The recently released documentary film “CURED,” which tells the story of how gay activists beginning in the early 1960s waged an historic but little-noticed campaign to have homosexuality removed from a psychiatric list of mental illnesses, was named on Oct. 20 as runner-up for the prestigious Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.
The feature length documentary provides a dramatic inside view through archival images and interviews of how a diverse group of 24 lesbian and gay activists, including pioneering D.C. gay activist Frank Kameny, waged a successful campaign to persuade the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM.
The activists, led by Kameny, became the first to challenge the scientific validity of the DSM’s “mental illness” classification of homosexuality on grounds that it was based almost entirely on observations of patients under psychiatric treatment.
The film shows how the activists through protests at APA meetings and TV talk show interviews told of how the DSM classification of homosexuality was responsible for the persecution, discrimination, and stigmatization of LGBTQ people since it was first published in 1952.
“CURED” was produced, directed, and written jointly by gay filmmakers Patrick Sammon of D.C. and Bennett Singer of Los Angeles. Sammon was creator and executive producer of the earlier documentary film “Codebreaker,” which portrayed the life of gay British World War II era code breaker Alan Turing. Singer co-directed the documentary film “Brother Outsider,” which told the story of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.
The two told the Blade they were honored by “CURED’s” recognition as runner-up for the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, for which “CURED” was selected from more than 150 film entries.
Sammon and Singer said they were moved and inspired by the activists who were either interviewed in the film and those who were captured in archival film footage who had passed away before the film project began in 2015.
To LGBTQ activists seeing the film now, some of the people who appear in the film will be considered both heroes and heroines who played a pivotal role in bringing about the removal of the “gay is sick” classification. But others, including psychiatrists Dr. Irving Bieber and Dr. Charles Socarides, are shown as strong defenders of the view that homosexuality should be classified as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” The film shows how they did all they could to keep the DSM classification in place.
In addition to Frank Kameny, who coined the phrase ‘Gay is Good,’ the others shown in the film who are credited with teaming up with Kameny to prod the APA to change its DSM classification included the late Barbara Gittings, the lesbian activist from Philadelphia whose “homophile” activism in support of gay liberation began in 1958. Also included in the film is Gittings’ surviving partner Kay Lahusen, who played an active role in the DSM fight.
Among the film’s most moving scenes are those that show the late gay psychiatrist Dr. John Fryer wearing a full-face mask to hide his identity during what observers consider his historic and dramatic testimony before a panel discussion at the APA’s 1972 convention in Dallas.
Fryer, who used the name “Dr. H. Anonymous,” became the first known gay psychiatrist to present a personal and moving account of how the DSM classification of homosexuals as sick was wrong and unsupported by science and had caused him to live in fear of losing his medical license.
Also shown in the film is the late Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist who published a landmark study in 1956 credited with demonstrating through sound scientific methodology that there was no difference between the mental health of homosexuals and heterosexuals.
“While ‘CURED’ is indisputably about science, medicine, and politics, at its core this is a film about activism and the process of social change,” Sammon and Singer said in a joint statement. “It features a diverse group of crusaders with stubborn dedication and big personalities who came together at a crossroads in LGBTQ history,” the two said.
“These unlikely heroes’ passion for justice – coupled with their refusal to accept psychiatry’s declaration that they were sick – propels the story,” the statement says. “We were honored to meet and interview many of the key participants who put their bodies and reputations on the line in pursuit of this cause.”
In receiving the runner-up designation for the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, “CURED” has received a $50,000 grant from the Better Angels Society, a partner with the Library of Congress film award program. The grant’s funds will be used to help cover “CURED’s” post-production costs and promotional and marketing costs.
“‘CURED’ was chosen for its excellence through a multi-tiered review process that includes award-winning professional filmmakers, film preservation experts from the Library of Congress, and nationally recognized historians,” according to Courtney Chapin, executive director of the Better Angels Society.
Sammon and Singer said the grant funds will help them arrange for a wider distribution of the film to enable it to be shown at educational institutions and other education related venues.
Sammon said the Independent Television Service, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has also assumed the role of a co-production partner for the film and has provided “really significant financial support” to help them complete the film.
“CURED” is scheduled to be broadcast on the PBS network in October of 2021 as part of PBS’s Independent Lens documentary series, Sammon said. He and Singer said they are also hopeful that the film will be shown in theaters initially virtually due to the COVID pandemic but eventually at traditional in-person theater showings when the epidemic restrictions are lifted.
Also playing an important role in helping finance the film to meet its $800,000 production budget, Sammon and Singer noted, was the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. Under the leadership of its president, Charles Francis, and its treasurer, Pate Felts, Mattachine served as the film’s fiscal sponsor. That enabled supporters to make tax-deductible donations for the production of the film through Mattachine, which has the status of a charitable organization.
Information about the availability of viewing “CURED” can be accessed at curedfilm.com.