CINCINNATI — For the first time, the city of Cincinnati has sent a cease and desist letter to a local counselor accused of practicing gay conversion therapy on minors.
Prodigal Ministries Executive Director Jerry Armelli denies the accusation.
“We have never claimed to do conversion or reparative therapies. That has been put upon us by those that do not know us,” Armelli said in a statement to WCPO. “We do not engage with minors.”
His website now says he helps those struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and doesn’t do that work with minors.
But Dan Davidson says Armelli was behind the conversion therapy he experienced as a teenager. The city agreed there was enough evidence of the practice to send the business a cease and desist, which "prescribes a $200 fine for each such civil offense."
Read the cease-and-desist letter in the viewer below:
“I knew in every fiber of my being that this was wrong,” he said.
Davidson was 15 years old when he said Prodigal Ministries tried to change him from gay to straight, though it wasn't yet illegal.
“It becomes a part of you and you have to kind of actively fight against it all the time,” he said.
Davidson recently brought the Corryville business to the attention of Councilman Chris Seelbach, who pushed for a citywide ban on the practice concerning minors in 2015. Seelbach himself experienced conversion therapy as a teenager.
“I immediately reached out to our solicitor and said ‘This is a clear violation. He’s advertising conversion therapy,’” Seelbach told WCPO. “And so we started that process, which led to a cease and desist letter that he could either sign or he could ask for a hearing. And he indeed signed it and sent it back and has taken the advertisement down from the website.”
In a statement to WCPO, Armelli said in part: “We counter the harmful claims that ‘no one can change’ with stories of transformation. But, that is not to say ‘that we are in the business of turning people from gay to straight,” adding “people can experience transformation, including their sexuality.” You can read the full statement at the end of this story.
“Right now, it’s just been able to take over and pretend to be something that it’s not and what we’re doing is basically calling it what it is,” Davidson said.
Davidson says the city’s action is an important first step, but he argues a larger network of conversion therapy across the Tri-State must be dismantled. A key part of that is a statewide ban.
“I just want to make sure that places like this are put on notice, but also on the other hand, keep giving families and teenagers tools to be able to deal with life more effectively, help them realize there are other perspectives, other ways of thinking,” he said.
Read Armelli's full statement below:
“We have never claimed to do conversion or reparative therapies. That has been put upon us by those that do not know us.
We do not engage with minors.
Like all people seeking counseling, our clients seek changes in behaviors, thinking, desires, relationships, effects of their past, a path to the future, identity and spiritual life. PM is here to support individuals with those same goals. Changes in these aspects of their personhood may effect change in their sexuality. For many, they report a resounding, “Yes, we have experienced change in our sexuality.” Many of our clients do report a heterosexual identity, desires and functioning.
We counter the harmful claims that “no one can change” with stories of transformation. But, that is not to say ‘that we are in the business of changing people from gay to straight.’ We provide their stories to counter the culture that says, ’No one can change.’ By saying, “People can experience transformation, including their sexuality” we are not saying that all people change and that we change them.
Because a person does not experience change in their sexuality does not mean that no one can experience change in their sexuality. Likewise, the fact some persons have experienced change in their sexuality does not mean that everyone will experience change in their sexuality.
Each person is to express how change happened (or did not happen) for him/herself. Only an individual can speak to the change they have experienced and to what degree. PM does not speak for them, does not guarantee a particular outcome and does not measure the success of our counseling based on the client’s change in sexuality. Success is based upon the client’s obtaining his/her goals.
Our mission is not to take away an individual’s unwanted homosexual attractions and replace it with heterosexuality. Even if a person states their goal is ‘to change from gay to straight’ PM does not promise that it can deliver on the goal. We do not guarantee feelings of heterosexuality.”