One of the most prevalent traits of today's conservative Christians is their patent dishonesty. Anything that promotes their theocratic agenda is seemingly acceptable, including spreading deliberate lies and derogatory talking points and trashing anyone who does not conform to their hate and fear based religious beliefs. Nowhere do we see this more than in the never ending attacks on gays and transgender individuals who by their very existence seem to threaten the house of cards belief system of the "godly folks." I don't want to beat to death the ongoing trial in New Jersey where an "ex-gay" ministry is being sued for consumer fraud, but the trial is truly significant because of the scrutiny it is bringing on the totally discredited "ex-gay conversion" industry.
These fraudulent ministries inflict so much harm and harm so many lives that they truly need to be shut down on a nationwide basis. Yes, this is very personal to me. Although I never was directly subjected to "ex-gay" conversion therapy, I tried every way I could find to make myself straight and to "pray away the gay." The experience was harmful and destructive and caused so much self-hate and so many thoughts of suicide. At least in my case, no one was pocketing a lot of money while subjecting me to a form of torture. The Atlantic looks at the bogus nature of such "ministries." Here are highlights:
For 17-year-old Chaim Levin, despair came in the form of a persistent attraction to men—largely because his Orthodox Jewish community rejected homosexuality. After Levin confided to a friend that he was not interested in women, he says he was thrown out of his religious school.
Levin and his family hoped an organization called JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, could help him become straight. JONAH referred him to an unlicensed life coach named Alan Downing, who began treating him in weekly group and individual therapy sessions beginning in 2007 in Jersey City, New Jersey.
For one session that reportedly cost $100, Downing asked Levin to stand in front of a full-length mirror. According to court documents, Downing told Levin to say a negative thing about himself and remove an article of clothing with each criticism. When he was fully naked, Levin alleges that Downing told him to touch his penis and his buttocks. Eventually, Downing said “good,” and the session ended. Downing allegedly tried similar nudity-based methods on other JONAH clients.
Now Levin and two other young men who also underwent JONAH-affiliated treatment are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the organization. The case is being brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama-based civil-rights group, which is arguing that JONAH-style treatment—and other “gay conversion therapies” like it—amount to consumer fraud. Quite simply, the SPLC argues, conversion therapy doesn’t work. People can’t become ex-gay, and making promises to the contrary is a false bill of goods.
“These were very young men,” SPLC senior staff attorney Sam Wolfe told me. “They were from communities where they didn't know gay people, and they didn't know that much about it.”
New Jersey’s “Consumer Fraud Act protects people from lies or misleading statements,” Wolfe added. “It doesn't matter if our clients voluntarily signed up ... it was like candy to them, so of course they wanted to sign up for it. They believed and trusted the words and promises of the defendants, which turned out to be false. The defendants sold them modern-day snake oil.”
Three states, Oregon, California, and New Jersey, as well as Washington D.C., have already banned the practice for minors. Ultimately, the SPLC hopes a court victory will herald the end of ex-gay therapies nationwide. Last month, Congressman Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, introduced a bill to ban reparative therapy at the federal level. A map created by SPLC currently lists some 70 organizations across 20 states that practice conversion therapy in some form.
What mainstream experts agree on, though, is that homosexuality is perfectly normal. (Indeed, a New Jersey Superior Court judge has already granted the SPLC one victory, ruling that it is fraudulent to say that homosexuality is a disorder.)
“People's sexual orientation is something that they feel is a very central part of their being,” said Gregory Herek, a psychology professor at the University of California in Davis. “When you have the idea of people trying to change it in therapy, it's attempting to change something that's a very core part of the person.”
“Enduring change to an individual’s sexual orientation is uncommon,” the American Psychological Association wrote in a 2009 report on the topic after reviewing studies on the effectiveness of conversion therapies. “The participants in this body of research continued to experience same-sex attractions following [sexual-orientation change efforts]. Compelling evidence of decreased same-sex sexual behavior ... was rare.”
The SPLC complaint, meanwhile, alleges that the JONAH co-founder Arthur Goldberg told one of the plaintiffs, Benjamin Unger, that “change is absolutely possible,” and that Unger could essentially stop being gay within two to four years.
People who seek out conversion therapy often do it because of extreme stigma in their communities, and not because of some intrinsic desire to be straight. The problem is the discrimination, not the sexuality.