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Posts for September, 2013

Ex-Gay Group Soliciting Positive Testimonials To Defend Against Lawsuit

Jim Burroway

September 25th, 2013

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.

Alan Downing

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:

Rich Wyler

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.

 

Jewish Press Publishes Op-Ed About Ex-Gay Abuses

Jim Burroway

January 26th, 2012

The Jewish Press, a conservative newspaper which has published advertisements for the Jewish ex-gay group JONAH, this morning published an op-ed by Chaim Levin detailing the abuses he experienced while participating in ex-gay therapy. Levin wrote in response to another op-ed by Elliot Resnick published six months ago in The Jewish Press, “Orthodox Homosexuals and the Pursuit of Self Indulgence,” in which, without mentioning Levin’s name, Resnick responded to Levin’s “It Gets Better” video by saying that he should learn to suffer in silence. In this responding op-ed, Levin describes what Resnick believes he should remain silent over:

The worst part of my experience in reparative therapy came at the end. In a locked office, alone with my unlicensed “life coach,” I was told to undress, stand in front of the counselor and do things too graphic to describe in this article. I was extremely uncomfortable, but he said that I must do this for the sake of changing and that if I didn’t remove my clothing I wouldn’t be doing the work it takes to achieve change. I would do anything to change, and so I did what he asked me to do. It was probably the most traumatizing experience of my life.

I tried to tell people what happened, but the organization said it wasn’t true and refused to fire the life coach. But I have spoken to other men whom underwent the same experience. And I can only imagine how many other young men who this has happened to who have not yet come forward. One of the most frustrating aspects was that because this coach is not licensed by any professional board, he is unaccountable to any licensing committee. Since I was over eighteen and agreed to this kind of therapy, I am told that I have no legal recourse. But I do have my voice! Yet, even after coming forward with what happened, nothing has changed. I often hear that this therapy has helped people, that it is wonderful, but I wonder, how helpful can an organization be when it causes great suffering and pain to many who come to them for hope.

Two weeks ago, JONAH founder Arthur Goldberg admitted and defended the practice of asking clients to undress, but denied that anyone was asked to touch their genitals.

Levin lays out the evidence for homophobia in the Orthodox community, citing the recent Torah Declaration case for “perpetuat(ing) the notion that all homosexuals in the Orthodox community must change in reparative therapy. …Unlike these other statements, it does not allow those for whom this kind of therapy is harmful or not working to seek other options. It kills me that this Torah Declaration will be used by parents to force their children into therapies that may be harmful to them.” He also mentions a grass roots Orthodox support community, JQYouth, who he says “saved my life.”

Ex-Gay Leader Admits To “Naked Therapy” Within His Organization

Jim Burroway

January 12th, 2012

In 2010, two former ex-gay clients of an unlicensed therapist associated with JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) came forward to describe a “psychological striptease” in which their ex-gay therapist had them strip and touch their genitals as part of their ex-gay “therapy.” The therapist, Alan Downing, who admits that he is still attracted to men, has declined to comment. But in an article published in the New York-based The Jewish Week last December, JONAH founder Arthur Goldberg both admitted and defended the practice of asking clients to undress, but denied that anyone was asked to touch their genitals:

On very rare occasions, for those suffering from “severe body image issues,” a JONAH therapist may have asked a client to undress, but only with three people present in the room, said the group’s founder, Arthur Goldberg.

“As far as I’m aware,” a JONAH therapist has never asked a client to touch himself during a session, he said. (Former ex-gay client Chaim) Levin said there were no witnesses in the room with him and Downing and that the door was locked.

Downing is a therapist for the Jonah Institute for Gender Affirmation and is 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.

In February 2010, it was revealed that Arthur Goldberg had been convicted as a Wall Street swindler in 1989.

Ex-Gay “Life Coach” Accused of Sexual Impropriety

Jim Burroway

July 19th, 2010

Alan Downing

Truth Wins Out released a video today featuring two former clients of “ex-gay” life coach Alan Downing who allege that as part of their “therapy”, Downing made them undress in front of a mirror and touch their bodies while the older therapist watched. The two former clients, Ben Unger and Chaim Levin, liken the sessions to a “psychological striptease” say they were harmed by what they consider unprofessional behavior and sexual misconduct.

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According to a statement from Truth Wins Out:

Downing, who admits he is still attracted to men, is a major player in the “ex-gay” industry and a practitioner of so-called “reparative therapy”. He is the lead therapist for Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH) and is listed on the People Can Change website as a “Senior Trainer” for Journey into Manhood, which is a controversial “ex-gay” backwoods retreat designed to supposedly make gay men more masculine.

For more background information on Journey Into Manhood, you can read about journalist Ted Cox’s undercover report here where he describes some of the group’s homoerotic “therapy” techniques.

JONAH is headed by Arthur Abba Goldberg, who was revealed last February as having been convicted of a Wall Street swindle in 1989. He was convicted of a conspiracy to defraud the United States in a scheme to sell fake bonds to cash-strapped cities. Goldberg founded JONAH after serving his eighteen-month prison sentence.

In the latest video, Ungar and Levin describe their “therapy” sessions with Downing:

“He was encouraging me, ‘it’s okay Ben, you can take your shirt off’…here was a man that was much older than me, and I was around 20,” said Ben Unger, a former client of Alan Downing. “At that point, I was just staring at a mirror with my shirt off and he was right behind me staring at the mirror with me at my body. Then telling me to look at my body and feel my body. It was weird.”

“While I was standing there without my clothes on, he asked me to touch my genitals,” says former Downing client Chaim Levin. “Once again, I communicated that I was not comfortable with it. And he was like, you know, ‘just feel yourself. Just feel it for a second. So, you can grasp your masculinity physically.’”