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Dr. John Fryer. Photo credit: Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists via AP
Dr. John Fryer was a tenured Temple University professor whose 1972 speech helped get homosexuality removed from the DSM. Photo credit: Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists via AP

Former Temple professor honored for his contributions to the LGBTQ+ rights movement

Dr. John Fryer was a professor at Temple, whose speech at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association convention helped get homosexuality removed from the DSM.

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Dr. John Fryer was honored on May 2, 2022, in Philadelphia for his contribution to the LGBTQ+ rights movement. He delivered a speech at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) convention in 1972 as Dr. Henry Anonymous, which was in favor of removing homosexuality from the DSM.

Philadelphia declared May 2 Dr. Fryer Day. His former home at 138 W. Walnut Lane was designated as historic, and a historical marker about him has been put at 13th and Locust.  

Dr. Fryer was born in Winchester, Kentucky. He went to Transylvania University for undergrad and Vanderbilt University for medical school during the late 50s and early 60s. 

During this time, homosexuality was classified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), having been put there in 1952. Because of this, anyone who was out could be involuntarily committed, fired, or lose custody of a child. A group of gay rights activists led by Frank Kameny picketed the 1970 and 1971 APA conventions to get the APA to take homosexuality out of the DSM. 

A panel entitled “Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals? A Dialogue” was created for the 1972 convention. The panel was originally made up of two gay people and two psychiatrists. Barbara Gittings asked Dr. Fryer to join the panel after her partner, Kay Tobin Lahusen, suggested they get a gay psychiatrist on it as well. Dr. Fryer initially didn’t want to give the speech. He agreed to do it after a few months of thinking and the reassurance he was told he could give it in disguise. Gittings also had his travel to the conference paid for with a grant she had received.

Dr. Fryer knew the risk of being out on a personal level. He was kicked out of his residency at the University of Pennsylvania after coming out to a friend and was fired from jobs. 

He delivered a speech as Dr. Henry Anonymous, wearing a Richard Nixon mask, a curly wig, and a tuxedo that was three sizes too big. He also used a microphone that changed his voice. Dr. Fryer started his speech by saying, “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.” 

At the end of his speech he said, “This is the greatest loss, our honest humanity, and that loss leads all of 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. As homosexual psychiatrists, therefore, we must use our skills and wisdom to help all of them and ourselves grow to be comfortable with that little piece of humanity called homosexuality.” 

Homosexuality was removed from the DSM a year after Dr. Fryer’s speech in 1973.

The APA established the John Fryer award in his honor in 2005. The award is given to those who contribute “to improving the mental health of sexual minorities.” 

Dr. Fryer passed away in 2003 at the age of 65.

His papers, including his 1972 speech, are being stored at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Library of American History and one of the nation’s largest archives of historical documents.

 

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