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Psychiatrist and Gay Rights Advocate Dr. Richard Isay Dies at 77

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Friday Jul 6, 2012

Dr. Richard A. Isay, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who argued that being gay was not a mental disorder died last week at the age of 77, the Boston Globe reported.

Isay, who not come out until he was 40 years old and by that time had married a woman and fathered two sons, died of cancer.

''He changed the way the psychoanalytic world viewed the subject of homosexuality,'' Dr. Jack Drescher, a training and supervising analyst at the William Alanson White Institute in New York told the publication. ''He was a pioneer, a very brave man. He was attacked by psychoanalysts. He took a lot of flak.''

While Isay trained as a psychiatrist he was taught that homosexuality was a "lower level of psychological development," Dresecher said. The Globe points out many believed that being gay could be cured and that openly gay professionals were prohibited from training as analysts at institutions accredited by the American Psychoanalytic Association.

Some people today still believe that conversion therapy still works. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality is one of the leading organizations on conversion therapy and touts the message that the controversial therapy is legitimate even though "every major American medical authority has concluded that there is no scientific support for NARTH's view," the Southern Poverty Law Center reported.

Isay, himself, went through 10 years of psychoanalysis and therapy to deal with his sexuality. After he believed he was "cured" the doctor realized then that he was gay. In the 1980 he came out to his then wife, Jane Franzblau. They stayed married for another nine years and did not tell their two sons about their father's secret.

Isay worked with gay patients while in the closet and counseled them that being gay was not an illness and that it was in fact, normal. He presented his ideas during professional meetings and announced to his colleagues that he was gay. But some of his peers did not support Isay and stopped referring patients to him and said that he needed more therapy.

''I think he was hurt very badly by many colleagues,'' Drescher said.

In 1979 Isay met Gordon Harrell, an artist who is 20 years younger than the doctor. The two had a long lasting relationship but didn't live together until 1989, when Isay's marriage with Franzblau ended. In 2011 Isay and Harrell finally tied the knot in New York City.

Isay wrote a number of books about homosexuality, including "Being Homosexual," "Becoming Gay," and "Commitment and Healing: Gay Men and the Need for Romantic Love."


  • Marc , 2012-07-06 19:00:37

    Probably one the most influential and consequential people of the last 100 years, sadly I don’t think his death will get the recognition it deserves.

  • , 2012-07-09 21:31:08

    His book "Being Homosexual," helped me clearly see that from childhood I had unmistakable signs I was gay from birth. That gay boys do think/feel/act differently than straight boys. His death is a great loss

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