I have been a vocal critic of so-called "conversion therapy" for years, partly because my own "pray away the gay" efforts over decades accomplished nothing by self-hate, and partly because most of the "ex-gays" paraded by the Christian Right are frauds. Michael Johnston, who I help expose as a fraud back in 2003, is but one of the many examples of charlatans pretending to be "cured" while still totally gay in exchange for a pay check. This week, a jury in Jersey City will consider the case of four young men and two of their parents, who have accused a conversion therapy center - Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH - of fraud. The lawsuit, filed in 2012 is the first of its kind. Perhaps not coincidentally, the founder of JONAH is a former felon convicted of securities fraud. A piece in Huffington Post looks at the coming trial which, if decided in favor of the plaintiffs has the potential to seriously curtail fraudulent "clinics" and "ministries" operated by supposed religious organizations. Here are highlights:
This week, the so-called gay cure goes to trial in New Jersey.The practice has been widely condemned in recent years by the medical and mental health communities, and it's been banned in a number of states. Nevertheless, practitioners of conversion therapy, as the practice is sometimes called, continue to promise patients that it is possible to change sexual orientation through therapy.The plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, argue that JONAH violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act by claiming that its counseling services could cure clients of being gay.
Before the trial begins later this week, Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York City and one of the most vocal critics of conversion therapy, did an email Q&A with The Huffington Post about the case. In his view, a win for the plaintiffs would have a "chilling effect" on conversion therapists around the country.Let’s talk about the JONAH trial. First of all, how significant is this case in the overall movement to ban conversion therapy?
I think this case is highly significant, as it focuses on consumer fraud. A win by the plaintiffs will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on practitioners of SOCE beyond the borders of New Jersey. For example, it may also provide other states with models for laws of their own that will protect the public from practitioners of conversion "therapy" in those states. A win would also expand the ban on SOCE embodied in existing legislative bans in CA, NJ, OR and DC: They only apply to licensed professionals who do SOCE with minors. Consumer fraud laws can be used against non-licensed practitioners and protect adult patients as well. As I said, that's significant.Is there anything in particular that you will be watching for in this trial?
No. I have no idea what to expect, although I was heartened to hear the judge ruled out testimony from most of their "expert" witnesses.I do believe that individuals have a right to seek counseling to live their lives as they choose. However, licensed professionals and unlicensed quacks do not have a right to sell the public snake oil. In such cases, the state has a compelling interest to protect the public, even if members of the public choose to seek out "treatments" that don't work and that may be harmful.I see an analogy with laetrile, a quack treatment for cancer that was touted in the 1970s. After studies showed it was ineffective (and harmful in that people who sought out laetrile often failed to seek out conventional, more effective treatments), you couldn't get laetrile in the U.S., and doctors were not allowed to prescribe it.. . ..Perhaps after a few more consumer fraud lawsuits, conversion therapies will only be permitted for those who travel to Mexico to seek it out as well.The first federal bill to ban the practice was proposed last month. What do you think it will take to end conversion therapy entirely? And are we close to that moment?
I don't think the practice will ever end entirely. I think in terms of a harm reduction model: The best we can hope for is to educate the public about the harm and when harm has been done, hold the practitioners to account.
Conversion therapy doesn't work and these fraudulent ministries need to be shut down.