VIFF 2020 Review: Cured
The VIFF presents a lot of documentaries and a lot of LGBT-themed films. Cured is an LGBT-themed documentary that focuses on what one arguably considers the first hurdle they had to overcome.
The documentary begins with an introduction of the American Psychiatric Association. In 1952, they published their first edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They included a chapter on sexual disorders. At the top of the list was ‘homosexuality.’ No doubt it was controversial. Psychiatrists bought it up, had ‘treatments’ and ‘therapy methods’ invented to ‘cure gay men and women, and really created a stigma. Most outraged were the gays and lesbians. They would hate how something like this would demonize them and how they lived and loved.
Once it was declared a form of mental illness, and had treatments listed, people were sent to hospitals like Utica, NY for painful treatments like electroshock therapy or in extreme cases, a lobotomy. However there was a slow but sure number of LGBT people that would start things to get this overturned. The first was a lesbian group led by couple Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen. They were joined by Frank Kameny. During the 1960’s they worked to start support groups and organize rallies to spread awareness and end the negative stigma the public had towards gay people. Besides fames sexologist Alfred Kinsey published shocking studies in 1948 of a good percentage of men engaging in same-sex behavior.
After gaining a lot of support, the next step was to influence the APA to remove homosexuality form the list of mental illnesses. They would soon find support among doctors. There was one psychiatrist, Dr. John Fryer, who not only supported them but was gay himself. There were times they had to go to meetings and rallies involving the APA and ‘crash’ them. During the meeting they ‘crashed’ in San Francisco, they encouraged doctors to come sit with a homosexual and listen to what they have to say. For two hours, many doctors were willing to do so.
Over time, there were a growing number of doctors with the APA who soon adopted a gay-friendly attitude and were supportive of the group’s pleas. However there were still stubborn naysayers like Drs. Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides who were determined to have it kept listed as a mental illness. Gay and lesbian groups would hold information booths at APA rallies with titles like ‘Gay, Proud And Healthy.’ Then would come a meeting in 1972 to have gay activists openly speak to the APA. Dr. Fryer would be one of the speakers, but with a clown mask and under the name Dr. H. Homosexual to keep him from losing his job. In 1973, the APA soon removed homosexuality in its list of neurological disorders. However it would still be subject to a vote at a 1974 APA meeting. The majority voted in favor of the removal.
You think of all the milestones LGBTs have made over the past fifty or so years. There was Stonewall, decriminalization of homosexuality, allowing gays to teach and own houses, lobbying for funding for AIDS research, allowing gays in the military, and the legalization of gay marriage. It’s easy to forget this is one of the most important moments in LGBT history, and arguably their first victory in the US. We shouldn’t forget LGBTs have been through worse. There was a time centuries ago gays and lesbians were executed worldwide. In fact Thomas Jefferson’s recommendation that gays be castrated was a ‘liberal’ recommendation during a time when they were hanged. It was a universal norm throughout most of history that a man should love a woman and a woman should love a man and that’s that. Anything else was deviant and criminal. So it should be no surprise a national psychiatric association would label same-sex attraction a mental illness. I’m sure the US wasn’t the only nation that did so.
This is a documentary that’s an important lesson for LGBT people to know. I’m sure there are a lot of young LGBT people who still don’t understand why many in the heterosexual majority consider them inferior. But like Bill Maher once said: “If you think you have it tough, go read history books!” Today’s LGBT young people have it better than any generation of LGBT young people before them. In the past, such young people would be subject to disowning from family, criminal prosecution, and way back having next-to-nobody to turn to. Since the history of humanity on the planet until just after World War II, the gay or lesbian lifestyle or attraction was universally condemned and even criminalized and you could easily lose your job if your ‘secret’ was unraveled. The moments in this documentary are a good indication of the feeling and the attitudes of the times. It’s also important for young LGBT people know how pride movements started out or came to be. They’ll learn of people who started pride at a time when there was no one to turn to and a time when fierce opposition was eventual. The LGBT activists of that era were especially important in paving the way to the liberties, freedoms and social acceptances today’s LGBT people have today.
This documentary is also beneficial today for two main reasons. The first is that there are still people, mostly religious leaders and their followers, who still insist that homosexuality is a mental illness and conversion therapy is the answer. Many will remember advertisements starting in the late-90’s about faith-based conversion therapy programs. If the failure rates of programs from psychiatrists were high, what do you think that says about these unproven faith-based programs? It’s all a political game. The second is that it shows how something that starts off as a grass-roots movement can grow into something nationwide and have a big impact. Even paving way to the civil liberties and rights LGBTs have today.
Top marks go to directors Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer. This documentary may not be too original in terms of style, but it’s excellent with interviews, both original and archived, and rare footage. They have the facts together in stringing this story together about what is an important part of LGBT history and celebrates a lot of lesser-known or forgotten founders of the LGBT movement. It’s also important that they show the shocking footage of the electroshock therapy and other ‘conversion’ methods used in the time. Because the LGBT of today need to know what the past had to fight,
Cured is a documentary about history being made by those who made the history. It’s important history for today’s young LGBT’s to know what those of the past have overcome. It’s especially relevant today since there are many opponents who harbor those similar thoughts today.