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British psychiatry and homosexuality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 January 2018

Michael King*
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London
Annie Bartlett
Section of Forensic Psychiatry, St George's Hospital Medical School, London
Professor Michael King, Royal Free and University College Medical School, Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF



Opposition to homosexuality in Europe reached a crescendo in the 19th century. What had earlier been regarded as a vice evolved as a perversion or psychological illness. Official reviews of homosexuality as both an illness and (for men) a crime led to discrimination, inhumane treatments and shame, guilt and fear for gay men and lesbians. Only recently has homosexuality been removed from all international diagnostic glossaries.


To review how British psychiatry has regarded homosexuality over the past century.


Review of key publications on homosexuality in British psychiatry.


The literature on homosexuality reflects evolving theories on sexuality over the past century. The assumptions in psychoanalysis and the behavioural sciences that sexuality could be altered led to unscientific theory and practice.


Mental health professionals in Britain should be aware of the mistakes of the past. Only in that way can we prevent future excesses and heal the gulf between gay and lesbian patients and their psychiatrists.

Review Article
Copyright © 1999 The Royal College of Psychiatrists 

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