TODAY IN HISTORY:
Time Magazine’s “Opportunistic Diseases”: 1981. Nearly seven months had passed since the CDC had issued its first notice of a puzzling new condition that was appearing in gay men (see Jun 5). A month after the CDC raised the alarm, the New York Times picked up the story (see Jul 3). But beyond that, the news was slow to spread outside of a few gay publications (and most of them were gun shy). In fact, the media seemed to go out of its way to keep from looking at AIDS. Randy Shilts described the problem in And the Band Played On:
The difference, (the CDC’s James W.) Curran knew, was media attention. Once Toxic Shock Syndrome hit the front pages the heat was on to find the answer. Within months of the first MMWR report, the task force had discovered the link between tampons and the malady. Back in 1976, the newspapers couldn’t print enough pictures of flag-draped coffins of dead American Legionnaires. However the stories just weren’t coming on the gay syndrome. The New York Times had written only two stories on the epidemic, setting the tone for noncoverage nationally. Time and Newsweek were running their first major stories on the epidemic now, in late December 1981. There was only one reason for the lack of media interest, and everybody on the (CDC’s) task force knew it: the victims were homosexuals. Editors were killing pieces, reporters told Curran, because they didn’t want stories about gays and all those distasteful sexual habits littering their newspapers.
The December 21 edition of Time (which featured Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi on the cover) placed the article titled “Opportunistic Diseases” deep inside. The article provided little context, information, or hope. Truth be told, there was little to give of any of those thus far. No one knew what caused it, nor did they even know what to call it. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome wouldn’t get its official name until July 1982. Time, instead, focused on the prevailing image of gays as diseased, while simultaneously expressing surprise that lesbians weren’t coming down with the strange new infections. Of the speculations about the disease, Time wrote:
One possible culprit in the syndrome is cytomegalovirus, which is known to weaken immune defenses and can be transmitted in semen more than a year after infection. In a recent study, traces of CMV were found in 94% of homosexual men, as opposed to 54% of heterosexual men. U.C.L.A.’s Dr. Michael Gottlieb believes that CMV does contribute to the immune deficiency, but, he points out, both the virus and homosexuality “have been around for thousands of years.” Thus, he concludes, “there is a piece of the puzzle missing.”
The missing link could be “poppers,” drugs like amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate, which are said to enhance orgasm. More than 85% of the CDC patients admitted to inhaling them. Another possible explanation is the so-called immunologic overload theory, says San Francisco’s Dr. Robert Bolan. Homosexuals with many sexual partners often contract numerous venereal diseases, intestinal disruptions (gay bowel syndrome), mononucleosis and other infections, explains Bolan. “This constant, chronic stimulation to their immune system may eventually cause the system to collapse.”
All of those theories would soon be proven wrong, although some of them would continue to linger among the conspiratorially-minded AIDS deniers who insist, against all evidence to the contrary, that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) doesn’t cause AIDS. It’s been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Time proved that aphorism wrong.
10 YEARS AGO: “The darkness keeps calling and I must go”: 2003. With those words written on a suicide note, Kirk Andrew Murphy ended his life in a New Delhi apartment. ““I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” said Frank, his supervisor back in Phoenix, Arizona. He was the first outside of India to receive the news. “I got a phone call from the account manager who reported to me. It was midnight or one o’clock in the morning. I was totally shook up.” Frank contacted Kirk’s sister, Maris, in New York, and together they went to India for the funeral.
What happened seemed utterly senseless to Maris, but seven years later she would learn something that would suddenly make so many things about her brother click. That’s when she learned that in 1970, when Kirk was just about to turn five years old and Maris herself was just an infant, their mother took Kirk to see a specialist at UCLA’s Gender Identity Clinic after a well-known researcher appeared on television to warn parents that gender-variant children would grow up to be homosexual. According to that researcher, UCLA had a new program, paid for with federal grants, to prevent homosexuality in children. Kirk’s mother saw that program and made an appointment. Kirk came under the care of a young grad student by the name of George Rekers, who worked with Kirk for about nine months before pronouncing him “cured.” Rekers went on to build a career on Kirk’s case, which Rekers mentioned in nearly twenty journal articles, chapters, and books. As late as 2009, referring to Kirk as “Craig,” Rekers wrote:
Follow-up psychological evaluations three years after treatment indicates that Craig’s gender behaviors became normalized. An independent clinical psychologist evaluated Craig and found that post-treatment he had a normal male identity. Using intrasubject replication designs, this published case was the first experimentally demonstrated reversal of a cross-gender identity with psychological treatment, and the journal article on this case was among the top 12 cited articles in clinical psychology in the 1970s
Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, it is true that Rekers’s initial case report did become one of the most widely cited articles in the 1970s. But to say that Kirk had “become normalized” according to Rekers’s definition turned out to be misleading, to put it extremely mildly. Rekers’s went on to become an important anti-gay activist. He co-founded the Family Research Council in 1983 and served as its first chairman and CEO. He also became an important figure in the ex-gay movement, serving on the Scientific Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). All that came to an end in 2009 when Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp, two from the alternative newsweekly Miami New Times, photographed Rekers at Miami International Airport as he returned from a European vacation in the company of a handsome male escort.
In 2011, BTB was privileged to bring you the real story of Rekers’s most famous case history. In our award-winning investigation, What Are Little Boys Made Of?, we interviewed Kirk’s family, friends and associates, and we revealed the horrible treatment that Kirk and his brother went through while under UCLA’s care, and we learned of its terrible aftermath. We also investigated the state of psychology in 1970 and its evolution in the decades since, we looked into the claims that Kirk received “independent” follow-up evaluations indicating that he was healthy and straight, and we tried to get to the bottom of who exactly was in charge of Kirk’s treatment at the hands of that inexperienced grad student.
You can find all of that information here, along with statements from Kirk’s brother and sister, eulogies from family and friends, links to original published reports about Kirk’s case and the controversy it generated among behavioral therapists, and more information on the ex-gay movement and attempts to change sexual orientation.
If Kirk were alive today, he would be 48. He is still missed by his mother, sister, brother, and everyone who knew him.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?