Pioneering gay psychologist Charles Silverstein passes away at 87

Dr Silverstein contributed to declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973.

Dr. Charles Silverstein wearing a green shirt and glasses next to a computer.
Image: Twitter @renmusb1

Dr Charles Silverstein, the trailblazing psychologist whose work helped persuade the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to stop treating homosexuality as a mental disorder, died at his home in New York on January 30 at the age of 87.

In February 1973, Dr Silverstein was working on his PhD when he had an opportunity to speak before the APA panel regarding their treatment of homosexuality, which at the time was classified as a mental illness.

His presentation is credited as the catalyst for one of the most significant victories of the LGBTQ+ rights movement at the time.

During his speech, he used humour and satire to suggest that the psychiatric association had made up a variety of “absurd” diagnoses in the past, such as ‘syphilophobia’ (irrational fear of syphilis), before boldly telling the panel, “Don’t do it anymore.”


Following his presentation, the APA officially revised the language in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ten weeks later.

Speaking to the Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide in 2012, he said, “The amount of damage that has been done by the psychological and psychiatry professions to help people change — I see it every day at my practice. I think aversion therapy is a form of torture.”

The psychologist and author was also known as one of the most influential LGBTQ+ activists within the psychology community.

During his practice, Dr Silverstein was the founding editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, which is now in its 70th volume. He also developed the Institute for Human Identity, which helped provide mental health services to LGBTQ+ clients, and published guides that helped parents learn how to better support their gay and lesbian children.

Dr Silverstein further worked to end LGBTQ+ prejudices by co-writing The Joy of Gay Sex, which was translated into five different languages. The book was considered scandalous at the time of publication, and it was repeatedly banned from bookshelves.

Since its original publication in 1977, he updated and re-released the book twice to include new updates regarding the AIDS crisis and perspectives from new generations of queer people.

Over the course of his career, he was honoured with numerous awards, including being the inaugural recipient of the Charles Silverstein Lifetime Achievement Award in Social Justice presented by the American Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

On their website, the Institute for Human Identity shared, “As IHI celebrates fifty years of service to queer and transgender communities, we’re grateful for his vision, courageousness, tenacity, and lifelong commitment to the LGBTQ+ community; we truly stand on his shoulders. Thank you, Charles.”

While homophobia continues to exist within some corners of the psychology community, Dr Silverman is remembered as a trailblazer in the field, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations.

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