Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Lives Destroyed by George A. Rekers, Founding Member of the Family Research Council

This is a sad story about mother who saw George A. Rekers (a founding member of the Family Research Council, a "faith-based" - read: radical fundamentalists - organization whose mission is largely to oppose equality for LGBT people) on television promoting the misguided and destructive idea that he could make effeminate boys into manly men.

So she took her 5-year old son, Kirk, to see Rekers. Kirk went on to put himself through school, have a successful 8-year career in the Air Force, and to land a good job with a finance company. Then, at age 38, with seemingly everything to live for, he killed himself.

This should NEVER happen - we should never fear who are children are (short of sociopathic behaviors), and we should never try to reshape their gender identity.

Therapy to change 'feminine' boy created a troubled man, family says

June 07, 2011|By Scott Bronstein and Jessi Joseph, CNN

In the 1970s, Kirk Murphy, left, underwent experimental therapy to change his feminine behavior. At age 38, he committed suicide.

Kirk Andrew Murphy seemed to have everything to live for.

He put himself through school. He had a successful 8-year career in the Air Force. After the service, he landed a high profile position with an American finance company in India.

But in 2003 at age 38, Kirk Murphy took his own life.

A co-worker found him hanging from the fan of his apartment in New Delhi. His family has struggled for years to understand what happened.

"I used to spend so much time thinking, why would he kill himself at the age of 38? It doesn't make any sense to me," said Kirk's sister, Maris Murphy. "What I now think is I don't know how he made it that long."

After Kirk's death, Maris started a search that would uncover a dark family secret. That secret revealed itself during a phone conversation with her older brother Mark, who mentioned his distrust of any kind of therapy.

"Don't you remember all that crap we went through at UCLA?" he asked her. Maris was too young to remember the details, but Mark remembered it vividly as a low point in their lives.

Wanting a 'normal life'

Kirk Murphy was a bright 5-year-old boy, growing up near Los Angeles in the 1970s. He was the middle child, with big brother Mark, 8, and little sister Maris, just a baby at 9 months. Their mother, Kaytee Murphy, remembers Kirk's kind nature, "He was just very intelligent, and a sweet, sweet, child." But she was also worried.

"Well, I was becoming a little concerned, I guess, when he was playing with dolls and stuff," she said. "Playing with the girls' toys, and probably picking up little effeminate, well, like stroking the hair, the long hair and stuff. It just bothered me that maybe he was picking up maybe too many feminine traits." She said it bothered her because she wanted Kirk to grow up and have "a normal life."

Then Kaytee Murphy saw a psychologist on local television.

"He was naming all of these things; 'If your son is doing five of these 10 things, does he prefer to play with girls' toys instead of boys' toys?' Just things like this," she said.

The doctor was on TV that day, recruiting boys for a government-funded program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Well, him being the expert, I thought, maybe I should take Kirk in," said Kaytee Murphy. "In other words, nip it in the bud, before it got started any further."

Kirk becomes 'Kraig'

Kaytee Murphy took Kirk to UCLA, where he was treated largely by George A. Rekers, a doctoral student at the time.

Karl Bryant, a professor of women's and gender studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz, was also taken to UCLA as a child, as a part of a different study of effeminate boys.

Bryant said he thinks the more tragic part of Kirk's story is people "trying to do something good, trying to help ... even in a misguided mode, who end up producing these negative outcomes for people."

Bryant has studied the history of work done with children with opposite-sex behavior extensively, and said the studies are complex.

"I never have -- had tried to kill myself or thought that I was going to kill myself," said Bryant. "But I could identify with that pain of -- of feeling like you want to be something and other people want you to be something that you aren't."

'Unwanted homosexuality'

Rekers, who conducted the therapy on Kirk, went on to build a career of influence based on the premise from his research that homosexuality can be prevented.

He became a founding member of the Family Research Council, a faith-based organization that lobbies against gay-rights issues. Rekers was also on the board of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization of scientists that says its mission is to offer treatment to those who struggle with what they call "unwanted homosexuality."

"He's viewed as an expert by some, you know, when it's -- when it serves their purposes," said Bryant. "So, you know, basically, conservative and what I would call mostly 'fringe' groups have really, you know, Rekers as their poster boy."

Just last year, Rekers' days as an anti-gay champion would come to an end. He hired a male escort to accompany him on his trip to Europe.

Rekers denies any sexual contact with the male escort. Rekers says he's not gay. He claims he wasn't aware that his companion offered sexual favors for sale over the Internet until after the trip, and says he hired him only to carry his bags. But the reporters who broke the story about Rekers' trip say they saw Rekers pushing a luggage cart through a Miami airport, where they took his photo.

After the scandal broke, Rekers resigned from NARTH. And the Family Research Council said in a statement they hadn't had contact with Rekers in "over a decade."

His reputation among those who oppose homosexuality may be tarnished, but his research is still being cited in books and journals.

As recently as 2009, a book Rekers co-authored, "Handbook of Therapy for Unwanted Homosexual Attractions," cites Kraig's case as a success. That was six years after Kirk Murphy took his own life.

For Maris Murphy, there is more to the story than what was written in case studies about her brother.

"The research has a postscript that needs to be added," she said. "That is that Kirk Andrew Murphy was Kraig and he was gay, and he committed suicide."

"I want people to remember that this was a little boy who deserved protection, respect and unconditional love," his sister said. "I don't want him to be remembered as a science experiment. He was a person."

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