LGBT Activities at the International Congress of Psychology: A Programming Stream, A Symposium, a Resolution, and a Network

During the 27th International Congress of Psychology (ICAP) in Melbourne, Australia, there were a number of activities significant to LGBT activities and advocacy.

These included:

  • The Congress programme included an identified LGBT stream for programming. The program included symposia, papers, and discussion sessions, and was identified by keywords in the call for submissions and in the program.

  • At the meetings of the General Assembly of the International Union of Psychological Science, held during the Congress, the Union endorsed a change to its statutes that explicitly calls for the inclusion of sexual orientation as a “protected” category in policies on the universality of science and the free circulation of scientists (See IUPSYS for more information.)

Among the programs presented at the Congress was a symposium organized by INET - the International Network for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns and Transgender Issues in Psychology. This network, which consists of representatives from ten national and regional psychology organizations around the world, is coordinated by the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues at the American Psychological Association. Its goals are (1) To increase cross-cultural collaboration among psychological researchers and practitioners who are concerned about the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations; (2) To increase knowledge among psychologists and other mental health practitioners about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations; (3) To apply psychological research and mental health practice guidelines that address the needs and concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations to international health policy; and (4) To increase the number of national, multinational, and international psychological associations that formally reject the mental disorder conception of homosexuality and that promote mental health practice that is affirmative of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

What follows is a synopsis of the presentations at the INET Symposium.

Symposium: Going global with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues: How psychology can contribute

Chairs: Damien Riggs, PhD, Flinders University, Australia; Clinton Anderson, PhD, American Psychological Association, USA


Clinton Anderson, PhDOpening Remarks:  Clinton Anderson, PhD. Anderson directs the APA Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns, and is a founding coordinator of the INET.

The Symposium Co-Chair, Clinton Anderson, provided a brief description of the International Network for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns and Transgender Issues in Psychology and reviewed in some detail one example of how the Network is trying to affect public education and policy by providing technical assistance to national psychological associations. The example was the public statement issued by the Psychological Society of South Africa in February 2010 opposing anti-homosexuality legislation that had been introduced in the Uganda national legislature.

Following remarks by the symposium panel, Dr. Anderson then led the panel and attendees in a discussion of two questions:

  • What opportunities does your psychological association have to contribute to the human rights and psychological well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?

  • What resources will your association need to realize those opportunities?

The following are the panel presentations.

Raising Awareness of LGBT issues with global organizations: Promoting an explicit policy in the International Union of Psychological Science

By Merry Bullock, IUPsyS and APA. Bullock served as the Deputy Secretary-General of the IUPsyS 1998-2010 and was an active member of the IUPsyS policy development workgroup. She directs the APA Office of International Affairs.

One way that organizations work to promote their own values and goals and to support social issues is by creating and promoting policies that affect the activities of the organization and its members. Today, I will describe the development of one such policy in IUPsyS - the International Union of Psychological Science.

To begin - what is the IUPsyS? It is an umbrella organization for psychology internationally. The members of IUPsyS are national psychology associations - currently from 73 countries around the world. Together, the associations of the IUPsyS represent most psychologists around the world, from every continent in which psychology is present. The activities of the IUPsyS reflects its broad scope. It serves as:

  • A spokesperson (or spokes-organization) for the discipline. It does this through its national members, and through its adherence to and membership in global scientific and policy-oriented bodies such as the International Council for Science, the International Social Sciences Council, and global bodies such as the WHO and United Nations Secretariat.

  • A policy developer for the discipline of psychology. It has developed policies on the autonomy of the profession, on psychology and ethics, and implements policies through its own activities and adherence to the policies of global bodies to which it belongs.

  • A policy “promulgator” - the IUPsyS supports the implementation of policies by asking its National Members to adopt policies for the profession at the national level, by providing a forum to discuss policy issues at its sponsored Congresses and Conferences, by example through implementation of policies at its own Congresses, and through advocacy to broader global scientific and professional bodies.

Here are two examples of these activities.

Disability issues

An important impediment to full participation in psychological activities by all colleagues is access issues for disabled colleagues. This is particularly acute in international contexts where disability access issues may not be salient for access to congresses and conferences. IUPsyS has addressed access by ensuring that the Congress Organizers for its International Congresses of Psychology (ICP), held every 4 years, are aware of and address disability issues. This includes asking about a need for accommodations on registration forms, assuring that congress venues have wheelchair accessibility, and that accommodations are considered for access for hearing- impaired (e.g., seats reserved in the front rows of auditoriums), and mobility-impaired (e.g., wide aisles and elevators) colleagues.

