Dr. Henry Anonymous

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Dr. Henry Anonymous

Dr. John Fryer was a psychiatrist who met various forms of opposition throughout his career due to his homosexuality. He joined the medical faculty at Temple University in 1967 and taught psychiatry, all the while hiding his true identity as a gay man. At this time being homosexual was still considered a mental illness. In 1972, Fryer contested this by making a speech at the American Psychological Association meeting. Listed as “Dr. H. Anonymous,” he spoke through a microphone that distorted his voice while wearing a mask, wig, and baggy clothes. The length he went through to hide his identity shows how difficult and brave it was for him to make his speech. His speech discusses how psychiatrists have the ability to help rather than judge their gay patients and the positive effects this action could produce in society in general.

This lesson takes students through the speech of Dr. Henry Anonymous. Teachers using this speech should read it beforehand as it does contain words non-suitable for younger students and needs to be used at the discretion of the teacher. The transcription section contains a transcription with the inappropriate words and another version without.

Essential Questions

How can the story of another American, past or present, influence your life?
How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?


Students will be able to:

1. Understand the struggle for equal rights by a local individual learning about Fryer's actions.

2. Analyze a primary source and discuss its historical context by reading Fryer's speech.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Begin by introducing the subject of LGBT history with your students. Explain to students that people who identity as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender have been fighting for their equal rights for many years. It was only recently - 2015 - that the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage and the fight for equality still continues.
  2. Make sure students understand that it was often considered a crime to identity as a homosexual so many people would hide their identity in order to not lose their jobs, friends, credibility in their careers, etc. Some notable examples that illustrate the depth of how far people would go to conceal their identities and the issues that arose from that concealment are Rock Hudson, Alan Turing, Sally Ride, and J. Edgar Hoover.
  3. Next explain to students that, in addition to famous individuals who hid their identity, there are also plenty of local Philadelphians who kept their identity a secret in order to keep their jobs. One such person was Dr. John Fryer who was a psychiatrist who taught classes at Temple University. When he began his work homosexuality was still classified as a disease; his speech in 1972 as Dr. Henry Anonymous helped overturn that classification.
    1. To help provide background knowledge of Dr. Fryer you may refer to the following articles.
      1. Dr. John E. Fryer, his obituary in the NY Times
      2. The John Fryer Papers and the Dr. Anonymous Affair, HSP blog post on the Fryer Collection
      3. Honoring John Fryers Legacy, an article honoring his legacy in the psych community
  4. Following the discussion, have students read Dr. Fryer’s Speech from the 1972 APA convention. There are two versions available. We chose to include an edited version that does not include the comparisons to the African American community because it contains a racial slur we no longer use. Playwright Ain Gordon also used the edited version in his play on Fryer.
    1. Full Transcription
    2. Edited Transcription
  5. When you give students, the speech read it together, paragraph by paragraph, as a class. Use the following discussion questions as a guide. The questions in bold are ones that only apply to the full transcription. Make sure students understand that this is a transcription from a draft of the speech so not all of the grammar and spelling will be perfect.
    1. What is the A.P.A.?
    2. What does Fryer mean when he says he represents a “we”?
    3. What does the word “glibly” mean and why does he use it?
    4. Fryer mentioned two men Daniel Schreber and Robert Knight. Schreber was hospitalized for his mental illness where he felt he wanted to be a woman. Dr. Sigmund Freud analyzed him and said his mental illness stemmed from homosexual desires. Robert Knight was a former APA president and the authority on “borderline personality disorder,” a condition he defined as patients were not accepting help or were untreatable.
    5. This speech was written in 1972 not long after the Civil Rights Act was passed and African Americans were still fighting for desegregation in some areas. Why does Fryer compare his struggle to the struggle of African Americans? Does the comparison apply?
    6. Look at the paragraph that begins “As psychiatrists who are homosexual…” First, what is an “anachronism”? Second, what is the main idea of this paragraph?
    7. Read the paragraph that begins, “One other result of being psychiatrists…” Is homosexuality something that can be changed? What specific examples from the text tell us if it can or cannot be changed?
    8. Fryer discusses the difficulties of being a gay psychiatrist. What does the gay community think of psychiatrists according to Fryer?
    9. Fryer spends the last portion of his speech talking to psychiatrists. What does he ask psychiatrists to do in order to create change toward homosexuality?
    10. Do you believe these negative stereotypes towards the LGBT community have changed since Fryers speech?
    11. How do you believe Fryer’s speech could have contributed to the change in attitude toward homosexuality?
    12. Shortly after this convention and Fryers speech homosexuality was taken off the list of mental illnesses. What kind of consequences would this have for an individual struggling with his/her sexuality?


Anachronism: Something or someone who does not fit in historically.

Glibly: Insincere or thoughtless.

Ingenuity: Being clever or inventive.

Paraprofessionals: Assistants to a professional. For example, a person trained to assist a doctor, lawyer, or teacher.