Accused of fraud: Arthur Goldberg

A fraud lawsuit has been filed in the US against a group in New Jersey over its claims that it can “cure” clients of being gay though so-called conversion therapy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has accused Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) of consumer fraud for falsely claiming that it can turn gay people straight.

The lawsuit was filed by SPLC on behalf of four young men and two of their parents who “were lured into JONAH’s services through deceptive practices”.

They claim that the organisation, its founder, Arthur Goldberg, and counsellor Alan Downing violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act.

“Sadly, there is no accountability for those who practice conversion therapy,” said Michael Ferguson, one of the conversion therapy survivors behind the lawsuit.

“They play blindly with deep emotions and create an immense amount of self-doubt for the client. They seize on your personal vulnerability, and tell you that being gay is synonymous with being less of a man. They further misrepresent themselves as having the key to your new orientation.”

“These counsellors are skilled at manipulating you into believing just about anything,” said Benjamin Unger, another one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“During my time with JONAH, they told me constantly that my mom had made me gay. I was so convinced that I refused to have any contact with her for several months, which caused a great deal of damage to our relationship.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, SPLC attorney Sam Wolfe described some of the techniques utilised by JONAH’s counsellors. These included humiliating sessions in which the plaintiffs had to remove their clothes in front of older counsellors (who were also attracted to men) and had to beat effigies of their mothers, while screaming at them for making them gay.

Another session involved a “patient” attempting to wrestle away two oranges – used to represent testicles – from another individual.

“JONAH profits off of shameful and dangerous attempts to fix something that isn’t broken,” said Christine P. Sun, deputy legal director for the SPLC.

“Despite the consensus of mainstream professional organisations that conversion therapy doesn’t work, this racket continues to scam vulnerable gay men and lesbians out of thousands of dollars and inflicts significant harm on them.”

The lawsuit describes how the underlying premise of conversion therapy – that a person can “convert” to heterosexuality – has no basis in scientific fact. Major medical and mental health organisations around the world have denounced the practice, including the World Health Organisation.

Arthur Goldberg, JONAH’s Co-Director, said that the organisation will vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to assist those with unwanted same-sex attractions. There are thousands of people who have shed their unwanted same-sex attractions, not only through our programs, but also through other similar programs,” he stated.

It is the first time a conversion therapy provider has been sued for fraudulent business practices in the US.

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