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Dr. Evelyn Hooker: The Woman Who Changed America’s Perspective on the Gay Community

by The Next Family December 26, 2014

By Alexandra Temblador

Dr. Evelyn Hooker

After seven years of research, Dr. J. Michael Bailey and Alan Sanders published significant work in November 2014 that may affect the perspective of homosexuality in the United States. Their research suggests what many have contended for so long—that homosexuality is directly related to an individual’s genetics. This landmark discovery, which may still take a few more years to conclusively verify, wouldn’t be the first momentous revolutionary study that produced a substantial perspective shift toward the gay community.

Prior to 1957, the scientific community still claimed that homosexuality was a psychological disorder but one woman and her groundbreaking research on homosexuality changed history. Her research was one of two papers that the American Psychological Association used in their decision to remove homosexuality from the list of psychological disorders. This woman was Dr. Evelyn Hooker.

Dr. Evelyn Hooker’s research involved a study that included 30 homosexual men and 30 heterosexual men. The focus of the study was to investigate the commonly-held belief of her time that homosexual men were mentally disturbed and psychologically inferior to heterosexual men. After administering three tests, the Rorschach ink blot test, the Thematic Apperception Test, and the Make-Me-A-Picture Test, she asked outside experts to evaluate the mental health of each subject’s test and identify the sexual orientation of the individual who took the test. Unable to differentiate the test results and finding that the test results of the homosexual and heterosexual men did not differ significantly, Dr. Hooker was able to conclude in her paper, “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual” that homosexuality was not a clinical entity nor related to psychopathology.

Besides the fact that Dr. Evelyn Hooker singlehandedly proved that homosexuality was not a mental illness, there are five other reasons why Dr. Hooker deserves a place in LGBT History:

At the request of a former student, she made the decision to perform the study.

Sam From, a student in Dr. Hooker’s introductory psychology course at UCLA, confided in Dr. Hooker that he was gay. He introduced her to many of his friends and the gay scene of Los Angeles. From soon convinced Dr. Hooker to conduct a study on homosexuality. Can you say: best teacher ever? Prior to this study, psychologists had not done any significant research on homosexuals who weren’t imprisoned or hadn’t been admitted to mental wards.

Dr. Evelyn Hooker did her research during the very conservative McCarthy era.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, the McCarthy era ran rampant in America. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s political extremism and blacklisting of many Americans who were seen as “possible Communists” unfortunately spilled over into the LGBT community and many homosexuals were imprisoned for their sexual orientation. It was very dangerous for Dr. Evelyn Hooker to request to study homosexuals during this era for she ran the risk of being investigated and imprisoned by the federal government. Despite the risks, Dr. Evelyn Hooker applied for the grant and fortunately was never investigated.

She worked with the Mattachine Society to find gay participants for the study.

To conduct her research Dr. Evelyn Hooker needed “normal” and functioning gay participants. She worked closely with the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest homophile societies in America who worked to advance the status of homosexuals.

Dr. Hooker led the NIMH Task Force on Homosexuality.

Following her study, Dr. Evelyn Hooker led the NIMH Task Force on Homosexuality which produced a report in 1969 proposing that homosexuality should not be considered criminal nor pathological. This report and her previous research were very influential in the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

She helped found the Wayne Placek Trust.

Wayne Placek, one of the gay participants of her original study, bestowed $500,000 following his death to Dr. Hooker to help combat homophobia. With her help, this trust was used to help advance gay and lesbian studies in the field of psychology.

Following her research Dr. Hooker continued to work in favor of the LGBT community and in 1992 a documentary of her life was nominated for an Oscar and she was awarded the Distinguished Contribution to Psychology in the Public Interest award from the American Psychological Association. She was an ally of the LGBT community until her death in 1996.

As a minority in the psychological field, Dr. Hooker was a woman ahead of her time. Her research was pivotal to the status advancement of homosexual individuals in America. Dr. Evelyn Hooker changed long standing beliefs that harmed the LGBT community by proving that being homosexual was not a mental illness. She was a true LGBT rights pioneer. Dr. Evelyn Hooker’s contribution can be summed up in the words of a gay man who wrote her a letter concerning her research: “I think you did it because you knew what love was when you saw it, and you knew that gay love was like all other love.”

The post Dr. Evelyn Hooker: The Woman Who Changed America’s Perspective on the Gay Community appeared first on The Next Family.




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