Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

The 50th anniversary of a big moment in gay rights passed this week.

The New York Times acknowledged Dr. John Fryer, the psychiatrist who took the stage at convention of the American Psychiatric Association at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas on May 2, 1972, and said “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.”

Fryer was wearing the disguise of an oversized tuxedo, a rubber mask and wig, and he introduced himself as “Dr. Henry Nobody.”

From the newspaper:

The 10-minute speech, delivered 50 years ago Monday, was a tipping point in the history of gay rights. The following year, the A.P.A. announced that it would reverse its nearly century-old position, declaring that homosexuality was not a mental disorder.

The story describes how activist Barbara Gittings convinced Fryer to speak on the topic, as well as how his life and career were hindered by discrimination.

He was fired from a residency at the University of Pennsylvania and had to complete it over many years at a state-run psychiatric hospital, the only place that would accept him.

After that, he remained quasi closeted and never had a close romantic relationship, the newspaper reports. Those who knew him say he rarely talked about the speech.

The Kentucky native was recognized in his home state of Pennsylvania before his death in 2003, and This American Life told his story in 2002.

Fryer did eventually find professional success, gaining tenure at Temple University and helping to pioneer hospice care. But he never became part of the gay movement, and he always felt that his career was not what it could’ve been if not for discrimination, the newspaper reports.

As he told the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: “I did this one isolated event, which changed my life, which helped change the culture in my profession, and I disappeared.”


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