November 7th, 2012
TODAY IN HISTORY:
José Sarria Runs for San Francisco City Supervisor: 1961. He lost, of course, but he also won by losing. Before throwing his tiara into the ring, Sarria was better known as a drag performer and waiter at San Fransisco’s Black Cat bar, where he regaled audiences with campy versions of Italian opera. He fought constantly against police raids against gay men and gay bars — he himself had been arrested in an entrapment case. One tactic was for police to raid gay bars and arrest everyone dressed in drag for violating a city ordinance that barred men from dressing as women with “an intent to deceive.” He printed up buttons for drag queens to wear on their dresses reading “I am a boy.” That tactic effectively ended the raids on drag queens.
When Sarria decided to run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961, he became the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States. The elections that year were for five at-large seats in which the top five vote-getters citywide were seated. Sarria almost won by default until city officials put out a call for more candidates at the last minute when they realized what was up. Thirty-four candidates ended up running for the five slots. Sarria’s platform was a simple one:
My platform when I ran was “Equality Before the Law.” The San Francisco Court House had just been built and that was the slogan on it and I said, “This is what my slogan will be. I’m going to take it and shove it right down their throat.” I saw that there were two interpretations of the laws and that they were trying to make gay people second rate citizens. I’ve never been a second rate citizen.
Sarria earned nearly 6,000 votes, putting him in ninth place. While he didn’t make it onto the Board of Supervisors, his 6,000 votes effectively defined a significant voting block which could not be ignored in future elections. Sarria’s loss marked a change in San Francisco city politics as a result. As Sarria recalled, “From that day on, nobody ran for anything in San Francisco without knocking on the door of the gay community.”
Prop 6/Briggs Initiative Defeated: 1978. State Sen. John Briggs had been a part of Anita Bryant’s campaign two years earlier to roll back a gay rights ordinance in Miami, Florida. So when he decided to run for the Republican nomination for California Governorship in 1978, he thought he had hit on the perfect campaign platform: the so-called threat posed by gay teachers in the public schools. He lost the nomination, but managed to get placed on the California ballot Proposition 6, which would have banned gays and lesbians from being teachers. It also would have banned anyone else from teaching, gay or straight, who defended gays and lesbians whether they did so in the schools or outside.
Briggs played to society’s fears of gays as predators to the hilt. He told the San Francisco Examiner, “One-third of San Francisco teachers are homosexuals. I assume most of them are seducing young boys in toilets.” Del Martin, a San Francisco resident who had founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, countered that Prop 6 threatened to unleash a witch hunt that would hurt everyone. “All you have to do is point your finger and say, ‘you’re gay,'” she said. “That kind of thing is as damaging to heterosexuals as to homosexuals.”
In September, Prop 6 looked like a sure thing, with 61% supporting the proposal. But several events conspired to lead to the measure’s defeat: at San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk’s encouragement, thousands of gays and lesbians emerged from the closet for the first time to their friends, families and co-workers; Log Cabin Republicans organized to become a rallying point for other conservative Republicans to oppose the measure; and former Gov. Ronald Reagan came out against it — going so far as to write an op-ed against Prop 6 for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. “Whatever else it is, he wrote, “homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter also came out against it. When election day came, Prop 6 went down in defeat, 42% to 58%.
John Fryer: 1938. You have John Fryer to thank for that fact that you are not mentally ill. For many years, he was known only as Dr. H. Anonymous, the disguised gay psychiatrist whose talk at an American Psychiatric Association panel on homosexuality is credited for paving the way for the organization’s removal of homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. But friends who knew him knew a complicated man: gregarious and charming, difficult and biting, always intense.
He knew he was gay from the age of fourteen, and did little to hide it through his high school and college years. But when he became a medical intern at Ohio State, he understood that it was in his best interest to keep his sexuality a secret from his superiors. His psychiatric residency at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka only reinforced his closet door. There were only about 100,000 people in Topeka, and if he went to a gay bar there, he was almost certain to run into someone connected with the clinic — either as a patient or an employee. Menninger was a very homophibic place, and Fryer soon became depressed. A supervisor noticed and set him up with free therapy with a psychoanalyst. Fryer went out on the limb and confessed everything to her. “There is only one solution,” she said. “Did you ever think of leaving Topeka?”
