From Gay to Straight? Controversial Retreat Helps Men Deal With 'Unwanted Attraction'

Once a poster boy for change therapy, Gorringe is now legally married to his husband, Joe, and uses his inside knowledge of groups like "People Can Change" to renounce them. "It doesn't work, it does not work," he said. "You cannot fix something that doesn't need to be fixed."

Former Clients Say Retreat Was 'Inappropriate'

While many of the men at the reunion retreat said "Journey Into Manhood" had a positive effect on their lives, some former clients told ABC News that the retreat left them traumatized.

Twenty-three-year-old Ben Unger grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn where he said being gay was not accepted. "I was in inner turmoil, I was tortured," said Unger, who attended one of Rich Wyler's retreats in Virginia in 2008.

"One thing that the therapy tried to instill in us is that it's impossible to be gay and happy," Unger said . "People who are gay are alcoholics and drug addicts and they are never in serious relationships...They just portray it as a really dark life and that scared a lot of us."

He said the participants were encouraged to "cuddle" with older staff members in an exercise that bordered on the homoerotic.

"They said we should view them as their father, like their daddy," he said. "I was thinking um, you know, if there are men here who claim to be ex-gay, but really they have feelings for men and they are cuddling with younger guys, I don't know what that means, I don't know how it can't be sexual."

Unger also described an exercise where the men were instructed to take off all their clothing. "So there was a naked man with a bunch of naked people surrounding him. At this point I left, I could not be part of the exercise."

Unger said the weekend left him feeling depressed and even suicidal because he was convinced it was his fault he wasn't changing.

He's not the only dissatisfied client. Chaim Levin, 21, a college student from Brooklyn, attended two "Journey Into Manhood" weekends in 2007 and 2008.

"I was very suggestive at the time," said Levin. "I had never spoken to anyone else about this at the time, so as far as I was concerned, these were the experts."

Levin also described a degree of touching and cuddling that was not observed during the weekend ABC News was permitted to film.

"You were supposed to pick someone in the room to hold you like a child...They encouraged a lot of touch, they called it 'healthy touch,' but it looked very erotic in a lot of senses."

Both Unger and Levin said they are now openly gay and proud, and they strongly warn young people against change therapy programs.

"There is also the option of being truthful with yourself and being a happy person," Unger said.

According to Drescher, there is no scientific evidence that "healthy touch" exercises can help diminish same-sex attractions.

"I think these groups are playing with fire," he said. "The possibility that non-sexual contact can evolve into sexual contact is always there."

Baby on the Way

Despite outside critics, supporters of change therapy point to happy and satisfied clients like Preston, who's now been married four years. His wife Megan is completely supportive of his participation in "Journey Into Manhood" and all the work he has put into changing.

Speaking of their sex life she said, "I will be honest with that. It's wonderful."

Preston's therapy work is now more important than ever because the couple is expecting their first child. "What an opportunity," said Preston, "what a blessing."

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...