Showing posts with label Conversion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conversion. Show all posts

October 16, 2017

In Brazil Judge Ok's Conversion Therapy and Gay Rights Seem To Be Washing Away

A recent court ruling has opened a fierce debate in Brazil about the use of controversial practices to make people become heterosexual.
Last month, a Brazilian federal judge decided psychologists could perform “conversion therapy,” a widely discredited practice meant to change a person's sexual orientation.
The so-called therapy has also caused controversy in the US, where a growing number of states are outlawing the practice. But while the US has never taken a federal stance on it, Brazil’s Federal Council of Psychology banned the practice back in 1999.
That didn’t stop a group of 23 evangelical psychologists from carrying out the “treatment.” Leading member Rozangela Alves Justino describes herself as a “missionary” who is “directed by God to help people who are homosexual.” She lost her license for continuing to perform the therapy and then brought her case to court.
Judge Waldemar Cláudio de Carvalho’s ruling means that Justino and her colleagues can resume their work.
“We consider it a huge setback to have to reaffirm, in the 21st century, that homosexuality is not a disease, disorder or perversion,” Brazil’s psychology council said in a statement following the judge’s decision.

Just want ‘to help people who come with a desire to change’

Justino has defended the practice on the basis that her patients are uncomfortable with their sexuality. “I think it’s cruel to be a person who wants to help and to be gagged, unable to help people who come with a desire to change,” she said in a 2009 interview. Neither Carvalho nor Justino have issued statements since the Sept. 15 ruling.
“All reputable psychiatric and psychological associations have condemned this practice as utterly unethical,” Graeme Reid, head of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT division, told PRI. “People who are offering these services are acting contrary to world medical opinion. It reveals the prejudice that gives drive to this kind of so-called treatment.”
Brazil has long had a gay-friendly reputation. It’s one of the world’s largest nations to recognize same-sex marriage. But that’s just part of the story. LGBT individuals here also suffer discrimination, violent attacks or other serious problems leading to suicide. Today, researchers say the growing power of evangelical Christian groups is fueling prejudice and intolerance in the country’s political, professional and cultural circles. Increasingly, those outside of the heteronormative or religious mainstream are becoming targets for intolerance. 
Carvalho’s decision represents a second setback for LGBT Brazilians in September alone. On Sept. 11, one of Porto Alegre’s biggest art museums made the decision to close a queer art exhibition following a barrage of threats from right-wing protesters, who also harassed museumgoers. Among their claims, protesters from the evangelical-backed Movimento Brasil Livre say the exhibition promoted pedophilia, blasphemy and bestiality.
Although the ruling and the museum closure were both bloodless, they represent a subtle erasure of LGBTQ rights to public space and participation. Jurema Werneck, director of Amnesty International in Brazil, said the country should do more to uphold its citizens’ constitutional rights. “These debates make explicit the vulnerable situation of the LGBT population, particularly the trans population,” she said.
Angelo Brandelli Costa, a researcher at Porto Alegre’s Catholic University who specializes in LGBT psychology and homophobia, says Brazil is lagging. Where other countries have put in place social inclusion programs, he says, Brazil is still struggling to uphold basic human rights — such as safety on the street — for LGBT people.
“Public space for debate is taken by conservatives, who use the space for discussing repressive measures when we should be looking at protective measures,” Costa said in a phone interview.
Brazil’s second-largest television network, owned by a conservative evangelical bishop, has helped elect 24 current congressmen in Brasilia. And at local levels, powerful Pentecostal and Baptist churches are gaining influence in city and state governments across the country, posing a challenge to secular moderates but also to other members of the clergy in what’s traditionally been considered the world’s largest Catholic nation.
Costa added, “The biggest danger is that we are losing time debating what has already been consolidated in scientific literature when we should be debating protective measures.”

Deadly year for LGBTs

International health experts and rights advocates have broadly denounced conversion therapy, also sometimes called “reparative therapy.” The World Health Organization said it promises “‘cures’ for an illness that does not exist.” And the American Psychiatric Association has cautioned about the risks for patients who receive it, including depression and self-destruction.
United Nations research points out that suicide rates are higher among those who suffer discrimination — a phenomenon that Costa further backs up with research. “In comparison to heterosexuals, LGBT youth from low-income backgrounds are hugely vulnerable to suicide,” he said. “It’s clear that this prejudice and discrimination has an effect on victims, with the rise in suicides and depression, and that the larger visibility of contrary groups causes this effect for the victims.”
This year may end up being the deadliest year researchers have ever recorded for LGBTs in Brazil.
Suicides are taken into account in the deaths recorded by Grupo Gay da Bahia, a nongovernmental watchdog, although they are far outnumbered by gruesome murders. The NGO, which is the only Brazil-based organization monitoring crimes against LGBT in the country, recorded 343 violent LGBT deaths in 2016 — approximately one every 25 hours. So far in 2017, Grupo Gay da Bahia has already recorded more than 300 related deaths.
The group’s founder and coordinator Luiz Mott called the increase “very worrying.”
Mott also pointed to the refusal of certain local leaders, including Rio de Janeiro’s evangelical Mayor Marcelo Crivella, to support gay pride parades. “All of this reflects an increase in intolerance, which unfortunately could further increase the number of lethal crimes,” he said. 
Crivella, who was the bishop of a controversial megachurch, wrote in the past that homosexuality was a “terrible evil,” but later apologized for that characterization during the campaign for Rio mayor.
He has funded an office of sexual diversity that’s coordinating smaller gay pride parades in neighborhoods across Rio now that city funding has been withdrawn for the flagship parade in Copacabana.
A participant performs on a giant rainbow flag during a Gay Pride Parade at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on Nov. 16, 2014.
A participant performs on a giant rainbow flag during a Gay Pride Parade at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on Nov. 16, 2014.
Sergio Moraes/Reuters
However, on Oct. 1, Crivella’s office posted a video on social media showing the mayor promising a group that the queer art show would make its way to Rio “only if it’s at the bottom of the sea.” The Rio Art Museum, known as the MAR, which receives funding from the city government, has since decided not to host the exhibition.
Researcher Costa says that rollbacks to LGBT rights are a casualty of Brazilian evangelicals’ aim to raise their profile and sway on national politics.
The group’s congressional bloc also played a key role in supporting last year’s impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff for budgetary crimes.
“With the end of a left government in power, these progressive issues end up stuck as a part of a leftist agenda,” Costa said. “With the current political polarization, LGBT issues end up lost as well.”

