Top American psychiatrists to Indonesia: LGBT as mental disorder not backed up by science

Last month, the Indonesian Psychiatrists Association (PDSKJI) released a statement in which they classified homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism as mental disorders that can be treated.

The statement by the country’s leading psychiatric organization has helped heighten the recent moral panic around LGBT issues in Indonesia by lending scientific credibility to the idea – which many Indonesians unfortunately believe – that being LGBT is a disease that can be both spread and treated.

But the idea that being LGBT is a mental disorder that can be “cured” is simply not backed up by modern science, as detailed in a new letter from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to PDSKJI.

The letter, co-signed by APA president Dr. Renée Binder and APA medical director Dr. Saul Levin, begins by expressing the APA’s concern over PDSKJI’s recent statements about classifying being LGBT as a mental disorder:

“We respectfully ask that you reconsider your position, because the latest and best scientific research shows that different sexual orientations and gender expressions occur naturally and have not been shown to pose harm to societies in which they are accepted as a normal variant of human sexuality. In fact, research shows that efforts to change an individual’s orientation – so-called “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy” – can be harmful, and are linked to depression, suicidality, anxiety, social isolation and decreased capacity for intimacy.”

The letter goes on to say that members of PDSKJI may have misunderstood “the significance of recent scientific findings, which show that multiple factors, including both biological and environmental contributors, play roles in sexual orientation and gender identity. In short, one’s orientation is not a choice.”

In defending PDSKJI’s assertion that LGBT is a mental disorder, PDSKJI member Suzy Yusna Dewi told the Jakarta Post there was “not enough data to support the idea that the conditions were caused by biological factors, adding that limiting inappropriate social interaction could be effective in curbing such abnormal sexual tendencies.”

However, the letter from the APA cites numerous studies that show there is a huge body of data to support the idea that being LGBT is caused by biological factors, including a landmark review of 10 years worth of biological research that concluded “genetic research using family and twin methodologies… produced consistent evidence that genes influence sexual orientation.”

Based upon all of this research, the letters states: “It is the position of the APA that there is no rational basis, scientific or otherwise, upon which to punish or discriminate against LGBT people.”

The letter ends by saying:

“With all due respect to you and to the Indonesian people, we advise that classifying homosexuality and gender expression as intrinsically disordered will only lead to coercive ‘treatments’ and violence against those who pose no harm to society and cannot change who they are. We hope that providing you with the additional scientific data above will further inform your decision. We urge you to consider the evidence contained herein and to reconsider your decision.”

Unfortunately, we believe it is highly unlikely that PDSKJI will reconsider its position based on this letter. If they respond to it at all, it will be to accuse the APA of pushing “foreign values” onto Indonesia.

As PDSKJI member Suzy told the Jakarta Post, “We must respect Indonesian traditions, which culturally do not accept same-sex marriage, and we should not bow to the influence of foreign values that may not fit in with our values.”

But this is not about “foreign values”. This is about science. And psychiatrists, like all doctors, are supposed to be scientists.

If PDSKJI wants to continue supporting discrimination against LGBT individuals by saying they have mental disorders, then they can do so on the basis of religion or culture. But if they do so, then they should stop pretending that there is any scientific basis to their statements.

Read the full text of the APA’s letter to PDSKJI right here.

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