Gay Orthodox Jews Sue Conversion Therapy Counselors Who Promised To Make Them Straight

11/27/2012 05:04 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

On Tuesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH).

The consumer fraud suit accuses the "ex-gay" conversion therapy organization of tricking the plaintiffs into believing homosexuality was a "mental disorder" that could be cured, CNN reports.

The complaint was filed on behalf of four young men and two of their parents. The men allege that JONAH "lured them into paying for counseling with deceptive practices," according to Think Progress.

The suit says the expensive therapy (it can cost up to $10,000 a year) put the plaintiffs at risk of "depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior," CNN reports.

According to Think Progress, treatment strategies used in JONAH sessions with the plaintiffs included:

  • remove all clothing during both individual and group therapy sessions including an instruction to Levin to hold his penis in front of [JONAH counselor Alan Downing, a defendant]
  • cuddle and intimately hold others of the same-sex including between young clients and older counselors,
  • violently beat an effigy of the client’s mother with a tennis racket,
  • go to the gym more as well as bath houses in order to be nude with father figures, and
  • be subjected to ridicule as “faggots” and “homos” in mock locker room and gym class scenarios.

The so-called conversion therapy that JONAH practices is "unconscionable and a sham," Sam Wolfe, a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said during a press conference on Tuesday, Reuters notes.

The American Psychological Association has repeatedly repudiated reparative or conversion therapy techniques (also known colloquially as "pray the gay away" techniques). In 2009, it passed a resolution concluding "there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation," and that "same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity."

In September, California became the first state in the country to ban these type of therapy practices under SB-1172.

"This bill bans non-scientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery," Brown said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle.

JONAH's mission statement claims to educate the "world-wide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors which lead to same-sex attractions. JONAH works directly with those struggling with unwanted same-sex sexual attractions (SSA) and with families whose loved ones are involved in homosexuality."

It continues:

Our Rabbinical sages explain that because mankind has been endowed by our Creator with a free will, everyone has the capacity to change. Furthermore, the Rabbis emphasize that parents, teachers and counselors have a special responsibility to educate, nurture, and provide an opportunity for those struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions to journey out of homosexuality.

Through psychological and spiritual counseling, peer support, and self-empowerment, JONAH seeks to reunify families, to heal the wounds surrounding homosexuality, and to provide hope.

When reached by ABC News, JONAH co-director Arthur Goldberg said his organization had healed hundreds of clients over its 14 years in service, but he admitted he could not speak to his counselors' methodology and had "no background specifically in counseling."

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court of New Jersey Hudson County, seeks declaratory, injunctive and an undisclosed amount of monetary relief, as well as court costs, according to ABC News.

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