July 5, 2017

Gay Chinese Man Has Won an $Apology$ over Forced Conversion Therapy

A gay man in central China has won an apology and compensation from a mental hospital over forced conversion therapy, reports say.

The man, identified only by his surname Yu, had been admitted by his wife and relatives to the hospital in the town of Zhumadian in Henan province in 2015.

He was forced to take medicine and have injections over 19 days.
But the court found that forcing him into a mental institution if he did not pose a danger infringed his rights.

Last month it ordered the hospital - which had diagnosed Mr. Yu with "sexual preference disorder" - to publish a public apology in local newspapers and pay the 38-year-old $735 (£570), AP said citing a copy of the judgment.

However, the court did not express an opinion on the practice of gay conversion therapy.
Homosexuality was considered to be a mental disorder in China until 2001, and attitudes remain conservative. 

In 2014 gay rights activist Peng Yanhui went into a private conversion therapy clinic in Beijing to investigate the electroshock treatments it was advertising.

He later sued the hospital over the suffering he went through and won $500. Advertisements for the service were ordered to be removed from the internet.

"It's time for China to enact laws to prohibit forced gay conversion therapy," he told AP after the Zhumadian ruling, which he said confirmed that forced treatments were illegal.
There is the growing awareness of LGBT issues in China. Big cities have lively gay scenes, and last month Shanghai held a gay pride parade.

However, millions of gay people in China have married heterosexual partners rather than come out as gay as a result of pressure from families, advocacy groups say.

Last month a lesbian dating app was closed down by the authorities. Users said the move came after the app expressed support for parents of LGBT children who were handing out leaflets at a Shanghai marriage market, where parents try to find partners for their children.

Last year a judge ruled that a gay couple could not register as married, the first case of its kind in China.

Meanwhile, a social media campaign saw LGBT people pledge not to enter into sham marriages with heterosexual people.

How does China try to 'convert' gay people?
These are the suggested treatments for homosexuality listed in "Consulting Psychology" published by Guangdong Higher Education Press, a recommended text for mental health education:

1. Platonic love relationship: Find an "elegant and caring" member of the opposite sex. Establish a relationship as friends initially. Then hope it becomes something else.

2. Repulsion therapy: Induce nausea with forced vomiting or fear of electrocution when thoughts of having a lover of the same sex emerge.

3. Shock therapy: Cause major shock to your lifestyle by moving to an entirely new environment in order to sever connection with previous friends, etc.

4. Sexual orientation transfer: When you are aroused, practice channeling that feeling towards somebody of the opposite sex using pictures and audio recordings.

March 12, 2017

Hartford Hospital: ‘Protect LGBT Youth From Harmful Therapy'

Shame, self-loathing, confusion, depression, self-harm, anxiety, family rejection, suicidal thoughts and behaviors — these are a few of the effects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning youths may face because they are part of a stigmatized and marginalized group.

Young, vulnerable and inexperienced, they desperately seek affirmation, support and effective therapy. But instead they may be forced into so-called conversion therapy, which seeks to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. This practice is not only discredited in the mental health profession, but is dangerous and harmful to young people. 

One patient we helped was brought to his mother's therapist when he came out as a gay and then as transgender. His mother told him he was a sinner and would go to hell. The conversion therapy, as it is in many such cases, was filled with false information about what went wrong in childhood to create a gender identity problem — none of which has any basis in clinical findings. Such damaging counsel serves to bring on feelings of shame and self-loathing that can lead to patients engaging in high-risk and self-harming behavior.

Conversion therapy can be loosely defined as any practice that intentionally causes shame over identity or sexual orientation. There may not be conversion therapy camps in Connecticut, but there are licensed clinicians who believe that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is disordered and who attempt to convert or shame individuals about their identity. As psychologists who specialize in LGBT children and young adults, we have clients who had previous negative and harmful therapy experiences.

A bill now before the General Assembly seeks to prevent licensed health professionals from engaging in the dangerous practice of trying to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. Specifically, the bill would prohibit any licensed professional from engaging in conversion therapy with a person under the age of 18. The legislature should pass it.

Conversion therapy is based on the faulty assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder and that a gender identity not congruent with biological sex is inherently disordered.

The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists and the American Academy of Pediatrics all have condemned the practice of conversion therapy. Research clearly shows that it is not possible to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity, which is established at birth. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists also states that "there is no medically valid basis for attempting to prevent homosexuality, which is not an illness."

Parents need solid guidance from licensed mental health professionals on how to support or affirm their LGBTQ children, rather than attempt to convert an immutable aspect of their identity. Youths who experience rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression are at higher risk for medical as well as psychological problems.

LGBTQ youth who seek clinical help deserve just that — help, not condemnation, conversion and further confusion. Parents' responsibility is to protect and guide their children. Rather than cultivating the self-confidence and effective coping skills that young people need, conversion therapy typically provokes guilt, anxiety, depression, self-hatred and self-destructive behaviors, which can have lifelong consequences. Research demonstrates that LGBTQ youth who experience family rejection are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, use illegal substances and attempt suicide than their non-LGBT peers.

As a psychologist and the clinical coordinator of The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty track in Young Adult Services at the Institute of Living/Hartford Hospital our aim is to provide clinical treatment, affirm identity and teach positive coping skills to manage the emotional damage that gets internalized by being a part of a stigmatized group.

It is time for Connecticut to join several other states and protect our youth from discredited, harmful and dangerous practices and provide accurate and effective guidance to their families. We must pass House Bill 6695 to ban the practice of conversion therapy and affirm mental, physical and emotional health in our vulnerable LGBTQ youth.


Laura M. I. Saunders is a licensed psychologist and clinical coordinator of The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty track in Young Adult Services at the Institute of Living/Hartford Hospital. Ozlem Camli is a licensed psychologist and executive director of the Rainbow Center for Children and Families in Wethersfield.