LGBT Issues

Another way that the Union has acted is through its own policy statements and potential to affect other bodies. This example concerns a policy that is fundamental to science - the universality of science and the right to free exchange of scientific information without regard for nationality, religion, age, sex, and the like.

Universality of science is an explicit policy of the largest umbrella scientific body, the International Council for Science (ICSU), whose members are countries (usually represented by a country’s National Academy of Sciences or other quasi-governmental body), as well as sciences (represented by international scientific unions, such as IUPsyS). The ISCU policy presently states:

The principle of the Universality of Science is fundamental to scientific progress. This principle embodies freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information and research materials. In pursuing its objectives in respect of the rights and responsibilities of scientists, the International Council for Science (ICSU) actively upholds this principle, and, in so doing, opposes any discrimination on the basis of such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political stance, gender, sex or age. ICSU shall not accept disruption of its own activities by statements or actions that intentionally or otherwise prevent the application of this principle.

The IUPsyS, as a member of ICSU, also follows this policy. However, the IUPsyS national member from the United States, on request from its liaisons from the American Psychological Association, asked the US National Member to request that IUPsyS explicitly include sexual orientation within this policy as a “protected” dimension for free circulation. To do this, IUPsyS concluded that it needed itself to have an explicit policy on universality that included this dimension.

At this Congress, indeed just before this presentation, the IUPsyS passed just this policy. Their new policy now reads:

The Union adheres to the ICSU principle of the Universality of Science embodying freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information and research material; and actively upholds this principle, by opposing any discrimination on the basis of such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political stance, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or age.

This is a phenomenal event. It means that the IUPsyS now is in a position to advocate to ISCU that it, too, broaden its policy on universality. Why is this important?

It is important because it provides psychology with the means to require that international events - congresses and conferences - pay attention to whether the venue is in a place that is non-discriminatory to LGBT people - and to work with local psychologists on LGBT issues if it is not. It also provides a forum for discussing LGBT discrimination on a global level across the sciences - in short it is a policy with teeth!

The American Psychological Association’s Responses to Controversial Social Issues: LGBT Issues

By Armand R. Cerbone, PhD, ABPP. Cerbone serves as Member-at-Large, American Psychological Association Board of Directors, and as a member of the APA INET Oversight Committee.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a very long history of opposing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, beginning in 1975 with a resolution supporting the declassification of homosexuality as a mental health illness by the American Psychiatric Association two years earlier. Since then, the Association has continued to promulgate accurate information on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in order to influence research on sexual orientation issues, the training of psychologists, and the assessment and treatment of these persons in clinical settings.

Because the history is long and the measures taken are many, I must be selective. I hope that my comments will stimulate discussion during the Congress about measures taken, in development, or needed in your countries and psychological associations.

Organizational Structures

The measures taken to oppose discrimination include the establishment of organizational structures.

  • In 1984 the APA established Division 44 (The Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian and Gay Issues, recently changed to the Society for the Psychological Study of LGBT Issues).

  • The Committee on LGBT Concerns is a committee whose work reports to the Board of Directors.

  • The APA also maintains an Office for LGBT Concerns. Through these groups LGBT voices can be heard and scientific and professional development can occur under the aegis of the national organization. From these organizations LGBT initiatives can be launched.

Some Effects

I can point to several extremely important effects of the APA’s development of organizational structures:

  • The promotion of research on sexual orientation issues

  • LGBT-specific training for psychologists, both in graduate curricula and among psychologists in the field

  • The recognition of professional and scientific contributions to the field

  • Providing a safe home (Division 44) in APA for LGBT psychologists

Some Specific Actions and Policies

Over the years since 1975 APA adopted many policies, adopted by its governing body, the Council of Representatives. These official policies not only oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but also promote accurate information and treatment on sexual orientation and gender identity. These policies, as all official policies, are based on empirical research and professional consensus and must be consistent with APA’s Code of Ethics.

Some important and recent documents include:

  • Guidelines for psychotherapy with LGB clients. This document is currently being revised and rigorously reviewed by a number of governance bodies in the APA and by the public, after which it will await approval by the Council of Representatives. Transgender guidelines are being developed separately.

  • Resolutions on same-sex relationships and marriage and same-sex families. These have special relevance in the United States where the right to marry under law is being hotly debated and argued in the Federal courts of California.

  • Resolution on appropriate responses to sexual orientation change efforts

  • Report on gender identity and gender variance.

