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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Introducing LGBTQ psychology

from Section I - History, contexts and debates in LGBTQ psychology



• What is LGBTQ psychology and why study it?

• The scientific study of sexuality and ‘gender ambiguity’

• The historical emergence of ‘gay affirmative’ psychology

• Struggling for professional recognition and challenging heteronormativity in psychology

What is LGBTQ psychology and why study it?

For many people it is not immediately obvious what lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) psychology is (see the glossary for definitions of words in bold type). Is it a grouping for LGBTQ people working in psychology? Is it a branch of psychology about LGBTQ people? Although LGBTQ psychology is often assumed to be a support group for LGBTQ people working in psychology, it is in fact the latter: a branch of psychology concerned with the lives and experiences of LGBTQ people. Sometimes it is suggested that this area of psychology would be more accurately named the ‘psychology of sexuality’. Although LGBTQ psychology is concerned with sexuality, it has a much broader focus, examining many different aspects of the lives of LGBTQ people including prejudice and discrimination, parenting and families, and coming out and identity development.

One question we're often asked is ‘why do we need a separate branch of psychology for LGBTQ people?’ There are two main reasons for this: first, as we discuss in more detail below, until relatively recently most psychologists (and professionals in related disciplines such as psychiatry) supported the view that homosexuality was a mental illness.

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Further reading
Barker, M. (2007) Heteronormativity and the exclusion of bisexuality in psychology. In Clarke, V. and Peel, E. (eds.), Out in psychology: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer perspectives (pp. 95–117). Chichester: Wiley.
Dreger, A. D. (1998) Hermaphrodites and the medical invention of sex. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Greene, B. (2000) Beyond heterosexism and across the cultural divide: developing an inclusive lesbian, gay, and bisexual psychology: A look to the future. In Greene, B. and Croom, G. L. (eds.), Education, research and practice in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered psychology: a resource manual (pp. 1–45). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Meyerowitz, J. (2002) How sex changed: a history of transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sullivan, N. (2003) A critical introduction to queer theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.