March 7, 2017

Gay Conversion Therapy Quacks Excited About GOP Win

Advocates of long-discredited gay conversion therapy programs say they are heartened by the election of Donald Trump and are counting on Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans to help fight off efforts to make such programs illegal.
“I certainly hope that this administration will pull back from some of the aggressive activism that the Obama administration engaged in,” said Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, a powerful conservative lobbying group in Washington that is active in supporting sexual reorientation efforts.
President Obama's Surgeon General Vivek Murthy publicly stated that “conversion therapy is not sound medical practice” and that such programs “are harmful and are not appropriate therapeutic practices.”
Conversion therapy has been outlawed for licensed mental health providers in California, Oregon, New Jersey, Vermont, Illinois and the District of Colombia, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.
The Family Research Council and Sprigg have helped to fight legislative proposals in 20 other states that would make gay conversion therapy illegal.
“They certainly should not be outlawed. They certainly should not be prohibited by law,” Sprigg said in an interview to be broadcast this Friday on the ABC News program “20/20” in an investigation of gay conversion therapy programs.
“As a Christian, I believe that the Bible teaches that to choose to engage in homosexual conduct is a sin,” he said, adding that he believes therapy can cause people to make different choices.
The “20/20” report includes revelations of two programs that conducted conversion therapy in Alabama, including one in which Christian pastors overseeing dozens of teens were convicted of child abuse amid stark allegations of beatings administered to teens who resisted efforts to change their sexual orientation.
The camps practicing conversion therapy uncovered by the “20/20” investigation were not operating as licensed mental health facilities and are therefore not covered by laws prohibiting the practice.
At the Republican National Convention last year, delegates voted for a party platform that appeared to tacitly endorse the right of parents to send their teens to conversion programs, supporting the “right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.”
The party position mirrors the position of the Family Research Council, which considers sexual reorientation therapy mental health care.
“If someone is experiencing something mentally, like same-sex attractions, that is causing distress, then that’s a mental health issue,” Sprigg said.
He said that there is no place for physical abuse in therapy programs.
“The kind of therapy that we support is ordinary talk therapy like anyone would have for any type of psychological issue,” he said.
Sprigg said that his groups does not believe that “same-sex attractions are a choice” but that he also does “not believe that experiencing same-sex attractions is a normal and natural variant of human sexuality.”
He added that he believes Pence will be helpful in any battle with what he called the “gay lobby.”
As a candidate for Congress in the 1990s, Pence’s campaign website included a statement that fueled belief that he was in support of conversion therapies for gay youths.
“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” the website said, under a header reading, “The Pence agenda.”
Asked about the campaign language, a spokesman for Pence said, after publication of this story, that Pence was calling for federal funds to “be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices” and said “any assertion that Vice President-elect Pence supported or advocated for conversion therapy is patently false and is a mischaracterization of language from a 16-year old campaign website." The Family Research Council is optimistic Republicans will back its position.
“I see it as unlikely that any sort of legislative – federal legislative attack upon sexual reorientation therapy will ... go anywhere," Sprigg said.
The practice however has long been discredited by respected medical and mental health institutions.
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its diagnostic manual, the field’s definitive book of mental disorders.
In 1975 the American Psychological Association said, “Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability or general social and vocational capabilities; further, the American Psychological Association urges all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations.”
And in 1993 the American Academy of Pediatrics denounced conversion therapy, saying, "Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”
Despite these unequivocal positions from the foremost U.S. mental health organizations, the “20/20” investigation found a cottage industry of so-called conversion camps operating across the country.
To learn more, and hear the harrowing story of how two gay youths escaped such camps, tune in to “20/20” on Friday at 10 p.m. Eastern time.
ABC News’ Randy Kreider, Cho Park, Alex Hosenball and Paul Blake contributed to this story.

August 16, 2016

Fighting Conversion Therapy in Ecuador_ The Next Frontier for Haters

Baquerizo poses with the English translation of ‘A Safe Place with You(information on the book at end of article by Amazon

Steve Friess writes on Vice how a book and lots of imagination and courage is fighting a war we have almost virtually won in the states. Latin America is the next frontier for these lying crusaders and gay homophobes looking for easy prey. Ecuador is particularly sucestible because the trusting nature of its people and the absence of deep homophobia. What ever happened, happened without giving it names, fanfare or crusades. Guys that like each other met and there are the fields on down time, schools, etc.  That is working agains the young gay population there who find themselves questioning and no one to help. Because of its geographical location and because it’s a poor country you don’t have the proliferation of computers and TV programs that could direct them with the right information. This is where the Conversion group tends to trive but the war is being fought with a weapon most people can share and read.
In 2013, César L. Baquerizo's novel about the horrors of gay reparative therapy in his native Ecuador, Un Lugar Seguro Contigo ("a safe place with you"), was first published in Spanish. Otherwise known as "conversion therapy," gay reparative therapy is a slate of "psychological treatments" intended to convert patients from homosexual to heterosexual. They often employ emotionally scarring and clinically unproven techniques that have been banned in many countries around the world—but the practice remains legal in much of America and proliferates in countries like Ecuador, where 80 percent of citizens are Catholic.

Baquerizo's novel is set in the early 1990s, when homosexuality was still criminalized and hundreds of clinics operated in the country. It relates the journey of two young men from Guayaquil, Tomás and Sebastián, as they progress through one such clinic named "Grow and Live Normally." The horrors they experience—including electroshock therapy, physical aversion therapy, forced medication, and more—may have seemed so extreme to readers that they could have dismissed them out of hand as fiction, a shameful lesson from Ecuador's deep past. That wasn't easy to do, though, because in that year a lesbian named Zulema Constante was being held against her will in such a "dehomosexualisation clinic" at the behest of her homophobic parents, and her girlfriend was taking the unusual step of demanding her release via social media. The story made headlines around the world.

In theory, that should have been the one-two punch to shake the conservative nation out of its long-standing denial over such crimes. And, in fact, 2012 seemed like just such a breakout year, as the government vowed to shut down all such centers and President Rafael Correa even appointed a lesbian activist as health minister.

