A new stage drama, 217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous, celebrates civil rights pioneer Dr. John Fryer, a gay psychiatrist responsible for the American Psychiatric Association’s declassification of homosexuality as a disease.
Disguised with a mask and voice modulator to protect his identity, Dr. Fryer, using the pseudonym Dr. Henry Anonymous, famously addressed the APA in 1972 to request the removal of homosexuality from their list of mental illnesses.
Based on Dr. Fryer’s compelling testimony, the APA convened a special committee to study the challenged classification and voted the following year to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Homosexuality’s classification as a disease was commonly used by government officials to justify statutes and regulations that marginalized gay people. In addition to lessening social stigma, the declassification led to the termination of lobotomies, chemical castration, electroshock therapy, and mental institutionalization as treatments for homosexuality.
217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous will be presented in New York this spring by Equality Forum, the nation’s leading LGBT history organization, to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the APA’s declassification.
The production will also run in conjunction with the 2018 APA conference at New York’s Javits Convention Center, where panels will honor Dr. Fryer’s achievements. Dr. Saul Levin will preside as the APA’s first openly gay head.
Dr. Fryer was also one of the first psychiatrists to treat patients with HIV and AIDS-related bereavement issues. The APA’s highest annual civil rights award is now named in his memory.
The title of the play, written and directed by Ain Gordon, refers to the 217 boxes of notes and research that Dr. Fryer, who died in 2003, left behind. The cast includes Laura Esterman, Derek Lucci, and Ken Marks.
217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous runs May 3 to May 9 at the Jerome Robbins Theater at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York.