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Dr. Richard Isay M.D.
(December 13, 1934 - June 28, 2012) U.S.A.

Richard Isay

Physician, psychoanalyst and author


Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Isay received is psychoanalytic training at the Western New England Institute of Psychoanalysis. Very active in the American Psychoanalytic Association, the International Psychoanalytic Association, and the Western New England Psychoanalytic Society, he was vice president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association.

Dr. Richard Isay changed the way the psychoanalytic world viewed the subject of homosexuality, and set the foundation for a new era of gay pride by arguing not only that homosexuality is an inborn trait that is not susceptible to, or in need of, a "cure," but that the true sickness is found in the roots of homophobia. Bias against gay men, he argued, "lie[s] in the hatred of what is perceived and labelled as feminine. In societies where women are subjugated, feared, or discriminated against because men feel contaminated or polluted by them, 'feminine' characteristics in men will be despised."

In the early 1960s, plagued by an attraction to other men, Isay sought psychoanalysis for help; by the early 1970s, he realized the "treatment" had not worked, and he admitted to himself he was gay. In 1980, Isay came out to his wife, though the two remained married for another nine years for the sake of their two children, an excuse that Jane Isay later described as "a convenient truth, and also a self-serving one."

From there, Dr. Isay became an outspoken advocate for equal treatment of LGBTQs in the psychoanalytical field. In 1992, backed by the ACLU, he threatened a lawsuit to force the American Psychoanalytic Association to stop discriminating against gays in training, hiring, and promoting analysts.

"Before I knew he was gay," David Isay said of his father, "and after, he was basically the exact same person. He had a fierce sense of justice, hated phonies and always routed for the underdog."

Richard Isay and his son David (founder of @storycorps), 2005. Photo c/o @nytimes

Richard Isay, critic of the traditional psychodynamic approach to homosexuality, in a number of works, and author of the landmark 1996 book Becoming Gay: The Journey to Self-Acceptance, has put forward two principal positions.

First, he has challenged the notion that homosexuality represents a failure to achieve full psychosexual developmental maturity. Second, he has also rejected the notion that anyone who may have had homosexual experiences, thoughts, or desires, can be helped by psychotherapeutic or psychoanalytic treatment.

He claimed that "the effort to change the sexual orientation of gay patients is not clinically helpful ... core sexual orientation remains unchanged ... attempts to change (it) are, in all likelihood, futile," and he asserted that "efforts to change homosexuals to heterosexuals, represent one of the most flagrant and frequent abuses of psychiatry in America today."

In 1993 he threatened to sue the American Psychoanalytic Association through the American Civil Liberties Union for not accepting gay and lesbian applicants in psychoanalytic training programs; leading them to finally accept openly gay and lesbian candidates.

Isay has also written the book, Being Homosexual: Gay Men & Their Development. In an autobiographical chapter of this book, he tells the story of how he spent ten years trying to change his homosexual orientation. During his analysis, he married. When he finished his analysis, he found himself once again having homosexual desires. For many years, as a closeted gay man, he began to write and present about homosexuality in psychoanalytic journals and meetings. He eventually came out of the closet and left his wife.

Dr. Richard Isay died of cancer; he was 77. He was survived by his husband, Gordon Harrell.


"When the idea that it is possible and desirable to change a homosexual into a heterosexual is applied clinically, it may cause a variety of severe symptoms, particularly depression and anxiety, as a result of the undermining of self-esteem."
Dr. Richard Isay, Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development , 1989.


Sources: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - http://lgbt-history-archive.tumblr.com/

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