But, as of this June, the month Baquerizo's book made its English-language debut, Ecuadorian LGBTQ rights have hardly advanced since. "Whenever one of these places close down, they reopen," lesbian activist Diana Maldonado, director of La Voz LGBTI, an Ecuadorian gay rights group, told VICE at a cafe in Guayaquil last month. "They don't publicize that they're curing homosexuality. They say they're treating alcohol, drugs, whatever. But parents pay extra to get the 'full' package."
Indeed, even as legal rights for LGBT people expand across the region—same-sex marriage was legal in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay before last June's Supreme Court gay marriage ruling, for instance—the nonprofit North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) says the pernicious "ex-gay" movement is as robust as ever across South and Latin America. "The belief that homosexuality is a sickness in need of a cure... remains widespread region-wide, providing a constant supply of mostly young LGBT people for the private practice of 'conversion therapies,'" NACLA's Annie Wilkinson wrote last year.

"It's supposed to be that these centers are illegal, but still they operate in hiding and with the family's approval," Baquerizo told VICE. "Ecuador lives a façade of lies. People from around the world say it is a secular and progressive country, which it absolutely is not. The reality is far from that."

Latin America's conversion therapy movement emerged from the ashes of its increasing disfavor in the United States, where it largely originated. In 1973, the same year the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness, gay conversion group Love in Action was founded, which morphed into Exodus. In 1994, it created two separate organizations, Exodus Latin America and, later, Exodus International. In the US, the group became ostracized and mocked as science debunked its practices and high-profile figures were exposed as closeted gay hypocrites. In the face of growing visibility and political power for LGBTQ Americans, Exodus shut down in 2012. By then, its final president, Alan Chambers, apologized to patients for "the pain and hurt many of you have experienced."

These days, the movement to ban such therapy sits near the top of US gay activists' to-do list, especially in the face of the GOP's inclusion of such therapy as a plank in the party's 2016 platform. Success has been slow but steady, beginning in 2012 with California and now reaching five states, DC, and Cincinnati. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a fiat barring insurance companies from covering it. The US Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of such bans when challenged by right-wing religious groups, but a new federal lawsuit challenging Illinois's statute was filed last Thursday.

While the conversion therapy movement atrophied in the US, American evangelical leaders found fertile ground in pushing their discredited pray-the-gay-away creed abroad, and Exodus Global Alliance remains a formidable force across Latin America and Africa in particular. Exodus International's first office abroad, in fact, was established in 1998 in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. Homosexuality in the country was only decriminalized in 1997.

"The thinking behind their presence elsewhere in the world, especially in developing, religious countries, was that these were places they could grow," David Maas, a co-author of a 2013 study, "The 'Ex-Gay' Movement in Latin America: Therapy and Ministry in the Exodus Network," told VICE.

Baquerizo, now 30, was never sent to an ex-gay clinic, though when he came out to his parents in his early 20s, his mother took him to a physician, who tried to persuade him to take testosterone to become more "manly." He refused, moved "to live far away from the influence of my family," and began writing his novel in 2011. He based it on newspaper accounts he says he read of clandestine operations where gay and questioning teens and young adults were subject to torture, including rape and electro-shock therapy. It's unclear how many conversion therapy clinics exist across Ecuador today, because they're fly-by-night operations, but Maas's study asserts there are hundreds.

After his book was published in Spanish, Baquerizo became one of the most prominent openly gay Ecuadorians, in part because his great-grandfather, Alfredo Baquerizo Moreno, served as the country's president in the early 20th century. His parents have not disowned him, but he has struggled to fit into his extended, religious family.

He has taken on substantial risk—there are no openly gay pro athletes, elected officials, singers, or actors in Ecuador. He has stepped into a vacuum, and LGBTQ activists now revere him.

"You know, it is not too common here to have a man like Cesar Baquerizo, who is from high-class society, to say, proudly and openly, 'I am gay,'" Silvia Buendia, an attorney who works with LGBTQ people, told VICE. "It is more usual that gay people come from the middle or lower class. It is very important."

Such becomes clear when, coincidentally, two of the nation's Spanish-language newspapers—El Universo and El Telégrafo—publish profiles of Baquerizo to report on the English edition of "A Safe Place with You" the same day I speak with Buendia and Maldonado. Baquerizo, who now lives in New York, was thrilled. He hopes to remind the country that despite LGBTQ gains there, its "illegal" gay conversion movement remains in full force. He believes an English translation can help shame Ecuador into doing more to close conversion centers.

“It's important for me, because I can let a large audience know about the reality of Ecuador and some parts of the world—about this evil experiment on humans," said Baquerizo "All I want to do is to make a good difference and be visible so that the LGBTQ community can stop hiding and be true to themselves."

December 19, 2015

‘Jonah’ The Largest Gay Conversion Org is Drowning


A therapist’s notes can contain the most horrifying, embarrassing and mundane confessions of his client, the rawest of fears and most guarded of feelings, from sexual desires to homicidal impulses. The key to a good therapy session is that what is said behind that closed door is honest, unfiltered and, like confessions to a priest, completely private. Confidential. A therapist’s notes are not written to be seen by others, much less projected on a screen in a room full of strangers. But on a Thursday afternoon in June, Benjy Unger was in the witness box as notes from one of his therapy sessions were blown up on a monitor next to the jury. The goal of that counseling was to turn Unger from gay to straight.

Unger and all the people in that Jersey City, New Jersey, courtroom were not shocked by what they were seeing, but they were clearly perplexed. In the middle of one notebook page, Unger’s therapist, Alan Downing, had drawn a stick figure with a bulging gluteus maximus, annotated with truncated phrases—“butt = I am cute,” “play with me” and “fluffy butt.” Below the stick figure, he had written, “Explored his attraction to male butts. Could be dominance, vulnerability, innocence, connection.”

This drawing was put into evidence as Unger, now 28, was questioned by David Dinielli, a senior attorney in a legal team representing Unger, his friend Chaim Levin, 26, and two other young men. All four were treated at JONAH, the only Jewish gay conversion therapy organization in the country. Three of the four had sessions with Downing, who has no psychology degree or mental health license of any kind, nor any higher education outside of an undergraduate degree in music and theater. Despite that thin resume, Arthur Goldberg, the man who started and still runs JONAH, often boasted that Downing was “an expert in the field” of turning gay men straight. Like many conversion therapists, Downing claims he has been “cured” of homosexuality, or, in the jargon preferred by the industry, he has “overcome” his “unwanted SSA,” same-sex attraction. (JONAH’s legal team declined to comment for this article.) 

