosed with gay when I was 3.” It was an astoundingly frank statement for a member of a profession that had long pathologized homosexuality. It also reflected fundamental shifts in American society, largely driven by activism by LGBTQ trailblazers in the years following the Stonewall riots.
Homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder in the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published in 1952. But after years of protests from activists, and as the cultural perception of sexual minority groups shifted during the gay rights movement—for example, the depiction of gay characters in popular culture grew more numerous and positive, reducing the number of people perceived as dangerous social deviants—in 1973, the APA removed homosexuality as a pathological phenomenon. It remained in the DSM through the 1980s, when it was renamed "ego dystonic homosexuality" and later categorized as a psychosexual disorder accompanied by marked distress. The last version of the DSM, published in 2013, moved it out entirely.
Psychiatry researchers have since conducted several controlled studies on children with one clear goal in mind: to identify early behaviors that predict whether a child will become homosexual as an adult. Their findings show a strong correlation between childhood deviations from traditional gender role norms and sexual orientation in adulthood. For example, many boys who demonstrate a preference for playing with Barbie dolls or shying away from roughhousing in early childhood are likely to become gay adults.