Writers and Directors: Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon
The fight for gay rights has not been a single battle. Here, amongst many battles, British activists have fought for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the reduction of the age of consent, the abolition of Thatcher’s Clause 28 ,and the right to serve in the army. America has seen similar struggles, but Cured tells the little-known story of the battle to have homosexuality removed as a sickness in the American Psychiatric Association’s manual.
Freud did not think that homosexuality was a mental illness, but after his death in 1939, the next generation of psychiatrists began to disagree with the founder of psychoanalysis, and the APA added homosexuality to its list of mental illnesses that could possibly be cured. Now homosexuality was a sin in the eyes of the church, a crime according to government and an illness diagnosed by medicine. Doctors often used Electric Shock Treatment to rewire the minds of gay men and lesbians. A few people were even lobotomised, and in the 1950s aversion therapy was popular among some doctors.
One of the reasons that the APA thought that homosexuals were ill was because the psychiatrists only studied unhappy homosexuals who went to them for help, or who were referred to them from prison. They rarely met happy homosexuals who were managing to lead steady lives, and who. Importantly, did not think themselves ill in the first place.
The fight against the APA was led by Barbara Gittings, the leader of the New York chapter of the lesbian rights organisation Daughters of Bilitis, and by Frank Kameny, the founder of the Mattachine Society, which fought for the rights of gay men. Together they were a formidable force, and after coordinating protests at APA conventions they realised that they also needed support from the within the association. They began the search to find a doctor willing to speak up for the cause.
The story resembles a spy thriller in parts and even contains some plot twists that seem derived from literature rather than real life such as the moment when the son of one of the most conservative psychiatrists comes out as homosexual. Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon’s film is comprised of archive footage and interviews as well as interviews made especially for this project from surviving activists such as Charles Silverstein and Rev Magora Kennedy. The narrative is smooth and gripping.
Despite its sobering start, Cured is ultimately a film with a happy ending, and this fight against the APA is a pivotal moment in American history. But with our hindsight, we know that the happy ending was short-lived. By the next decade, people were protesting on the streets again to raise awareness and money for those affected by HIV/AIDS. And doubtless, there will be more battles to come.
BFI Flare runs here from 17 March to 28 March 2021