NARTH 2010: Schoenewolf returns

About this time four years ago, I was debating about whether to attend the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) conference. I was scheduled to talk about the Sexual Identity Therapy framework. However, I decided not to go (and Scientific Advisory Board member, David Blakeslee, resigned from NARTH) after a controversy broke out over an article on the NARTH website by Gerald Schoenewolf, titled Gay Rights and Political Correctness: A Brief History.  

In essence, Schoenewolf argued that civil rights movements simplified complex issues, one of which was slavery. He wrote:

With all due respect, there is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America. It could be pointed out, for example, that Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle, as yet uncivilized or industrialized. Life there was savage, as savage as the jungle for most people, and that it was the Africans themselves who first enslaved their own people. They sold their own people to other countries, and those brought to Europe, South America, America, and other countries, were in many ways better off than they had been in Africa. But if one even begins to say these things one is quickly shouted down as though one were a complete madman.

Schoenewolf attributed the civil rights movement to Marxism and then made a leap to the modern feminist and gay civil rights movements. NARTH was pretty slow to react and then defensive when they did. Schoenewolf’s article was eventually removed, without a significant rationale or apology from NARTH. The LA Times and other outlets covered the events and fallout. 

This year, Gerald Schoenewolf returns to the NARTH schedule with a talk sure to delight the home crowd – The Suppression of Psychoanalysis in the Treatment of Homosexuality. This sounds like a lament that psychoanalysts  are now discouraged from considering homosexuality to be a treatable condition. Ironically, the first suppressor of psychoanalysis in the treatment of homosexuality was Freud. In 1935, Freud corresponded with the mother of a homosexual man who had written him looking for psychoanalytic help for her gay son. While he said a few things to hearten the Reparatives, he was not ebullient about the prospects for analysis (Click link for a scan of the letter).

Dear Mrs. X (April 9, 1935)

I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you, why do you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.

By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way, we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies which are present in every homosexual, in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of the treatment cannot be predicted.

What analysis can do for your son runs in a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed. If you make up your mind that he should have analysis with me (I don’t expect you will!!) he has to come over to Vienna. I have no intention of leaving here. However, don’t neglect to give me your answer.

Sincerely yours with kind wishes,


P.S. I did not find it difficult to read your handwriting. Hope you will not find my writing and my English a harder task.


Freud, Sigmund, “Letter to an American mother”, American Journal of Psychiatry, 107 (1951): p. 787.

Sounds like he was suppressing her expectations for psychoanalysis. While we might quarrel with points of Freud’s statements here, his words are not a ringing endorsement for the treatment of homosexuality in the manner proposed by reparative therapists.