It has been 50 years since homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness. A new play tells the story


A new comedy screening in Hollywood all this month dramatizes the real-life struggle in the 1970s to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), often referred to as psychiatry’s “Bible.”

SICK follows the story of entertainment journalist and gay rights activist Ron Gold, who underwent barbaric gay therapy as a young man, including electroshock treatments.

Gold famously disrupted a behavioral health conference in New York City in 1972, further bringing the attention of psychiatric institutions to the diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental illness.


his speech, Stop it, you’re making me sickat the 1973 American Psychiatric Associations (APA) convention in Honolulu, where he vehemently protested the DSM’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness, was an important moment in the gay rights movement.

SICK writer and director Dahn Hiuni said the APA’s eventual decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness, spurred on by activists like Gold and many others, was a real game-changer.

Other than Stonewall, this was the biggest change, because what could we have done without it? You have to take off the mental illness label for anything else to happen, Hiuni told LAist.

Hiuni said he created his play around real-life talks by Gold and psychiatrist John Fryer, whose 1972 speech before the APA set the stage for future activism and change.

Recent protests against an LGBTQ+ Pride assembly in North Hollywood and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment displayed outside a Glendale school district meeting brought hateful words and images to the streets of Los Angeles County, just as Pride festivities were preparing to kick off.

Unfortunately, in this country it’s one step forward, two steps back, Hiuni said outside the Broadwater Theater shortly before the opening night of his productions. But that’s why I feel this play could be very timely, especially for the younger generation to learn about history that they may not know.”


He wears 70s flared pants that are part of his Ron Gold costume SICKActor Mikel Farber said there are at least a few particular lines in the play that he believes could be copied/pasted to this day and would be just as relevant.

I actually think gay people have a lot to teach the world about the real differences between human beings and our ability to love and coexist, Farber said, quoting a snippet of Gold’s words in the play. One day you’ll realize how wrong you were, but until then you’ll just have to trust us in our sanity.

Yes, this is a very specific story that took place 50 years ago, but it translates, Farber added.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the APA decision to eliminate homosexuality as an official diagnosis in the DSM, which Hiuni called the tipping point for gay liberation and the subsequent LGBTQ movement.

Hiuni’s game also includes the activist Barbara Gittingpsychiatrists John Fryer and Robert Spitzer and other figures integral to the gay rights movement.

SICK will be on the main stage at The Broadwaters in Hollywood (1076 Lillian Way) throughout June.

Information on tickets and show times are available at Hollywood Fringe Festival website.


What questions do you have about mental health in SoCal?

One of my goals on mental health pacing is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.

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