Why Ex-Gay Therapy Groups Should Be Very Nervous Right Now

A New Jersey judge has delivered a blow to ex-gay therapy groups, saying that so-called change therapy amounts to consumer fraud when groups make certain claims about gay people, and also when they claim success rates that they cannot support with facts.

The case involves several people including Plaintiffs Benjamin Unger and Chaim Levin, who are survivors of ex-gay therapy. They are suing the Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. It is the first time that ex-gay therapy has been challenged in this way, and based on Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso Jr.’s determinations so far, it’s going to be a big problem for ex-gay therapy groups across the country.

The case hasn’t gone to trial yet, but Judge Bariso Jr. has granted a request by plaintiffs for partial summary judgement, which essentially means that the judge looks at the evidence presented in case files and makes a determination on those grounds. Specifically here, the judge was asked whether JONAH has committed fraud under New Jersey’s consumer protection laws when JONAH claims that homosexuality is a “disorder” that can be cured, and when it cites specific success statistics that JONAH cannot substantiate with hard data.

Bariso Jr., having previously told JONAH it cannot use ”expert testimony” or witnesses because there’s no such thing as a scientific expert in ex-gay therapy because conversion therapy isn’t scientifically recognized, issued the following determination on February 10 (pdf):

It is a misrepresentation in violation of the CFA, in advertising or selling conversion therapy services, to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease, disorder, or equivalent thereof.

[...]

It is a misrepresentation in violation of the CFA, in advertising or selling conversion therapy services, to include specific “success” statistics when there is no factual basis for calculating such statistics, e.g., when client outcomes are not tracked and no records on client outcomes are maintained.

Judge Bariso Jr. also struck JONAH’s Eighth and Ninth Amendment defenses, noting they were dispatched in oral arguments on February the 5th and were agreed to have no actual bearing on the case.

JONAH’s attorney Charles LiMandri claims that the court has got this wrong, and that the group’s use of the word “disorder” is not intended to mean a medical disorder but a “religious” one based on JONAH’s interpretation of Jewish law. Essentially, they are attempting a religious defense for the program, but it’s undeniable that they are claiming a psychological change in the people who are subjected to this therapy, so it remains to be seen how much scope they can get out of their religious defense.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents plaintiffs, believes that this latest ruling is highly significant not just for New Jersey but for gay people throughout the United States.

“This ruling is monumental and devastating to the conversion therapy industry,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “For the first time, a court has ruled that it is fraudulent as a matter of law for conversion therapists to tell clients that they have a mental disorder that can be cured. This is the principal lie the conversion therapy industry uses throughout the country to peddle its quackery to vulnerable clients. Gay people don’t need to be cured, and we are thrilled that the court has recognized this.”

The SPLC isn’t wrong. This trial is on course to dismantle every one of ex-gay therapy’s key lies. For one thing, the judge not allowing so-called experts to testify about ex-gay therapy’s efficacy because change therapy isn’t science is impressively damaging and rips through the tapestry of misdirection and flat out lies that underpin ex-gay therapy. Furthermore, we see JONAH retreating into a religious defense because if it can not make secular claims about data and psychological disorders, it is left with little else than its religious opinions — that by itself smacks of desperation.

The case, which will go to trial in June, is considered a flag-ship for the battle against ex-gay therapy and it is incredibly important. Unfortunately, the trial does not include determinations around ex-trans therapy, and as we learned from Leelah Alcorn’s story, religious therapists trying to suppress a young person’s self-determination of their gender can have awful consequences. This is not to detract from this very important lawsuit, but to say that it is one piece of a larger fight.

As such, a campaign, the BornPerfect Campaign, has been launched that aims to have every state enact laws that ban all accredited therapists from engaging in or offering ex-LGBT therapy to minors. Such efforts will also be needed to stamp out a practice that has no basis in scientific fact and one that is prejudiced and harmful.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

78 comments

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M.N. J.
M.N. J4 years ago

I hope they all get sued. And sued. Especially any "therapist" that is married to Michele Bachmann, or that had anything to do with "curing" Ted Haggard.

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Sharon S.
Sharon S4 years ago

When are people going to understand that being LGBT is not a choice, it just is.

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Leanne B.
Leanne B4 years ago

This is a good thing. Thanks for posting.

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Janis K.
Janis K4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Cosa H.
Sjors S4 years ago

They better be nervous

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froudji thommes
froudji thommes4 years ago

It´s an outrage that one type of sexuality can be seen as a misbehavior that should be cured by therapy. Psychiatry (another word for "social police") has - under the pressure of a far more tolerant public - stop considering homosexuality as a psychic disease in 1973, so it would be time these "therapies" to be seen as what they are: fraud. But thanks to the clever and courageous judge for recognizing this

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Philip W.
Philip W4 years ago

Ex-Gay Therapy and other religious pseudoscience is to be expected when belief is respected and embraced more than reality, and it is also the reason why belief is “pushed” in society. It literally makes an issue out of nothing. Every religious claim must be challenged when it affects the lives of others and must be rejected when it proves false. We readily reject this type of lunacy when the religious mind states that those who don’t believe should be murdered (Deuteronomy 13:6-10), why would anyone give a moments thought to any other religious insanity.

If believers could prove their religion is true, they wouldn’t need to intrude so much into other people’s lives. Sadly, most believers have been deceived by politically driven, power hungry, self-aggrandizing, religious zealots that are simply opportunists. They don’t just make a “mountain out of a molehill”, they invented the molehill in the first place.

Take away hatred from some people, and you have men without faith. - Eric Hoffer

When we believe ourselves in possession of the only truth, we are likely to be indifferent to common everyday truths. - Eric Hoffer

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