Electric shocks given as 'gay conversion therapy' in Belfast university

A man described how he received aversion therapy in the 1960's in Queen's University Belfast to 'cure' his homosexuality.

The exterior of Queen's University Belfast in the evening

During an interview with BBC News Northern Ireland, a gay man described how he was given electric shocks as a way to ‘cure’ him of being gay while he was a student in Queen’s University Belfast.

The man, who went by the name of John in the interview, described how he came to the realisation he was gay while he attended the college in the 1960’s. “I realised I am one of these people who are homosexuals and who are reviled really by the society I grew up in, so it was a big shock to me. I felt totally alone.” 

He was referred to the university’s Department of Mental Health where it was decided he would be given electric shocks so he would associate same-sex attraction with pain. John would have to press a button if he found images of men arousing.

“I was shown a series of what, I suppose, one would regard these days as mildly pornographic images of naked young men. I was given gutties and these were connected up with electric wires to a voltage and I would receive the shock in my feet. Incidentally, I found this quite horrible because I’m quite sensitive in my feet for some reason and I managed to persuade them instead to give them to my hands.”

He continued, “When I pressed the button that meant I was aroused, then after 15 or 30 seconds if I didn’t press the button again they would give me a shock,” he said. “They would continue giving me a shock until I pressed the button again to say I was no longer experiencing any arousal. Yes it was painful, it was pretty horrible. You would then associate any gay, homosexual feelings with something unpleasant – a conditioned reflex really.”

John shared how after years of this treatment he realised it was working and stopped it. “Luckily, fairly soon afterwards I did start to meet some gay people and my life changed completely then and since then things have been much better.”

A QUB spokesperson admitted that this type of aversion had been used in the past but followed, “The use of these techniques have for a long time not been supported by Queen’s University or the NHS. While we cannot change practices of the past, Queen’s University is fully committed to creating and sustaining an environment that values diversity and strongly supports its LGBT+ community.”

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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