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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 6, 2006

'Reparative therapy' advocate Charles Socarides dies

New York City--Dr. Charles W. Socarides, a pillar of antigay psychiatry, died December 25 at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.

Socarides provided much of the intellectual rationale for the discredited concept of �reparative therapy,� that gays and lesbians could be cured of their sexual orientation and made straight.

Socarides� obsession with homosexuality resulted in a handful of books on the topic, including The Overt Homosexual (1968), and Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far (1995).

His central premise was that for gay men, homosexuality was a �neurotic adaptation� to a distant father and a smothering mother. He claimed to have cured about a third of those he treated and made them straight. He was a vocal advocate for his positions and was frequently quoted in the media.

Socarides was one of the leading opponents to the 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association to reclassify homosexuality from a mental illness to part of the continuum of normal behavior. He never came to accept that position by the overwhelming majority of his peers.

He helped to found the antigay National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality in 1992, and served as its president for several years. The splinter group was a safe haven for therapists who still tried to �cure� homosexuality.

However, NARTH differs from most religious advocates of reparative therapy in that it does not support coercive therapy. Its statement of purpose says that it must be �the client who chooses whether to embrace life as gay or lesbian, or to work toward change.�

It is perhaps ironic that one of his sons, Richard Socarides, not only is gay but served in the White House as liaison to the GLBT community in the Clinton administration. The younger Socarides was from the first of the elder�s four marriages. He acknowledged that the relationship with his father was often strained.

Socarides is also survived by his wife Claire, another son and two daughters.

Iconic gay activist Frank Kameny recalls having first met Charles Socarides in either 1966 or 1967. Kameny was helping a federal employee fight for a Defense Department security clearance. Socarides was an expert witness for the Pentagon.

Kameny said that he and Barbara Gittings �had never heard of him before that. We cross-examined him for some three hours, in dumbfounded horror at what he was saying . . . The Pentagon removed him from their list of expert witnesses right after that hearing and so informed us formally.�

However, the client was not granted a security clearance because of a secret internal Pentagon memo denying them to gay civilians who worked for the military or defense contractors. That policy did not become known until 1974, when it was struck down. The ban on gays serving openly in the military continues.

Socarides, Kameny said, �was at the forefront of the effort to prevent our �cure� by the APA in 1973, and, with two other opponents, testified before their board of trustees. He then pushed the unsuccessful effort to overturn the �cure� in 1974.�

Kameny�s reaction to news of Socarides death was succinct: �Dreadful man. Good riddance.�

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