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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 12, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 24
Fraud suit against New Jersey conversion therapist underway
Section One
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Fraud suit against New Jersey conversion therapist underway

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Jury selection was completed and opening arguments began last week in a New Jersey lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) against a provider of so-called 'conversion therapy.' The suit brought under New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act is the first of its kind in the United States.

SPLC's clients charge that an organization called JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing) lured patients into the expensive and harmful treatment by representing that its therapists could 'cure' homosexuality.

'This case is about exposing the lie that LGBT people are mentally ill and that they need to be cured,' said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. 'Groups like JONAH should not be allowed to use bogus therapy, based on junk science, to scam LGBT people and their families out of thousands of dollars.'

According to the complaint, customers of JONAH's services typically paid a minimum of $100 a week for individual counseling sessions and another $60 for group therapy sessions, with some paying as much as $10,000 a year for the services.

The lawsuit describes sessions in which unlicensed therapists ordered them to strip naked and touch their genitals while saying negative things about themselves in front of a mirror, group exercises involving the reenactment of childhood sexual abuse, and the use of homophobic slurs while the plaintiffs tried to grab a pair of oranges meant to symbolize testicles.

'Proponents of this bogus therapy lack any valid basis for their opinions promoting the abusive practice, yet they continue to scam vulnerable gay people and inflict long-term psychological harm,' Dinelli said.

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed its classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, and today no mainstream mental health professional endorses conversion therapy.

'It's unethical for counselors to be involved in reparative therapy,' David Kaplan, chief professional officer and former president of the American Counseling Association, told Mic news website. 'It's not a mental health intervention - it's a religious practice.'

Kaplan is such an outspoken critic of conversion therapy that he dislikes even using the word 'therapy' to describe the practice.

'A lot of us refer to it as 'sexual orientation change efforts,' he said. 'Therapy' connotes a mental health intervention. This is not a mental health intervention. A mental health intervention relates to the diagnosis and treatment of a mental disorder. Homosexuality is not a mental disorder. There's nothing to fix, there's nothing to repair, there's nothing to convert.'

New Jersey banned conversion therapy for minors in 2013. The law was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in September last year. SPLC's lawsuit deals with conversion therapists who claim to 'cure' adult patients.

Former NOM chairman Maggie Gallagher heads the legal group defending JONAH.

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