THE TORONTO STAR: HOMOSEXUALS -- SICK OR NOT?
In January, 1973, The Toronto Star published an article "The Homosexual Hoax -- This Aberration Is Not A Right" This was penned by Daniel Cappon, a professor of environmental studies at York University and the Star's favourite go-to person for commentary on homosexuality. A cause celebre at the time, the article created a tremendous controversy and there was a lot of pressure applied to the Star by the gay community and others to supply space for a rebuttal.
George Hislop was interviewed on Peter Gzowski's CBC morning show and Herb Spiers by Larry Solway on CBC television in the days immediately following the appearance of Cappon's article but at first the Star wasn't even allowing replies via letters to the editor. When this began to be commented on they changed tactics. Among others a letter objecting to Cappon's views signed by 57 of his colleagues at York University was printed. There was a stream of delegations to the Star's headquarters at 1 Yonge St. and phone conferences between newspaper management and gay representatives. In the end all the Star would agree to was an article by another "expert", David Berger who was, I think, a psychiatrist. His article titled (of all things!) "An Attempt To Set The Record Straight", appeared in the following month.
Nevertheless Cappon continued to be a resource for the Star and among his further appearances was in "Homosexuals, Sick Or Not" by Star writer Sidney Katz, which was published April 10, 1974. Katz is interesting as someone left behind by the times. In the 1960's he was regarded as one of the more sympathetic journalists, seeing homosexuality as something which should not be criminalized. But he was much influenced by psychiatric opinion, which of course gay liberation pushed aside as it progressed.
Below I've included two letters, first my letter to the editor from April, 1974. While this was in the Star's hands but before it was published Sidney Katz wrote to me asking for specifics and I've also included my reply to that letter.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------My letter to the editor re Sidney Katz's article. Published April 20, 1974.
The Toronto Star
Sidney Katz's article "Homosexuals: Sick or Not" (April 10), merely continues Toronto's over-exposure to Daniel Cappon's anti-homosexual views. It is ironic that a man like Cappon should be making such a career out of homosexuality. As a thinker he lacks coherence and originality but as a bigot his qualifications are professional and beyond dispute. As for Katz, he has been writing this type of article since sometime before Moses and his approach to the subject seems more ancient than ever.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------My reply of May 7/74 to Sidney Katz's letter to me.
Due to the postal strike I received your letter only recently and my wanting to take some time with my reply caused further delay. My first letter was both general and brief because past experience has taught me as it has others that this is the kind of letter the Star wants. Anything of length, dealing with specifics, is liable to be so gutted as to become unreadable. Particularly, letters expressing a gay viewpoint are unwelcome and generally ignored. How many such letters are ever printed in the Star? The reaction and rebutting article to Cappon's article of `73 were given space in the Star more because of the quality and quantity of pressure put on it than any openmindedness on its part.
"Homosexuals: Sick or Not", "Negroes: Do They Smell", "Women: Are They Sick", "Sidney Katz: Sick or Not?' "Beland Honderich: Sick or Not?" I'm sure neither you nor Honderich, neither women nor blacks, would appreciate titles like that. I don't see how you could expect us to react any differently.
The pyschiatric approach to homosexuality is run through and through with invalid assumptions, biased attitudes, inconsistencies, and unrepresentative samplings. It is a battleground littered with cliches. Resort and reference to this approach has become a reflex action of those who refuse to recognize the bigotry which exists in attitudes towards gays.
If you are interested in helping to present a homosexual point of view to the public, as you say in your letter, then I strongly suggest for all our sakes that you consider both the tactics of the issue (for most certainly tactics, whether consciously or subconsciously, are being used all around) and what is going down. What Homosexuals: Sick or Not was actually leading towards was whether gay people, myself, my friends, millions of people are actually worthy of the respect due one human being from another, should actually be granted civil rights which others enjoy, should be given reprieve from the constant harassment of social prejudice. That such a question should be asked is a fine comment on the state of things. You must understand my distaste that such things can actually be up for debate.
So much has been written by pyschiatrists and in answer, that it seems a useless endeavour to work the field once more, especially as I feel that it has become something of a red herring. However at the risk of clouding what I feel are the real issues, I will make a few comments about your article and pyschiatry in general.
Firstly Bieber, Socarides, and Cappon are people who owe their prominence as much to the fact that they represent an extreme as to any academic expertise. Not only was Homosexuals: Sick or Not heavily weighted towards pyschiatric opinion, its balance consisted of the rather lurid viewpoint of one extreme juxtaposed to the non-committal attitude of the politically cautious. There is pyschiatric attitude that is positive and pro-gay, but it was given no representation. Not only is Hooker a pyschologist but the quote you chose was insulting in its description of homosexual orientation. Your own attitude is up for question when in the opening paragraph you suggest this particular "preference" is abnormal. The many sexual orientations that exist are variations on a theme. For any particular one to be in a minority position on some imaginary incidence scale does not make it abnormal. You made liberal use of such words as "sick", "normal", "abnormal", and "maladjusted" with no reference to their differing meanings to different people and professions. Surely such words could be used with more care in a newspaper article.
As for the second section "Claims of Cures", it was united by an acceptance of homosexuality, curable or not, as a pyschological malfunciton.
Wainwright Churchill's "Homosexual Behaviour Among Males" (Prentice Hall, 1967) especially the chapter Homosexuality and Mental Health, is a good reference on the pyscho-analytic approach to homosexuality and Bieber's work in particular.
