California’s ban on youth gay-to-straight therapy sparks controversy

By Joshua Ballard, Staff Writer

One chip. Two chip. Red chip. Blue chip.

That is apparently what makes a feminine boy more masculine.

Kirk Murphy was a young boy growing up in California in 1970 when his mother noticed him exhibiting “effeminate mannerisms.”

His mother, Kaytee, took Kirk to the University of California Los Angeles where he participated in experimental therapy in an attempt to, as she put it in a CNN interview last year, “nip it (the effeminate behavior) in the bud.”

All because she just “wanted Kirk to grow up and have a normal life.”

Kirk Murphy, Age 8.

While in therapy, according the same CNN interview—a 2011 Anderson Cooper 360 special entitled “The Sissy Boy Experiment”—Kirk sat in a room with two tables, one with “girls toys” and another with “boys toys.”

If he played with any of the feminine objects, Kaytee was told to ignore him. Kurt tried to get his mother’s attention by any means, and sometimes had to forcibly be removed from the room when the methods he used to get his mother’s attention became too drastic.

At home, red and blue poker chips represented either bad feminine behavior or good masculine behavior, respectively.  The red chips brought about physical punishment for Kirk, whilst the blue brought with them candy and other rewards.

According to Kirk’s family, the therapy seemed to work.  Kirk went on to live the “normal life” his mother had hoped for. He served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years and then went on to work with an American finance company in India.

It was there, at the age of 38, Kirk took his own life.

Though this therapy took place during the 1970s, there is still a prevalent ideal that therapy like the one Kirk went through can “correct” homosexual behavior.

Nine years after Kirk’s suicide, California has finally banned the practice of such gay-to-straight conversion therapies.

“This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide,” said California Governor Jerry Brown in a statement for the Los Angeles Times. “These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

However, a number of Republican lawmakers, as well as other organizations feel that the bill is an infringement on parents’ rights to raise their children however they want.

Christopher Rosik, president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, was “saddened” by the news. “Citizens and especially parents should know the indifference that supporters of this bill have toward their freedom of choice,” he said in a statement to the L.A. Times.

It is this right to choose, for religious reasons or otherwise, that lies at the center of the debate.

Sally Helm, a Los Angeles native currently studying at Yale, recounts an experience she had hearing a speaker talk about his positive experience with gay-to-straight conversion therapy.

“He said it was a choice he wanted to make for religious reasons, because he couldn’t reconcile his homosexual feelings with the laws in the Bible,” she said in an email interview. “He didn’t deny that he was gay, but he said he didn’t want to act that way.”

Yet, Helm sees good coming from this ban.

“I’ve thought of us (California) as trendsetters for causes like gay rights and environmental protection,” she said. “I definitely hope other states follow our example.”

Senior Psychology major Phil Hong shares Helm’s opinion.

“In regards to the ban, I think it is long due for the state of California, and for people as a whole. It takes America a step forwards towards recognizing and respecting the LGBTQ community.”

However, the law comes too little too late for Kirk.

“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,” Maris Murphy, Kirk’s sister said to CNN. “What I now think is I don’t know how he made it that long.”

Kirk Murphy – photo from the Washington Post.
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