Posted at 01:22 PM ET, 06/10/2011

Family of Kirk Murphy says ‘sissy boy’ experiment led to his suicide


A photo of Kirk Murphy shown during a special report on “Anderson Cooper 360.” (Screen grab from CNN)
Kirk Murphy liked to play with “girls’ toys” when he was 5 years old. His mother thought a psychologist could change this.

“Well, I was becoming a little concerned, I guess, when he was playing with dolls and stuff,” Kaytee Murphy told Anderson Cooper on CNN. “It just bothered me that maybe he was picking up maybe too many feminine traits.”

Murphy’s mother enrolled him in a government-funded experiment at UCLA in the 1970s, where he was treated by doctoral student George A. Rekers. After 10 months of formal treatment, which included physical punishment, Rekers said Murphy no longer exhibited feminine behavior and had been successfully treated.

But in a special report on “Anderson Cooper 360,” Murphy’s family claimed this treatment led to his suicide at age 38.

Murphy’s mother, brother and sister described the treatment as “severe.” Murphy, who was called “Kraig” in the case study, was monitored and rewarded for playing with masculine toys. If he played with feminine toys, his father was instructed to “spank” him, sometimes with a belt. Murphy’s mother said that what happened to her son “would be abuse” by today’s standards.

His siblings said the experiment changed Murphy’s personality. “It left Kirk just totally stricken with the belief that he was broken, that he was different from everybody else,” his sister Maris said. As a gay adult, Murphy spent eight years in the Air Force and had a finance job in India. But his family said he was unable to maintain a relationship.

While the family believes that the experiment led to Murphy’s death, Rekers, who became a leader in the ex-gay movement, has cited his case as a success in his future work.

If Rekers name sounds familiar to you, it could be from a big scandal in 2010. He was accused of having an affair with a male escort from the Web site Rentboy.com. Rekers denied that the relationship was inappropriate, saying the man was his “travel assistant,” but he did resign from the board of ex-gay group, NARTH.

When CNN informed Rekers that Murphy had killed himself, he expressed his sympathy but said there is no evidence to support that the experiment was related to his death.

“I only meant to help, do the best I could with the parents, and I’ve written articles you can look up, too, on the rationale for our treatment. And 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?’ ” Rekers said.

There are many groups that believe that being gay is a behavior that can be corrected, and offer treatment. One such group, Love In Action, came under fire in 2005 for their camp Refuge, which promised to change sexual orientation. Camper Zach Stark was sent to the camp by his parents and posted disturbing messages on his blog. While at the camp, Stark wrote that “all I can think about is killing my mother and myself. It's so horrible.” The camp was closed in 2007.

This May, a woman in Georgia filed a lawsuit against the Bartow County Sheriff’s Department, claiming she was harassed and kidnapped by an officer who took issue with her lesbian relationship. The officer allegedly ignored orders to take Amanda Booker for court-ordered drug treatment, instead taking her to the home of ex-gay “evangelists.”

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By  |  01:22 PM ET, 06/10/2011

 
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