Metro Weekly

New film ‘Cured’ documents the fight to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness

Award-winning documentary Cured chronicles the activist struggle to remove homosexuality from the APA's list of mental illnesses

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Cured: Frank Kameny — Photo: Kay Tobin via Manuscripts & Archives Division, The New York Public Library

For LGBTQ+ people in the U.S., the road towards liberation has been long, circuitous, dark, and dangerous, and those who have organized and fought for equality often were forced to do so from the safety of the shadows. A new documentary, Cured, making its broadcast premiere on PBS’s Independent Lens series, brings to light a little-known chapter of that struggle, when committed activists stepped out of the shadows to loudly and publicly resist an institution that used fear and ignorance to justify treating queer people as second-class citizens.

It was in 1952 that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder in the first edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Adding to the public sentiment that gays and lesbians weren’t just different, but were morally deficient, the DSM listing provided a clinical basis for denying queer people basic human rights, from jobs and housing to education and even custody of their children.

Labeling LGBTQ people as “psychologically disturbed” implicitly upheld the discrimination that made it next to impossible for them to live freely and openly. Even worse, the mental illness diagnosis led to thousands of gays and lesbians being committed to mental institutions, or forced into varying forms of therapy, including electroshock treatments, and in some extreme cases, full or partial lobotomies.

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Cured — Photo: Kay Tobin via Manuscripts & Archives Division, The New York Public Library

But, as one gay activist argues in Cured, it was this very treatment that posed the greatest danger to his mental health. Gay and lesbian leaders like the late Dr. Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and Kay Lahusen rose up, determined to see homosexuality removed from the DSM listings.

Among the surviving activists interviewed for the film who led the fight, the Reverend Magora Kennedy details how their efforts coalesced around the burgeoning civil rights and feminist movements, while Dr. Charles Silverstein recounts his personal path towards rebellion as a then-schoolteacher who sought psychiatric treatment for years in search of a “cure” for his same-sex attraction.

In the words of Sigmund Freud, there was no cure, as homosexuality was not an illness. It was “no advantage, but nothing to be ashamed of,” he wrote, decades before the DSM was even published. In 1973, the APA decided to remove the listing from the DSM.

“Millions were cured with the stroke of a pen,” says psychiatrist Dr. Richard Green. And, as Cured co-director Bennett Singer points out, “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 premieres October 11, National Coming Out Day, on PBS Independent Lens. Visit www.pbs.com.

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