When I was 18, I began dating an exceptionally beautiful girl, the daughter of an Italian family who settled in South Africa. I did so to disguise the fact that I was gay. We grew very close through our mutual love of photography. So close that I gave her a key to my front door.
Let me emphasize that I was in no way ashamed of being gay, but in those days in South Africa, as in many other countries, one had to resort to subterfuge to keep oneself out of harm’s way. I was not proud of the fact that I chose Alessandra as camouflage. Her parents and mine were already hearing the sound of distant wedding bells.
It all went horribly wrong when Alessandra let herself into my apartment one evening and found me in bed with Renee (above), a German guy with Hollywood looks. He and I had started a clandestine affair. In a fury, Alessandra seized a heavy glass ashtray and threw it at my head. I ended up in A&E (emergency room) to have a gash stitched up, and suffered a headache that lasted three days.
Alessandra then “outed” me to my parents, who insisted I see the country’s leading “gay cure” specialist, Aubrey Levin. Levin, who at the time was head of psychiatry in the South African Defense Force, routinely administered electroshock therapy and chemical castration to soldiers thought to be gay. A program he headed was called, “The Aversion Project.”
After learning from one of his patients of Levin’s methods, and that despite being Jewish, Levin was an ardent supporter of the apartheid system and other far-right causes, I flatly refused to see him.
Instead, I agreed to a session with another psychiatrist called Dr. Wolff, who was of German-Jewish descent. When he asked what I hoped to get out of therapy, I replied, “My parents want me be to straight.” He chuckled and said, in a heavy German accent, “Sorry, that’s something I cannot do.”
After grilling me about my attraction to men, and finding that my only reason for seeking change was to placate my parents, he said:
You are the best-adjusted homosexual teen I’ve ever encountered. Now go away and enjoy your life.
I vowed that I would, but made it clear that I wanted him to tell my parents not to agonize over having a gay son. He agreed and called my mother, spending ten minutes explaining that homosexuality was not a disease nor a chosen lifestyle. He said:
Barry is perfectly OK as he is, and any attempt to change him would be grossly unethical.
In this respect, Wolff was way ahead of the medical establishment, which viewed every gay and lesbian person as diseased and in need of a cure. Business and government used the mental-illness classification to justify discrimination, bigotry, and cruel treatments.
It was only In 1973, the year I fled South Africa to settle in the UK, that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its manual of mental illnesses. The story of how that change came about is told in a 2020 documentary called Cured. (See trailer here.)
Seventeen years later, in 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Experts at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said there is now a widespread consensus that homosexuality is a natural variant of human sexuality and cannot be considered a pathological condition.
My relationship with Renee was short-lived. After I introduced him to my parents, the unexpected happened. He and my mother formed a close attachment that saw the pair spending hours together, knitting, gossiping, and going out on shopping trips. Furthermore, he regularly styled her hair and gave her manicures. I was but a third wheel in the relationship.
When I could take no more of this, a showdown followed and I dumped him. My mum was heartbroken.
Waiting in the wings to catch me on the rebound was Jonathan, the same guy who had been treated by Levin. I agreed to date him, and a relationship developed. But I soon discovered that Jonathan had been so emotionally and mentally damaged by so-called “reparative therapy” that he could not function socially or sexually. Still wracked with feelings of guilt, he sought to overcome his problems by drowning himself in gin. In short, I found myself saddled, out of pity, with a violent, unstable alcoholic.
But, always the optimist, I thought I could help him, and stuck with the relationship for eight long years before I came to realize that he needed more expert help than I could ever provide.
Years later I learned that Levin was called to answer for the brutal treatments he meted out to army recruits and others. When the apartheid regime collapsed, “Dr. Shock,” as he’d become known, achieved worldwide notoriety during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings where it was revealed that he had subjected homosexuals, drug addicts, conscientious objectors, and other conscripts to sadistic electric shocks and the injection of drugs.
According to Medcrave:
In his only public response to the allegations, Levin denied that he had used punitive aversion therapy, but instead followed the accepted procedure used at the time. This, however, is contradicted in numerous reports from victims.
Levin’s therapy was a caricature of treatment. Subjects were exposed to pictures of naked men, given electric shocks and then shown the centerfold pages of a Playboy magazine. There are many descriptions of the severity of the shocks he would administer. A psychologist who was present described the shocks as so extreme that the subject’s shoes flew off.
When Levin was indicted for human rights abuses by the TRC, he fled to Calgary, Canada, entering into practice as a forensic psychiatrist. There he was convicted on three charges of sexual assaulting of male prisoners under his care and jailed for five years in 2010.
Unknown to the jury or the Canadian public was Levin’s role in the SADF during the apartheid years, something he had managed to keep from public exposure by threatening to sue under Canada’s defamation laws.
Despite being wholly discredited, gay cure therapies, in the main performed by faith-based organizations, are still being practiced widely in various parts of the world. In the UK, for example, a Northern Ireland-based outfit called Core Issues Trust (CIT), headed by an “ex-gay” South African Christian zealot, Mike Davidson, above, aggressively promotes “pray-away-gay” interventions.
CIT claims on its website that it “respects” the rights of individuals who “identify as gay” but it:
Does not support gay ‘marriage’, usually considered an ‘equality’ issue, premised on the belief that being gay is ‘biological’ and is therefore unchangeable.
Core Issues Trust offers one-to-one support for individuals voluntarily seeking to leave homosexual behaviours and feelings and those working through transgender issues …
The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2014) has recently affirmed that human sexuality is fluid for some, and therefore changeable in some cases. Core Issues Trust promotes the idea that individuals are not ‘victims’ of their sexual desires.
I’m now impatiently waiting for UK lawmakers to deliver on their promise to ban such therapies. But am not holding my breath as the government is currently in a state of paralysis as it grapples with the problem of what to do with its imbecile prime minister, Boris Johnson. The utterly incompetent, self-serving leader with a narcissistic personality disorder who shamelessly breached his own COVID-19 lock-down rules may soon have to resign.
The United Kingdom is a global leader on LGBT rights and is committed to banning the coercive and abhorrent practice of conversion therapy. We want every individual to have the freedom to be themselves and proposals have been developed with the protection of LGBT people in mind. The proposals we are bringing forward in this consultation are intended to ensure that everyone in this country is protected through both criminal and civil measures.
An ardent supporter of Core Issues Trust is Christian Concern, an anti-LGBT hate group headed by Andrea Minichiello Williams, above, which is fighting tooth and nail against the proposed ban.
Christian Concern’s close ties with America’s Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) means that it has considerable influence and money. ADF’s global wing, ADF International — which opposes abortion rights, same-sex marriage equality and assisted suicide — has a multi-million dollar budget, but does not disclose who its funders are. It opened an office in London a few years ago and is now spending hundreds of thousands in the UK.
ADF International’s spending in the UK amounted to more than £370,000 ($502,200) in 2017–18 alone.
In March, 2020, Forbes reported that only four countries — Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, and Malta, have banned the practice.
Another four countries—the US, Canada, Australia and Spain—have regional laws preventing the practice. There are five countries — Argentina, Uruguay, Samoa, Fiji and Naura — that also have indirect bans.
In December of last year, after two attempts, Canada formally banned conversion therapy. Legislation that makes it illegal to provide, promote and profit off conversion therapy took effect on January 7, 2020.