Dr. Saul Levin, who last year became the first openly gay head of the D.C. Department of Health, was named on May 15 as the new chief executive officer and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association.
An APA spokesperson said Levin, a psychiatrist who has specialized in substance abuse treatment, becomes the first known out gay person to head the APA, which was founded in 1844 and represents more than 33,000 psychiatric physicians in the U.S. and abroad.
The APA serves as a “national medical specialty society whose physician members specialize in diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses including substance use disorders,” according to a statement on the organization’s website.
“I have known Saul for over 20 years,” said Dr. James H. Scully Jr., the current APA CEO and Medical Director who is retiring in the fall, when Levin will take over his duties following a transition period set to begin in mid-July.
“He brings extraordinary intelligence, vision and great energy to the challenges ahead for our profession,” Scully said in a statement. “I look forward to working together with him as we transition to new leadership.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who appointed Levin as interim director of the DOH last July, issued a statement on May 15 congratulating Levin on his new appointment.
“While this is a great loss for the District government, it is a great gain for the American Psychiatric Association,” Gray said. “Dr. Levin has done an exemplary job leading DOH in this interim period, and I wish him the best in his future endeavors and thank him for his good work for us.”
The APA has played a key role in the advancement of LGBT rights since the early 1970s when, following years of advocacy by gay activists, the organization removed homosexuality from its longstanding classification as a mental illness in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders.
Last December, the APA removed Gender Identity Disorder (GID) from its latest updated edition of the DSM and replaced it with a condition known as Gender Dysphoria.
Transgender rights advocates have said the removal of GID from the APA’s DSM is comparable to the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its classification as a mental disorder in 1973.
Levin is scheduled to remain in his DOH post until July 12, when he will join the Arlington, Va., based APA as CEO-designate, according to an APA statement. He will work closely with Scully until Scully retires in the fall, “at which point Dr. Levin will transition to his role as CEO and Medical Director of APA,” the statement says.
The APA statement says Levin has had a “long history” of working on APA committees and projects beginning in 1987, when he first became a member of the organization. Among other duties, Levin has served on the APA’s Political Action Committee Board, its Scientific and Program Committee and as a consultant to its Finance and Budget Committee.
A native of South Africa, Levin received his medical degree at a leading medical school in Johannesburg before completing his residency in psychiatry at the University of California’s Davis Medical Center.
Levin joined the staff of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he later became coordinator of a program within the department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Following that position he returned to school, receiving a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 1994.
After that, Levin started a heath care consulting company for which he served as president for the next 10 years.
He next served as president and CEO of a U.S.-based educational trust that provided scholarships to South African black youth before becoming vice president of the American Medical Association for Science, Medicine, and Public Health.
After joining the staff at the D.C. Department of Health, Levin, among other things, served as Senior Deputy Director of the department’s Addiction and Recovery Administration.
Levin was in San Francisco this week attending the APA’s annual national conference and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.