International Initiatives

  • In 2001 APA sponsored the first international conference in LGB mental health policy and treatment in San Francisco, attended by 50 psychologists from every continent but Antarctica

  • The conference established the International Network of Psychological Associations on LGB Issues (Network).

  • The conference also established the INET, a website for psychologists and others to collaborate on sexual orientation and gender issues and to respond to LGBT issues worldwide, such as the recent situation in Uganda where legislation was introduced to criminalize homosexuality with draconian punishments. The INET drafted a statement opposing the legislation on the basis of scientific research. The statement was endorsed by several of the nations represented in the INET and forwarded to Uganda through the INET’s South African member.

  • Both the Network and the INET are supported by funds from the budget of the APA’s Office on LGBT Concerns.

  • Finally, the Network has been having an impact on international conferences such as we see here in Melbourne where LGBT issues have received streaming in the program for the first time.

In closing, I would like to offer some thoughts of my own on a larger issue. In our research and our activism on sexual orientation and gender issues, I think we are experiencing and impacting change in our paradigms of  human sexuality and gender. How we conceptualize and understand sexuality is changing through our research and will accelerate through additional research and international collaboration.

Thank you for allowing me to speak and for your attention.

Legitimacy and Teeth – The Australian Experience

By Graeme Kane. Kane is a Counseling Psychologist in private practice in Melbourne, Australia, and has been a leader in the APS Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology (GLIP) interest group.

The establishment of a Gay and Lesbian section, division or interest group within a psychological association or society – creates a community and bestows legitimacy. The Australian Psychological Society’s (APS) Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology (GLIP) Interest Group provides a conduit for expert advice and guidance on issues relating to the area of sexual orientation and related gender issues to those involved in the governance of the APS, Australian psychologists and the broader Australian community. GLIP is comprised of around 120 members that include teachers, researchers, those involved in public policy, practitioners and students – spread out across a country the size of the USA. Legitimacy is bestowed in the recognition, encouragement and endorsement of activities and outputs that are given ‘teeth’ when framed in expectations of respectful and competent provision of psychological services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered clients. Three initiatives are briefly summarized that demonstrate legitimacy (a journal and a literature review) and ‘teeth’ (ethical guidelines).

GLIP Review emerged in 2005 from the intersection of the ideas of three individuals. The initial idea was that the membership needed a regular newsletter that showcased the work of clinicians and researchers. The Gay and Lesbian Section of the British Psychological Society had transformed their newsletter into a journal which became the catalyst and vision of GLIP’s multi-disciplinary online journal. It is an endorsed APS peer-reviewed journal that encourages research that challenges the stereotypes and assumptions of pathology that have often inhered to research on lesbians and gay men (amongst others). The aim of the Review is thus to facilitate discussion over the direction of lesbian and gay psychology in Australia, and to provide a forum within which academics, practitioners and lay people may publish. More recently, the Review has published an increasing number of articles from international authors, thus demonstrating growing awareness and engagement with the journal, largely arising as a result of its indexing in databases, and initiative again supported by the APS.

The second initiative arose when the Public Interest department of the APS invited and financed GLIP in 2006 to write the literature review - “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Parented Families: Literature Review prepared for The Australian Psychological Society”. This review summarized the extensive body of literature which demonstrates the fact that parenting practices and children’s outcomes in families parented by LGBT people are likely to be at least as favorable as those in families of heterosexual parents, despite the reality that considerable legal discrimination and inequity remain significant challenges for these families.

Thirdly, in 2010, the APS completed the revision of the ethical guidelines concerned with the provision of psychological services to lesbian, gay and bisexual clients, and aligned them more closely to its Code of Ethics. The original ethical guidelines were published in 2000 and incorporated and extended the practice guidelines developed by the American Psychological Association (APA) for working therapeutically with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. The latest APS guidelines make clear the expectations that Australian psychologists providing any service to lesbians, gays and bisexuals needed to do so in a respectful, competent and professional manner. These guidelines consistently use “lesbian, gay and bisexual” rather than the abbreviated “LGB”. The motivation was to accord status, recognition and prominence to each sexual orientation. Much deliberation went into whether to include transgendered clients with the decision being that the unique needs of transgender clients are better addressed in a stand alone ethical guideline. This guideline will draw on the “Report of the APA Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance”.

These and other initiatives are aided by the international psychological community. As noted above, the work of GLIP is inspired and encouraged by the outputs and efforts of this community, and supported and recognized by the APS. On a personal note, the work of the interest group continues to answer that burning and plaintive question common to beginning psychologists – what is it that we actually do? We liaise and we grow.