The Truth Behind George Rekers’s “Independent Evaluations”

Jim Burroway

June 9th, 2011

In this episode, CNN tracks down George Rekers, the therapist who treated four-year-old Kirk Murphy and turned him into Rekers’s poster boy for ex-gay therapy. Here we see Rekers learning about Kirk’s suicide at the age of 38. He responds by saying that there is no evidence that Kirk’s suicide was the result of Kirk’s treatment. He also tries to exonerate himself by saying:

Two independent psychologists of me had evaluated him and said he was better adjusted after treatment. So it wasn’t my opinion.

According to Rekers’s writings, two psychologists followed up with Kirk when Kirk was fifteen. As I wrote in our newest epilogue, The Doctor’s Word:

Buried in a footnote, Rekers wrote, “I express my appreciation to Drs. Larry N. Ferguson and Alexander C. Rosen for their independent evaluations.” By 1979, Ferguson was working as a research psychologist at Logos Research Institute, a conservative religious-based think tank that Rekers had founded in 1975. With Rekers as his employer, Ferguson’s participation in such an evaluation could not be seen as independent. As for Rosen, he had been Rekers’s longstanding colleague at UCLA: the two of them co-wrote at least fourteen papers — including three defending the kind of treatment Kirk received at UCLA against growing criticism. Rosen may not have been as personally invested in Kirk’s reported outcome as Rekers, but he was certainly invested in UCLA’s reputation.

Rosen has since passed away. Ferguson told CNN that the family was well-adjusted and he didn’t see any “red flags” with Kirk. But when Kirk was fifteen, the family was falling apart, with Kirk’s father was drinking heavily and leaving the family — hardly the picture of a well-adjusted family. As for not seeing any red flags with Kirk, his sister Maris had a ready answer: “He was conditioned to say what he thought they wanted to hear.”

But there was one set of independent evaluations that Rekers wasn’t a part of. Those occurred when Dr. Richard Green interviewed Kirk at the age of seventeen and eighteen for his 1987 book, The Sissy Boy Syndrome. That’s where we learn that at Kirk was still attracted to men, was deeply conflicted over those attractions, had engaged in an anonymous sexual encounter with a man, and tried to commit suicide because of it. For the remainder of Rekers’s career, he would never acknowledge what was uncovered in the The Sissy Boy Syndrome interviews. As far as Rekers was concerned, those interviews never happened and “Kraig”, his pseudonym for Kirk, remained a success story.

You can learn more about those so-called independent reviews and the perils of accepting a researcher’s writings at face value in our newest epilogue, The Doctor’s Word, the latest addition to our investigative report, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”

RobNYNY1957

June 9th, 2011

I was a bit surprised at how effeminate Dr. Rekers was on AC360. Class over inflection of sentences, limp wrist, etc.

BlackDog

June 9th, 2011

I noticed that, but more than anything George Rekers struck me as being very, very creepy.

I don’t quite know *why* but a lot of these anti-gay and ex-gay types really creep me out, in a wouldn’t-trust-this-person-with-my-dog sort of way. I feel disgust, on a visceral sort of level, towards them.

I read all the stuff compiled about Kirk, and all I could think about was that if I had a kid, I would never leave them alone with George Rekers, period.

Amicus

June 9th, 2011

Is there any indication in their papers on treatment of “aberrant behaviors” that they were open to the “independent” assessment that their *entire hypothesis* might be wrong (not just the assessment of whether their treatment had met its goals)?

What’s more, did they scientifically and ethically assess and disclose the risks to treatment, at all? That is, did they ever consider that they might aggravate the underlying ‘condition’ or create instability, if their hypothesis was wrong?

As for the abiding ethical judgment on their adventures, did they present to their victims, the parents, the facts, as formulated as an hypothesis with the treatment as experimental, with risks?

David in Houston

June 9th, 2011

There really should be some kind of civil punishment for Dr. Rekers under the heading of “Crimes against humanity”. The fact that he approved of beatings as a way to reprogram someone’s personality shows what utter contempt he has for the medical profession. Even back then I seriously doubt that any reputable therapist would approve of corporal punishment as a valid psychological treatment.

It makes me really sad that Kirk’s parents weren’t able to figure out that beating a child is ALWAYS wrong. Like I’ve always said, not everyone is cut out to be a parent. (including my own parents)

Amicus

June 9th, 2011

I’m reading more of this story and it’s not clear that the UCLA center was involved in “science” at all, yet. Or else, the worst kind of “psychological science”, the kind that makes physical scientists cringe when the word “scientist” is used to describe whatever it is that psychologists “research”.

I might be wrong, to whatever degree, but this quote set me off:

My purpose was to intervene early in children’s lives to head off the first step toward a problem with homosexuality, transsexualism or transvestism. Therefore I evaluated boys with the high likelihood of becoming vulnerable to the temptation to homosexuality or other related deviant behavior.

So, what we gather from this is that religious precepts – most likely Christian ethics – got in the way of science, in the way of fully adequate and proper hypothesis formation and testing.

David Ehrenstein

June 9th, 2011

UCLA has a LOT to answer for. Who approved bringing Rekers on? What other “Ex-Gay” quacks did the university sponsor? Has it been named in lawsuits over this?

