The Daily Agenda for Thursday, December 13

Jim Burroway

December 13th, 2012

Richard Isay: 1934. The American Psychiatric Association decided in 1973 that homosexuality was not an illness in need of a cure. The American Psychological Association followed suit two years later. But the Anerican Psychoanalytic Association was very slow to get on board. Until 1992 members of that organization continued to treat gay people as though they were ill, and openly gay candidates were barred from enrolling in the group’s training institutes, which is a requirement for certification. That the APsaA waited so long to finally join the modern era is incredible. Who knows how much longer it would have taken for the APsaA to change its ways without the badgering, prodding, and legal threats of Dr. Richard Isay.

A native of Pittsburgh, Isay studied medicine at Haverford College and the University of Rochester, then completed his psychiatry residency at Yale. From there, he completed training for psychoanalysis at the Western New England Psychoanalytic Institute. Early in his own career, he was troubled by his own sexuality and underwent psychoanalysis in a quest for a cure. But after ten years, now with a wife and two sons, he realize that he was no more straight than he was before he started. After meeting the man who would become his life partner, he came out to his wife in 1980. They decided to stay married for another nine year for the sake of the children.

While he remained closeted, he began working with gay patients — not to make them straight, but to help them accept themselves. He also began writing about homosexuality as something normal, and not as an illness or a deficiency in development. In 1989, he published his groundbreaking book, Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development — it was groundbreaking for psychoanalysis, anyway — in which he argued that because homosexuality was inborn, gay men experienced a natural developmental pathway which presented its own set of opportunities and challenges. Dr. Isay also presented his ideas at professional meetings, where he also began to acknowledge that he was gay. Fellow psychoanalysts weren’t receptive to that revelation. They attacked his work and stopped referring patients to him, suggesting instead that he needed more therapy himself.

Finally, after years of trying to prod the APsaA to end its discrimination against gay candidates in its training institutes, Isay met with the American Civil Liberties Union and began laying plans for a lawsuit. That finally got the organization’s attention. In 1991, the the APsaA finally adopted a policy prohibiting its training institutes from discriminating against gay candidates. After that, changes came quickly for the organization. In 1997, the APsaA became the first mental health organization to endorse same-sex marriage, and in 1999 it opposed therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation.

This undoubtedly came as a shock to those psychoanalysis who continued to believe that homosexuality was a disorder. Among mental health professionals who held that view, psychoanalysts made up a disproportionately large group. In 1992, a dissident group of psychoanalysts led by Dr. Charles Socarides founded the ex-gay organization, National Association for Research and Treatment (later changed to Therapy) of Homosexuality (NARTH). “Reparative Therapy,” the particular form of ex-gay therapy challenged by many in NARTH, remains rooted in older psychoanalytic theories, even as mainstream psychoanalysts have adopted insights from biology and psychiatry to form a more comprehensive and nuanced view of how — rather than why — gay people develop.

As for Dr. Isay himself, he continued working as a full professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and as a faculty member of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. He also continued his advocacy for gay people. In his 1997 memoir, Becoming Gay: The Journey to Self-Acceptance, he described his own struggles with his sexuality and with his profession. In 2006, he wrote Commitment and Healing: Gay Men and the Need for Romantic Love, in which he described the difficulty many gay men have in sustaining loving relationships. As for his own efforts in that area, Isay was relatively successful, given the circumstances: he married his partner of 31 years in 2011 when same-sex marriage became legal in New York. He died of cancer last June at the age of 77.

