Dr. John E. Fryer M.D. (1938 - 21 February 2003) was an American psychiatrist and gay rights activist best known for his anonymous speech at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association annual conference where he appeared in disguise and under the name Dr H. Anonymous. This event has been cited as a key factor in the decision to de-list homosexuality as a mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The American Psychiatric Association John E. Fryer, M.D., Award is named in his honour.
Fryer was born in Kentucky and completed his medical studies at Transylvania College and Vanderbilt University. He joined the medical faculty at Temple University in 1967 and was made both a professor of psychiatry, and a professor of family and community medicine. He was involved in setting up Physicians in Transition, Temple's Family Life Development Center, and the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force. Fryer was awarded a Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists. Fryer was being treated for diabetes and pulmonary sarcoidosis, and eventually died from gastrointestinal bleeding.
At a time when homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness, Fryer was the first gay American psychiatrist to speak publicly about his sexuality. A year earlier, at the 1971 convention in Washington, gay activist Franklin E. Kameny had seized the microphone at the conference as part of a long-standing protest about the diagnosis of homosexuality, initiating the first gay-rights protest at an American Psychiatric Association conference.
This protest led to a session at the 1972 conference on homosexuality and mental illness entitled 'Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals: A Dialogue' with Kameny sitting on the panel. Listed only as Dr H. Anonymous, Fryer appeared on stage wearing a face mask, wig, tuxedo and spoke through a microphone which distorted his voice.
Dr Fryer's speech started with the words "I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist" and continued to describe the lives of the many gay psychiatrists among the American Psychiatric Association who had to hide their sexuality from their colleagues for fear of discrimination, and from fellow homosexuals owing to the disdain in which the psychiatric profession was held among the gay community. Fryer's speech also suggested ways in which gay psychiatrists could subtly and 'creatively' challenge prejudice in their profession without disclosing their sexuality, and help gay patients adjust to a society that considered their sexual preferences a sign of psychopathology.
Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders a year later, and Fryer's speech has been cited as a key factor in persuading the psychiatric community to reach this decision.
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