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Philadelphia to celebrate 50th anniversary of historic speech by gay psychiatrist

John Fryer called on profession to end listing of homosexuality as mental illness

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John Fryer (right) spoke in disguise at the American Psychiatric Association’s 1972 national convention. (Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen via New York Public Library)

The City of Philadelphia on May 2 is scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic speech by then closeted gay psychiatrist John Fryer before the American Psychiatric Association’s 1972 annual convention urging the group to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

Fryer, who had a psychiatric practice in Philadelphia and served as a professor of psychiatry at Temple University, concealed his identity when speaking at the APA convention in Dallas, by wearing a rubber mask, a wig and speaking through a microphone that distorted his voice.

Fryer’s compelling arguments that scientific findings demonstrated that homosexuality was not a mental illness, and that gays and lesbians were upstanding members of their communities, including practicing psychiatrists, is credited with playing a leading role in the APA’s decision one year later to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in its official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

The Fryer anniversary events are being organized by the Philadelphia-based national LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Forum in collaboration with the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, the American Psychiatric Association, and other organizations, including the Philadelphia Historical Commission and Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists.

“From the perspective of 50 years, Fryer’s testimony marked a pioneering moment for LGBTQ civil rights,” the Equality Forum states on its website. “A successful movement could not have been launched as long as gays and lesbians were defined as mentally ill,” the group says in a write-up on the impact of Fryer’s speech.

“Fryer’s testimony and the subsequent declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder helped effectuate the change in public perceptions of homosexuals as deranged and threatening,” the write-up says.

Among the events set to take place on May 2 is an official tribute to Fryer at the site of the John Fryer Historic Marker at 13th and Locust Streets in downtown Philadelphia at noon. Participants were expected to include Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney; U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.); and Dr. Saul Levin, who serves as the current Medical Director and CEO of the American Psychiatric Association.

A VIP reception was scheduled to be held that same day at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which houses the John Fryer Archives. A display of Fryer’s handwritten notes for his presentation at the 1972 APA convention was expected to be included for viewing at the Historical Society’s Fryer Archives.

The Equality Forum has announced that a free online screening of the award-winning PBS documentary film “CURED” was set to take place at 7:30 p.m. on May 2 followed by a panel discussion with the “CURED” filmmakers. The film provides the inside story of how early LGBTQ pioneers, including D.C.’s Frank Kameny and Philadelphia’s Barbara Gittings, capitalized on Fryer’s speech before the APA to campaign successfully for the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its mental illness list.

According to the Equality Forum, May 2 John Fryer Day proclamations have been issued by the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Congressman Evans issued a statement on April 26 announcing that he and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced House and Senate resolutions to honor Fryer by designating May 2, 2022, as “Dr. John E. Fryer Day.”

In his statement, Evans recounts the importance of Fryer’s 1972 speech before the APA and notes that in the years after his APA presentation Fryer continued to practice and teach psychiatry in Philadelphia. He notes that Fryer became one of the first psychiatrists to professionally treat people with HIV/AIDS.

Fryer died in 2003 at the age of 65.

Additional details of the Fryer commemoration events in Philadelphia can be accessed here:  equalityforum.com

The Washington Blade has announced it is sponsoring a May 12 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Fryer’s APA speech in collaboration with the American Psychiatric Association at The Corner at Whitman-Walker located at 1701 14th Street, N.W.

The event is set to begin with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m. followed by a panel discussion at 7 p.m. featuring four experts on the topic of Fryer’s historic significance. The panelists include Dr. Saul Levin, CEO and Medical Director of the APA; Dr. Karen Kelly, a friend and mentee of Dr. Fryer; Katherine Ott, Ph.D, a curator in the history of medicine at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where she documents LGBTQ+ history; and Dr. Amir Ahuja, president of the Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists.

The panel will be moderated by award-winning filmmaker Patrick Sammon, who directed the documentary film “CURED.”

Tickets for the Blade Fryer commemorative event are free and can be accessed at washingtonblade.com/panel.  

