LGBTQ activists and their allies fought back and won a momentous victory
“Stop It, You’re Making Me Sick.” That was the title of the essay presented by Ronald Gold of the Gay Activists Alliance at the 1972 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to convince the organization to remove homosexuality from its nomenclature.
His point was that ever since the APA placed homosexuality at the top of its list of sexual deviation from the 1952 first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the organization was making every gay person sick from a psychiatric perspective.
The award-winning documentary, Cured chronicles the historic fight to have homosexuality removed from the DSM. The film will open the fall season of Independent Lens on PBS, Monday, October 11, 2021, which is National Coming Out Day. The film will also be available on the PBS Video app.
While the film acknowledges that “it is very hard nowadays to have any awareness of what the world was like for gay people” prior to the 1973 landmark decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM, it attempts to illustrate it with quotes and footage of how things were and the struggle for change. An old newscast from Mike Wallace on CBS News stating, “Two out of three Americans think of homosexuals with disgust” is just one of many examples of how differently gay people were perceived just 50 years ago.
Before the APA finally made the change, the psychiatric establishment deemed homosexuality a condition to be “cured,” and—in addition to intensive talk therapy—members of the LGBTQ community were subjected to cruel treatments including electroconvulsive therapy, aversion therapy, and in extreme cases, castration and lobotomies.
The footage of some of these cures in the film can be so disturbing that PBS has advised viewer discretion. Facing these “cures” and widespread stigma, many gay people were afraid to come out, and the APA’s “scientific” diagnosis was often used to justify discrimination and persecution.
Produced and directed by Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer, Cured offers viewers an inside look at the inspiring movement behind this momentous 1973 decision to remove the DSM classification and the pioneering activists who took on a formidable institution and, against the odds, emerged victorious. The activists’ mission was not only to overturn the official diagnosis but to create a meaningful dialogue that would challenge deep-rooted prejudices and transform minds.
During these discussions, activists pressed the APA to examine evidence and data, urging psychiatrists to move beyond what activist Dr. Frank Kameny called the “shabby, shoddy, sleazy pseudoscience masquerading as science” that underlay the sickness label for homosexuality.
Cured features rich, newly unearthed archival footage and incisive interviews with the people who experienced these events firsthand, including the pioneering LGBTQ+ activists Ron Gold, Dr. Lawrence Hartmann, Dr. Frank Kameny, Rev. Magora Kennedy, Kay Lahusen, and Dr. Charles Silverstein, among others, as well as allies and opponents within the APA. The filmmakers also interviewed Richard Socarides, an openly gay political commentator and advocate for LGBTQ equality, who is the son of Dr. Charles Socarides, the leading proponent of the view that homosexuality is a curable mental illness.
Cured illuminates a pivotal moment in the Gay Liberation movement that transformed not only the LGBTQ community but also the field of psychiatry and the social fabric of America—propelling a revolution that is still reverberating today.
“This was a seminal moment in the fight for LGBTQ equality and a story that had not been told before in film,” says co-director Patrick Sammon. “We put more than five years of research and production work into this project and had the great privilege of interviewing many of the key people who were direct catalysts for this groundbreaking change. Five of our interviewees have passed away, so we see this film as a testament to their courage and persistence.”
“We’re thrilled that the broadcast premiere is taking place on National Coming Out Day—the perfect moment to remind the world that for LGBTQ people, coming out represents an incredibly powerful form of activism,” adds co-director Bennett Singer. “Even though this is a story from history, its lessons remain profoundly relevant today. This is a film about the process of bringing about lasting, systemic social change.”
Cured provides vital historical context for the ongoing debate about conversion therapy, a harmful practice that aims to “cure” gender identity or sexual orientation through psychological or faith-based interventions. Although conversion therapy has been discredited by the APA and other major medical organizations, it remains legal for minors in 30 states.
The film has received numerous accolades, including the Audience Awards for Documentary Feature at Frameline 44: The San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (the world’s oldest and largest LGBTQ film festival), at NewFest 2020: The New York LGBTQ Film Festival, and at 2020 ImageOut: The Rochester LGBT Film Festival; the Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at Out at the Movies International Film Festival; and a $50,000 award in the 2020 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.