Two activists who have devoted decades to fighting on behalf of the rights
of gay and lesbian individuals share a new APA award named for a psychiatrist
who used unorthodox tactics to get APA to confront the validity of labelling
homosexuality a mental illness.
Frank Kameny, Ph.D. (second from left), and Barbara Gittings (third from
left) were honored last month at APA's Institute on Psychiatric Services as
the recipients of the first APA John E. Fryer, M.D., Award. Presenting the
award were Dan Karasic, M.D., and Mary Barber, M.D., of the Association of Gay
and Lesbian Psychiatrists, which co-sponsors the award. Ellen Dallager
Frank Kameny, Ph.D., and Barbara Gittings were honored last month at APA's
Institute on Psychiatric Services for their work as pioneers in the gay-rights
movement. They were presented with the first APA John E. Fryer, M.D.,
Fryer was a gay psychiatrist who appeared at APA's 1972 annual meeting in
Dallas wearing a wig and a mask to shield his identity. He was introduced as
Dr. H. (for homosexual) Anonymous at a panel discussion titled“
Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals: A Dialogue.” The public
appearance of a gay psychiatrist explaining at an APA meeting why he could not
be open within his profession helped to galvanize a group of largely closeted
gay psychiatrists within APA at a time when homosexuality was still widely
viewed as pathological by psychiatrists and others.
The following year homosexuality was removed from the list of disorders in
Kameny and Gittings were prominent in the movement that led to that
removal. Gittings has been a gay-rights activist since 1958, when she started
the New York chapter of the lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis. In 1965
she marched in the first gay pickets at the White House and Independence Hall
in Philadelphia calling for an end to discrimination against gay people.
Kameny has been at the forefront of gay civil rights for more than four
decades. As a self-styled paralegal, he served as personal representative in
cases involving military, civil service, and security clearances. He was
instrumental in helping to pass Washington, D.C.'s Human Rights Law in 1973,
one of the nation's first laws to ban discrimination against gay people.
In a lecture they presented last month, titled “Gay, Proud, and
Healthy: From Heresy to Humdrum,” Gittings and Kameny spoke informally
about the earliest days of the gay-rights movement.
“At the time the movement was bland and apologetic and deferential to
authority,” Kameny recalled. “That wasn't my style. I wanted us to
take the position for the first time that we gays are the sole authority on
It was Kameny who coined the phrase “gay is good” as a way of
affirming a positive identity for gay people, rather than one that was
defensive and deferential.
Kameny and Gittings also recounted the fateful appearance of Dr. H.
Anonymous at the 1972 meeting and the events leading up to that
“Frank and I were invited to be on a panel in Dallas called
`Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals: A Dialogue,'” Gittings
recalled. “My partner, Kay, said, `This isn't right—here you have
two psychiatrists pitted against two gays, and what you really need is someone
who is both.' The panel moderator, Dr. Kent Robinson, agreed to add a gay
psychiatrist if we could find one. In 1972 who would come forward?... Kay and
I wrote letters and made phone calls around the country.
“At last, John Fryer said yes, provided he could wear a wig and mask
and use a voice-distorting microphone,” Gittings said. “Dr. H.
Anonymous was born. We smuggled him in his disguise through back corridors
into the packed lecture hall. He really rocked the audience, speaking as a
closeted gay person to his own colleagues, telling why he couldn't be open in
his own profession. To back up John Fryer, I read excerpts from letters I'd
solicited from the other gay psychiatrists who felt they had to decline to be
on the panel.”
Gittings displayed photographs of significant events in gay-rights history,
including pictures of Fryer in his mask—a distorted and grotesque
disguise—as he was seated at the panel. Both Gittings and Kameny said
the event was transformative.
“By drawing attention to the mask and the damage it does, Dr. H.
Anonymous helped tear away disguise and secrecy,” Gittings said.“
He gave courage to his fellow gay and lesbian psychiatrists to be fully
themselves and to affirm, in Frank's great motto, that Gay Is Good.
“The gay community's mental health improved dramatically when we
spoke up for ourselves and took charge of our own destiny. I'm so glad I was a
player in this part of gay history and that I got to know the incomparable
John Fryer.” ▪