The home of Dr. John E. Fryer, psychologist and gay activist, is now listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. He is best known for a pivotal speech against psychiatry’s classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. He delivered this speech in disguise at the 1972 convention of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

In celebration of his legacy as a psychiatrist and a national leader in the gay civil rights movement, Dr. Fryer’s home at 138 W. Walnut Lane has been designated as historic. He lived there from 1972 to his death in 2003. The Historical Commission’s staff prepared the nomination proposing its designation.

dr fryer at apa convention

On May 2, 1972, Dr. Fryer appeared before the APA convention. His co-speaker and fellow Philadelphian, Barbara Gittings, a gay rights activist, convinced him to speak. Fearing retaliation, Dr. Fryer dressed in a mask, wig and baggy suit and called himself Dr. Anonymous. He began his presentation by announcing, “I am a homosexual, I am a psychiatrist.” At the time, the APA classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. In his speech objecting to that classification, Fryer said that more than 100 gay psychiatrics were attending the convention.

Fryer’s speech spurred his colleagues to action. The next year, the APA voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, urging that “homosexuals be given all protections now guaranteed other citizens.”

Fryer’s bold speech changed the APA’s position, marking a key point in the gay civil rights movement.

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Visit the Equality Forum website to learn more about the John Fryer National 50th Anniversary Celebration on May 2, 2022.

Photos: Front view of 138 W. Walnut Lane. Credit: Historical Commission staff. 
Dr. John Fryer in disguise giving his famous speech at the APA convention in Dallas in 1972, New York Public Library, Digital Collection.