A lawsuit filed today in New Jersey argues that supposed therapists claiming they can cure homosexuality through an insane “conversion” process are actually snake-oil salesmen committing fraud. According to four gay men who underwent treatment, the group Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) is “unconscionable and a sham,” based on bogus science, and only increased their suffering through expensive, out-of-touch rituals. “The defendants peddled anti-gay pseudo-science, defaming gay people as loathsome and deranged,” said a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing the plaintiffs.
Reuters has some details of the sessions, which cost at least $100 each for individual attention, with weekend retreats totaling $650:
The plaintiffs charge that during therapy sessions they were sometimes ordered to remove all of their clothing; in other sessions they were told to beat effigies of their mothers with tennis rackets or were subjected to homosexual slurs, according to the complaint.
Another JONAH client was instructed to break through a human barricade to retrieve a pair of oranges, drink the juice from them and place them down his pants to symbolize the recovery of his testicles and, by extension, his heterosexuality, according to Michael Ferguson, one of the plaintiffs.
“It becomes fraudulent, even cruel,” one defendant told the New York Times. “To say that if you really want to change you could — that’s an awful thing to tell somebody.” He added, “The notion that your parents caused this is a horrible lie. They ask you to blame your mother for being loving and wonderful.”
While this may be the first lawsuit against conversion therapy, California has passed a law banning the “cure” from being used on minors, although conservative groups have challenged the statute as unconstitutional. A similar law has been proposed in the New Jersey state assembly.
Earlier this year, legendary psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer apologized publicly for supporting the use of “reparative therapy” after a World Health Organization report called it “a serious threat to the health and well-being — even the lives — of affected people.” In the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which had published Spitzer’s flawed study in 2003, he wrote, “I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works.”