Dinielli [ pointing to the “fluffy butt” slide ]: “Do you know what that is?”
Unger : “These are not my words. I do not really know what that is about.”
Dinielli : “What percentage of sessions that you had with Alan Downing would you estimate involved discussing particular body parts that you found attractive?”
Unger : “Specific body parts? I would say around 80 to 90 percent.”

Downing seemed obsessed with Unger’s sexual proclivities during their sessions. One of his notes included a matrix of all the men Unger found attractive, paired with detailed notes about their physical characteristics. “Smooth skinned, no facial, attracted to buttocks,” Downing wrote next to one man’s name.
Later, in his office, Downing would ask Unger to strip naked. He would frolic in a field, naked too, with people he was supposed to be “healing.” He would ask other men to hold each other in darkened rooms. It was all part of the therapy, practiced on tens of thousands of young men in the U.S. and abroad, by a wide network of “life coaches” like Downing.
For years, very little was known about these methods. When Dinielli joined the Southern Poverty Law Center from a high-powered corporate law firm, he knew he would be working to end gay conversion therapy—one of the firm’s stated goals—but he had no idea how shoddy and sordid the practice was. The deeper they looked, he says, the darker it got. He’d known gay-conversion is a cruel fraud, but he hadn’t realized how deeply perverse it is. “I hadn’t necessarily conceived of it as something so akin to child abuse and sexual abuse,” he says, but he does now. As the firm’s case against JONAH came together, Dinielli was introduced to a surreal world of pseudo-scientific methods and jargon, traumatizing psychodramas and nude cuddling with counselors.
Selling Bonds to Cannibals
JONAH’s origin story begins with fraud. Arthur Goldberg opened it in 1999, 10 years after the “ one-time Wall Street wunderkind ” (in the words of the Philadelphia Inquirer ) was convicted in a wide-ranging bond fraud scandal; his firm lured low-income communities into the municipal-bond business, and then issued millions of dollars worth of bonds for housing projects and trash plants that never got built. He defrauded the municipality of East St. Louis with a bogus $233 million bond for a river port that was never constructed, and referred to selling bonds to Guam as "selling bonds to the cannibals," according to an FBI report. Goldberg, who also held a law degree, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and disbarred. Back then, he went by Arthur Abba Goldberg, but when he got out, he dropped his middle name, effectively disappearing into the search engine abyss amid thousands of Arthur Goldbergs.
Goldberg says he became interested in gay conversion therapy in the late 1990s, while his son was “struggling with homosexuality.” The conversion therapy industry, made up of mostly Christian ministries, was thriving at the time. Exodus International , the largest conversion therapy umbrella group, had opened hundreds of what they called “ex-gay” ministries across the U.S. and in 18 other countries. (It crumbled in 2013 after many of its foremost figures came out as gay.) Goldberg saw the opportunity to bring those methods to a new market. “There were a lot of Christian-based organizations. There were some secular-based organizations, but there was nothing in the Jewish world,” he told the court on the second day of the JONAH trial.
He reached out to the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an ex-gay organization (he would later serve on its board). A NARTH therapist put Goldberg in touch with Elaine Berk, who also had a gay child, and was also Jewish. Together, they opened up JONAH in Jersey City, and began offering referrals to conversion therapy practitioners. (The acronym originally stood for Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality; the last word has since been switched out for “Healing.”)
Goldberg became the organization’s public face. Though his only graduate degree was in law, he referred to himself as “Dr. Goldberg” in emails to clients and their parents, as well as on the promotional website for his 2009 book, Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change.” Meanwhile, Berk handled clients and ran an active email “listserv” for JONAH men, where they could write emails asking for encouragement when the therapy didn’t seem to be working, or when their crushes on male friends became too hard to repress. Berk regularly responded to the men, issuing reminders of the ramifications of what she called “the gay deathstyle”: AIDS, bowel disease, early death, and, as she put it in one email, “lives based on soul-numbing promiscuity.”
Berk also offered wide-ranging analysis of what causes people to be gay. “I believe there's no such thing as a gay man,” she wrote. Instead, all men are born straight, and “something arrested the normal biologically mandated growth pattern that is built into our genes…. The more SSA activity you have experienced, the more neural pathways, habits you have built up that have to be overcome. Then you begin to build up new neural pathways that help you reach your goal of growing out of SSA,” she wrote. "Growing out of SSA is like growing out of any other life damaging disorder."
“But, Ms. Berk, you're not a neurologist?” Dinielli asked her in court.
“No, I'm not.”
“And you can't really explain what a neural pathway is?”
“No, I can't.”
Nude Weekends in the Woods
In over a decade of operation, JONAH had thousands of clients, most of them young, Jewish men. Its success was due, in large part, to the fact that the Jewish communities it catered to believed that gay identity was simply a set of behaviors that could be changed. After all, God would never place an insurmountable obstacle to obeying the laws of the Torah in front of a person. Likewise, Ultra-orthodox Jews see the recent era of gay rights as part of a broad category of secular influences it actively rejects. So, naturally, Ultra-orthodox Judaism provides a solution: The talmudic concept of teshuvah —turning away from transgression in one’s past—which was highlighted in a letter endorsing conversion therapy published online, and signed by 55 rabbis and Arthur Goldberg. (The letter was taken offline without explanation this month.)
12_18_JewishGayConversion_02Chaim Levin in his apartment in Crown Heights. He no longer considers himself religious, but he still lives close to his parents and the Jewish community he grew up in. ZACK BADDORF FOR NEWSWEEK                                             

