How psychiatrists used electric shocks and vomit-inducing drugs to cure queers, and the new OutRage! campaign to win compensation for the victims.
KILLED BY DOCTORS
A 29 year old gay man died after being given aversion therapy to cure his homosexuality. The authorities covered up his death, falsely claiming it was due to “natural causes”.
Thirty-four years later, the doctor who conducted the post-mortem confirms that Billy Clegg-Hill died from coma and convulsions resulting from injections of apomorphine, a potent vomit-inducing drug. He had been given apomorphine as an aversion therapy treatment which was designed to turn him straight.
These shocking revelations were made in a dramatic television documentary, Sexual Aversion, which was broadcast on BBC2 on Thursday 8 August 1996 at 9.30pm.
In 1962, Captain Billy Clegg-Hill of the Royal Tank Regiment was arrested in a police swoop on gay men in Southampton. The judge sentenced him to six months compulsory aversion therapy treatment at Netley military psychiatric hospital. Within three days of his admission, Billy was dead.
He had been shown male pin-up pictures and then injected with apomorphine to make him violently ill. The doctor’s rationale was to associate attraction to men with nausea and vomiting, and to thereby make homosexuality so repellent that Billy would become straight.
In the film, Dr Richard Goodbody, who conducted the post-mortem, disputes the Death Certificate which lists Billy’s death as due to “natural causes”. “It isn’t natural causes in my opinion”, he says. The doctor maintains that his verdict was that Billy had died from coma and convulsions resulting from apomorphine injections. The “natural causes” explanation was untrue and was, he claims, probably inserted by the Coroner.
Dr Goodbody goes even further, suggesting grave medical negligence. Not only was the administration of the drugs faulty, but the doctors failed to get Billy prompt treatment once his condition began to seriously deteriorate.
“When he fell ill, active steps were not taken to revive him very quickly and by the time they decided he should go to a general hospital he was very ill indeed”, says Goodbody.
Allegations of a cover-up are strengthened by evidence from Billy’s half-sister, Alison Garthwaite, who claims that the military and medical authorities were keen to prevent any further inquiries. They pressured the family not to have an inquest.
Reflecting on the abuse meted out to her brother she concludes: “I think they must have had punishment in mind as much as cure…To cut someone down in their prime just because they are gay is completely wrong”.
THREE DAYS LYING IN SHIT AND VOMIT
Doctors forced gay teenager Peter Price to lie in a bed filled with his own shit, piss and vomit. They kept him there for three days showing him pictures of naked men, while they injected him with drugs and played tapes insulting and abusing him as a dirty queer.
Peter’s nightmare began when, at the age of 19 in 1965, he was pressured by his mother to seek treatment for his homosexuality. He ended up in a psychiatric hospital, which in those days (only three decades ago!) was deemed by most doctors to be the place where all queers belonged.
“It was like a horror movie”, he recalls. Other patients were crying and screaming all night. “I was lying in bed scared silly”.
Peter remembers being put in a bed in a windowless room with a stack of gay magazines and crates of his favourite drink, Guinness. He was played tapes of the doctor disparaging his homosexuality and then given injections.
“The injection just made me violently ill. I just wanted to throw up”, he says. The doctor refused him a basin and insisted that he vomit over himself. Every hour they gave him another injection, all the time encouraging him to look at images of semi-nude men.
The idea was to make Peter revolted by the sight of male bodies, so that he would lose his homosexual feelings. This was a mildly more humane version of the Nazi experiments at Buchenwald and other concentration camps, which also attempted to cure gay prisoners. Yet this wasn’t happening in Nazi Germany; it was taking place in NHS hospitals in Britain during the l960s!
Three days after this quasi-torture began, Peter decided he’d had enough. The doctors said no. They told him: “We haven’t finished yet…we want another two days…you’ve still got the electric treatment”.
“I went bananas”, says Peter. “To me electrodes were Frankenstein”. He eventually got out, but now believes he has been permanently damaged by the experience.
“If I hadn’t had aversion therapy, I would live life as a normal gay person and I would have a partner…a long-lasting relationship. Aversion therapy changed my life totally. Three days has destroyed 25 years”.
ELECTRIC SHOCKS TO MAKE HIM STRAIGHT
“The electric shocks were very, very painful. The comparison would be if I was about to be electrocuted, because it was such a sharp bolt of pain shooting through my body”.
This is the recollection of Colin Fox, who in 1964 was a depressed, isolated, vulnerable gay man aged 19. Like Peter Price, he “volunteered” for aversion therapy, but only because his family, religion and community persuaded him that homosexuality was a sickness and depravity.
The doctors at Crumpsall Hospital, near Manchester, took advantage of Colin’s desperate desire to rid himself of the demon of homosexuality, and of his terror of arrest (gay sex was then still punishable by several years imprisonment). “I thought I was a bad person and lived in fear of going to jail”, says Colin. In such circumstances, his decision to undergo aversion therapy was hardly the free choice that doctors allege.
Colin’s treatment was based on crude behaviourist theories stemming from Pavlov’s turn-of-the-century electric shock experiments with dogs (proof that vivisection is equally the enemy of animals and queers). By linking homosexual desire with pain, the doctors hoped to “decondition” Colin’s attraction to men.
He was shown photos of swimsuit-clad men and women and had to rate them in order of sexual desirability. Electrodes were fixed to Colin’s arm and leg. As he was shown slides of men, he was given electric shocks which varied in intensity, according to how attractive he rated the men. The more attractive, the stronger the shock. At the conclusion of each session, he was ‘rewarded’ with a picture of the woman he found ‘most attractive’, without getting electrocuted.
“The pain really terrified me,” says Colin, now 51 and happily gay. “I think it did me short-term harm”.
Like all other aversion therapists, the doctor who administered the electric shocks to Colin claims that she acted in what she thought were his best interests and with his co-operation. “I’ve never done anything to any patient I would not have done to myself and my children”.
THUD, 2 August 1996
OBITUARY – Professor Hans Eysenck
It is, indeed, ironic that Prof. Hans Eysenck fled the Nazis but later promoted ideas on race and homosexuality which were uncomfortably close to echoing Nazi scientific theories.
This led to him being accused of “psycho-Nazism” by the Gay Liberation Front, and becoming a target of GLF protests during campaigns against the psychiatric abuse of homosexuals in the early 1970s.
I was part of these protests, disrupting Eysenck’s speech in 1972 at St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, where he advocated “curing” homosexuality by means of electric-shock and nausea inducing aversion therapy – a less brutal version of the Nazi experiments at Buchenwald and other concentration camps, which also attempted to “cure” gay men.
Arguing that “aversion therapy is used for the patient’s own good”, Eysenck said it can “change the emotions, where the person himself cannot change them of his own free will…By associating emotions with pain or fear, the emotional response can be de-conditioned”.
In response to my interjections during his speech, Eysenck conceded that the success rate was not high. He did not dispute that aversion therapy often resulted in gay patients becoming sexually dysfunctional rather than heterosexual, and that many consequently suffered serious, even suicidal, depression.
At least one gay man died during treatment by doctors in Southampton and others experienced life-threatening convulsions. But Eysenck dismissed concerns about the pain and danger involved as a fuss over nothing. “Aversion therapy is”, he said, “just like a visit to the dentist”.
Guardian 13 September 1997