81 Words that Damaged Lives

John Fryer was born in Kentucky in 1937. Being very bright, he graduated from high school when he was 15 and college when he was 19. He then went to medical school where his interests were in psychiatry. John was gay.

He began a residency in psychiatry at the Menninger Foundation but was advised to leave due to depression resulting from the need to hide his homosexuality. He had a similar problem at the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in the America Psychological Association’s (APA) manual on mental disorders.  The 81 words that classified homosexuality as a mental illness were devastating to those who were gay and lesbian.

In the early 1970s, protests were staged at the APA national conventions. Challenged to reclassify homosexuality, the APA sought out a homosexual psychiatrist to speak at the convention and make the case against the 81 words. They struggled to find someone willing to speak.

John eventually agreed if he could appear wearing a mask with his voice modified. He was introduced as Dr. Henry Anonymous. His presentation had its intended impact and the 81 words describing homosexuality as a mental disorder were removed from the APA manual on mental disorders.

Dr. Fryer was a true hidden hero for his efforts to bring an understanding of homosexuality within the field of psychiatry. The fact that he had to do it anonymously says a lot about the openness of the scientific community to new perspectives.

In spite of the huge impact that Dr. Fryer had on his profession, he did not reveal that he was Dr. Anonymous until 22 years after his convention speech. Fifty years after his speech, those who are homosexual are still being demonized by politicians and others as a way of attracting followers.

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            “In a democratic society, we recognize the rights of such individuals to have widely divergent religious preferences, as long as they do not attempt to force their beliefs on others who do not share them  Our attitudes toward divergent sexual preferences, however, are quite different, obviously because moral values – couched in ‘medical’ and ‘scientific’ rationalizations – are involved.” – Judd Marmor (Former APA President)

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