Allen R. Schindler, Jr.: 1969. When “little Allen” was growing up, his step-father regaled him with stories of surviving the sinking of the battleship USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor. And so when he decided to enlist in the Navy on turning eighteen, it came as no surprise to his mother. He was ecstatic to learn that he would be assigned to the aircraft carrier Midway, but in 1991 he was transferred to the Belleau Wood, a smaller ship with a reputation for poor discipline. On October 27, 1992 while on shore leave in Sasebo, Japan, two drunken shipmates from the Belleau Wood followed Schindler into a public restroom in a park. Airman Charles Vins watched — and occasionally joined in — as Airman Apprentice Terry Helvey kneed Schindler in the arm, punched him repeatedly on the floor, and stomped on him with the heel of his boot. The pathologist described Schindler’s body as the worst case he had ever seen, and compared the damage to that of a “high-speed auto accident or a low-speed aircraft accident.” He also said that it was worse than another case he had seen, that of a man who had been trampled to death by a horse. The pathologist’s report chronicled a litany of lacerations, contusions and abrasions of the forehead, eyes, noes, lips, chin, neck, Adam’s apple, trachea, lungs, liver (which was “like a smushed tomato”) and, tellingly, penis. All but two ribs were broken, and both his lungs and brain had hemorrhaged. The only thing recognizable about Allen’s body was a tattoo on his right arm, of the USS Midway.

The Navy stonewalled the investigation. The murder occurred just as the pre-DADT debate was getting started over allowing gays to serve in the military. The Navy refused to confirm how Schindler died or whether a weapon was involved. At one point, a Navy senior officer leaked the story that Schindler’s murder was the result of a romance with Helvey gone bad. Meanwhile, Schindler’s mother, Dorothy Hajdys, was kept in the dark by Navy officials about what happened to her son or about the investigation. Her journal told the story: “Oct. 30: Heard nothing. Nov. 1: Sill heard nothing.” Meanwhile, the Navy tried Vins without her knowledge and sentenced him to four months in the brig. All the information Dorothy received about her son’s case came from the press. That’s how she learned her son was gay and had been killed by his shipmates in an anti-gay orgy of violence. “If one more reporter calls me with information before you do,” she told the Navy commander in charge of the case, “you haven’t even heard me scream!” Two months after the murder, Navy officials finally admitted that Schindler had been killed in a gay bashing.

The Navy denied that they had received any complaints of harassment. But as the investigation continued, it was slowly revealed that Schindler’s ship, the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood, was a living nightmare for him. His locker had been glued shut and he was the brunt of frequent comments, like, “There’s a faggot on this ship and he should die.” Schindler requested a separation from the Navy, but his superiors insisted he remain aboard ship until the process was finished. During Helvey’s trial , it was revealed that Helvey told one investigator that he had no remorse for the killing. “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again. … He deserved it.” After confessing to the murder, he wrote in a four page statement, “Homosexuality is disgusting, sick and scary and I hate homosexuals.” When the investigator suggested that he might want to consider expressing remorse, he wrote, “I regret this incident happened and I feel like it could have been averted had homosexuals not been allowed in the military.”

Helvey avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to “inflicting great bodily harm,” and was sentenced to life in prison. The ship’s captain who had tried to keep the crime quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida. Dorothy, virtually overnight, became a fierce advocate for hate crime protections and for gays being allowed to serve in the military. Helvey is still serving his lifetime sentence. In 1994, two years after the murder, he still had no regrets. He told a reporter:

We were just doing the Navy thing … We were drinking and fighting. It happened so many times, I can’t count them. That’s all we ever did was drink and fight. I was having fun and this dude ended up dying.”

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?


December 13th, 2012

Re: Isay and the APsaA — as a former psych student, I can testify to the innate conservatism of many psychoanalysts. For many of them, Freud is closer to being god than God is, and he has a set of anointed disciples whose theories set the parameters of the discipline for decades. Even though Freud himself never formulated a theory of homosexuality, the disciples did.

And don’t forget that many of them were deriving substantial income from treating gay patients.

Ben in Oakland

December 13th, 2012

“I was having fun and this dude ended up dying.” If ever there was a psychopathic personality, helvey is its epitome– or it’s nadir. He should never, EVER be released, or permitted among even barbaric human beings.

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