‘Dr. Shock’ and the dangers of the closet

Posted on 01 Apr 2010 at 10:18am
By Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

Anti-gay former doctor for South African military during apartheid arrested in Canada for allegedly molesting male patients

It is sometimes easy to forget that South Africa’s human rights abuses under apartheid did not only affect people of color. LGBT South Africans were abused and tortured for their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Specifically, those conscripted into the military were often subjected to "cures" for their homosexuality.

Dr. Aubrey Levin, who became known in South Africa by the nickname "Dr. Shock," was among the most egregious at abusing LGBT people. His "treatment" consisted of strapping gay and lesbian soldiers to a chair and administering electric shocks to them as they were shown homoerotic visuals.

The treatment often sent the subjects into convulsions from the increasing intensity of the shocks.

Worse still, Dr. Levin is accused of chemically castrating one man and driving another to suicide with his "treatments."

While not torturing LGBT South Africans, this twisted doctor experimented with "curing" conscientious objectors with a radical treatment of powerful drugs.

You would have thought after the fall of the repressive regime in South Africa, Dr. Levin would have been dealt with. But the good doctor left the country and moved to Canada in 1995, along with several other doctors from South Africa.

Dr. Levin managed to keep his past quiet by threatening lawsuits against any reporters or newspapers that asked too many questions. This man, who had been accused of "gross human rights abuses," successfully blended in and disappeared — almost.

Last week Dr. Levin was arrested in Calgary, Alberta. Seems the good doctor who was so vocal about his homophobic opinions in South Africa may have abused and molested dozens of male patients in Canada.

According to a report in The Guardian, "Levin, who worked at the University of Calgary’s medical school, has been suspended from practicing and is free on bail of $50,000 [Canadian] on charges of repeatedly indecently assaulting a 36-year-old man."

This story exposes a couple of things to me: First, that abusing LGBT people is not a serious enough crime in the minds of Canadian immigration authorities to keep this later-day Dr. Mengele from settling into a comfy university job; and second, it once again shows that many of the most outspokenly homophobic people are closeted themselves.

Look back in recent U.S. history and you can find plenty of examples. The most obvious is Roy Cohn, the McCarthy-era attorney who often hounded suspected "communists" for their homosexual activities. Cohn, who was a closeted gay man, died of AIDS complications in 1986.

More recently, there is the case of Sen. Roy Ashburn, the vocally anti-gay California lawmaker who was arrested for drunk driving after leaving a gay bar. The senator was outed after the arrest by the openly gay mayor of Sacramento who said he has seen Ashburn in the gay bars numerous times.

It all adds up to something I have long suspected: The closet is a deadly place, not just for the person who hides in it, but for all those around him or her.

So the next time someone tells you that being closeted is a personal choice that doesn’t hurt anyone, ask them these questions:

• How many LGBT people could have been spared the torture of Dr. Levin had he simply been able to accept his own sexual orientation?

• How many lives were destroyed by Roy Cohn’s witch hunts?

• How many Americans’ basic human rights have been denied by closeted lawmakers battling to keep their own orientation secret?

Their choice doesn’t seem so personal anymore, does it? •

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 2, 2010.

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