'I was sent for a lobotomy as a teenager to "cure" my sexuality'

Luchia Fitzgerald, 74, is a renowned lesbian activist and credited with creating the first women’s refuge outside of London.

But during the late 1960s, she was almost forced into having a lobotomy to ‘cure’ her sexuality following a run in with the police.

Just a teenager at the time, she had been living homeless in Manchester after arriving in the city in 1961. She had come across a stolen bicycle and used it to get home, resulting in her being stopped by the police.

Due to her young age, she was assigned a social worker, who noted that she was suffering from severe depression. Their conversations led to Luchia revealing her sexuality, and the woman told her it was likely her ‘lesbianism’ was the root of her problems.

Luchia said: ‘She sent me to a doctor. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, but I thought if anybody can help me, that’d be great.

‘I thought there was nothing wrong with me to me. I was natural, but these people seemed to think I wasn’t. They were the professionals, and you listen to them at that early age.’

Luchia went to a hospital which would later become North Manchester General, where, unbeknownst to her, a number of experimental treatments were taking place with the aim of ‘curing’ homosexual behaviour.

A doctor then asked her ‘terrible’ intrusive questions about her body and sex life, which appalled her as a practicing Catholic at the time.

He told her he would send her for a ‘little operation’ to cure the feelings she was having – which immediately signalled to her that something was very wrong.

Luchia said: ‘I knew I was about to be sucked into something I couldn’t get out of. I was sat in front of this massive mahogany table between us and his back was against the wall.

‘I just thought, if I can get my little legs up on this table at the front I can pin that fecker to the wall and get out the door. And I did.

‘I ran through all these corridors, the sweat was pouring off me, I was frightened to death. I was nearly weeing myself. Eventually I found a door that let me outside and I got out.’

Luchia managed to reach a friend’s house and stayed there while the police hunted for her. Two officers later turned up at the door and asked if she was Luchia Fitzgerald, which she denied.

She believes the officers knew she was lying – particularly as they noted her distinctive Irish accent – but they chose to accept her claims and eventually walk away.

‘I’ve always wondered if one of them was gay, or if they knew what was happening at the hospitals,’ Luchia said.

‘They saved my life. Months later, I was washing glasses behind a bar and I met someone who’d had a lobotomy in Belfast. She told me, if I come in tomorrow and I don’t know who you are it’s because I’ve had an operation and it’s ruined my memory.

‘She then explained how it happened, and I realised that was what they were trying to do to me. I was thanking my lucky stars.

‘Other older lesbians I spoke to told me I should never go back there again. They all knew people it’d happened to. We were guinea pigs back then, they had free rein on anybody outside the norm.’

I ran through all these corridors, the sweat was pouring off me, I was frightened to death. I was nearly weeing myself

Luchia was born and raised in Ireland and was abused by her grandmother for being gay after it was discovered she’d shared love letters with a girl at her school.

She fled to Lancashire to try and connect with her birth mother, but the relationship didn’t work out, causing her to move to Manchester aged 14 and become homeless for a year.

At first she joined other LGBT teenagers in sitting outside The Union, on Princess Street, known as the ‘gay ghetto’, as she was still too young to go inside.

She said: ‘I knew I had to meet people like myself to get some kind of help or assistance. Being out there on my own, it was a very lonely place to be, and a very frightening experience.

‘We felt safe being close to The Union and we clung together, making sure we got ourselves little wash-up jobs, waiting on tables. From there, I was learning about the oppression and cruelty that was bestowed on the community. It was just absolutely dreadful, like the dark ages.

‘A lot of the cruelty was coming from the police, the public and our families. So we stood no chance really. It was some bloody mountain to climb.’

Luchia later got a job behind the bar at The Union and began to make friends with other LGBT people, many of whom would come in for assistance after being attacked outside.

The level of violence and hatred towards the community soon started to get to them, and Luchia lost several of friends to suicide.

She said: ‘We were all cooped up in this one pub and another across the road, and we used to run from one to another, just to have a change. We were all hemmed in, it was like a jam pot with a couple of holes for air.

‘I was watching people get beatings regularly, it was terrible cruel. I’d got a lot of beatings myself when I was young, but to watch others was hard to take. I felt what they were feeling with each blow.’

It was in a local gay club that Luchia met Angela Cooper, a lesbian student and activist from Salford, who was talking to her friends about how LGBT people shouldn’t have to live under these conditions.

Luchia asked if she could join the conversation, and learned of the newly formed Gay Liberation Front, which she went on to join. She and Angela then set out on making headlines across the UK by painting the words ‘lesbians are everywhere’ throughout Manchester.

From there, they appeared on a TV debate show and later became involved in supporting victims of rape or domestic abuse at the city’s women’s centre.

Luchia then suggested they move into the building to provide a 24-hour service, and together they launched the first women’s refuge outside of London – which became known as Women’s Aid.

Demand for the refuge grew quickly, with even police officers bringing domestic abuse victims to the centre. With no council funding, they began squatting inside a bigger empty house, until eventually a kind stranger paid for them to stay in the property after seeing it on the news.

Luchia said: ‘Sometimes when your back is up against the wall and there is no help and support, you have to bring your plight to the attention of the people.

‘You have to have some faith in the fact that there must be someone out there who is lovely. Everyone can’t be horrible and not caring. You have to look for people who care.’

As well as the refuge, Luchia and Angela also created a radical printing press and played music in a group called Northern Women’s Liberation Band. In the 1980s, they volunteered during a 20,000-strong march through Manchester against Section 28.

Luchia is now a board member and the chair of the resident scrutiny panel at Irwell Valley Homes, and a member of HouseProud NW, which supports the needs of LGBT residents in social housing.

She recently received a Lifetime Achievement recognition from the Pride on Manchester Awards, and Invisible Women, a documentary about her activism with Angela, won Best International Short at the GAZE International LGBT Film Festival.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]

For more stories like this, check our news page.

Source: Read Full Article