Dr. Charles Silverstein, who helped to get homosexuality declassified as a mental illness in the United States, died January 30 at the age of 87 in his home in New York City.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1935 to Jewish parents, Silverstein was raised in an era when same-sex sexual activity was illegal in most parts of the United States, and expressions of homosexuality were highly stigmatized. The shame that he felt well into his adulthood – and the fear of professional repercussions – caused him to hide his identity and even enroll in conversion therapy. It also profoundly influenced his work as a therapist, author and LGBTQ rights activist.
Silverstein studied education at the State University of New York at New Paltz before earning a PhD in psychology from Rutgers in 1974.
His testimony before the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 was crucial to the reclassification of homosexuality, which until that point had been considered a mental disorder and “sexual deviation,” and is considered one of the greatest achievements in the gay rights movement following the Stonewall riots.
His 1977 book “The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Lifestyle,” co-authored with Edmund White, sought to put an end to the shame surrounding homosexuality and acted as a guide to the gay lifestyle for readers with few other accessible resources. It became essential reading for members of the gay community, and was followed up by updated versions “The New Joy of Gay Sex” (co-authored with Felice Picano) in 1993 and a revised and expanded edition in 2006. It was also banned, burned, and, in the few bookstores that did carry it, hidden from public sight.
Silverstein went on to write a number of books focusing on gay affirmation and was the founding editor of The Journal of Homosexuality. He was also the founding director of the Institute for Human Identity, which focused on LGBTQ-affirming psychotherapy, and the Identity House, a New York City counseling center. He became an American Psychological Association Fellow in 1987 and received a lifetime achievement award from the organization in 2011.