Katrin and Danny sent in a heart-breaking video that highlights the damage that has sometimes been inflicted on children, with the guidance of researchers, because of adult concerns about behavior that deviates from socially-accepted gender norms. In this segment with Anderson Cooper, two siblings and their mother discuss the treatment their brother suffered, with the approval and encouragement of UCLA researchers, as a form of “anti-sissy” therapy:
It would be nice to be able to write this off as completely debunked practices of an earlier time, based on premises that would never recur today. But as the video makes clear, the publications that resulted from this study continued to be cited by those who argue that through therapy, gays and lesbians can be “cured.”
Here’s the second part of the story:
There will be a third installment tonight; I’ll update the post once the final segment is available online.
UPDATE: Here’s the third segment, about a boy who underwent anti-gay therapy in the ’90s:
UPDATE 2: Also, Danny was wonderful enough to type up transcripts of the first two videos! They’re after the jump.
Narrator: Keeping them honest. Every night AC360. CNN, weeknights 10 eastern.
Mark Murphy: This is my brother Kirk Andrew Murphy. [Indicates picture.] This is when he was supposed to be…[unintelligible].
Cooper: [Narrating] This is the last time Mark Murphy remembers his brother, Kirk, as a happy child. The photo was taken when Kirk was four, a year before he was placed in experimental therapy at UCLA to treat what doctor’s identified as “exaggerated feminine behavior.”
Maris: It left Kirk just, totally stricken with the belief that he was broken—that he was different from everybody else.
Cooper: [Narrating over] Kirk’s sister Maris and brother Mark say that Kirk was never the same after therapy.
Mark: The only thing they did was destroy our brother. I mean they took him away from us. He was, empty. There was nothing there.
Cooper [narrating]: In 1970 Kirk Murphy was a smart, outgoing five year old growing up near Los Angeles. His mother, KT Murphy, however, was worried about him.
KT Murphy: I was becoming a little concerned about playing with the girl’s toys, and stroking the hair, you know, the long hair and stuff. I was seeing effeminate mannerisms that bothered me because I wanted Kirk to grow up and have a normal life.
Cooper: [Narrating] Mrs. Murphy says she saw a psychologist on a local TV program talking about behavior like Kirk’s.
KT: He was naming all these things. “If your son is doing five of these ten things. Does he prefer girl’s toys instead of boy’s toys?”
Cooper: [narrating] The psychologist was recruiting young boys for a government funded program at UCLA, part of which was designed to reverse perceived feminine behavior. What one doctor involved with the program later called, “Sissy-boy syndrome.”
KT: Him being the expert I thought, well, maybe I should go ahead and take Kirk in. In other words nip it in the bud.
Cooper: [narrating] For nearly a year Kirk was treated at UCLA, mainly by a man named George Rekers. Rekers was a doctorate student at the time, but went on to become a founding member of the “Family Research Council” which lobbies against gay marriage, adoption, and laws that seek to protect the rights of gays and lesbians. Rekers has also been a prominent proponent of the belief homosexuality can be prevented.
Cooper: [Narrating] To treat Kirk’s so called “sissy-behavior” he was repeatedly placed in a room with two tables. He was observed through a one-way window. He was given toys to play with, and could choose between traditionally masculine ones like plastic knives, and guns or feminine ones like dolls and a play crib. He could also choose clothing to wear: an army hat and military fatigues or a girl’s dress, jewelry, and wig. Kirk’s mother was brought into the room and told to ignore him when he played with feminine toys or clothes, and compliment him when he played with masculine ones. In a case study he wrote George Rekers noted that when Kirk’s mother ignored him he would beg for attention from her, cry, even throwing tantrums. But Mrs. Murphy was told to continue to ignore him.
Maris: And in this particular incident they write that he becomes so upset he’s just beside himself, that they actually have to remove him from the room. And after they remove him from the room they come in and tell my mom “It’s working” and then they bring him back in and start all over.
Cooper: Having read this report… I keep coming back to the word “experimenting.”
Maris: Oh absolutely, without a doubt.
Cooper: Because it doesn’t seem like this is some proven treatment. This is…
Cooper: This is experimenting.
Cooper: [narrating] Experimental therapy even continued outside UCLA. In Kirk’s home his parent’s were told to us poker chips as a system of reward and punishment to make Kirk act more masculine.