… That’s what brought Chaim Levin to JONAH. He says he had been routinely sexually assaulted by his cousin, Sholom Eichler, as a child. Nearly every day, from the time Levin was 6 until he was 10, Eichler, six years his senior, waited on Levin’s aunt and uncle’s front porch for him to come home from school. Levin won a civil suit against Eichler in 2013. Later, when a teenaged Levin realized he was attracted to other boys, he thought it must be the direct result of that abuse. It had to come from somewhere , since it was entirely incompatible with his understanding of how to be a good Hasidic Jew. And that led him to believe his homosexuality was simply an obstacle he would have to overcome. “I used to tell people in yeshiva, ‘Oh, I was abused as a child, and by consequence, this thing happened to me, and I have this problem that I’m working on fixing,’” Levin says. He started to talk about the abuse with his parents when he was 14. A year later, Levin began talk therapy with an Orthodox practitioner, who agreed that his attractions must be linked to the abuse. Like most teenaged men in his community, Levin spent some time studying at yeshivas—Orthodox Jewish seminaries—abroad, first in Israel, and then in Paris. Every two weeks, he’d have a phone session with a therapist back in Brooklyn. “The motto was, ‘Just for today, I’m not going to touch another boy.’ That’s how we were dealing with it.” But that was untenable, and just before he turned 18, while back in New York, he had sex with a man he met on Craigslist. His therapist was disgusted, he said, and told him she didn’t know how to help him anymore. That’s when a family rabbi pointed Levin to JONAH.  Soon after joining JONAH, Levin soon found himself in the woods at a rented church campground in rural Pennsylvania, signing a nondisclosure form and confirming to a counselor that, yes, he’d left his cell phone in the car. He was there for a therapeutic weekend retreat recommended by Goldberg, where he would begin to regain his manhood—a key step in turning from gay to straight.……The retreats were run by People Can Change (PCC), a conversion organization founded by Rich Wyler, a Mormon who says he’s “ex-gay.” Having “unwanted same-sex attraction,” he explains, “comes from an emotional deficit around same-gender bonding. It comes oftentimes from this sense of a deficit in inner sense of masculinity.” Some men try to “close that gap romantically.”Wyler began organizing weekend programs in 2002. Downing attended the first one that year, while he was in ex-gay therapy with David Matheson, founder of The Center for Gender Wholeness, a Mormon conversion therapy group that had an office in JONAH’s building in Jersey City. Downing told the court he’d “basically resolved” his feelings toward men after less than a year of therapy, and has been staffing Wyler’s weekends ever since. He also had a hand in crafting their highly detailed scripts that dictated nearly every line of dialogue between staffers, who played various roles on the weekends, which were reminiscent of elaborate stage dramas. He and Goldberg routinely sent JONAH’s clients to Wyler’s weekends.

