John E. Fryer, 65, a Philadelphia psychiatrist whose appearance and speech before a 1972 American Psychiatric Association convention was a watershed in the gay rights movement, died of pneumonia Feb. 21 in a hospital in Philadelphia.
He had a degenerative lung disorder.
At the 1972 Dallas convention, he appeared as "Dr. H. Anonymous" before colleagues in a rubber mask, baggy suit and large wig. Using a microphone that masked his voice, he announced to rapt listeners: "I am a homosexual; I am a psychiatrist."
He went on to reveal the difficulties a gay psychiatrist had in maintaining a practice, especially when the psychiatrist's bible, the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," listed homosexuality as a mental illness.
He explained that he was in disguise because, as an untenured professor, he feared for his job.
To many, the force of his remarks humanized the plight of gays, not only in psychiatry but in the workforce at large.
Dr. Fryer's speech is widely credited for prompting the association's board to remove homosexuality from the manual in 1973.
"It made a big difference," said gay rights activist Barbara Gittings, who recruited Dr. Fryer for the appearance.
"It opened up things a great deal, because it made many psychiatrists realize gays were not some abstract idea but were in fact in their profession."
In a 1985 bulletin of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, Dr. Fryer wrote that the appearance was "something that had to be done."
"I had been thrown out of a residency because I was gay. I lost a job because I was gay. . . . It had to be said, but I couldn't do it as me."
Dr. Fryer, a pre-med graduate of Transylvania College in his native Kentucky, was a 1962 graduate of Vanderbilt University's medical school.
He joined the faculty of Temple University's medical school in 1967. The man who had feared for his job in 1972 went on to become a full professor of both psychiatry and of community medicine before he retired in 2000.
Dr. Fryer was a founder of both the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force and Physicians in Transition. He was the recipient of a Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists distinguished service award and a Vanderbilt University medical school distinguished alumnus award.
Survivors include a sister.