Five years ago, love won

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Five years ago today, the Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriage to become the law of the land when it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. It was a victory built on generations of tireless advocacy, election day disappointments and spurts of progress across the country.

One of the key elements to winning this battle was research, notably that of UCLA psychologist Evelyn Hooker. In the 1940s and 50s, when gay men could be arrested just for being gay, Hooker bucked the norms of her era and studied them like any other subject. Her groundbreaking work showed that being gay was not a mental illness.

It started with a friendship. After having lost her tenure-track job at Whittier College due to suspicions that she held subversive political views, Hooker was hired on at UCLA, where she became friends with Sam From, a gay student in one of her psychology classes.

As they became friends, he introduced her to the people in his life, a wide circle of gay artists, engineers, philosophers and other productive, seemingly well-adjusted people. This was significant because at the time, homosexuality was viewed as “a pervasive emotional disorder,” Hooker recalled in the documentary, “Changing Our Minds.”

Most studies of gay men up to that point were either of men in prison or of those receiving often cruel treatments for mental illness. Sigmund Freud, one of psychology’s founding figures, had written in 1935 that homosexuality was not an illness. But gay-positive, or even gay-neutral theorists had seen their views fall out of favor. And with so many aspects of gay life criminalized, most LGBTQ people could not safely speak out about their lives. Sadly, many gay men and women thought homosexuality was an illness, too, and tried vigorously to cure it. 

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