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Pennsylvania

Brian Sims, four other LGBTQ candidates lose races in Pa.

Gay, trans hopefuls competing for Philly state house seat lose to straight ally

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Brian Sims lost his race for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor.

LGBTQ candidates running for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, lieutenant governor, and a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Philadelphia’s ‘gayborhood’ each lost their races in the Keystone State’s May 17 Democratic primary.

Transgender community activist Deja Alvarez and LGBTQ rights and economic development advocate Jonathan Lovitz, who ran against each other in a four-candidate race for the 182nd District State House seat in Center City Philadelphia, were thought to have the best shot at winning among the four LGBTQ candidates running in the state primary.

The two were running neck-and-neck to one another but were trailing far behind straight LGBTQ ally and businessman Ben Waxman as of late Tuesday evening. With the votes counted in 52 of 59 of the district’s electoral divisions, Waxman had 41.6 percent of the vote, Lovitz had 19.1 percent, with Alvarez garnering 18.6 percent. Café owner, community activist, and LGBTQ ally Will Gross had 20.5 percent of the vote.

Lovitz and Alvarez along with Waxman and Gross were running for the seat held by gay State Rep. Brian Sims, who gave up the seat to run in Tuesday’s primary as the state’s first out gay candidate for lieutenant governor.

Sims lost that race to fellow State Rep. Austin Davis by a margin of 63.3 percent for Davis and 24.5 percent for Sims with 88 percent of the votes counted. The Associated Press declared Davis the winner early in the evening. A third candidate in the race, Ray Sosa, had 12.2 percent of the vote.

In a development that surprised many observers outside Pennsylvania, more than 40 prominent LGBTQ leaders from across the state endorsed Davis over Sims earlier this year, saying Davis is a strong and committed supporter of LGBTQ rights and has the best chance of winning in the general election in November.

Davis also received the strong backing of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary for the Democratic nomination for governor. Shapiro, who also received strong backing from LGBTQ activists, said he considered Davis to be his running mate in the primary.

The fourth of the LGBTQ candidates running in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of the 181st District in North Philly, ran as a longshot candidate for the state’s U.S. Senate seat being vacated by GOP incumbent Patrick Toomey. Kenyatta lost to Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who was declared the winner with 88 percent of the votes counted.

Fetterman had 59.3 percent, with Kenyatta finishing in third place in a four-candidate race with 10.0 percent of the vote. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb finished in second place with 26.6 percent of the vote as of early Wednesday morning, with IT specialist and former small business owner Alex Khalil finishing fourth with 4.2 percent of the vote.

Kenyatta, who was one of three gay speakers who joined others in delivering a joint keynote address at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, received the endorsement of the Philadelphia Gay News in his bid for the U.S. Senate seat.

Gay Democratic and LGBTQ rights activist and former congressional staff member Sean Meloy, who ran for the U.S. House seat in Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District in the Pittsburgh suburbs, was the fifth LGBTQ candidate competing in the state’s May 17 primary. Meloy lost his race to Chris Deluzio, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s cyber policy center.

With 93 percent of the votes counted, Deluzio had 63.2 percent of the vote compared to Meloy, who had 36.8 percent. If Meloy had won the race he would have become Pennsylvania’s first out gay member of Congress.

The race in which Lovitz and Alvarez competed for the State House seat in the 182nd District, which is believed to have more LGBTQ residents than any other legislative district in the state, drew the most attention among LGBTQ activists both in Philadelphia and in other parts of the country.

Both have been involved in LGBTQ rights issues for many years. Lovitz drew support from a wide range of LGBTQ and labor and small business leaders who he knew in his past role as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Alvarez, a widely known transgender activist who led local community-based organizations providing services to the LGBTQ community, would have been the first transgender person to serve in the Pennsylvania General Assembly if she had been elected to the State House seat.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, the national group that raises money in support of LGBTQ candidates for public office, drew criticism from some activists for endorsing Alvarez over Lovitz. Some argued that the group should have remained neutral or backed Lovitz, who had raised far more money for his campaign and appeared to be the most viable of the two candidates. Others expressed concern that two LGBTQ candidates running in a four-candidate race could result in a split in the LGBTQ vote that would help the straight candidates, who were known LGBTQ rights supporters.