For many years, the retreats were a deeply hidden secret—because that’s the way Wyler and JONAH wanted it. For the “advanced” weekend, called “Journey Beyond,” participants signed nondisclosure agreements stipulating $5,000 in damages if they ever spoke about what happened there. When JONAH was on trial, Wyler attempted to exclude information about Journey Beyond on the basis of trade secret law, but the judge shot him down, and unsealed testimony from Jonathan Hoffman—a star witness for JONAH, a “success story” they held up as validation of their methodology. In it, Hoffman described a nude “rebirthing” ceremony.
The simulated birth is the beginning of a psychodrama-packed weekend spent almost entirely naked. First, attendees of the retreat strip down, and tie on blindfolds. Naked and blind, they are led to mattresses laid out on the floor. Staffers swaddle the men in blankets, tight, to “simulate the womb.” The men then wriggle out of their plush blankets—meant to approximate a birth canal—and staffers “come and kind of nurture these new babies…you know, kind of wipe water on their face, and kind of clean them up, and it feels very real,” Hoffman said. Next, the men play out boyhood, with a “crazy, fun father who like bursts into the nursery and says ‘Come on, boys, let's have some fun together!’” (Downing sometimes played the role of “father.”) By this stage, both participants and staff members are nude. The men are lead out of the “nursery” and into a field, where a “wild party” begins. There’s a waterslide, fireworks and “brotherly dancing” around a campfire. The naked men fling mud and throw cake—laid out for just that purpose—at each other. They’re all “just expressing their little boyish energy” for about an hour, explained Hoffman, who now lives with his wife and child in Jerusalem, where he works as a conversion therapy life coach.
Afterward, everyone showers together. “It's just carefree, you know, if there's cake on my back, can you help me get it off my back,” said Hoffman, adding that the nudity “becomes very secondary.” He explained that if men got erections during the weekend, they were encouraged to talk to a staffer to “process it,” talk about what might be causing it until it went away. In gay conversion therapy, sexual attraction is never just sexual attraction; there must be some sublimated drive, deficit or trauma to be dealt with.
Both Levin and Unger attended PCC’s entry-level weekend: Journey Into Manhood. The core theme is a loose interpretation of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, in which Jack (played by a staff member) is reclaiming his beans—his masculinity. The participants are awarded a satchel of beans to wear around their necks at the end of the weekend. The script dispels any ambiguity early on:
Jack : So what is up with the beanstalk?
Elder [a second counselor]: The beanstalk is a masculine image, a phallic symbol.
Jack: So the beanstalk is a big penis?
Elder: Well, symbolically, yes.
In another Journey Into Manhood scenario, participants are blindfolded while facilitators bounce basketballs around them in a crude reenactment of grade school gym class, while shouting scripted epithets such as, “Catch the ball next time or I’ll shove it up your ass” and “Hey, guys, let’s get that little queer in the shower.” For another exercise, called “Facing the Feminine,” the floor is littered with “feminine objects,” like a wooden spoon, an apron and a tampon. Participants are blindfolded while counselors shout "Don't touch your penis, it's dirty!" or "I was really hoping you would be born a girl!" or "Can't get it up!" and "You're not the man I thought I married!”
Toward the end of the weekend, participants are emotionally raw, Levin remembers. That’s when cuddling begins.
Spirit Guide [a counselor]: Can you connect to that boy inside you now?
Jack : Yes.
Spirit Guide : Would that little boy like to be touched or held?
Jack : Yes.
Jack and the Spirit Guide then cradle each other on the floor, and the lights go down. Music comes on: Spiritual “life coach” and singer Shaina Noll’s saccharine rendition of “ How Could Anyone .” How could anyone ever tell you that you were anything less than beautiful?/How could anyone ever tell you you were less than whole?
Eventually, all the men are on the floor, staffers cradling participants. Unger remembers staffers whispering “I love you,” “you’re beautiful,” and other affectionate phrases during the cradling—which Downing calls “healthy touch"—as “How Could Anyone” played over and over.
12_18_JewishGayConversion_06Benjy Unger now works as a bartender in a hip, upscale restaurant in Manhattan. Online reviews of the place typically include the phrase “gay friendly.” He mixes drinks in his uniform, a black fitted t-shirt with the words “Heaven” on the front, and “in Hell” across the back. ZACK BADDORF FOR NEWSWEEK 
Strip Therapy
“I sang it to Benjy sometimes,” Dinielli says, laughing, on a Friday night months after the trial ended. He begins humming the first few bars of “How Could Anyone.” Unger narrows his eyes and feigns a scowl, but then joins in before looking past us to tend to another customer. We are sitting at the bar at the upscale restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen where Unger, now 28, tends bar. Online reviews of the place typically include the phrase “gay friendly.” It was the busiest shift of the week and Unger mixed drinks quickly, biceps flexing under his uniform, a black fitted t-shirt with the words “Heaven” on the front, and “in Hell” across the back.
“I see you flirting with all your customers,” Dinielli teases Unger.
“It’s called healthy touch, David,” Unger shoots back, grinning. JONAH jokes.
The chatty bartender is barely recognizable in the round-faced 17-year-old in a yarmulke pictured on Unger’s driver’s license. He’s made a point not to change the photo. “Why would I? It’s who I was. It’s where I came from. It’s also good first-date conversation.” Back then, he prayed three times a day, wearing a black brimmed hat over his yarmulke, the white threads of his tzitzit hanging down from the waist of his black dress pants. From age 11 or 12, he had crushes on classmates in his all-boys yeshivas, and then in the all-male rabbinical school in Jerusalem where he spent a year and a half. He says he was always “toeing the line” in these places, and figured his attraction to boys would pass. It had to be a phase—no one in his Orthodox Jewish world was gay.
But in a community where nearly all contact with the opposite sex is forbidden and teenage hormones raged, it was not uncommon for young men to get a little too close, to slap each other on the butt, to cuddle. "I played it off as the straight guy so comfortable with his sexuality that he could cuddle his friends and it wasn’t a big deal,” Unger says. He was popular and athletic. “I played football. No one knew.”
But by 18, when he was in rabbinical school in Jerusalem, he began to worry that “it” wasn’t going away. He thought about his return home to Borough Park, Brooklyn, where men are matched up to marriageable women immediately after their stints in Israel. Unger knew he’d soon be fielding “resumes” of eligible women from family and friends, each woman’s photograph pinned to the top-right corner. The stress derailed his studies. On a trip home for Passover, he finally told his parents about his attraction to men.
It went better than he expected. They were “extremely loving," but just as confused as he was about how to proceed. One rabbi said it might be a chemical imbalance, and that Unger should seek medical attention. Another was sure Unger would live a happy enough life if he just found a wife who could cook really well. Eventually, Unger’s father gave him the number for “Rabbi Arthur Goldberg.”
Two to four years, Goldberg told Unger over the phone. That’s how long it would take for JONAH’s program to turn him from gay to straight, if he just put in the work. And paid the money. JONAH was registered as a nonprofit, and Downing charged $100 for each one-on-one counseling session, and $60 for group sessions, which Unger’s father would pay. Goldberg—who is not ordained as a rabbi—was reassuring, authoritative, confident. The therapy was scientifically proven, he said, and he’d seen it work hundreds of times. “I was ecstatic,” Unger testified in court.
Putting in the work, it turned out, meant beating a pillow effigy of his mother with a tennis racket until his hands bled, screaming “Mom!” with each blow. It meant cutting off contact with his mother for several months, because Downing determined their relationship was “too close.” It meant cuddling with men, often older, ex-gay men, with lights dimmed and “How Could Anyone” playing over and over. It involved Journey into Manhood weekends in the woods, blindfolded, enduring psychodrama after psychodrama. Most of them were generalized, archetypal, like the gym class scene with the basketballs, but Levin also watched while participants role-played scenes from his childhood sexual abuse.
Their “treatment” also involved undressing in front of a full-length mirror in Downing’s office.
Unger and Levin were both told “to say one negative thing about [themselves], remove an article of clothing, then repeat the process," according to court transcripts. In Unger’s case, Downing stood behind him, hand on his shoulder, breath on his neck. Unger stopped the exercise when Downing told him to take off his pants. Levin testified that Downing had him strip down completely, then told him to hold his penis, to “feel his masculinity.” He complied. (In court, Downing said he couldn’t remember whether or not Levin held his penis, but that he “certainly didn’t” tell him to.)
