Digging Into Queer History in Cured

Doc explores fight to de-list homosexuality as mental illness

Queer history is a collection of stories, and those stories only endure if we make sure they’re not forgotten.

Cured, a documentary screening online April 22-28 as part of aGLIFF’s Queer Spectrum series, covers a particularly prescient if sometimes overlooked tale from the LGBTQIA history books: the 1973 activist campaign to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses.

Demonstrators gathered in Albany, New York, in 1971 to demand gay rights and to declare that "Homo Is Healthy." (Credit: Richard C. Wandel Photographs, The LGBT Community Center National History Archive)

Focusing on this specific moment in queer history started from a reverential place for the film’s co-director Bennett Singer, who said that after his directing partner Patrick Sammon brought the initial seed of the 1972 speech to the APA by gay psychiatrist John Fryer – at the time hiding behind a facemask and the pseudonym “Dr. Henry Anonymous” – they found an even bigger, more impactful story through interviewing other members of the campaign. “We wanted to capture the voices of the people who were part of this history,” Singer says.

Bears Rebecca Fonté, artistic director of aGLIFF and a moderator of Thursday’s Q&A, points out that much of how queer activists are fighting today reflects the grassroots campaign shown in Cured – including the need for those inside institutions like the APA to take a stand and support gay liberation. “I think the breaking point with the APA was to find members of the APA who actually were, you know, gay,” she says, “and then [the activists] could get them on their side and figure out how to fight the fight.”

Singer alludes to a similar idea – that gaining the support of not just other LGBTQIA members, but also straight allies within the power structures. “There's a huge opportunity and obligation, even today, for all of us to think about how we can support groups that we’re not a part of,” he elaborates. “Both by listening to other people's stories, but also then taking risks and really speaking up … to make it clear that we're in solidarity and that we stand together with groups … that are being oppressed.” In fact, Thursday’s Q&A will explore what can be learned from the 1973 fight to rewrite the APA classifications and how it relates to today’s fight for trans health care and rights, with Transgender Education Network of Texas Executive Director Emmett Schelling in attendance.

Cured and its resonance with the issues of today couldn’t be portrayed without the massive amounts of archival footage and other materials present in the film. Everything from tapes of Fryer’s original Dr. Anonymous speech to the APA, to footage of the first televised panel discussion of out lesbians on The David Susskind Show (on which the Rev. Kennedy was a guest), come together to paint a picture of the movement. The historical materials add a “texture” to the film, Singer says, that brings the actual historical event into fuller focus. Through the queer history told in the film, Singer hopes that viewers come away with “a blueprint for change,” as well as a sense of optimism that “when people come together in coalitions and find a common ground, there really is such a strong potential for making a difference.”

Gathering pieces of LGBTQIA history like in Cured is an incredibly important act of care for the community, Fonté points out. “Having access to archival footage is where we can learn our history and understand where we come from,” she says. “Just for me, as somebody who's transgender … seeing and understanding the fight that existed 40 years ago, that everybody went through for the right to be gay, it really helps me define kind of how I want to fight and the words I want to use and to learn from that, and to not try to reinvent anything, because we're all part of the same community.”

Cured will be screening April 22-28, with a live Q&A on Thu., April 22, 8:25pm. Afterward the Q&A will be available to watch online. Tickets are free for aGLIFF members, or $12 for nonmembers. Find tickets and more info here.

Editor's Note: Since publication, this article has been updated to reflect changes to the Q&A panel participants.

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aGLIFF, Queer Spectrum, Bears Rebecca Fonté, American Psychiatric Association, Bennett Singer, Patrick Sammon, Magora Kennedy, Richard Socarides, Transgender Education Network of Texas Executive Director, Emmett Schelling, LGBTQIA history, LGBTQIA rights advocacy, LGBTQIA rights movement, LGBTQIA film

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