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Uni of Birmingham responds as gay man demands apology for electric shock treatment in 70s

"We are aware that during the late 1960s/70s there may have been some isolated activity of this nature"

2020-12-15

Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Pexels

The University of Birmingham has responded after a gay man claiming he underwent months of (completely scientifically-discredited) electric shock conversion therapy in its psychology department in the 70s demanded an apology.

Speaking to the BBC, 74-year-old Chris (not his real name) said his GP at the time referred him to someone who could "cure" him of his sexuality: a clinical psychologist at the uni.

"I would be sat in a room, with a projector screen and photographs to look through," Chris said of the months-long treatment which, ultimately, failed and left him with continuing extreme post-traumatic stress disorder and poor mental health.

"An electrode was attached to my ankle and wrist. A photo of a man would pop up, and if you weren't quick enough to flick to the next picture, you would get a hefty electric shock. Then photos of women would pop up, with no consequence at all."

When Chris made contact for closure years later, the university initially denied the treatment had taken place, according to correspondence seen by the BBC. 

"Even with undeniable proof, I was met with an absolute wall of silence by the university," he explained. "They tried to deny that this ever happened.

"They eventually blamed the researcher, saying it was just his private project and nothing to do with the university."

"We believe that this was wholly inappropriate and deeply regret that such potentially harmful activity may have taken place"

In a statement issued to Attitude, a University spokesperson spoke of "regret" over Chris's claims - but stopped short of an apology.

"We support unequivocally the position of all major UK therapy professional bodies, including the NHS and British Psychological Society, that conversion therapy, where the aim is to change a person's sexual orientation or to suppress gender identity, is unethical, degrading and potentially harmful," they said. "As a University, we are an active member of Stonewall and are committed to promoting equality, diversity and fairness irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"While we are unable to find any evidence that this was a University sanctioned research project, we are aware that during the late 1960s/70s there may have been some isolated activity of this nature. We believe that this was wholly inappropriate and deeply regret that such potentially harmful activity may have taken place; we have engaged with the individual on a number of occasions to highlight our regret.

"We understand that some members of our community may be affected by this case and are providing access to additional support."

Chris is calling on conversion therapy to be banned - something Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged this year, calling the practise "abhorrent". However, there has been little movement on the issue since his predecessor Theresa May promised a similar ban back in 2018.

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