David Porter of the Associated Press reported on an interesting New Jersey court case on Monday. According to Porter, four men sued Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) “in 2012 under New Jersey’s consumer fraud laws.” The men are claiming that “the group violated state consumer fraud laws by characterizing homosexuality as a mental disorder and claiming it could successfully change patients’ sexual orientation.” JONAH, a nonprofit, had reportedly promised to turn the men “from gay to heterosexual.”
Sabrina Caserta and Dareh Gregorian of the NY Daily News said the purported “cures” were worse than the non-existent disease. Caserta and Gregorian noted that one of the plaintiffs who underwent the so-called “gay conversion therapy” cried on the witness stand “as he described the bizarre, abusive treatments left him depressed and suicidal.”
Benjamin Unger, a 27-year-old Orthodox Jew “who was feeling pressured to get married and start a family…said he went to the Jersey City-based non-profit for help dealing with his attraction to men in 2007.” Unger said that Arthur Goldberg, a co-founder of JONAH, told Unger he could “turn me gay to straight” in under four years. He added that the “scientific” treatments were “highly unorthodox.”
Porter said that Unger “wept…as he described cutting off contact with his mother after being told she was the cause of his homosexuality. Unger also told jurors about “an exercise in which he was encouraged to take a tennis racket and repeatedly beat a pillow,” which was meant to symbolize his mother. Unger said, “I gashed my hand because of how much I hit it.”
The four plaintiffs said that they “underwent treatment that included being told to spend more time naked with their fathers and participating in role-playing in which they were subjected to anti-gay slurs in a locker room setting.”
Caserta and Gregorian said that one of the “cures” offered by JONAH was “requiring them to undress in front of a mirror, each other, and a counselor who would also remove his clothes.”
Caserta and Gregorian:
Another treatment was called “healthy touch,” which Unger described as an exercise where you learned how to touch men in a “’healthy’ way, not a sexual way.” It involved picking a male partner, and hugging and cuddling on the floor while the lights were dimmed and slow music played in the background, he said.
Unger said that he was also sent to a “Journey to Manhood” retreat, “where participants would choose a staff member to cradle them in their arms” and talk to them as if they were children.
After eleven months, Unger said he left the program because everything that he tried “wasn’t working.” He noted that he was “still attracted to men” and “was more ashamed of it than ever.”
During his opening statement, Charles LiMandri, the attorney for JONAH, said “that even the plaintiffs’ experts will testify that its methods are commonly used by therapists and that some patients have reported successful experiences.”
Three of the four men reportedly come from Orthodox Jewish families. David Dinelli, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said that the three men “were grappling with their sexuality in a culture in which ‘there were no gay people’ and there was pressure to marry and have children.” Michael Ferguson, the fourth plaintiff, is a Mormon.
Dinelli told the jurors, “My clients needed help but JONAH lied and JONAH made it worse.” He added, “All they got was junk science and so-called cures.”
LiMandri claimed that none of the four plaintiffs “asked for their money back at the time.” He continued, “All four of these men left JONAH on good terms, speaking glowingly” of their experience and referring it to friends. He said, “It was only after being contacted by activists that they denounced the organization.” LiMandri added, “The plaintiffs became aggressors after they left JONAH to destroy JONAH.”
LiMandri said that JONAH has had “hundreds of clients” since it was founded in 1998, and “has a 75 percent success rate.”
Caserta and Gregorian:
The group’s treatments are based on the theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder, a contention that’s not shared by major psychiatric organizations.
Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, told the Daily News that JONAH’s treatments “are all quack treatments. They have no basis in real science or research.”
Drescher added, “These are activities by people who are making it up as they go along.”