Coming out: How parents react is crucial

The delicate-looking young man was compelled to see me by his mother, who sat with him in an outpatient consultation room at the Institute of Mental Health. It soon transpired that she wanted me to “cure” him of his homosexuality – a word she couldn’t bring herself to say.

Homosexuality was described as “a pathological deviation of normal sexual development” by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and listed as a disorder. This is no longer the case. Following the vigorous protests of gay rights activists, the APA in 1973 had its membership vote on the issue of its classification. The outcome was the elimination of homosexuality as a disorder – and that was “the first time in history that a disease was eradicated at the ballot box”, quipped psychotherapist and author Gary Greenberg.

Until well into the last century, the prevailing orthodoxy was that a homosexual individual was either depraved and ought to be punished, or was sick and, therefore, in need of treatment.

Currently, there are some therapists (and self-styled therapists) who offer sexual reorientation therapy for gays and lesbians. This sort of therapy, covering a slew of different approaches, aims to change a person’s sexual orientation.

Most major mental health organisations have explicitly voiced their disapprobation about the lack of evidence of the effectiveness and expressed disquiet about the possible harmfulness of such therapy. They have also renounced the idea that homosexuality per se was something that could or should be cured or corrected.