Variety reports that the series, titled 81 Words (after the This American Life episode on which it is partly based) “tells the true story of gay activists Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, who risked their career reputations to conspire with the GAYPA – a clandestine group of closeted psychiatrists – to challenge the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of homosexuality. Until 1974, the medical establishment considered gay people sexually deviant and diagnosed them as mentally ill.”
The series is also based on Cured, an upcoming documentary on PBS by Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon.
Wrote Canals on Instagram: “In the 1950s & 60s LGBT people were seen as sexually deviant & diagnosed as mentally ill by the medical establishment. And then Frank Kameny & Barbara Gittings came along & challenged the establishment! Excited to be developing a limited series about their significant (and oft overlooked) contribution to the fight for LGBT liberation. And equally excited to be working with my co-conspirators at @fxnetworks & dear friend @eseldacone #81Words”
Gittings was known as the mother of the LGBT civil rights movement and was the editor of the first lesbian publication. Gittings launched a successful initiative to have the American Library Association include gay and lesbian titles in the nation’s libraries and card catalogs.
Kameny was at the forefront of the gay rights movement before the Stonewall riots roused a larger reaction to the systematic oppression of gays. Kameny served in World War II, received a doctorate from Harvard in 1956, and was hired by the Army Map Service as an astronomer in 1957. He was fired only 5 months later after an arrest at a gay cruising area came to light. President Eisenhower had signed an executive order in 1953 labeling homosexuality a “sexual perversion” that was cause for dismissal from any government post. Kameny fought his termination all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1961 declined to hear his case. It was his treatment at the hands of the government that galvanized Kameny to become one of the fathers of the gay rights movement. He also co-founded the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations in the U.S.
With Frank Kameny, Gittings organized the Annual Reminders at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which launched the LGBT civil rights movement. Kameny and Gittings also challenged the American Psychiatric Association, resulting in homosexuality being removed from the list of mental illnesses.