Regan DuCasse

June 9th, 2011

We hear constantly that gay people shouldn’t raise children, despite what smarter people know, in that one’s orientation doesn’t influence that of one’s child.

But NO ONE questions how many gay children their straight parents screw up because of being influenced by such anti gay situations.

Being so committed to denying what gender means, or what homosexuality is, is a sickness in itself.
The harmful results, are rarely appraised until too late. If at all.

Treating gender variance as a BAD thing, has left many lives in ruins.
That anyone is allowed to continue the practice given that evidence, is a matter for medical authorities and FEC.

Anyone claiming credentials in psychotherapy should be supporting research on the effects of POSITIVE reinforcement on young people who might be gay or gender variant.
That seems to be the ONE that haven’t tried yet on a widespread basis.

Norm!

June 9th, 2011

I agree with David Ehrenstein’s comment, where is UCLA in all this? Clearly, it was UCLA’s prestigious reputation that led the Murphy’s to trust the institution. They should, at the very least, issue an apology.

homer

June 9th, 2011

I wish the Murphy family would sue Rekers for every sordid penny. He does not deserve the money he made as an expert witness from the States of Arkansas and Florida.

Henry Hall

June 9th, 2011

The really really shocking thing is that exactly this kind of thing is still being done to little boys by “eminent psychologists” even now, in 2011.

Ray

June 9th, 2011

Maybe it’s because I’m deaf and have to view the AC360 series with closed captions, but speaking from that view, AC360’s treatment of this simply doesn’t have the power of Jim’s investigation. The TV version strikes me as superficial and Jim’s writing is filled with rich and deeply personal detail.

I’m so very grateful for Jim Burroway and Timothy Kincaid. They find a way to speak about gay lives that dignify us, make us the human being we are, without shading or distorting the truth.

CPT_Doom

June 9th, 2011

Ray, I don’t doubt that closed captioning may have “dulled” the CNN story a bit – they rely a lot on the emotion being expressed by the family, for instance, and not only does CC not show that, the CC often is a bit behind the report, so gets confusing. However in general pieces like this on the TV cannot have the impact of research like Jim’s. AC360 is devoting less than 25 minutes, total, over three nights, while Jim’s report takes at least 3 – 4 times that to just read.

As for UCLA and the approval of this “research,” it is sad but true that Psychology as a science was woefully inadequate back in those days. I was a psych major in the 80s and we learned about the lack of ethical considerations, never mind the lack of a formal definition of what “mental illness” is, which the APA did not have until 1973 (the quest for this definition was directly responsible for the dropping of homosexuality from the DSM).

Grandmère Mimi

June 9th, 2011

Jim, thank you again for your research and writing the story. UCLA? Yes, those were different times, when we put implicit trust in doctors and scientists. When will someone at UCLA step up and take responsibility? Where are the apologies? Surely, they know better now.

Reading the story knocked the wind out of me, I can tell you, and I probably shouldn’t even be writing here until I take time to recover. I said elsewhere in a comment that I had to take the story in two parts because it was just too painful and tragic to read all at once.

Thank you again.

ScottLanter

June 9th, 2011

It was shocking to see how effeminate Rekers is. I wish CNN had pursued a more in-depth interview with him. Rekers was so desperate to hide behind pseudo-scientific language and double talk. According to Rekers own logic, there needs to be a lengthy analysis of why he has failed to develop any outwardly masculine mannerisms.

ScottLanter

June 9th, 2011

The Jewish community demanded that Dr. Mengele be held accountable for his ‘experiments’. Shouldn’t Dr. Rekers be held to the same standard by the gay community?

Zoe Brain

June 9th, 2011

To see where George Rekers is coming from, you need to read a work he edited in 1986 : The Christian World View of the Family , Edited by Dr. George Rekers, Ph.D., Chairman; Jerry Regier, M.A.B.S., Co-Chairman; With contributions by members of the Family Committee of The Coalition on Revival; Dr. Jay Grimstead, General Editor; E. Calvin Beisner, M.A., Assistant to the General Editor:

“We deny that the state has a right to impose unrealistic standards on families; that the so-called offenses of “emotional neglect,” “emotional abuse,” “educational neglect,” etc., which form the bulk of substantiated reports of “child abuse and neglect,” are in fact crimes against children;
…
We affirm that Biblical spanking may cause temporary and superficial bruises or welts that do not constitute child abuse, but that proven brutality to a child resulting in permanent disfigurement or serious injury should be punished by law”

There’s a lot of stuff there about how both Homosexuality and Masturbation should be illegal, how a proper wife should be submissive and obedient to her husband and not go out to work etc.

TomTallis

June 9th, 2011

Yet UCLA was the academic home of Evelyn Hooker, the first psychologist to declare that gay people were just fine the way they were, and this was a decade before this Rekers episode.

Isn’t there a horror movie called “Reeker?”

Irish Janet

June 10th, 2011

Whenever someone says they can change someone’s inborn behavior scares me. It is solely based on religious prejudices. And for this person, definitely not a doctor, and groups like them as just as dangerous as the KKK.

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