OPIN­ION

Bad medicine.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

The post­hu­mous royal par­don granted to code-break­ing hero and com­puter pioneer Alan Tur­ing was a long over­due at­tempt to put right a grave in­jus­tice. Tur­ing had been con­victed of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in 1952, un­der the same 19th Century “gross in­de­cency” law that sent Os­car Wilde to prison in 1895.

Given the op­tion of jail or chemical cas­tra­tion, Tur­ing chose the lat­ter. The hormonal treat­ment (sim­i­lar to the “cure” de­vised by the Nazi doc­tor, SS Carl Vaer­net) caused Tur­ing hor­ren­dous phys­i­cal and men­tal dis­tress in­clud­ing im­po­tency, breast de­vel­op­ment and de­pres­sion. He com­mit­ted sui­cide two years later, at the age of 41.

Tur­ing was not alone. In the UK, an es­ti­mated 50,000 men were con­victed un­der the same law dur­ing the 20th Century and a fur­ther 50,000 un­der other anti-gay laws mak­ing a to­tal of 100,000 con­vic­tions. Many were jailed. Some were also sub­jected to chemical cas­tra­tion or to so-called aver­sion ther­apy: the in­flic­tion of elec­tric shocks or drug-in­duced nau­sea while they were shown naked male im­ages.

Based on Pavlov’s ex­per­i­ments giv­ing elec­tric shocks to dogs to change their be­hav­iour, the ra­tio­nale was to cre­ate a men­tal as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and pain or sick­ness; to make same-sex at­trac­tion re­pel­lent and thereby turn gay men het­ero­sex­ual.

These bids to cure ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, which were of­ten paid for by the tax­payer and con­ducted by state-funded Na­tional Health Ser­vice (NHS) hos­pi­tals and doc­tors, echoed the in­hu­man ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ments in­flicted on gay men by Nazi doc­tors in Buchen­wald con­cen­tra­tion camp dur­ing WWII. Like the Nazi’s sup­posed med­i­cal so­lu­tion to the ‘ho­mo­sex­ual prob­lem’, nei­ther elec­tric shocks nor nau­sea achieved the de­sired re­sult. The men sub­jected to this bar­baric med­i­cal abuse lost their sex drive and be­came emo­tion­less and reclu­sive, suf­fer­ing se­vere anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. Some killed them­selves.

DJ Peter Price re­calls that in 1965, aged 19, doc­tors forced him to lie in a bed filled with his own ex­cre­ment, urine and vomit for three days while they showed him pin-up pic­tures of naked men, in­jected him with nau­sea-cre­at­ing drugs and played au­dio tapes that in­sulted and abused him as a ‘dirty queer’. At least one man died as a con­se­quence of this med­i­cal abuse: 29-year-old Billy Clegg-Hill, in 1962. The cause of his death was cov­ered up by doc­tors and the in­quest coroner. It was listed as due to “nat­u­ral causes”, which it was not.

These cruel, bo­gus treat­ments were still be­ing de­fended by some top NHS pro­fes­sion­als un­til 1972, in­clud­ing by doc­tors at the fa­mous Maud­s­ley psy­chi­atric hospi­tal. That year, the world’s then leading psy­chol­o­gist, Hans Eysenck, pub­licly de­fended the use of aver­sion ther­apy in a lec­ture hosted by St Thomas’ hospi­tal in Lon­don. When I chal­lenged him, I was vi­o­lently ejected from the au­di­ence.

Most people think ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was le­galised in the UK in 1967. It wasn’t. The Sex­ual Of­fences Acts that year was a very limited, par­tial de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion (nonen­force­ment of the law) that only ap­plied to Eng­land and Wales. It was not ex­tended to Scot­land un­til 1980 or to North­ern Ire­land un­til 1982. Most as­pects of gay be­hav­iour re­mained crim­i­nal in­clud­ing invit­ing, fa­cil­i­tat­ing or ar­rang­ing a ho­mo­sex­ual act – even a de­crim­i­nalised one. The age of con­sent was 21; com­pared to 16 for het­ero­sex­u­als. Two men dancing to­gether in a club or chat­ting up each other in pub­lic could still be ar­rested and jailed.

The anti-gay laws re­mained on the statute book un­der the head­ing “Un­nat­u­ral Of­fences”. As with the gross in­de­cency law, the ban on bug­gery (anal sex), which was legislated in 1533 dur­ing the reign of King Henry VIII, was not re­pealed un­til 2003. This was the year the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity fi­nally ended in Eng­land and Wales.

In the era of crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion, pub­lic at­ti­tudes were strongly ho­mo­pho­bic and hate crime was rife. Un­til the last decade it was un­law­ful to dis­crim­i­nate against gay people in em­ploy­ment, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, ad­ver­tis­ing and pro­vi­sion of goods and ser­vices. Most gay and bi­sex­ual men hid their sex­u­al­ity fear­ing ar­rest, hos­til­ity, os­tracism, dis­crim­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence, all of which were com­mon.

These mul­ti­ple threats and the stress of hid­ing one’s sex­u­al­ity, caused huge men­tal and phys­i­cal strain. The re­sult? Much higher than aver­age rates of fam­ily es­trange­ment, re­la­tion­ship break up, isolation, al­co­hol and drug abuse, ill­ness, de­pres­sion and sui­cide. Af­ter the ad­vent of le­gal equal­ity and more ac­cept­ing pub­lic at­ti­tudes, men who lived much of their lives in se­crecy (as crim­i­nals and vic­tims of prej­u­dice) of­ten found it hard to ad­just. Over the decades they had in­ter­nalised ho­mo­pho­bia and got into the rou­tine of hid­ing their gay life.

Jus­tice for Alan Tur­ing is a won­der­ful thing. But what about all the other men who were also vic­tims of un­just anti-gay laws – about 15,000 of whom are still alive? Don’t they de­serve an apol­ogy and par­don, too?

more: www.ju­rysinns.com/ho­tels/manch­ester/alan-tur­ing more: pe­ter­tatchell­foun­da­tion.org

Con­sid­ered the fa­ther of com­puter sci­ence,

Alan Tur­ing was a code-break­ing war hero forced to un­dergo

chemical cas­tra­tion be­cause he was gay.

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