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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.


Undercover At Ex-Gay Camp

Jim Burroway

December 5th, 2009

Last summer, we mentioned Ted Cox, a straight man who decided to go undercover into the ex-gay world posing as a gay man conflicted over his sexuality. One of the programs he attended was called Journey Into Manhood. Ted tried to write about it last August for the (Salt Lake) City Weekly, but the paper backed down when Journey Into Manhood threatened to sue over a non-disclosure agreement that Ted had signed.

Today, AlterNet published an interview with Ted, in which he describes his experiences in the ex-gay movement. In particular, he describes his time with Journey Into Manhood:

At first, I was very confused and then I became amused. But as the weekend wore on, I became really angry and sad. I was angry because I feel these men are being lied to; they’re being charged $650 for a system that, I think, does not work. I feel [these men] are victims of religious abuse and being told that there is something wrong about their fundamental identity, that they are committing a grievous sin if a man acts on what comes naturally to him. That made me angry.

I saw one man distraught that he was damaging his own sons, that they would end up gay because he was not enough of a man. And I wanted to just hug him, and tell him, “It’s OK, it’s alright. So what if your kids turn out gay? And you can’t turn them gay.” I became sad because I saw men reenact traumatic events from their childhood. The paperwork tells you [camp staff members] are not acting as professionals so you have no idea how ethical this is, how safe — psychologically — any of these programs are. I felt sad that their pain was being used to exploit them to make them feel like that was the reason they were gay.

As we’ve reported before, much of the ex-gay theories center around blaming fathers for their sons’ homosexuality. I have also experienced heart-wrenching personal conversations with fathers at ex-gay conferences beating themselves up over their supposed failures as fathers. While I attended the Exodus “Freedom Conference” in Irvine, California, I talked with one father who came to tears over his teenage son’s revelation that he was gay. Unfortunately, as a condition of attending the conference, I was unable to say to that father what Ted Cox wanted to say. All I could do was remind him of what a great relationship he must have with his son that his son would trust him enough to reveal himself that way rather than continuing to hide it. Obviously, I was imensely dissatisfied with that, and have thought about that father many times since then. It wasn’t what the father really needed to hear, but he did take my words to heart and took some comfort in them. It was a very sad and poignant moment. I really felt the pain that father felt, and was angry with the entire ex-gay message because I saw the pain it brought to a lot of good families. Ted’s characterizing it as exploitation is right on the mark.

So, why did Ted break his confidentiality agreement?

I had to. If I don’t talk about this, this is going to keep happening. I met one man who is married and has children and he would go online to hook up with other men and he was having anonymous sex with strangers and then going home to his wife. Another man was married and making phone calls to gay-sex chat lines and his daughter discovered the bill. A lot of these men are living lies and it affects themselves, their wives, their children. I can’t stay silent about this. I feel like there’s a greater good in talking about this and exposing what’s going on. [Hyperlinks in the original]

Ex-Gay Group Threatens Legal Action To Keep Secrets Hidden

Jim Burroway

August 27th, 2009

Perennially straight writer Ted Cox has taken up an interest in ex-gay groups, and decided to go undercover for a weekend “Journey Into Manhood” seminar by the group People Can Change. Journey Into Manhood is one of those weekend manhood warrier-in-the-woods exercise that is supposed to put participants in touch with their masculine side and, thus, reduce their same-sex attractions. People Can Change claim an astounding 79% success rate, in which they define success as a decrease in same-sex attractions. People Can Change’s claims, like those of other snake-oil sale pitches, have not been subjected to peer review or outside scrutiny.

But when Cox was ready to submit his story for publication in the (Salt Lake) City Weekly, JiM founder and life coach Rich Wyler quickly intervened, urging City Weekly not to run Cox\’s story because Cox signed a confidentiality agreement barring him from speaking about the weekend,” according to the paper. Instead, the City Weekly published a two-question almost non-informative interview with Cox in which the reader learns almost nothing and must wonder why the paper chose to publish the interview in the first place — except that People Can Change has things they want to hide, and the only way to discover what their doing with their clients is to go undercover:

And the reason you have to go undercover is because there is no other way to find out what\’s going on. These organizations cloud themselves with secrecy; everything is hidden—it\’s blocked; it\’s behind confidentiality agreements. How do we know if what Wyler is doing is ethical unless someone can take a look at it and critique it?

