Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Activist Writer Betty Berzon Dies at 78

(Link) After struggling half her life to accept her sexuality, Betty Berzon spent the rest of it helping others. Among her accomplishments: the books "Permanent Partners" and "The Intimacy Dance", co-founding the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and convincing the American Psychiatric Association that we're not crazy after all.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
From Associated Press

Betty Berzon, a psychotherapist and author who championed gay rights after struggling for more than half her life with her own sexuality, has died. She was 78.

Berzon died at her San Fernando Valley home early Tuesday, said her longtime partner Teresa DeCrescenzo. Berzon had battled breast cancer for many years, she said.

Berzon was considered a pioneer within the gay and lesbian community because she provided therapy to clients during a time — the early 1970s — when there were very few psychologists or psychiatrists willing to openly discuss homosexuality.

"The gay community lost their compassionate mother," said Bonnie Strickland, a retired psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and past president of the American Psychological Association. "She was the first to affirm gay and lesbian experiences and she gave us comfort and validity."

Her books also provided a roadmap for fellow homosexuals. In "Setting Them Straight," she suggested how to handle homophobia. In "Permanent Partners" and "The Intimacy Dance," she talked about building long-term gay relationships.

As a young woman, however, Berzon had problems dealing with her own homosexuality. In her 2002 memoir, "Surviving Madness; A Therapist's Own Story," she recounts a botched suicide attempt when she was in her early 20s.

It wasn't until she turned 40 that she said publicly she was a lesbian.

Born in St. Louis, her family moved to Arizona when she was young because she suffered from respiratory ailments.

She started at Stanford University but graduated from UCLA in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She also earned a doctorate at the International College in Los Angeles.

Berzon kept good company during her studies. She worked with Carl Rogers, who helped develop group therapy, and she was involved in the human-potential movement — the cultivation of extraordinary potential believed to be largely untapped in most people — at an institute in Big Sur.

In 1971, she helped start the first gay group within the American Psychiatric Association, which dropped homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses two years later. Soon after, she entered private practice and worked with gay men and lesbians.

Berzon co-founded the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and wrote a relationship advice column for She also served as the national president of the Gay Academic Union between 1977 and 1979 and served on several boards of directors for gay organizations.

She is survived by DeCrescenzo; a sister, Stephanie Miller; and her stepmother, Trude.

Funeral services were scheduled at 11 a.m. Friday at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park.