The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, October 8

Jim Burroway

October 8th, 2013

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Gay Activists Alliance Protests Aversion Therapy: 1972. There are many schools of psychology, and nearly all of them have one thing in common: in one form or fashion, they all examine at least some aspect of an individual’s interior life in order to understand that person’s motivation for feeling or behaving the way he does. By understanding and working with what is going on inside — by discovering why the patient feels or thinks the way he does — the therapist hopes to modify what happens on the outside. Behavioral Therapy, however, flips that inside-to-outside model around, by focusing solely on re-directing or re-training the patient’s external behaviors directly. In fact, classical Behavioral Therapy cared little about what was going on in the inside. When taken at its purest form, Behaviorisn isn’t much concerned with anyone’s interior life at all, let alone changing it. In fact, some Behaviorists went so far as to argue that what happened internally was irrelevant. The only thing that mattered, they argued, was external behavior.

Schematic diagram of Louis William Max’s device for inducing a powerful electric shock. (Click to enlarge.)

In the 1930s, Behavioral Therapy got a very important tool when New York University’s Louis William Max unveiled his new invention safely administer a painful electric shock to his patient (see Mar 15). The idea was that by administering an electric shock under undesirable conditions, the patient would associate that undesired condition with the painful shock, and would change his behavior to avoid that condition in the future. In 1935, Dr. Max delivered another lecture to describe his first usage for his electric shock apparatus: “Breaking up a homosexual fixation” (see Sep 6).

From then on, behavioral therapists connected thousands of gay men to electrodes and their penises to measurement devices. One twitch of arousal while looking at gay porn would result in a powerful electric shock. While some gay men could work up an aversion to gay sex that way, they rarely became straight. They just became very sick or nervous homosexuals, many of them undoubtedly further burdened with therapy-induced PTSD. Of all of the various types of therapies for “curing” gay people, aversion therapy, as this particular form of behavioral therapy was known, was obviously the most torturous.

And so when the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy (AABT) met for their annual convention in New York City, about a hundred members of the Gay Activists Alliance demonstrated in front of the New York Hilton, shouting slogans and distributing pamphlets. They also performed a bit of guerrilla theater, in which they asked heterosexuals to volunteer to submit to aversion therapy to cure them of their heterosexuality. After about an hour, the protesters marched inside the hotel and confronted about 50 delegates in one of the seminars. Several of the demonstrators compared the AABT’s work to Stanley Kubrick’s film, “A Clockwork Orange.” UCLA’s Dr. Robert Liberman, who served as the convention’s program chair, defended aversion therapy. “The therapists here have no moral quarrel with homosexuality,” he said. “All we want o do is to offer assistance for homosexuals to lead a more comfortable, spontaneous and creative life.” Another delegate, who refused to identify himself, claimed that “aversion therapy is entirely voluntary.”

But GAA spokesman Ron Gold countered that aversion therapy was a form of social engineering. “It is brainwashing,” he said. “You can’t deal with an individual homosexual’s problem without also dealing with the antiquated mores of society. Change must come at a broader, society-wide level.”

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association would finally remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders (see Dec 15). When the AABT met again in 1974, its president, Dr. Ian Evans, told the membership that providing treatment to clients seeking to change their sexual orientation was morally wrong generally, and he singled out aversion therapy for particular criticism. Evans’s comments were not well received, and aversion therapy continued for a several more years, including at least one research program at Brigham Young University using aversion therapy on gay students continued through at least 1976.

One of the last papers to be published in the medical journals evaluating electric shock therapy to “cure” homosexuality appeared in 1981. Australia’s Nathanial McConaghy and his colleagues acknowledged “ethical objections to the use of behavior therapy in homosexuality,” but dismissed them and went on to present 10 cases in which men underwent electric shock aversion therapy for “compulsive homosexual urges.” By 1981, aversion therapy had mostly died out and McConaghy’s paper appeared as a strange anachronism.

[Sources: “Therapy scored by homosexuals: ‘Aversion cure’ is protested at psychiatrists’ meeting.” The New York Times (October 9, 1972): 32.

