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.


Ben in Oakland

September 26th, 2013

Seeking testimonials that it “works”? I thought there were 27 rounded up to the nearest 100,000, or even zillions, of people who had left the “lifestyle”! They have first hand experience at changing people. They said so!

Apparently, the first hand doesn’t know what the last hand is doing.

Do they really not have testimonials out the wazoo? Were the people they helped so ungrateful for the help? Or are they just so stupid that it never occurred to them that someday someone might want to see some proof, and not just the same 27 paid shills?

Michael C

September 26th, 2013

Dear Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Ex-Gay Counselor, Please allow me to introduce to you my good friend, Science.

With the aid of my good friend, you need not rely solely on anecdotal evidence! By merely utilizing techniques already thoroughly vetted, you have the opportunity to quash the doubts of even the most emphatic of adversaries.

What causes your pause? Why do you not rely on my good friend’s trusted processes? If you have truth on your side, Science will only aid you in your “medical” pursuits.

Timothy Kincaid

September 26th, 2013

They have a problem.

You can get testimonials aplenty for those who have been “changed by the transforming power of Jesus Christ”.

Devout believers, well, believe. Devoutly. And intense faith has the power to convince one that what one very much wants to be true, and is bound by faith to see as being true, really does appear to be true.

For a while, anyway.

But Jonah and People Can Change are not based on Christian devotion. One is Jewish and the other secular and neither is really heavy into the miraculous.

So it’s going to be much more difficult for them. Sure they have those who want to be changed, even feel like they are in the process of change, and those who enjoy the retreats and counseling and whose lives are more stable.

But they have the same problem Exodus had, without the help of sincere self-delusion and party-line belief.

bill johnson

September 26th, 2013

So what they really need are accounts from people who have gone through these programs, have changed, and are willing to personally identify with that change. That’s what they need but look at how he first opens the door to anonymous testimonials, which are completely worthless as proof. I mean for all we know if there are 10 anonymous testimonials submitted all 10 of those could have been written by Rich Wyler himself. Plus testimonials that are supposed to say “look at how great this thing is, I’m so glad I did it” doesn’t really have the same effect when the person doesn’t even want to associate their name with it.

Next Rich Wyler opens the door to testimonials from people who haven’t experienced any change yet but are happy with the program thus far, again completely useless for trying to demonstrate that they can deliver change to their clients.

So really this says a lot about his lack of faith that they will be able to find people who have experienced change, and in fact he has so little faith in that happening that he has to open the door to anonymous reports, or people who haven’t even experienced any change yet.

That’s the problem with ex-gays, every time they set out to prove that they have “many” who have experienced change they end up demonstrating the exact opposite.

Neon Genesis

September 26th, 2013

Is it just me or does the phrase “non-sexual same gender bonding” come across as protesting too loudly?


September 26th, 2013

Bill Johnson just got a cover-all BINGO!

Well said!

Timothy Kincaid

September 27th, 2013

Next Rich Wyler opens the door to testimonials from people who haven’t experienced any change yet but are happy with the program thus far, again completely useless for trying to demonstrate that they can deliver change to their clients.

I love my new cake and french fries diet. I haven’t lost any weight on it, but I’ve had a positive experience over all.

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