Rich Wyler, director of of the ex-gay group People Can Change, has sent out an email to address what he calls an “urgent need for first-person testimonials, to help defend against (a) lawsuit.” The lawsuit in question was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of four former clients and two of the parents, against JONAH (an ex-gay group for Jews), its founder Arthur Goldberg, and counselor Alan Downing, alleging that they committed fraud in claiming to be able to cure clients of the gay.
Two of the former clients in the lawsuit, Benjamin Ungar and Chaim Levin, described some of the so-called therapies that Downing conducted, which included encouraging Ungar and Levin (separately) to undress and touch their genitals with Downing present. Levin complied, but Ungar resisted (as did another client, according to the complaint). Downing, who has admitted to still being attracted to men, has also included cuddling and hugging as part of his therapy. Goldberg later admitted admitted, and defended, the practice of asking clients to undress, but he denied that anyone was asked to touch their genitals. In February 2010, it was revealed that Arthur Goldberg had been convicted as a Wall Street swindler in 1989.
The lawsuit also alleges that Downing led his clients through verbally abusive exercises in which clients were directed to either act out or stage traumatic events using other clients as actors in the “psychodrama.”
Downing, in addition to being a counselor for JONAH, is also listed on the People Can Change website as a “Senior Facilitator” for Journey into Manhood, which is a controversial “ex-gay” backwoods retreat designed to supposedly make gay men more masculine. That retreat also includes communal cuddling and other homoerotic exercises.
It’s apparently because of Downing’s connection with People Can Change that Wyler has decided to try to come to JONAH’s rescue with his urgent email:
We need your help!
There is an urgent need for numerous first-person testimonials demonstrating that, yes, some people really have reduced or eliminated their same-sex attractions through deliberate interventions like gender-affirming counseling, experiential weekend programs, supportive religious ministries, non-sexual same-gender bonding, etc.
We especially need testimonials from people who are willing to use their real names; however, anonymous testimonials are needed and very welcome, as well.
Even if you are still on the “journey” and haven’t yet experienced significant change — or at least not a reduction in unwanted same-sex attractions — your answers in support of voluntary change efforts could still be very helpful.
Also, if you’ve had positive experiences overall with counseling, experiential training/retreats, SSA ministries, etc., your answers could be very helpful.
The email then includes an individualized link to a Survey Monkey questionnaire of approximately twenty questions, including a mix of multiple choice and free-form text, asking respondents about their experiences in trying to change their sexual orientation. It also asks about the client’s religious affiliation, type of therapist (professional, counselor, minister, life coach, etc.) and the degree to which the respondent feels that he has changed. The email then continued with its explanation for why they were collecting this information:
Now here’s some background leading to this request: The SSA support organization JONAH has been hit with a politically motivated lawsuit alleging that supposedly no one with same-sex attractions (SSA) can ever diminish, reduce or alter those attractions, and therefore JONAH’s claim that change is ever possible allegedly constitutes consumer fraud.
In our first-hand experience at People Can Change, this is absurd.
If this lawsuit succeeds, every counselor, nonprofit organization or religious ministry that serves SSA men and women who seek to change will be targeted next.
To help inoculate the cause against these kinds of false allegations, and to help support JONAH in its lawsuit, People Can Change is collecting first-person testimonials of men and women who have experienced a meaningful reduction in unwanted same-sex attractions and/or an increase in opposite-sex attractions.
We are also seeking testimonials from people who can personally attest to the efficacy of such interventions as psychodrama, “guts work,” or emotional-release processes such as those often used on experiential weekends or trainings.
Please help! Please answer this questionnaire, and forward it to others, as well, who may also be able to testify of the reality of sexual orientation change efforts.