Gay "conversion therapy" claims to help men overcome their unwanted gay thoughts and feelings. But more and more, critics are saying that the treatment is not only ineffective, but humiliating and psychologically harmful. This kind of therapy is facing its first legal battle this week in court.
One of the plaintiffs is Sheldon Bruck. Sheldon was raised in an Orthodox Jewish community in Chicago, and he always thought being gay and being Jewish were mutually exclusive. When he was 17, he sought help from an organization called JONAH, which claimed to help young members of the Jewish community "journey out" of homosexuality. The organization says that same-sex attractions are caused by abuse, or rejection by male peers.
Christine Sun is deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Sheldon’s attorney. She works on LGBT-rights advocacy, as well as other constitutional rights issues.
"The legal issue in this case is fraud," Sun says. "It's not a medical malpractice claim, because JONAH doesn't offer licensed therapists."
"The treatments themselves are just not going to lead to anything besides feeling ashamed that they aren't working, and it's a form of fraud to claim otherwise," she says.
Sheldon's experience seems to confirm this. When he began the treatments, he was told that they would almost certainly be effective, but after several sessions, when he asked what the chances of the "conversion" working were, he was told that the chance was only 33 percent. Furthermore, he says that the claim went from being "you can change" to "not necessarily that you can change, but that you can learn an attraction to girls."
JONAH, the defendant in the case, issued the following statement on November 28, 2012:
Today, JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) responded to allegations of “consumer fraud” outlined in the suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), based in Montgomery Alabama, on November 27th, 2012. The lawsuit is without merit, and is designed to create a chilling effect upon speech and programs that assist people in overcoming unwanted same-sex attractions.
JONAH will vigorously defend itself and gender-affirming processes from the baseless attack contained in the lawsuit.
Arthur Goldberg, JONAH’s Co-Director, stated, “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”. See www.voices-of-change.org.
“As indicated by the publicity surrounding the event, the lawsuit is designed to create a chilling effect on people and organizations that stand for the position that change is possible, a position that is not contradicted by the APA’s latest statements.” JONAH only works with people who express dissatisfaction with their homosexual ideation, helps them assess and overcome deep issues, and does not seek to coerce anyone into changing their sexual orientation. JONAH supports the right of client self-determination, not “SPLC-determination,” of what is in the client’s best interests.
The intent of this lawsuit is to totally deny individuals the freedom to seek help for their own unwanted same-sex attractions. This bias denies the diversity of thought, belief and feeling within the GLBT and Questioning population. Whatever SPLC’s goals, this narrow-minded lawsuit runs directly contrary to true support for diversity and tolerance.