Fryer, a native of Kentucky, received his pre-med bachelor's degree from Transylvania College in Kentucky at the age of 19. He got his medical degree from Vanderbilt in 1962. He joined the Temple faculty in 1967 and became a full professor of psychiatry and family and community medicine.
John was the first psychiatrist to openly admit he was gay, in a disguise (including a Nixon mask) appearing as "Dr. H. Anonymous", at the American Psychiatric Association convention in Dallas, 1972, when homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness. He admitted to being homosexual and a practicing psychiatrist. To preserve his identity, he also wore a wig, and spoke through a voice-distorting microphone.
The appearance was a key point in the history of gay rights in this country, as his historic speech helped change his fellow psychiatrists' attitude toward homosexuality, and the following year the APA to made the decision to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
At Temple he was also a professor of family and community medicine. He founded or helped found Physicians in Transition, Temple's Family Life Development Center, and the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force. Fryer received a Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists. And for 30 years he was organist and choirmaster at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Germantown.
John was an early investigator of AIDS in Africa. He was a visiting scholar in many places in the UK. He was recognized by the gay branch of the APA, and by his med school (Vanderbilt), for his contributions to helping remove "homosexuality" from the DSM.
He retired in 2000. John Fryer died of pulmonary sarcoidosis. He was 65 and lived in Germantown.