As it turned out, the approximate combined share of the vote that Alvarez and Lovitz received — 38.2 percent — still fell short of the 42.6 percent of the vote received by Waxman.

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Pennsylvania

Philadelphia bouncer charged with 3rd degree murder for punching gay man

Video shows bouncer hitting D.C. resident outside Philly gay bar

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Eric Pope died after being punched by a bouncer. (Photo courtesy Pope’s Facebook)

A bouncer working at a Philadelphia gay bar who was captured on video punching a gay D.C. resident in the head outside the bar on April 16, resulting in the man’s death one week later, has been charged with third degree murder in connection with the incident.

Philadelphia police on April 27 issued a warrant for the arrest of Kenneth Frye, 24, after police homicide investigators determined that Eric Pope, 41, a longtime D.C. resident who also had a home Philadelphia, died from a fatal head injury he suffered after Frye allegedly punched him in the head, knocking him down and causing his head to hit the pavement.

Police said the fatal assault took place shortly after Frye escorted Pope out of the Tabu Lounge and Sports Bar in the heart of a gay neighborhood in Center City Philadelphia on grounds, according to the bar, that Pope allegedly was intoxicated.

A surveillance video of the incident broadcast by Philadelphia TV news stations shows Pope appearing to be dancing in the street by himself in front of the bar seconds before Frye can be seen walking toward him, pulling back his arm and swinging a forceful punch to Pope’s head, knocking him down.

The video shows Pope lying unconscious on the street for a minute or two before Frye and another bouncer pull his limp body out of the street and onto the sidewalk in front of the bar. He is seen lying on the sidewalk for a few minutes before a small crowd of people gather around him. At that time the video ends.

A police statement says Pope was unconscious when emergency medical technicians arrived and took him by ambulance to a hospital in critical condition, where he died one week later on April 23.

A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner sent the Washington Blade a statement that the District Attorney’s Office released at the time a warrant was issued for Frye’s arrest and one day before Frye turned himself into police on April 28.

“Following investigation by Philadelphia Police Homicide, the District Attorney’s Office is charging Kenneth Frye with Murder in the 3rd Degree for an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of April 16 outside Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar in the Gayborhood section of Center City,” the statement says.

Kenneth Frye was charged with third degree murder in the death of Eric Pope. (Photo courtesy Philadelphia Police Department)

“Frye is alleged to have punched a patron with such force that it knocked him to the ground,” the statement says. “The victim, Eric Pope, passed from his injuries, which included trauma to the brain, on Saturday, April 23,” says the statement, which adds, “A District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness coordinator and member of the DAO LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee established contact with family members of the victim last week [days after he was hospitalized] and has been offering supportive services.”

Tim Craig, one of Pope’s friends from D.C., said that Pope bought a small house in Philadelphia shortly before the start of the COVID pandemic and had been going back and forth from D.C. to Philadelphia during the pandemic while continuing to work at his job with the D.C.-based U.S. Federal Reserve Board. Craig said he thought that Pope recently sold his D.C. house and may have been living full time in Philadelphia at the time of his death.
A Zoominfo profile of Pope’s career says he worked as a project coordinator at the Federal Reserve Board’s Monetary Affairs Division.

“Eric worked at the Federal Reserve Board for more than seven years and is remembered by his co-workers as an energetic, gentle, and empathetic person who was strongly motivated by his desire to help others,” a statement released by a Federal Reserve Board spokesperson says. “He was instrumental in helping to advance the Board’s diversity and inclusion goals and helped set up a mentoring program,” the statement says. “We are thankful for all of his positive contributions and will miss him,” the statement concludes.

