BACKGROUND 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.
AIMS To review how British psychiatry has regarded homosexuality over the past century.
METHOD Review of key publications on homosexuality in British psychiatry.
RESULTS 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.
CONCLUSIONS 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.