The Gay Psychiatrist Who Took On The APA

You have Dr. John Fryer to thank for the fact you are not considered mentally ill for being gay. He was known only as “Dr. H. Anonymous,” the disguised gay psychiatrist who stood up against the American Psychiatric Association on this day in 1972.

1. After a finding in 1952 that homosexuals were “ill primarily in terms of society and of conformity with the prevailing social milieu,” the American Psychiatric Association included homosexuality in its official list of mental illnesses.

For several years, gay activists Barbara Gittings (shown below) and Frank Kameny, among others, considered the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness as the greatest obstacle to equal rights for gays and lesbians.

2. Popular methods for “curing homosexuality” at the time were often torturous, such as electric shock aversion therapy.

A diagram from 1971 of a system to deliver electric shock aversion therapy to gay men:

3. In 1972, Gittings and Kameny (pictured holding the “Gay is Good” sign), were finally given permission to organize a panel on homosexuality for that year’s APA convention.

The panel’s topic was to be “Lifestyles of Non-Patient Homosexuals.” Gittings and Kameny were part of the panel, but they also felt it was important to include a professional psychiatrist who was gay. Finding one who would agree to speak was virtually impossible.

4. Everyone turned them down, except John Fryer.

His only condition? He would do it in disguise.

5. He wore a mask, wig, and a suit several sizes too big. He spoke into a microphone that distorted his voice.

From left: Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and John Fryer as “Dr. H. Anonymous.”

6. He began his speech with:


“I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist. I, like most of you in this room am a member of the APA and am proud of that membership. […] I attempt tonight to speak for many of my fellow gay members of the APA, as well as for myself. When we gather at these conventions we have somewhat glibly come to call ourselves ‘the gay PA.’ And several of us feel that it was time that real flesh and blood stand up before this organization and ask to be listened to and understood insofar as that is possible.”

7. The speech concluded with:


Finally, pull up your courage by your bootstraps and discover ways in which you and homosexual psychiatrists can be closely involved in movements which attempt to change the attitudes of heterosexuals — and homosexuals — toward homosexuality. For all of us have something to lose. We may not be considered for that professorship. The analyst down the street may stop referring us his overflow. Our supervisor may ask us to take a leave of absence. We are taking an even bigger risk, however, not accepting fully our own humanity, with all of the lessons it has to teach all the other humans around us and ourselves. This is the greatest loss: our honest humanity. And that loss leads all those others around us to lose that little bit of their humanity as well. For, if they were truly comfortable with their own homosexuality, then they could be comfortable with ours. We must use our skills and wisdom to help them — and us — grow to be comfortable with that little piece of humanity called homosexuality.

8. That evening Fryer wrote in his diary:


“The day has passed — it has come and gone and I am still alive. For the first time, I have identified with a force which is akin to my selfhood. I am not Black. I am not alcoholic. I am not really addicted. I am homosexual, and I am the only American psychiatrist who has stood up on a podium to let real flesh and blood tell this nation it is so.”

The next year, Dr. Robert Spitzer, who was in charge of revising the APA’s Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM), which defined the official list of mental disorders, met with members of the Gay-PA. Those meetings eventually led to the removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973.

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

Facebook Conversations
          
    Now Buzzing