Court rules that "ex-gay" therapy is a fraud

Yesterday, a New Jersey jury found the “ex-gay” organization J.O.N.A.H guilty of consumer fraud. J.O.N.A.H, also known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, is a non-profit organization that promotes so-called “ex-gay” therapy. The verdict that J.O.N.A.H was a fraudulent organization was unanimous, and collectively entitled the three plaintiffs $72,400 in damages.

“I am thrilled beyond words for the chance to expose these harmful practices for the fraud that they are. I hope many LGBT people of faith will be spared the horrors that I and the other plaintiffs experienced,” said Michael Ferguson, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

One of the main reasons J.O.N.A.H was found guilty is due to the strategies it uses in therapy. As part of J.O.N.A.H's program, one plaintiff was forced to watch a reenactment of his childhood sexual abuse. Another was forced to undress in front of a group of men. These strategies were deemed fraudulent because there is no psychological evidence that this type of therapy is effective.

J.O.N.A.H also promotes the idea that over attachment to one's mother is why children are LGBT. As a result, the organization forced some patients to violently beat objects representing their mothers in order to make them straight. But like the aforementioned strategies, this therapy measure has no basis in psychology. The jury event went so far enough as to call this type of therapy an "unconscionable business practice."

In addition, the jury ruled that it was fraudulent to represent being LGBT as a disorder since homosexuality is no longer seen as a disorder by any mainstream accredited American medical organization, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association.

Often, when covering stories of “ex-gay” programs, reporters are tempted to strive for “balance” – but this is no longer the correct tone to take on this issue. Anything that implies to an audience that the practice of such programs is an ongoing debate among medical and mental health professionals is journalistically irresponsible, and can actually cause harm.

So-called “ex-gay” programs have been thoroughly condemned by The American Psychiatric Association; The American Psychological Association; The American Medical Association; The American Counseling Association; The American Academy of Pediatrics; and The National Association of Social Workers. The nation’s most knowledgeable medical and mental health authorities have uniformly dismissed the idea that being gay is something that needs to be “treated,” and recognize that trying to do so can cause serious harm.

The practice of reparative therapy has been widely repudiated by officials in the health community, with the World Health Organization in May declaring the practice “a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people” and that it “lacked medical justification.” In September, California became the first state in the country to ban reparative therapy for minors, with Gov. Jerry Brown declaring that such therapies “have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

GLAAD has released a Resource Guide for journalists and those in the media who are covering stories about “ex-gay” therapy and conversion methods, which includes the full statements from each of the groups that have denounced the idea of a healthcare professional trying to “repair” an individual’s sexual orientation. Even though they have been rejected and discredited by every mainstream healthcare organization, these programs are still widely accessible to individuals questioning their sexual orientation, or – outside of California – parents who take issue with the sexual orientation of their children. It is imperative that the media report on this issue responsibly.

Aside from this case, which was the first case that questioned the legality of ex-gay conversion programs, there have been few political moves made against conversion therapy. However, New Jersey, California, Oregon, and Washington D.C. do have laws that ban the use of ex-gay therapy on minors. In addition, in April, Obama pledged his support for Leelah's Law, a law would ban conversion therapy nationwide, and in May, Congressman Lieu introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would ban for-profit conversion therapy services under the Federal Trade Commission Act.