Sunday, April 24, 2011
Alfred Freedman, the Albany-born psychiatrist who was the leader of the American Psychiatric Association when it declared in 1973 that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, died April 17 in New York City. He was 94.
Freedman was being treated at Mount Sinai Hospital for complications from surgery for a broken hip.
The influential psychiatrist was the third of four children born to Eastern European immigrants. As a teenager, he worked at grocery stores his parents operated on Dongan Avenue and later on Colvin Avenue.
Freedman attended public schools and graduated from Albany High School in 1933. He received a scholarship to Cornell University and graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1941.
Freedman first became interested in psychiatry while conducting neurophysiological research during vacations from medical school. After a foray into pathology during World War II, Freedman began his psychiatry career in earnest with a residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City in 1948.
"I vividly remember the seventh floor where the disturbed patients were. It certainly was a snake pit -- patients over-sedated with sodium amytal ... patients in camisoles, all bound up," Freedman told an interviewer in a story published in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health in 2009. "We had really no treatment to offer; we were just holding them."
Freedman became the senior psychiatrist in the children's service at Bellevue before taking a teaching position at the Downstate College of Medicine of the State University of New York and then moving to the New York Medical College to chair its psychiatry department. He stayed at the medical college until his retirement in 1990. As his influence grew, so did his opportunities to put his passion for social issues and social justice to work. At the medical college, then based in East Harlem, he established a narcotics treatment program as well as psychiatric wards at the Metropolitan Hospital.
On the home front, Freedman and his wife, Marcia, raised two sons on New York's Upper West Side. Dan Freedman, the national editor of the Hearst Newspapers' Washington Bureau, said his father was always home by 5:30 p.m. for a cocktail with his wife and then dinner at 6, when the family would talk about politics and the news of the day. Alfred Freedman could be stern and reserved, as his own father had been, but he could be animated and light-hearted as well.
"He told great little stories when we were kids. He would put on funny voices and sing songs from his childhood," Dan Freedman said.
In 1972, Freedman was narrowly elected president of the American Psychiatric Association, a group he later said was under pressure by some members to take a position against the Vietnam War and take the disease label off homosexuality.
After much study and debate, the APA approved a resolution in December 1973 to stop listing homosexuality as a disorder. The vote made front-page news.
"I felt at the time the decision was the most important thing we accomplished," Freedman said later.
Under Freedman's tenure as APA president, he also led a group of psychiatrists on a trip to Russia and pushed for an end to the Soviet practice at the time of institutionalizing political dissidents.
Following his retirement, Freedman also campaigned against the death penalty.
He is survived by Marcia, his wife of 68 years; his sons, Dan and Paul; and three grandchildren.
video interview with Dr. Freedma below the fold-