Cox discovered Journey Into Manhood when he learned that Richard Cohen endorsed it. Journey Into Manhood is based on similar to the New Warriors Training Adventure put on by the gay-affirming Mankind Project. According to reports, the Mankind Project has decided this year to move toward transparency following the suicide of a NWTA participant in 2007.

Why Pay $550 To Change?

Jim Burroway

July 13th, 2006

The ex-gay therapy group “People Can Change” have issued a press release touting a survey they conducted to understand what motivates gay men who undergo sexual reorientation therapy. According to the press release:

According to conventional wisdom, the answer is inevitably “internalized homophobia” or societal pressure.

But a new survey of almost 200 same-sex-attracted men who are pursuing change paints a very different picture: Out of 18 possible motivations listed in the survey, outside pressure was the least frequently cited motivating factor reported by the 189 survey respondents.

The report carries the unwieldy title, “Why Change? Survey of Men With Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions of the Factors Motivating Their Desire to Change” (PDF: 117KB/26 pages). The 189 survey respondents were out of approximately 1,100 registered participants in People Can Change’s online discussion forums. That calculates out to an exceptionally low 17% response rate — one of the lowest response rates I’ve ever seen in a survey.

With such a low response rate, one might ask why so many declined to participate in the first place. Did they look over the questionnaire and decide the questions or responses didn’t really apply to them? Were they put off by it somehow? One might also ask how different the results might have been if that 83% had participated. With such an exceptionally low response rate, it’s very important to ask questions like these.

But that doesn’t appear to bother the folks at People Can Change, since they apparently got what they wanted. The results pretty much echo everything most ex-gay therapists and ministries say about gay men, which makes this survey essentially a marketing survey — to verify their messages are resonating with their clients.

And resonate they do. Why did these men want to change? The top ten answers given were straight out of the ex-gay theorists’ cookbook (respondents could choose more than one answer):

1) Want to heal emotional wounds (91% identified this answer as a motivating factor): “I believe my SSA feelings are as a result of past emotional hurts and bad experiences…”

2) Values (90%): “Homosexuality conflicts with my deeply held values and beliefs.”

3) Expectations of unhappiness (90%): “I believe I can never truly be happy living a gay lifestyle.”

4) Spirituality (87%):Regardless of what any religion teaches [emphasis mine], I feel God wants me to turn away from homosexuality, and/or I feel more peaceful spiritually when I turn away from homosexuality.”

5) Male friendships (86%): “I want to be able to have “normal’ male friendships.”

6) Conscience (86%): “Living a gay life just feels wrong to me.”

7) Family (85%): “I want to have a wife and children, or I want to hold together an existing marriage and family.”

8) Masculinity (85%): “I want feel more manly, like a regular guy, and for me that is a heterosexual man.”

9) Compulsiveness (85%): “For me, homosexuality is or was addictive, compulsive, obsessive, and/or self-destructive.”

10) Religion (84%): “My religious faith (religious community, faith tradition, scripture) tells me that homosexuality is wrong.”

Other motivational factors included depression or dissatisfaction (84%), wanting increased heterosexual interest (80%), identity (“my homosexual feelings don’t feel like who I really am inside”; 78%), shame (73%), fear of rejection (65%), gay relationships (could not or didn’t believe “I could find a lasting, meaningful relationship with a man”; 56%), fear of disease (56%) and outside pressure (55%).

Now, I don’t know how they can say that this proves that “internalized homophobia” is not a factor. Depending on how you define it, several of these answers could easily be recognized as “a prejudice carried by individuals against homosexual manifestations in themselves and others, [causing] severe discomfort with or disapproval of one’s own sexual orientation.” You know, prejudice that says that homosexuality is the result of an “emotional wound,” or that homosexuality is incompatible with decency and values, or that it is impossible to be gay and, well, gay.

But that’s okay for People Can Change. After all, it means that because they have found a small number of their members willing to echo their organization’s talking points, they don’t have to change their literature. But more importantly, this little marketing survey shows that they can continue to charge $550 per person to attend one of their workshops, with the enticement of moving on to a more advanced workshop for an minimum $200 deposit.

And life-change coaching services. Don’t forget about that.