Review: 'Cured' a Timely Reminder of the Bad Old Days

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 11, 2021

'Cured'  (Source:OUTShine)

Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer's taut, informative 80-minute documentary "Cured" illuminates the hidden history of how LGBTQ activists fought to remove the classification that being gay was a disease.

In the 1950s and 1960s America, homosexuality continued to be underground and verboten; churches called it sinful, and governments called it criminal. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) called it a mental disease in the 1952 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Lesbians and gays were barred from most jobs, including firefighter, teacher, and therapist. Many were open to blackmail if their true sexuality was known. Most had two choices: Marry someone of the opposite sex, or go to a mental institution, where they could receive shock therapy to the brain or genitals, or even a lobotomy.

Early groups, like the Daughters of Bilitis (the first U.S. lesbian civil and political rights organization, (founded in 1955 in San Francisco) and the Mattachine Society (founded in 1950), began picketing the mental illness classification in the mid-60s as "shabby, shoddy, sleazy pseudoscience" born of poor sampling. Only gay patients in therapy were included in the study, and "why would a happy person go to a shrink?"

The APA's gay sickness label was odd since Freud offered a clearly benign view of homosexuality. Dr. Alfred Kinsey published his own findings, which supported the view that being gay was part of a healthy sexuality spectrum, and that "everybody was doing everything." The Stonewall uprising in 1969, alongside burgeoning civil rights protests for women and African Americans and against the Vietnam War, further cracked open the call for equality.

A small band of activists crashed the 1970 APA convention in San Francisco, grabbing the attention of the 10,000 psychiatrists in attendance. Later, in Los Angeles, activists asked attendees to have a real dialogue about removing the gay mental illness label from the DSM. Activists from the "Gay PA" were invited to the 1972 Dallas event, where one spoke about being a gay therapist wearing a mask, saying that hiding homosexuality "is our greatest loss. Our honest humanity." The documentary shows how this speech was a game-changer.

The Massachusetts APA chapter removed the "homosexuality is mental illness" description, saying "We're not only wrong, we've been harming people, as well as our own profession." In 1974, 58% of APA's national membership voted to remove the destructive, inaccurate descriptor.

"We didn't want kids growing up feeling bad about themselves. We did this for younger generations," says one of the interviewed activists. Of those still living, many in this fight went on to form prominent gay rights organizations, including Ron Gold, who co-founded the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

The documentary shows how activism was able to remove the designation from the literature within about two decades. But the 1980 addition of Gender Identity Disorder to the DSM harmed transgender people (it was replaced by Gender Dysphoria in 2013).

"Conversion therapy" to change sexual orientation or gender identity still exists, however, even though the APA and other medical groups discredit the practice.

Airs on PBS Independent Lens on October 11

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at