Just last week a web page was created and posted in which various rabbis, mental health professionals and other concerned citizens from the Jewish ultra-orthodox world signed a proclamation regarding their views on homosexuality. They are calling this site “The Torah Declaration”. The underlying premise of the document is to present their views on homosexuality but it is written and presented as an attack on the movement in both the secular and mainstream orthodox world’s acceptance of individuals who are gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual and transgender (GLBT) while at the same time not necessarily condoning their lifestyle. The religious belief of the individuals who signed this declaration is that someone can “become un-gay” and must be coerced into becoming straight. Not to do so is committing a grievous error.
It’s not surprising that those from cloistered communities would be closed minded when it comes to issues which they do not understand. The same thing has been happening with the issue of women’s rights and also with the entire issue of sexual abuse and assault.
The issue that I find the most troubling regarding the Torah Declaration manuscript is that licensed mental health professionals have attached their names to a document which can lead the public to believe that these professionals are attesting to the information as being scientifically accurate. Aspects of information that are presented in the Declaration are, at best, incomplete. For instance, when quoting from the American Psychological Association’s site on the topic of homosexuality, the Declaration seems to imply that the professional organizations stance is that there is no clarity as to the cause of homosexuality, thus implying that it can be changed. However, in the very next sentence of the APA’s statement, which is not quoted in the Declaration, the following conclusion, based on the available scientific evidence is made — “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation” strongly indicating that sexual orientation, regardless of the actual cause, cannot be changed. The end result is that the mental health professionals who have signed the Declaration run the risk of aligning with misinformation and may be putting unsuspecting individuals who come to them for help at risk of harm.
The truth is that the highest population that is at risk of completing a suicide attempt is survivors of sex crimes who are questioning of their own sexuality. By telling teens and young adults that through therapy they can become un-gay a myth is being perpetuated that is not only untruthful, it can be extremely harmful to their clients – and, as has been documented, in some cases can and does push them over the edge resulting in their death.
Both Ben Unger and Chaim Levin disclosed their experiences working with an organization called JONAH which is promoted by the rabbis and group of professionals who signed the Declaration. In a youtube video both Unger and Levin describe how they were sexually manipulated by Alan Downing, who was under supervison of Arthur Goldberg who is the director JONAH (Jews Offering Alternatives to Homosexuality). Neither Downing or Goldberg are mental health professionals. It’s also important to mention that Arthur Goldberg and has a checkered past.
Everyone is entitled to their belief but not at the expense of others. It is important that mental health specialists take the time to understand the available scientific information on this topic and provide a nurturing healing environment for their patients. Aligning with sham treatments is not only illegal it is dangerous.
For more information on this topic watch the award winning film Trembling Before God and National Geographic explains the biology of homosexuality