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New show by ‘Pose’ co-creator Steven Canals to portray LGBTQ activists who fought classification of homosexuality as a disease

2020-07-22

Emmy-nominated producer and screenwriter Steven Canals is working on a new series about early two LGBTQ activists who took on the American Psychiatric Association in a fight to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.

The series, “81 Words,” is being developed by FX, Variety reported.

Canals, one of the creators and executive producers of FX’s “Pose,” will write and produce the limited series, which will portray the lives of activists Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

While largely unknown outside of the LGBTQ community, Kameny and Gittings were essential figures in the early days of the fight for LGBTQ rights.

They worked with a clandestine group of closeted LGBTQ psychiatrists, called GAYPA, to challenge the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of homosexuality.

Until 1973 — five years after the Stonewall Riots — the APA considered homosexuality a mental illness. It wasn’t until December of that year that the association finally voted to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

The show will be based on an episode of the popular public radio show “This American Life” that originally aired in January 2002.

Its title refers to the 81-word change of the definition of sexual deviance in its reference manual, declaring that homosexuality was not a disease.

“We will no longer insist on a label of sickness for individuals who insist that they are well and demonstrate no generalized impairment in social effectiveness,” the statement read in part.

“Cured,” an upcoming PBS documentary directed by Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon, will also follow the psychiatrists and activists whose activism led to the groundbreaking decision.