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Keywords:

  • gay;
  • gay history;
  • marginalised;
  • nursing ethics;
  • nursing history;
  • queer

Aims and objectives.  The study aimed to examine the experiences of patients and meanings attached to ‘treatments’ of sexual deviations, which included homosexuality and transvestism, in the UK (1949–1992), exploring reasons for such treatments, experiences and how individual lives were affected.

Background.  Male homosexuality remained illegal in England until 1967 and, along with transvestism, was considered an antisocial sexual deviation that could be cured. Homosexuality remained classifiable as a mental illness until 1992. Nurses were involved in administering treatments to cure these individuals; however, there is a paucity of information about this now-discredited mental health nursing practice.

Design.  A nationwide study based on oral history interviews.

Methods.  Purposeful and snowball sampling was utilised when selecting participants for the study. Participants were recruited via adverts in gay establishments/media. All participants gave signed informed consent. Face-to-face oral history interviews were conducted and transcribed for historical interpretation.

Results.  Seven former male patients made contact, aged 65–97 years at interview. All reported that the treatments had been unsuccessful in altering their sexual desires or behaviour. Most sought treatment owing to unsupportive and negative attitudes from friends, family and wider society. Others selected treatments instead of imprisonment. Most eventually found happiness in same-sex relationships. However, all were left feeling emotionally troubled by the treatments they received.

Conclusion.  Defining homosexuality and transvestism as mental illnesses and implementing what could be argued to be inefficient treatments to eradicate them appears to have had a lasting negative impact on the patients who received them.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Nurses who care for older gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients need to be mindful of their potential past treatment by healthcare services and ensure that they are non-judgmental and accepting of their sexual orientation and current gender.