Cooper: Do you remember these chips?
Mark: Yes I do. Oh, yes I do.
Cooper: Were you awarded them as well. You got—were you a part of this?
Mark: Yes I was. My parents added me to it so that they could reinforce that big brother’s doing it too so everything’s okay.
Cooper: These are the actual chips?
Mark: Yes, the actual real chips.
Cooper: So the blue chips were for masculine behavior?
Cooper: And the red chips were penalty for feminine behavior?
Cooper: So if Kirk played with one of your dolls he would get a red chip.
Cooper: [narrating] According to George Rekers’ case study the red chips resulted in physical punishment by spanking from the father.
Cooper: Do you remember the beating?
Mark: Oh yes sir, I do. Many times did I move the stacks around.
Cooper: What do you mean?
Mark: [crying] I took some of the red chips and put them on my side. I did see the beatings and it was just like, you know?
Cooper: You would take Kirk’s red chips—
Mark: Yes, sir.
Cooper: Things that he had been given for feminine behavior, you would take them yourself so that he wouldn’t get the beating?
Mark: We would come home from school and it turned into that was the first thing that you did when you walked through the door was that you looked and what was the chip count today? What happened? What changed? And it was always bed. A whipping every Friday night.
KT: I do remember one time he spanked him so hard that he had welts up and down his back and on his buttocks. And I remember Mark saying, “Cry harder and he won’t hit so hard.” Today it would be abuse.
Cooper: [narrating] According to Kirk’s brother and sister his outgoing personality changed, and he began to behave in a way he knew his parents and George Rekers wanted him to. His family says the impact of this experimental therapy lasted his entire life.
Mark: He had no idea how to relate to people. It was like someone just walked up and turned his light switch off, “we got what we wanted and, well, see you later.”
Maris: He actually ate his lunch in the boys bathroom for three years. [crying] Where he didn’t have to put himself out there, even just to have a friend.
Cooper: [narrating] In his case study of the UCLA experiment George Rekers called Kirk “Kraig” to protect his identity. He considered his work with Kirk a success. Writing, “Kraig’s feminine behavior was gone.” Claiming Kraig became “indistinguishable” from any other boy. In numerous other published reports and studies in his nearly three decade career since, George Rekers has continued to write positively about Kirk’s treatment. Using it as proof that homosexuality can be prevented. Kirk’s family has only recently discovered Rekers’ writings and they’re outraged. They say Kirk was gay, but because of the treatment he was subjected to as a child, struggled with his attraction to men his whole life.
Maris: He acknowledged himself as a gay man 1985 on. He never had a committed, loving relationship. Because he wouldn’t allow himself to.
Cooper: [narrating] Unable or unwilling to have a committed relationship with a man, Kirk focused on his work and chose a career where being openly gay wasn’t even possible. He spent eight years in the U.S. Airforce, and then held a high profile position with an American finance company in India.
[Home video] Maris: Kirk what do you think of your nephew?
[Home video] Kirk: Are we on camera? Or just taking pictures?
Cooper: [narrating] This visit home in June of 2003 was the last time Kirk’s family saw him alive. Nearly six months later he took his own life, hanging himself from a fan in his apartment in New Dehli. Kirk Murphy was 38 years old.
Maris: I used to spend so much time thinking, why would he kill himself at the age of thirty-eight? Doesn’t make any sense to me. What I now think is, I don’t know how he made it that long.
Narrator: Keeping them honest every night: AC360. CNN, weeknights 10 Eastern.
Maris: Kirk what do you think of your nephew?
Kirk: Oh we’re on camera? Or just taking pictures?
Cooper: [narrating] Kirk Murphy killed himself nearly six months after this video was taken in 2003. He was 38 years old and had struggled with being gay for most of his life. A struggle his family blames on experimental therapy that Kirk was subjected to as a five year old child. Experimental therapy that identified him as effeminate. A so-called “sissy-boy,” and tried to fundamentally change his behavior. Kirk’s mother enrolled him in the experimental therapy at UCLA in 1970 because of concerns he was playing with girl’s toys.
KT: And I trusted these people because they were supposed to be the experts.
Maris: What they really told him was that the very core of who he was, was broken.
