By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com February 27 2003 12:00 AM ET
Psychiatrist John E. Fryer, whose coming out at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association is one of the most influential events in gay and lesbian history, died February 25 in Philadelphia from aspiration pneumonia, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In 1972 Fryer, wearing a full-face mask and wig, came out to the APA at a meeting in Dallas under the pseudonym Dr. H. Anonymous. At the time, the APA listed homosexuality as a mental illness. Fryer decided to speak to the group after losing two jobs because of his sexual orientation. In his historic speech he described to his audience the difficulties of being gay and practicing in a profession that considered him to be mentally ill. In 1973 the APA removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
"It made a big difference," said renowned activist Barbara Gittings, who sat with Fryer the day he spoke to the APA. "Here, for the first time, was a gay psychiatrist telling his colleagues why his career would be ruined if people knew he was gay. It opened up things a great deal, because it made many psychiatrists realize gays were not some abstract idea but were in fact in their profession--there was one right in front of them."
Fryer founded or helped to found Physicians in Transition, Temple's Family Life Development Center, the Institute of Religion and Science, and the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force. He was recognized in 2002 by Vanderbilt University Medical School with a distinguished alumnus award and by the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists with a distinguished service award.