“I count myself lucky to have known Eric and call him a friend,” said U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), in a statement his office sent to the Blade. “He was a kind and caring person who lived his life with purpose. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. This was a senseless, horrific act of violence and I hope the individual responsible for his death is brought to justice,” said Cicilline, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus.

Craig and others who knew Pope have said they are skeptical over claims that Pope had to be escorted out of a bar for being intoxicated.

“Everyone who knew him is quite shocked,” Craig told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Because he really wasn’t the type of person you would think would be kicked out of a bar. He didn’t get involved in fights,” the Inquirer quoted Craig as saying. “He wasn’t belligerent. He didn’t get involved in fights. It’s truly a shock to anyone that knew him.”

One of the owners of the Tabu bar told local news media outlets that Frye was not employed by Tabu but worked for a private security company that the bar retained to provide bouncers. “When it was reported to them, they immediately called 911 and are cooperating with the police investigation,” Philadelphia’s Fox 29 TV news station reported the Tabu owner as saying.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in an April 26 story that the security company retained by Tabu Lounge & Sport Bar, Mainline Private Security, has been sued a dozen times since 2020, “frequently over bouncers’ alleged use of force or failure to summon medics in response to injuries.”

The Inquirer reports that officials with the company that the newspaper tried to reach did not respond to requests for comment. But in response to some of the lawsuits, the company has disputed claims that its employees acted improperly, according to the Inquirer.

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Pennsylvania

Two LGBTQ candidates competing for state house seat in Philadelphia’s ‘gayborhood’

Victory Fund criticized for failing to stay neutral in race

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Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez are among four candidates seeking to replace Brian Sims in the Pennsylvania House. (Blade file photo of Lovitz by Michael Key; photo of Alvarez courtesy of the Alvarez campaign)

Transgender community activist Deja Alvarez and LGBTQ rights and economic development advocate Jonathan Lovitz, both of whom have been involved in LGBTQ rights issues for many years, are running against each other and against two LGBTQ supportive straight men for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Philadelphia’s center city area.

Alvarez, Lovitz, public affairs consultant Ben Waxman, and café owner and community activist Will Gross are running in the May 17 Democratic primary in the 182nd District, which includes Philadelphia’s “Gayborhood” and is believed to have more LGBTQ residents than any other legislative district in the state.

The seat has been held since 2013 by out gay Rep. Brian Sims, who is giving up the seat this year to run for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. Sims, a close friend and current housemate of Alvarez, has endorsed her to succeed him as representative of the 182nd District.

Lovitz supporters have expressed concern that Sims may have orchestrated a lobbying campaign that persuaded and possibly pressured the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the national group that raises money to help elect out LGBTQ candidates for public office, to endorse Alvarez. Lovitz backers have argued that the Victory Fund should have endorsed him, remained neutral, or made a dual endorsement of Alvarez and Lovitz as it has in other races where LGBTQ candidates have run against each other. 

Lovitz backers also point out that Lovitz has raised far more campaign funds than Alvarez and the other two candidates, making him a more viable candidate than Alvarez and the one with the best chance of being elected as another LGBTQ person to the 182nd District seat.

Elliot Imse, the Victory Fund’s vice president for communications who was just named executive director of the sister organization Victory Institute, told the Washington Blade about 11 LGBTQ elected officials from across the country sent the Victory Fund a letter encouraging the group to endorse Alvarez. He said it was a “polite and respectful” letter.”

He said the Victory Fund welcomes input from the community and from supporters of all LGBTQ candidates on which candidates to endorse. According to Imse, it was the group’s 150-member Campaign Board, which consists of politically engaged activists from throughout the country, that voted to endorse Alvarez after analyzing a wide range of factors in the race. But some critics familiar with the Victory Fund, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the lobbying by Sims’s supporters of board members was irregular and drew the ire of Victory Fund leadership. 

Although it decided to endorse Alvarez, the Victory Fund considers Lovitz to be a highly qualified candidate who would be an excellent state legislator representing the interests of LGBTQ people in Pennsylvania, Imse said. But he said the group determined that Alvarez’s background and status as a Latina trans candidate make her the right candidate for the job at this time.