Ian M. Evans. “The effect of values on scientific and clinical judgment in behavior therapy.” Behavior Therapy 28, no. 4 (Fall 1977): 483-493.

Max Ford McBride. “Effect of visual stimuli in electric aversion therapy.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation. (Brigham Young University: August 1976). Available online here.

Nathaniel McConaghy, Michael S. Armstrong, Alex Blaszczynski. “Controlled comparison of aversive therapy and covert sensitization in compulsive homosexuality.” Behaviour Research and Therapy 19, no. 5 (1981): 425-434.

You can also learn more about the role of Behavioral Therapy in attempts to “cure” homosexuality in Blind Man’s Bluff, an epilogue to our award-winning original investigation, What Are Little Boys Made Of?]

Major Advertisers Boycott Controversial “Marcus Welby., M.D.” Episode: 1974. By the early 1970s, the National Gay Task Force had positioned itself as the primary watchdog of the national media’s portrayal of gay people, and because of that, some producers and networks began soliciting advice from the group whenever plots involved gays and lesbians. But whether they accepted the advice from the NGTF or not was another matter altogether, as evidenced by one of the earliest consultations from ABC. The network was planning an episode of Marcus Welby, M.D. called “The Outrage,” which depicted a junior high school boy named Ted who was forcibly raped by a male science teacher. The storyline was unusually graphic for its time, describing Ted’s intestinal damage and hemorrhaging. Ted refuses to talk about what happened, fearing that being raped meant that he was gay. While Ted is in surgery, police arrest the teacher for trying to molest another boy. Ted awakes from surgery ready to testify, and the investigating officer congratulates him for handling the situation like a “real man.” ABC defended the episode by saying it was about pedophilia, not homosexuality. But the storyline played much too closely to the old stereotype of gay men forcibly preying on children.

This wasn’t the first time Marcus Welby, M.D. had drawn the ire of gay activists. The year before, an episode titled “The Other Martin Loring” featured a man whose  alcoholism, weight problems, depression and diabetes were blamed on his repressed homosexuality, which itself was depicted as a mental illness. By the end of the episode, Dr. Welby advised Loring to see a psychiatrist so that Loring will win his “fight” to live a “normal” life. About three dozen gay activists occupied ABC’s offices, but the network refused to alter the episode.

With “The Outrage,” ABC may have wanted to avoid a repeat of that noisy experience, but why they decided to consult with the NGTF is a mystery since the network refused to take the NGTF’s concerns seriously. The only positive outcome of that consultation was that it gave the NGTF, along with the Gay Activist Alliance, a head start in organizing a massive national campaign aimed not only at the network itself, but also at its affiliates and advertisers. On that last point, the GAA had a particular advantage: one of its members worked in ABC’s computer room and had access to the network’s advertising accounts. Whenever an advertiser cancelled, the employee would pass the information on to the GAA, and it would soon appear in major newspapers — sometimes before the network’s vice president knew about it.

Meanwhile gay advocacy groups around the country staged noisy protests outside of stations in Los Angeles, San Francosco, Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C., along with several smaller market stations in Ohio, Iowa, Mississippi, Texas and Idaho. The first station to announce it was dropping the episode was Philadelphia’s WPVI, which was under intense pressure from the city’s very active gay community. Mark Segal, who had already established himself as a masterful “zapper” of live television when he interrupted Walter Cronkite’s CBS newscasts (see Dec 11), may well have been a strong motivator behind WPVI’s decision. “We are gratified by Channel 6’s decision,” he told the press.” It is the first time they have made such a decision in regard to us and we salute them. We hope it will be the first step between us and the station that will result in a better understanding of our position.”

Altogether, seventeen ABC affiliates ended up dropping the episode, and at least seven major sponsors had pulled out, including Colgate-Palmalive, Lipton, Breck and Gillette. The protest was marked as a success in newspapers across the country, but it proved to be a very temporary one: just one month later, NBC would air an episode of Police Woman titled, “Flowers of Evil” (see Nov 8), which TV Guide called “the single most homophobic show to date.”

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?

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