Confronting Psychiatry

At its 1970 annual conference, the American Psychiatric Association had been accused of torturing gays and lesbians through promoting so-called “aversion therapies,” such as electroshock, and protestors had demanded the right to hold their own panel. Because the 1971 conference would be held in D.C., Kameny was asked whether he would moderate a panel called “Lifestyles of Non-Patient Homosexuals” at the 1971 gathering. He did so, but he also collaborated with the Gay Liberation Front to plan an aggressive protest action. At a pre-arranged time, as GLF members invaded and disrupted the conference, Kameny seized the convention hall’s microphone and shouting above the din, declared, “Psychiatry is the enemy incarnate…Psychiatry has waged a relentless war against us. You may take this as a declaration of war against you!”

The next year's APA conference included a panel discussion called “Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals?” Dr. John Fryer, a gay psychiatrist, agreed to appear on the panel as long as his identity was concealed, through a costume and the pseudonym “Dr. H. Anonymous.” He had good reason to wear a disguise; he was afraid that he would never receive tenure in his job at Temple University if his homosexuality were publicly revealed. But his dramatic, cloaked appearance and declaration “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist” is credited with providing fresh impetus to efforts already underway to try to get the APA to delete homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. This would be accomplished at the annual meeting in 1973. The fight that the Mattachine Society of Washington had first publicly initiated, with its statement blasting the APA, was won.