A powerful exploration of a pivotal yet largely unknown chapter in the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality, Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer’s award-winning documentary Cured shines a light on the campaign that led the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from its manual of mental illnesses. Praised as “fascinating” by the Hollywood Reporter, “striking” by USA Today, and “astonishingly rich … one of the best documentaries of this or any year” by the British Film Institute, Cured will make its U.S. broadcast debut and open the fall season of PBS’ Independent Lens on October 11, 2021—National Coming Out Day—at 10:00 p.m. ET (check local listings). The film will also be available on the PBS Video app.
In 1973, the APA made the landmark decision to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which had classified same-sex attraction as a “sociopathic personality disturbance” in its first edition, published in 1952. The psychiatric establishment deemed homosexuality a condition to be “cured,” and—in addition to intensive talk therapy—members of the LGBTQ+ community were subjected to cruel treatments including electroconvulsive therapy, aversion therapy, and in extreme cases, castration and lobotomies. Facing these “cures” and widespread stigma, many gay people were afraid to come out, and the APA’s “scientific” diagnosis was often used to justify discrimination and persecution.
Cured offers viewers an inside look at the inspiring movement behind this momentous 1973 decision to remove the DSM classification and the pioneering activists who took on a formidable institution and, against the odds, emerged victorious. The activists’ mission was not only to overturn the official diagnosis, but to create a meaningful dialogue that would challenge deep-rooted prejudices and transform minds. During these discussions, activists pressed the APA to examine evidence and data, urging psychiatrists to move beyond what activist Dr. Frank Kameny called the “shabby, shoddy, sleazy pseudoscience masquerading as science” that underlay the sickness label for homosexuality.
Cured features rich, newly unearthed archival footage and incisive interviews with the people who experienced these events firsthand, including the pioneering LGBTQ+ activists Ron Gold, Dr. Lawrence Hartmann, Dr. Frank Kameny, Rev. Magora Kennedy, Kay Lahusen, and Dr. Charles Silverstein, among others, as well as allies and opponents within the APA. The filmmakers also interviewed Richard Socarides, an openly gay political commentator and advocate for LGBTQ equality who is the son of Dr. Charles Socarides, the leading proponent of the view that homosexuality is a curable mental illness.
Cured illuminates a pivotal moment in the Gay Liberation movement that transformed not only the LGBTQ+ community, but also the field of psychiatry and the social fabric of America—propelling a revolution that is still reverberating today.
“This was a seminal moment in the fight for LGBTQ equality and a story that had not been told before in film,” says co-director Patrick Sammon. “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.”
“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,” adds co-director Bennett Singer. “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.”
“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 provides vital historical context for the ongoing debate about conversion therapy, a harmful practice that aims to “cure” gender identity or sexual orientation through psychological or faith-based interventions. Although conversion therapy has been discredited by the APA and other major medical organizations, it remains legal for minors in 30 states.