To quote from another chapter, Theories on the Origin of Homosexuality: "The fundamental objection that must be raised against most clinical interpretations of homosexuality is that they are offered as explanations for all homosexuality when in fact they fail to explain most of the data which we have on this subject. Moreover most clinical interpretations are based on an a priori conclusion that all homosexuality in adults is pathological, another assumption that does not seem to fit a great many facts."
Then there is Bieber himself: "All pyschoanalytic theories assume that adult homosexuality is pyschopathological and assign differing weights to constitutional and experiential determinates."
A pyschiatrist discovering homosexuality in a patient is all too willing to attribute the patient's real problems to that homosexuality and to work them into his theories on the subject. These theories can cheerfully contradict each other or even be contradictory in themselves. Note Bieber on dominant mothers: "The child who becomes homosexual is usually overprotected and preferred by his mother. In other cases he may be underprotected and rejected." This is as much anti-woman as it is anti-gay, but then pyschiatry has traditionally shown an anti-female streak.
Further, studies on homosexuality are notorious for their biased samplings and interpretations. Cappon is hardly alone here, Bieber among others is well known for these failings.
Pyschoanalysis as much as it attempts to understand the human pysche tends to interpret it within the framework of a restrictive morality and the biases and prejudices of the day.
To return to my prime objection, pyschiatric arguments are so often a red herring dragged out to divert attention from legitimate gay issues and concerns.
There would be an uproar if the Star used the same tactics with women's issues as it does with the gay community, if it ignored what women are saying and resorted to articles about whether women were sick or not. Assuredly you could find pyschiatrists as willing to be outrageous on this as Cappon et al on homosexuality.
Gay people do have genuine grievances, are denied equality under the law. They are discriminated against in the immigration, civil service and military codes, in age of consent laws, marriage and as a result, tax laws. They are subject to unequal enforcement of the law in that police apply certain sections of the criminal code almost exclusively to gays. They have been subject to police entrapment in Toronto. They can lose their jobs and housing for being gay. They are given no protection under the different human rights codes in Canada. (Such organizations as the Cdn. Civil Liberties Assoc. are it seems, interested only in rights for certain people. They have so far not endorsed gay coalition briefs to the provincial and federal governments.)
They are subject to ALL forms of prejudice, with no protection from it. Due to the stigma attached to homosexuality by this society, due to the restrictive and restricted places where gay people can be openly gay, they are isolated not only from straight people but also from others in the gay community.
All these things you could write about. You could write about coming out, about dealing with the family, about the gay organizations and what the different ones are trying to do, about the lack of funds for a proper distress centre. You could do interviews with gay people. You could write about the downtown scene, hopefully without being patronizing (the straight scene can be pretty crass but at least they have somewhere else to go, are not so subject to an atmosphere dictated by a few bar owners.)
In short the Star could give proper, fair and adequate coverage to the gay community, especially given its size and need to get out of isolation.
You intimate that I somehow am advocating the restriction of free discussion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Star is the one restricting free speech and communication in this instance.
With regards to Daniel Cappon, bigotry deserves to be recognized as such and challenged. Further, given the vicious and phobic nature of his comments (in his last article he felt it necessary to include a disclaimer to the effect that he wasn't advocating persecution), the repudiation of his views by many in his field, the general vacuity of his thinking, I do not see why of the infinitessimally small amount of space in the Star given to things gay, he should monopolize so much of it. (Your use of him was ambiguous, he was long ago given enough rope to hang himself and I couldn't tell whether you were just kicking the corpse or trying to revive it.)
I would like to go a little further into the attitudes and policies of the Star. Perhaps you can be of some assistance here, close to home.----------------------------------------
At this point in the letter I go on to the familiar grievances with regards to:
1) The Body Politic
2) The Personals and Business Personals columns
3) The Shared Accomodation ads
4) Letters to the Editor
5) The use of the word "gay"
6) Why is such little coverage given to gay news. There is quite a sizable community here, your estimate of 100,000 is extremely conservative.
What news coverage is given is either very terse or very lurid. Witness the nomenclature change by the APA, reported in the Star, April 11/74. The very brief report failed to make it clear that homosexuality per se had been removed from the "sickness" category altogether and that a new category "sexual orientation disturbance" referred only to people having difficulty accepting their orientation whether as the result of societal prejudice or whatever.
As for lurid, I refer to that front page coverage, I believe late last year or early this year, of some alleged "chicken ring" in Los Angeles. Its strange that the Star would use something like that from thousands of miles away while on the other hand ignoring gay pride parades and gay demonstrations (such as the recent one protesting OHRC refusal to meet with gay groups. They have since met.) which constitute local events. It is ironic that the first defendant in this case, a gay person, has been acquited.
I'm enclosing a photostat of an article from the Advocate, referring to a series that the NY Post has apparently run. It should be of some interest to you. Such a series is needed in Toronto. It is to be hoped that one day not only the likes of it but also ordinary day to day coverage free of squeamishness will be accepted here.
The Star must eventually realize that it is to no-one's benefit that it continue this petty harassment in its advertising columns, and its word wars. It is surely to everyone's detriment that it continues a news blackout on the daily events in the life of part of the community. It is certainly to its discredit that it refuses to give space to legitimate issues of legal and social prejudice which the gay community has raised, and to the difficulties its members often experience.