There were clinical-sounding names for all of the strange things JONAH asked of its patients. Beating the pillow was “bioenergetics,” or “guts work.” Cuddling with men was “healthy touch.” Stripping in front of the mirror was “body work,” to deal with “body image issues.” Downing also told Unger that getting erections around men might have nothing to do with sexual attraction; he called them “NRBs,” or “no-reason boners.” He gave an example: “He said, ‘Just like when your nephew sits on your lap, and you might get an erection sometimes, it doesn’t mean anything.’”
12_18_JewishGayConversion_05ZACK BADDORF FOR NEWSWEEK 
The pseudo-professional language Goldberg and Downing used mirrored that of the ex-gay therapy community worldwide, an interconnected world where people, many without psychology degrees, write books that borrow the language of psychology but none of its rigor, and tend to mostly cite one another, Dinielli says. Dozens of books with titles like Growing into Manhood and Healing Homosexuality are available online, and JONAH tailored the notions laid out in these books for their Jewish clientele: As part of the “gender-affirming” therapy, Unger says Downing told him to go to the ritual Jewish bath, the mikvah, with his father as much as possible “and to just stare at his penis.”
‘Rationalized Homophobia’
Conversion therapy is dying in chunks. Four states and the District of Columbia have recently banned the practice for minors, and bills are pending in Massachusetts, New York, Washington state and New Hampshire to do the same. Last month, President Barack Obama called for a nationwide end to conversion therapy for minors and the medical community almost unanimously agrees that conversion therapy does not work , and can cause harm .
But despite making regular appearances in the news for years, the how of conversion therapy has been missing. The JONAH case was the first time the public heard what happens inside the rooms where young men go to be “fixed.” The big reveal began in 2010, when Wayne Bessen, a gay rights activist who runs the nonprofit Truth Wins Out, shot a video of Unger and Levin talking about their therapy sessions with Downing. Bessen uploaded it to YouTube , where it garnered a few thousand clicks. Later, Levin wrote an op-ed describing his experience in the Jewish Press, the local Orthodox Jewish newspaper; it was a first for the typically conservative publication, which also advertised JONAH’s services in its pages. In it, Levin proudly announced he was gay, and criticized the Orthodox community for buying into “ the worst kind of rationalized homophobia ” by sending their children to therapy like that offered by JONAH.
In 2012, Sam Wolfe, a senior staff attorney at the SPLC, met Levin at an Exodus International conference for ex-gay practitioners and patients, where he was protesting. Wolfe, who was raised Mormon and went through a form of conversion therapy, was looking for plaintiffs for a conversion therapy case. Shortly after, they began to piece together a robust legal team. It included Scott McCoy, the first openly gay state senator in Utah, and several other openly gay men, among them Dinielli and Wolfe. “It was so amazing to show my parents my gay lawyers,” says Levin. “For people here, gays don’t exist. There aren’t gays in Crown Heights; there are gays in the Village.”
The lawyers, from the SPLC and two high-powered corporate firms who took on the case pro-bono, went after JONAH on unconventional ground: They sued not for emotional damages, but for consumer fraud. They contended that by telling its clients homosexuality was a disorder, and taking their money to perform a cure, JONAH was defrauding customers. Legally, you can’t claim to fix what isn’t broken, and homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of disorders in 1973. They didn’t need to prove malicious behavior, or willful deceit; they only needed to prove JONAH was selling junk.
That turned out to be pretty easy. After listening to the graphic details of the process for four weeks this June, the jury unanimously voted JONAH guilty of consumer fraud on all counts. Because consumer fraud cases can only recuperate money spent, the sum at issue was chump change; the plaintiffs had paid for one-on-one and group counseling, plus $650 for each therapeutic weekend in the woods. In total, they won just $72,400, but by January 17, following a settlement agreement, JONAH will have to shut down for good. By June 15, all its assets must be liquidated, and all trace of it removed from the web.
The case sets a legal precedent: virtually any conversion therapy organization can now be sued on the same grounds. And there’s plenty to go after. There is no complete tally of conversion therapy outfits, but several institutions continue operation, like Joseph Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, California, and Desert Stream, a Christian ex-gay ministry with chapters across the country. And m any counselors practice conversion therapy independently of any ministry or clinic. They still have some political clout, too: in 2014, the Texas Republican Party adopted support for “reparative therapy” as an official party plank .
Wyler says the JONAH trial was rigged; Judge Peter Bariso was “extraordinarily” biased, he says, evidenced by the fact that he barred several people JONAH wanted to call as experts. (Bariso ruled their testimony inadmissible, because, he wrote , “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but—like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it—instead is outdated and refuted.”)
One of Wyler’s major complaints is that the plaintiffs and the court misinterpreted the weekends he still organizes eight times a year: “Why is it that in our homoerotic culture we’ve...made it so any male touch is now sexual? It was really horrible to have something to me that is powerful and sacred and brotherly and nonsexual and beautiful be mocked and sexualized and eroticized. It was just criminal what they were trying to do,” he said, his voice rising with exasperation. “And all because they want people like us to go away.”
The Last of ‘Alan’s Boys’
When I met Chaim Levin and David Dinielli at a kosher bagel shop in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn on a Friday afternoon in November, they were chatting like old friends as I picked my way through tables of ultra-Orthodox families eating whitefish and lox on plump, hand-rolled bagels. Levin was raised three blocks away, ultra-Orthodox, in the Chabad tradition, and had nearly no secular education, as is standard for children in the community—Yiddish was spoken in school, and Hebrew read in synagogue, but no English reading, writing, math, science or secular history was taught in Levin’s yeshiva. His parents paid for one hour of secular tutoring a week. Chaim is agnostic now, and a self-described activist for LGBT rights in the Jewish community. But he still lives in heavily ultra-Orthodox Crown Heights, and has no problem with putting on a yarmulke now and again; he’s trying to normalize being gay in Crown Heights—walking through the neighborhood on the Sabbath with his head uncovered would only alienate his neighbors.
Dinielli finishes his bagel and lox, and Levin leans forward in the noisy shop to say that he doesn’t cry much. He can count the times he’s cried on one hand. Downing noted it too; in a session note, he wrote that it was probably a “protective mechanism” Levin had developed to deal with his abuse. But when Downing testified at trial, claiming over and over that his former clients were misstating events, Levin broke down, sobbing. He left the courtroom and slumped into a corner, tears streaming—he’d finally realized how “vastly manipulative” Downing was. “What’s sad for me is that I got to realize it, but a lot of the other guys still don’t. He was so slick.”
While he was in therapy, Levin’s emails to the Listserv referred to his sessions with Downing, and to Goldberg and Berk, with reverence. He had fully trusted and believed in JONAH. So had many others; some of Downing’s clients even called themselves “Alan’s Boys.”
12_18_JewishGayConversion_03ZACK BADDORF FOR NEWSWEEK 
“This trial probably saved my life,” Levin says. He struggled with depression after leaving JONAH, and was hospitalized twice for suicide attempts. On this unseasonably warm morning, he grins broadly and speaks gregariously, gesturing and waving to neighbors as the three of us leave the bagel shop and walk down the block. Out on the sidewalk, women in long skirts push strollers full of children in matching outfits, and men in yarmulkes and black coats carry packages and dip in and out of stores. Levin says he gained weight during the trial due to stress; since it ended, he’d lost 15 pounds. Dimples flashed beneath his short beard.
Levin is now finding his way in the secular world. He’s quit smoking, he’s dating, he just signed up for college classes. He’s happy, he says, for the first time in years. “[JONAH] shutting down is another step toward making sure the 18-year-old version of Chaim Levin doesn’t get conned into buying a fake cure for something that doesn’t need to be fixed,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean the fight is over, by any means, because there are still Orthodox therapists doing this.” He knows several Orthodox men, now married to women, who sought therapy to suppress their attraction to men. He suspects some in his community still call him “faygeleh,” the yiddish colloquialism for “faggot,” behind his back, but he’s seeing small changes in Crown Heights; a Hasidic synagogue there asked him to help organize a panel for January on how to better engage gay Jews.
We walk past his childhood yeshiva, and past the stately brick apartment building where his cousin once lived. Levin points to the windows on the fourth floor, where his cousin used to take him. “That room, and that room.” It took him years to be able to walk near this intersection again. Then he points toward a wide thoroughfare lined with callery pear trees where black-hatted men mill about. “The litmus test is still, would you walk down Kingston Avenue holding a boy’s hand?” Not yet, he says, but soon.

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