“Deja is a candidate with extremely strong name recognition in her district,” Imse said. “She’s worked in the district for decades,” he said, “from founding organizations to help LGBTQ people who are homeless to help trans people through recovery programs, to providing COVID relief to immigrants and undocumented people,” he said.

“Deja is a Latinx trans woman and would be the first in the entire nation elected to a state legislature,” he said, as well as the first trans person elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Alvarez currently serves as director of community engagement for World Healthcare Infrastructures, a Philadelphia-based group that provides HIV/AIDS related services and other community healthcare and social services. She also serves as the LGBTQ Care Coordinator for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and, among other posts, was appointed to a task force to create an LGBTQ Advisory Board for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

Lovitz supporters point to what they call his long, highly distinguished record as an advocate for LGBTQ rights and public policy and economic development related issues that have resulted in endorsements from both organized labor and groups representing small community-based businesses.

Lovitz has served as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce from 2016 until he announced his candidacy for the state house seat last year. He joined the LGBT Chamber in 2015 as vice president for external affairs and as director of the group’s New York subsidiary.

He has been credited with helping to write and pass more than 25 state and local laws, including in Pennsylvania, extending economic opportunity to LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country, including millions of dollars in small business grants to local and minority-owned businesses. In 2020, Lovitz co-founded PhillyVoting.org, an initiative to register and turn out the vote in the Black and LGBTQ communities, which, among other things, resulted in the registration of more than 300 new voters in the program’s first month.

The most recent campaign finance reports filed with the state’s campaign finance office show that as of January of this year the Lovitz campaign had raised $152,355. The reports show that Waxman had raised $45,276, Alvarez raised $35,941, and Gross raised $22,134 as of the January filing period. The next round of finance reports was scheduled to be released on May 6.

Some critics of Alvarez have pointed out that she had not been living in the 182nd District for a number of years and only recently moved back to run for the state house seat. Imse called such claims unfair and misleading, saying Alvarez at some point in the recent past was forced to find an apartment in another area outside the district because of the excessively high cost of living in the Center City area due to gentrification.

Imse said Alvarez continued to work in the district and retained her “decades long” ties to the district before she moved back to the district and became housemates with Sims to enable her and Sims to share the living costs in a high-priced neighborhood. 

Alvarez told the Blade she and her supporters believe rumors circulating that she was unqualified for the state house seat because she had not been living in the district and just moved back were being orchestrated by Lovitz and his campaign to discredit her.

She said she has been living in Philadelphia since the late 1990s and has been living and working in the district most of the time for more than 20 years.

“The fact of the matter is my opponent has been in Philadelphia for like three years,” she said. “As a woman of color, as a trans person and, yes, like many Philadelphians, there was a time I had to move out of this district because I could not afford to live here any longer,” Alvarez said.

“But there’s not a single person out there and in this race that has both worked in this district, socialized in this district and then come back and done all the work that I’ve done in this district, which I have been part of for more than half of my life,” she said.

When asked to respond to Alvarez’s remarks, Lovitz said in an email that he has had a “lifelong connection to Philadelphia that no one can dispute” and that he moved to the 182nd District in 2017.

“What matters to me, and to voters, isn’t how long you live somewhere, but how much you’ve done to make their lives better in the time you’ve been there,” he said. “Since the day I returned home to Philly I’ve helped register over 1,000 voters through the PhillyVoting project; protected women’s rights by volunteering as a Planned Parenthood escort in my neighborhood; raised millions for charity through the boards I serve on and the events I’ve had the honor of emceeing; and so much more because I love my city.”

Additional information about each of the four candidates running in the Democratic primary can be accessed on their campaign websites, which show that each received endorsements from various advocacy or political organizations, with Alvarez, Lovitz, and Waxman receiving endorsements by local and state elected officials: lovitzforpa.com, dejaforpa.com, votewaxman.com, WillforPA.com.

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