An original BTB Investigation.
June 7th, 2011
|A scholarship fund has been established in Kirk Andrew Murphy’s memory:
Kirk A Murphy HHS Memorial Scholarship Fund
In 1970, a well-known expert on homosexuality and transgender issues appeared on a local television talk show in Los Angeles to talk about feminine boys. He described how very young boys who behaved in a feminine manner would almost invariably grow up to become a homosexual. Alongside that expert was a gay man who described his own childhood and confirmed what the expert said. But there was hope, the expert announced. A new program at the University of California at Los Angeles would ensure these young boys grew up to become masculine, normal men. The expert gave a list of symptoms to watch out for, and urged his viewersÂ to call him if their children exhibited the problems he described.
The mother of a four year, eleven month old boy saw that program that afternoon. She noted the list of symptoms that the expert gave and concluded that there was something seriously wrong with her son. She and her husband decided to take their young boy to UCLA for treatment to prevent him from growing up to be gay.
That young boy came under the care of a very young grad student by the name of George Alan Rekers. The boy’s treatment would become a subject of Rekers’s doctoral thesis, and the astounding success that Rekers claimed in curing the young boy would mark the start of a very impressive career. Rekers would write about “Kraig” in at least twenty publications during his career, a career which included becoming a very important activist in the promotion of anti-gay causes.
In this original BTB investigation, we speak with his family and friend who knew the real “Kraig” to uncover the truth behind Reker’s greatest success story. Their stories reveal the tragedy of a terrible experiment on a very young boy which would haunt him for the rest of his life. It is not only an indictment of a man who built his anti-gay career on Kirk’s suffering, but a rebuke to others — those in the mental health profession then and in the contemporary ex-gay movement today — who would place their careers and agendas ahead of the well-being of this young boy and countless others like him.
Part 1: Introducing Kirk. Much has been written about “Kraig,” but until now the world knew virtually nothing about Kirk, the real life young boy behind George Rekers’s most famous case. It’s time to change that.
Part 2: Psychology, 1970 Style. Kirk’s therapy took place at UCLA, home to some of the world’s top experts on gender identity and sexual orientation. As Kirk’s mother said, “I trusted these professionals to know what they were doing.”
Part 3: Red Chips, Blue Chips. Kirk’s therapy at UCLA was only partially successful. The next phase took place in the home, and it involved red and blue poker chips for punishments and rewards. But the therapy was so abusive, Kirk’s older brother tried to protect him by moving some of Kirk’s red chips onto his own pile. “My goal was to take the beating for my brother.”
Part 4: The Bitter Root. The therapy was over, but the stress continued to build. “I can’t do this. I can’t act that way or people will know that I’m different,” he’d say when he thought no one could hear him. But despite his best efforts, people knew. “I did,” said one very sympathetic neighbor. “I always thought that he was gay.”
Part 5: “No One Was Obviously Harmed.” Kirk attempted suicide for the first time, but everyone missed the warning signs.
Part 6: The Tug of War. After graduation from high school, Kirk left Montana and flourished for a while. But he continued to struggle with what his sister calls “the day-to-day things in life.”
Part 7: Skirting the Issues. The world-renowned experts at UCLA’s Gender Identity Clinic have distanced themselves from the children’s behavioral modification program, but they have yet to address their responsibilities to Kirk and his family. And because they haven’t, a mother is still trying to reconcile what those experts promised her with the grief that she endures today.
Cuius Culpa? All of the published literature surrounding Kirk’s case has it that George Rekers was solely responsible for Kirk’s treatment. But that’s not how Kirk’s family remembers it. To them, Rekers was nothing but a first year grad student. For forty years, they’ve held Dr. Richard Green responsible, the expert that Kirk’s mother saw on television. Getting to the bottom of who was really in charge of Kirk’s treatment is not as easy as one would expect.
The Doctor’s Word. Rekers often defended his treatment of Kirk by saying that Kirk had been independently evaluated by other psychologists throughout his childhood, and that those evaluations confirmed Rekers’s success. But this investigation shows just how foolhardy it is to simply accept the doctor at his word, no matter how authoritative he may be.
Blind Man’s Bluff. To understand the theoretical basis of the particular style of treatment that Kirk Murphy experienced, it is critical to know what Behavioral Therapy is all about. It turns out that revulsion over the excesses of behavioral therapy played an important role in the APA’s final decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
Maris’s Statement. Having learned more about Kirk’s involvement with UCLA’s Gender Identity Clinic, Maris ponders what it all means. “I used to wonder why he decided to take his own life at the age of 38. Now I wonder how he made it that long.”
Mark’s Statement. “I was also put into those same therapy rooms with the toys and the one way mirrors. I never understood why, but now I think I can safely assume it was to be a benchmark to which my brother was measured. To know that I was used for that purpose, against my own brother, makes me horribly hurt and angry.”
Maris’s Eulogy. “We have a responsibility to Kirk to enjoy life like we never have before, because he is no longer here to enjoy his.”
Debbie’s Eulogy. “Kirk was the common thread for all of us. He made a connection to each one of us and provided the channel for each of us to make strong bonds with one another.”
Frank’s Eulogy. “I am going to miss Kirk Murphy, miss his enthusiasm, miss his knowledge, miss his unassuming and humble nature.”
These published reports are available for free at the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed Central web site.
Behavioral Treatment of Deviant Sex-Role Behaviors In a Male Child. By George A. Rekers and I. Ovar Lovaas, from the Summer, 1974 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. This is the paper that first introduced “Kraig” to the world and launched George Rekers’s career.
What Types of Sex-Role Behavior Should Behavior Modifiers Provide? By R.C. Winkler, from the Fall, 1977 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Rekers’s treatment of Kirk came under strong criticism by the middle of the decade. This is the first of two papers published in the same journal that debuted Rekers’s paper questioning Rekers’s rationale for treatment.
Implications of the Stereotyping and Modification of Sex Role. By Nancy S. Nordyke, et al., from the Fall, 1977 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. In the second paper critiquing Rekers’s treatment, the authors question what constitutes an appropriate gender role behavior.
Atypical Gender Development and Psychosocial Adjustment. By George A. Rekers, from the Fall, 1977 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Rekers defends his therapy against his critics, and concedes no ground.
Position Statements on Therapies to Change Sexual Orientation. A collection of position statements by major psychological, medical and other mental health professional organizations.
Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. (PDF: 816KB/138 pages) A comprehensive historical review of various therapies to change sexual orientation. The task force concluded that “enduring change to an individual’s sexual orientation is uncommon,” and that “there was some evidence to indicate that individuals experienced harm” from such therapies.
Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation and Youth. (PDF: 256 KB/24 pages) A report on the issues surrounding therapies to change sexual orientation, by a broad coalition of mental health, pediatric, and educational organizations.
Youth In the Crosshairs: The Third Wave of Ex-gay Activism, by Jason Cianciotto and Sean Cahill. A thorough investigation of the ex-gay movement: its history, methods, theoretical foundations, and the scientific distortions and harms that are integral to the movement. This 2006 report was published on behalf of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.