Leave he did, to the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. That residency lasted about six months until his supervisor there found out that he was gay. “You can either resign or I’ll fire you.” Fryer accepted six months’ severance and resigned. He ended up working at Norristown State Hospital in northern Philadelphia, where he was given the worst assignment: Building 11 as the only psychiatrist for 400 male patients, and Building 13 which housed the chronically incontinent. Fryrear set up a behavioral program in Building 13 which rewarded patients who controlled themselves with trips to the Poconos. By the time he was finished, he had solved the incontinence problem in Building 13. He also found himself surrounded by staff that could accept the fact that he was gay.
By 1970, he became a part of what was loosely called the Gay-PA, an underground network of closeted gay psychiatrists who attended the annual meetings of the APA. They watched in 1970 when “outside agitators” — Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, among others — picketed the APA meeting in San Francisco in 1970 (see May 14). Fryer later recalled, “We in the Gay-PA commented, ‘Isn’t that nice?’ But we weren’t about to do anything that might expose us.”
But things quickly changed for Fryer. The APA asked Barbara Gittings to be a part of a panel on “Lifestyles of Non-Patient Homosexuals.” Barbara’s partner, Kay Lahusen, noticed that the panel had gays who weren’t psychiatrists and psychiatrists who weren’t gay. What the panel needed, she said, was a gay psychiatrist. Fryer recalled:
Barbara Gittings called and said, “John, we need you to be on a panel [in May of 1972],” and I said, “Tell me about it.” She said, “It’s going to be a panel about homosexuality, and we need a gay psychiatrist.” I said, “Sooo . . . ?!” She responded, “Well look, you…um…think about it.”
He had a lot to think about. His father had died and he was between jobs. This was not a good time for him to expose himself, either emotionally or professionally. But he had already been thrown out of one residency for being gay and lost another job for being gay. He knew that his fellow psychiatrists needed to hear about that. So he called Gittings back and said he would do it — on one condition: he couldn’t do it as himself. He would need a disguise. His lover at the time, a drama major, devised one: a formal suit several sizes too big — not an easy task for such a big man to begin with — and a wig and rubber mask that was distorted beyond recognition. He also spoke into a special microphone to disguise his voice.
Speaking as “Dr. H. Anonymous,” Fryer spoke opened his talk with the words”I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.” He talked about just a few of the different closets he was forced to hide in: as a gay man who had to hide his sexuality among his professional colleagues, and as a gay man who had to hide his profession among other gay people. “There is much negative feeling in the homosexual community towards psychiatrists,” he explained. “And those of us, who are visible, are the easiest targets from which the angry can vent their wrath.” He also addressed the “more than a hundred [gay] psychiatrists” attending the convention, urging them to find ways to help change the attitudes of their patients, both gay and straight, towards homosexuality. It would be risky, but “We are taking an even bigger risk, however, not accepting fully our own humanity, with all the lessons it has to teach all the other humans around us and ourselves. This is the greatest loss: our honest humanity.”
The panel was a resounding success. That night, Fryer wrote in his diary:
The day has passed — it has come and gone and I am still alive. For the first time, I have identified with a force which is akin to my selfhood. I am not Black. I am not alcoholic. I am not really addicted. I am homosexual, and I am the only American psychiatrist who has stood up on a podium to let real flesh and blood tell this nation it is so.
The next year, Dr. Robert Spitzer, who was in charge of revising the APA’s Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) which defined the official list of mental disorders, met with members of the Gay-PA, and those meetings eventually led to the removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973.
But for Fryer, life continued to be difficult. After the 1972 APA meeting, he took a job at another psychiatric hospital in Philadelphia. A medical student learned that Fryer was gay — Fryer later hinted that he may have come on to the student but insisted that it went no further — and went to the Administration. Fryer was called in and told, “If you were gay and not flamboyant we would keep you. If you were flamboyant and not gay we would keep you. But since you are both gay and flamboyant, we cannot keep you.” Ironically, that same administrator had sat in the front row at the APA meeting during Fryer’s talk the year before, and had no idea who he was.
Fryer then took a teaching assignment at Temple University. In 1978, he got his associate professorship and with it came tenure. He could no longer be fired. He was free to be out, and he could also, finally tell the full story behind Dr. H. Anonymous. Fryer retired from Temple in 2000, and died in 2003 at the age of 64. In 2004, the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists endowed an award in his name. The first John E. Fryer Award, sponsored by AGLP and given by the APA, was awarded to Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings in 2006 for their role in that fateful APA panel in 1972.
[Source: David L. Scasta. “John E. Fryer, MD, and the Dr. H. Anonymous Episode.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy 6, No. 4 (2002): 73-84.
Jeanne Lenzer. “John Fryer.” British Medical Journal 326, no 7390 (March 22, 2003): 662. Available online here.]
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