Thursday, October 7th, 2021

CURED : the story of the LGBTQ activists who fought back against American Psychiatry : reviewed by Queerguru’s Ris Fatah

“Cured” is a must-see. An award-winning documentary that takes viewers inside the campaign that led to a pivotal yet largely unknown moment in the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality: the very influential American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. 

Early US gay rights activist groups – such as the Mattachine Society (founded by gay men in 1950) and the Daughters of Bilitis (founded by lesbian women in 1955) – realized that in order to advance gay rights they needed to reduce the stigma of homosexuality being officially classed as a mental illness. The Gay Liberation Movement, as it was known then, grew in size through the late 1950s and 1960s and was given a big boost by the Stonewall riots of 1969 which really inspired a new generation of pioneering LGBTQ+ activists. These activists knew that simply shouting about gay rights wasn’t enough to effect change and set about working closely with the minority of psychiatrists that also believed there was no real evidence to support the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. Slowly, working together over almost a generation, they managed to get the voting board of the American Psychiatric Association to vote to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. This was achieved through various campaigns including repeatedly disrupting psychiatric conventions in the early 1970s. This is a fascinating story that rarely gets told – and a must-see documentary for anyone interested in LGBTQ+ history. The 1973 victory really paved the way for further activism and campaigns leading to other improvements in LGBTQ+ human rights.

Cured reveals that the official mental illness classification of homosexuality was based on prejudice, not science, and led to such barbaric remedies as electroshock therapy, lobotomies and even castration to treat LGBTQ “patients.” The actual science available at the time showed that there was no difference between homosexual and heterosexual people but the APA chose to ignore this. The mental illness classification was first listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ in 1952. This classification had significant consequences for how LGBTQ+ people were treated by the government, police, and other authorities. We were not allowed to work openly in many professions such as teaching, medicine, the judiciary etc. Many LGBTQ+ people even believed the mental health diagnosis and sought to get cured by psychiatrists and often got married to someone of the opposite sex in the widespread belief that this would ‘cure’ them.

Producers/Directors Bennett Singer (Brother Outsider) and Patrick Sammon (Codebreaker) combine interviews with some fabulous, very charismatic LGBTQ+ people who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s with rarely seen footage and newspaper cuttings to deliver a thought-provoking documentary on how gay people were treated back then and how people rose up to demand and achieve change. Interviewees include both pioneering LGBTQ+ activists such as Barbara Gittings’ long-term partner and people who have been subjected to electroshock-conversion therapy. Despite the subject matter, this documentary will make you feel good and hopefully will inspire you to dig deep to help maintain current LGBTQ+ activism worldwide.

The timing of this brilliant documentary is important as 50 years later we are currently having similar debates in both the US and the UK about the continued current use of conversion therapy to ‘cure’ gay men and women – ie: remove homosexual feelings. In the US only about 20 states have limitations on conversion therapy – many of those with restrictions to not reduce religious rights of freedom. Conversion therapy will soon be banned in England and Wales, once a public consultation has been held, although the fact that a public consultation still needs to be held in 2021 shows how much work there is still to do in this area.

(Screening on PBS Independent Lens)


Review: Ris Fatah 

Queerguru’s newest contributor (when he can be bothered) is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah

Posted by queerguru  at  19:09

Genres:  documentary

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