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Closet, crisis and conscience: the untold journey of LGBTQ+ doctors and dentists

LGBT+ History Month has been marked in the UK for two decades and the theme in 2024 is Medicine and Healthcare. To celebrate we have been delving back into the archives of GLADD to explore almost 50 years of previously untold LGBTQ+ history.

The words of philosopher George Santayana “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” are, not least for the LGBTQ+ community, as pertinent today as when he wrote them in 1905. Queer history can be hard to study as there are few public records, so we are often reliant on private papers and memory. At GLADD we are lucky to have an archive of material and the opportunity to hear from those pioneers who fought to organise LGBTQ+ medical & dental professionals. It is a rich and complex history tied up in radical politics, seismic social changes and determined individuals, without whom we would not be able to live the professional or personal lives we do today.

There are multiple predecessors to GLADD, organisations that have over time been chameleons responding to need, pressure and circumstance, but with consistent core values. Our history begins with the Gay Medics and Dentals Society founded by Martin Hamilton-Farrell at the University of London Union in 1975. It was a brave step. Gay and lesbian politics in the 1970s were a conflict of radicals and moderates, differing expressions of culture and complex political affiliations. Martin expected hostility and prejudice when he applied for Union funding but the society was approved with a start-up grant of £250 surprisingly easily, perhaps because the committee was exhausted at the end of a difficult meeting.

The society was characterised by a juxtaposition of open campaigning and secret membership. It participated under its own banner in gay rights marches and ran a poster and leaflet campaign in medical schools with the message ‘you are not alone’. The posters were regularly defaced or destroyed. Robert George fondly recalls members ‘zapping’ hostile medical and related organisations by attending meetings and declaring their sexuality. Questionnaires and then information packs were sent to consultants in Psychiatry, Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Sexual Health, testing and informing their understanding of homosexuality. A pamphlet detailing counselling facilities for homosexual people in distress was distributed to many GPs and hospital doctors across London. In contrast, correspondence was through a student union post box and the list of around 150 members was kept confidential. Many were not yet out and others feared their involvement would prove career-limiting. There was opposition, including from the Gay Liberation Front who shunned the medics as being elitist, but Martin and his colleagues found it exciting, conspiratorial and ‘totally worth it’. Sadly, there was no natural successor to run the society after Martin graduated and, under the pressure of house officer rotas, the society was closed in 1977 and membership list destroyed.

Poster for the 1975 ULU Gay Medics Group

Poster for the Gay Medics and Dentals Society

Pamphlet on counselling for homosexual people distributed across London in 1977

Pamphlet distributed across London in 1977

Martin Hamilton-Farrell's 1980 letter to the BMJ

Martin's 1980 letter to the BMJ

Letter from the editor of the BDJ, 1985

Letter from the editor of the BDJ, 1985

Newspaper headline doctors dilemma
Newspaper headline AIDS

Newspaper headlines

GMA information leaflet on AIDS