On Tuesday, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced what they said was the first-of-its-kind lawsuit against practitioners of reparative therapy.
The suit names members of New Jersey-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH)—including director Arthur Goldberg—as violating the state’s Consumer Fraud Act by promising to change patients from homosexual to heterosexual.
At a press conference on Tuesday, SPLC attorney Sam Wolfe described just some of the harmful practices utilized by JONAH’s unlicensed counselors:
The defendants engaged in sessions where participants were instructed to remove their clothes in front of significantly older counselors who were also attracted to men.
Defendants instructed our clients to violently beat effigies of their mothers, while screaming at them, blaming their mothers for their gay orientation.
Defendants subjected our clients to ridicule, calling them “faggots” and “gay boys.”
Michael Ferguson, one of the four young men SPLC is representing in the case, recalled his own experiences under JONAH’s care:
I watched as grown men were frenzied into fits of emotional rage against their mothers and encouraged to act out physical violence against their parents, in order to access their so-called ‘true manhood’ and become more heterosexual.
… In another exercise, a man had to break through a human barricade that I was a part of in order to seize two oranges that were meant to symbolize his testicles. He was then frenetically instructed to squeeze the juice from them and drink it and to put the oranges in his pants in order to represent ‘gaining his testicles’ the symbolic absence of them supposedly being the cause of his homosexuality.
Another plaintiff, Chaim Levin (in photo, at dais), described a particularly shameful group session:
“I was forced to recreate a scenario in which I experienced traumatic childhood abuse as a young person. The exact situation was replayed for the entire group, deeply hurtful language was said over and over to me, and no psychological care was given afterward.”
Levin also recalled being made to take off his clothes in front of a counselor:
“Eventually he instructed me to remove all of my clothes in a room alone with him. I told him I was uncomfortable with that and he told me if I really wanted to change this was what I had to do… I didn’t know what else to do so I took off my clothes. But the only feelings I had were trauma and humiliation. My sexual orientation remained the same.”
SPLC’s deputy legal director Christine Sun called conversion therapy “nothing more than junk science that leaves people feeling ashamed of who they are, and believing they need to fix something that isn’t broken.”
The case is groundbreaking because New Jersey has one of the most stringent consumer-protection laws in the country: If the plaintiffs can show they’ve been defrauded, they are entitled to a refund of all fees, restitution for costs incurred (in this case, including corrective legitimate therapy) and attorney fees. Damage awards are also subject to being tripled.
In addition to monetary compensation, SPLC is also seeking an injunction to shut down JONAH for good.