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This College Used Shock Treatment to ‘Cure’ Gay Student

This College Used Shock Treatment to ‘Cure’ a Gay Student

It lasted for two years.

Queen's University Belfast conducted electroshock therapy on gay students in the 1960s, according to new allegations from a former student.

The man, identified pseudonymously as "John," spoke to the BBC about his experience. According to his account, university staff showed him pictures of naked men and administered electric shocks if he was aroused. These shocks would "occur every 15 or 30 seconds," he said, until he "pressed the button again to say he was no longer experiencing arousal."

Staff with Queen's University Belfast's Department of Mental Health also coached him to date women.

John submitted willingly to the treatment, telling the BBC that he would have done "anything" to change his sexual orientation. He had grown up in a rural area of Northern Ireland and felt completely isolated by the homophobic society of the time.

The treatment was "painful" and "horrible," but John said he endured conversion therapy for up to two years before realizing it wasn't working.

"Eventually after a couple years of trying my best with this treatment I realized it simply wasn't working, my feelings for men were as they had always been, and I just hadn't been aroused by girls to much extent at all," he said. "I suppose it is barbaric, what can I say really; I would have done anything to become normal as I saw it."

Those involved have not been identified, making it unlikely that anyone will be held responsible or punished for the abuse that took place five decades ago.

In the 1970s, researchers at Queen's University Belfast spoke openly about their interest in "curing" homosexuality, writing about their particular interest in the "use of methods for producing heterosexual interest in exclusive homosexuals."

But today, the school disavows the practice.

"There is no scientific support for this approach for behavior change," Queen's University Belfast said in a statement. "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 [LGBTQ+] community."

Although the U.K. has yet to pass a law banning so-called "conversion therapy" in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, electroshock therapy was quite rare, even at the time. Only about a thousand people are estimated to have been subjected to the treatment, according to Dr. Tommy Dickinson, Head of the Department of Mental Health Nursing at King's College London.

It was one of a number of bizarre treatments that were thought to change a person's sexual orientation. Other now-discredited practices include monkey testicle transplants, induced vomiting, and riding bicycles, while today's conversion therapists have added to the mix naked wrestling and water torture.

Following his experience at the school, John began meeting other queer people. "My life changed completely then and since then things have been much better," he said.

RELATED | A Brief History of Cures For Homosexuality

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Matt Baume