Below is a brief history of the founding of the Lesbian and Gay Section of the
British Psychological Society, written by Sue Wilkinson, one of the founding members.
This essay originally appeared in the Newsletter of the Lesbian and Gay Psychology
Section of the British Psychological Section, which was a forerunner to Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review.
On December 18, 1998, a British equivalent to APA Division 44-the Lesbian and
Gay Psychology Section-was officially founded within the British Psychological
Society (BPS). This historic event is the culmination of nearly a decade of campaigning--creating,
for the first time, a formal organizational framework for lesbian and gay psychology
in Britain. Three previous proposals had been turned down (in 1991, 1993, and
1994) by the BPS Scientific Affairs Board and/or Council on the grounds that the
field was "too narrow" and "too political." Anti-lesbian and anti-gay correspondence
was published in the BPS journal, The Psychologist, under the heading, "Are you
normal?" Members of the steering group were sent abusive hate mail by BPS members.
The membership ballot which finally approved the formation of the new Section
was notable for having more "anti" votes than ever before recorded in any parallel
BPS ballot--1988 voted in favor, and 1623 voted against the formation of the Section.
The struggle for the Section began in 1990 when four lesbians-two academic psychologists
(Celia Kitzinger and myself), a clinical psychologist (Rachel Perkins), and an
educational psychologist (Louise Comely)-formed the "Lesbians in Psychology Sisterhood"
(LIPS) to act as a steering group. Our first proposal for a "Psychology of Lesbianism"
Section was rejected by the Scientific Affairs Board (SAB) and BPS Council in
1991. However, it sent serious ripples through the BPS, which changed its rules
to make it harder to form new sections in the future. The founding membership
now has to be more than double the previous figure. This first proposal also precipitated
a major split within the Psychology of Women Section, of which all four of us
were members, two of us on the Committee (c.f. Comely et al., 1992; Sayers, 1992).
The Psychology of Women Section (equivalent to APA Division 35) did not originally
support the proposal (Ussher, 1991), and it was only with a change of Chair that
it subsequently decided to do so (c.f. Beloff, 1993). LIPS tried once again to
establish a Psychology of Lesbianism Section in 1993, but we were again turned
down by both SAB and Council.
The following year saw a major change of strategy-an alliance between lesbians
and gay men-none of whom had previously been forthcoming. Six of us submitted
a revised proposal-now for a "Lesbian and Gay Psychology" Section-which, this
time, made it through SAB. We sensed that the tide of Society opinion was turning,
but we were faced with major disappointment in October, 1994, when the BPS Council
rejected this proposal by just one vote. This apparently caused some internal
embarrassment, and the proposers of the new Section were invited to meet with
senior officers of the Society, including the then President, to discuss the way
forward. The tenor of the advice was "not to make waves," "to be patient," and
"to expect success in due course." (Outrageous, maybe, but those of us behind
the initiative from the outset were actually not averse to having a "rest" at
In late 1997, four of us (Adrian Coyle, Martin Milton, Celia Kitzinger, and myself)
put a revised version of the "Lesbian and Gay Psychology" Section proposal forward
once again, and this time it quickly obtained SAB support. It was evident that
there had been a sea change. Although we still faced virulent opposition from
a significant minority, there was also a groundswell of support. When the Council
eventually approved the proposal on Valentine's Day, 1998, their vote in favor
was overwhelming. The next step was a membership ballot (a new requirement which
had been introduced since our first proposal). This involved a further tranche
of hard work. We carried out a personal mailing of the entire Register of Chartered
Psychologists, lobbied our known supporters to vote, and publicized the Section
via a lead article in The Psychologist (Kitzinger et al., 1998). On December 5,
1998, the ballot result was announced at a Special General Meeting, which the
four of us attended. We got our Section!
We are delighted finally to have achieved a BPS Lesbian and Gay Psychology Section
as a forum within which to pursue lesbian and gay psychology. The proposal approved
by Council explicitly states that the aim of the Section is "to contribute...
to removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with gay
male and lesbian sexual identities and to contribute psychological perspectives
to social policy initiatives which provide for better quality of life for lesbian
and gay people, their families and friends" (Kitzinger et al., 1997). Recent events
in Britain, such as the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, the parliamentary
debates on the gay male Age of Consent, and the "outings" of various members of
Parliament, illustrate the extent to which ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry are
still rife in this country. The new Section will enable lesbian and gay voices
to be heard.
Other aims of the Section include: (a) providing a forum for the systematic study
of lesbian and gay psychology which draws together those working in different
specialties; (b) developing research and teaching in the area, in both academic
and applied contexts; (c) fostering the exchange of ideas, research, and information
(via workshops, conferences, newsletter, and, eventually, a journal); and (d)
establishing links with others working on lesbian and gay issues, including, of
course, APA Division 44 and other lesbian and gay psychology organizations worldwide
(such as the one within the Australian Psychological Society).
Although our primary focus is lesbian and gay psychology, we expect to become
a forum for related research (and policy initiatives) on a broader range of non-heterosexual
identities, including bisexual, transsexual/transgender, and intersexual. Research
that uses lesbian and gay theory to problematize heterosexuality (e.g., Wilkinson
& Kitzinger, 1993) also falls within our remit. Our name reflects the BPS
requirement that we demonstrate an already-established British research base in
the key areas covered by the Section. We hope to see research on bisexual and
transgender issues flourishing in Britain in the future. The Section will foster
a wide variety and diversity of topics and approaches, and will welcome debate
about the implications and utility of different perspectives. We are keen to bridge
theory and practice, recognizing the key role of counselors, therapists, and educational
and occupational psychologists in promoting better understanding of lesbian and
Over the last three decades, psychology has dramatically developed and expanded
its capacity to recognize human diversity. Future development of lesbian and gay
psychology will expand the scope and enrich the content of the discipline of psychology
as a whole, better equipping it to address and improve the millennium.
Copies of the full proposal for the BPS Lesbian and Gay Psychology Section are
available from Sue Wilkinson, Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University,
Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK. Members of the Section Committee would
welcome trans-Atlantic dialogue. The inaugural officers are: Chair, Peter Hegarty; Secretary, Victoria Clarke; Treasurer, Clair Clifford.
Beloff, H. (1993). Progress on the BPS Psychology of Lesbianism front. Feminism and Psychology, 3(2), 282-283.
Comely, L., Kitzinger, C., Perkins, R., & Wilkinson, S. (1992). Lesbian psychology
in Britain: Back into the closet? Feminism and Psychology, 2(2), 265-268.
Kitzinger, C., Coyle, A., Wilkinson, S., & Milton, M. (1997). Proposal to the Council of the British Psychological Society for the formation
of a new Section of the Society on "Lesbian and Gay Psychology." Unpublished document.
Kitzinger, C., Coyle, A., Wilkinson, S., & Milton, M. (1998). Toward lesbian
and gay psychology. The Psychologist, 11(11).
Sayers, J. (1992). A POWS reply. Feminism and Psychology, 2(2), 269-270.
Ussher, J. (1991). Letter to Chair of BPS ScientificAffairs Board, 21 May. Reprinted
in British Psychological Society Psychology of Women Newsletter, 8, 66.
Wilkinson, S., & Kitzinger, C. (Eds.). (1993). Heterosexuality: A "Feminism and Psychology" reader. London. Sage.