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'Cured' Doc Examines Path to Declassifying Homosexuality as Disorder

Protesters in 1970s

The award-winning documentary Cured makes its U.S. broadcast debut Monday at 10 p.m., opening the fall season of PBS’s Independent Lens and coinciding with National Coming Out Day. The film, from co-directors Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer, examines the activism behind the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973.

Before the removal of homosexuality from the manual, those in the psychiatric establishment believed that homosexuality was only a condition that could be “cured.” The treatments, according to a press release, included intensive talk therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and aversion therapy. In some cases, people were castrated and lobotomized.

The so-called scientific community’s diagnosis in the manual led to justifications for discrimination against and persecution of queer people. Almost 40 years after the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's manual, conversion therapy is still legal for youth in 30 states, a practice that Cured gives historical context to.

“This was a seminal moment in the fight for LGBTQ equality and a story that had not been told before in film,” Sammon said in a press release. “We put more than five years of research and production work into this project and had the great privilege of interviewing many of the key people who were direct catalysts for this groundbreaking change. Five of our interviewees have passed away, so we see this film as a testament to their courage and persistence.”

Cured features archival footage and interviews with those on the front lines advocating for a change in the APA’s manual — a pivotal moment in the gay liberation movement.

“We’re thrilled that the broadcast premiere is taking place on National Coming Out Day — the perfect moment to remind the world that for LGBTQ people, coming out represents an incredibly powerful form of activism,” Singer said. “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.”

The selection of Cured to start PBS’s fall season of Independent Lens will set the tone for the films that will follow.

“Our films this fall honor individuals whose determination in the face of challenge reflect major issues impacting our nation and our world, and our goal is always to inspire meaningful conversations around timely and often challenging issues,” said Lois Vossen, executive producer of Independent Lens. “Cured gets to the very core of this, shining a light on the inspiring LGBTQ+ activists who went up against a powerful institution and used open dialogue to create immense change, the impact of which is still felt today. I can’t think of a more appropriate film to open this new season.”

Cured has been recognized in the U.S. and internationally, with awards that include the Audience Awards for Documentary Feature at Frameline 44: The San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, the Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at Out at the Movies International Film Festival, and a $50,000 award from the 2020 Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.

Following Monday’s premiere, the film will also be available on the PBS Video app. 

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