KT: I think that my husband and I and Kirk were manipulated by this program. I think Kirk would have been better off if I hadn’t have taken him.
Cooper: [narrating] Kirk’s family had no idea George Rekers has, for the last three decades, used Kirk as an example of a child who’s effeminate behavior was successfully altered. In numerous publications George Rekers has written about Kirk, calling him “Kraig” to hide his identity.
KT: I blame them for the way his life turned out. If one person causes another person’s death—I don’t care if it’s twenty or fifty years—that’s the same as suicide in my eyes.
Cooper: [narrating] Of course the actual reason someone commits suicide is difficult if not impossible to know. Kirk’s family’s allegations that George Rekers therapy caused Kirk to take his own life are just that—allegations.
CNN Interviewer [sorry, his name is unintelligible]: [says name] I’d like to talk to you about your therapy that you did with “Kraig.”
Cooper: [narrating] George Rekers didn’t respond to CNN’s repeated requests for an interview, so our producers tracked him down in Florida to ask him about the Murphy family’s allegations.
CNN Reporter: Would you just talk to us about your therapy with a patient named “Kraig?”
Rekers: It’s published.
CNN: We’ve interviewed Kraig’s family recently. They say that the therapy you did with him as a child lead directly to his suicide as an adult. What do you say about that?
Rekers: I didn’t know that. That’s too bad.
CNN: You’re not aware of his suicide?
CNN: What do you say to the family if they say that the therapy that you did with him as a child lead to his suicide as an adult?
Rekers: Oh. Well, I think scientifically that would be inaccurate to assume that it was the therapy. But I do grieve for the parents, now that you’ve told me that news. I think that’s very sad.
Cooper: [narrating] Rekers pointed out that his work with Kirk took place decades before his suicide.
Rekers: That’s a long time ago. You have a hypothesis that a positive treatment back in the 1970s had something to do with something happening decades later. That hypothesis would need a lot of scientific investigation to see if it’s valid. Uh, two independent psychologist from me had evaluated him and said he was better adjusted after treatment, so it wasn’t my opinion.
Cooper: [narrating] One of those psychologists has since died. But the other, Larry Furgusen, told us he did evaluate Kirk Murphy as a teenager. He told us the family was well-adjusted, and that he didn’t see any red flags when evaluating Kirk. But a psychiatrist that followed up with Kirk when he was 18, Dr. Richard Green, wrote that Kirk told him he tried to kill himself the year before because he didn’t, quote, “Want to grow up to be gay.”
Cooper: [narrating] Rekers insists the therapy was intended to help Kirk and his parents.
Rekers: I only meant to help. The rationale was positive. To help children, help the parents, who come to us in their distress. Asking questions, “What can we do to help our child be better adjusted?”
Cooper: [narrating] George Rekers has had a nearly three decade career as a champion of the anti-gay movement. In addition to being a founding member of the Family Research Council, he was also a board member of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH. An organization whose members attempt to treat those who struggle with what they call “unwanted homosexuality.” Just last year, however, in a surprising twist George Rekers days as prominent anti-gay activist abruptly ended. Rekers was caught with a young male escort he’d hired to accompany him on a trip to Europe. This photograph was taken of them in the airport in Miami. Rekers says he’s not gay and denies and sexual contact with the escort. He says he hired him to help him carry his luggage. The escort says he gave Rekers “sexual massages” while in Europe. Rekers resigned from NARTH after the scandal, and the Family Research Council says they haven’t had contact with him in over a decade. Rekers’ reputation among those who oppose homosexuality may be tarnished, but his research is still being cited. In this book he co-authored “Handbook of Therapy for Unwanted Homosexual Attractions,” he continues to cite his work with Kirk, whom he calls “Kraig,” as a success. He writes that the case was, quote “The first experimentally demonstrated reversal of a cross-gender identity with psychological treatment.” The book was published in 2009, six years after Kirk Murphy took his own life.
Marisa: The “research” [finger quotes] um, has a post-script to it that needs to be added. And that is to acknowledge that Kirk Andrew Murphy was Kraig, and he was gay, and he committed suicide.
Cooper: What do you want people to remember about Kirk, to know about Kirk?
Marisa: That this was a little boy. Who deserved protection, respect, and unconditional love. And I don’t want him to be remembered as a science experiment. He was a person.