Entries in Gay Conversion Therapy (3)


Gay Men, Moms Sue Jewish Gay Conversion Therapists

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Four gay men and two of their mothers filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a New Jersey conversion therapy group that claims to rid men of same-sex attractions and turn them straight.

The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court of New Jersey Hudson County, alleges that methods used by the Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH) do not work and constitute fraud under the state's consumer protection laws.

Arthur Goldberg, JONAH's co-director, and Alan Downing, a "life coach" who provides therapy sessions, were also named in the suit.

The plaintiffs include Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Sheldon Bruck and Chaim Levin, all of whom used the services of JONAH when they were in their teens or early 20s.

Two of the men's mothers, Jo Bruck and Bella Levin, who paid for therapy sessions that could cost up to $10,000 a year, were also plaintiffs. They are seeking declaratory, injunctive and an undisclosed amount of monetary relief, as well as court costs, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs have received legal help from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which claims in the lawsuit that conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that has been "discredited or highly criticized" by every major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional organization.

The lawsuit alleges that some of the methods used included: telling boys to beat a pillow, the "effigy of the client's mother," with a tennis racket; encouraging "cuddling" between younger clients and older male counselors; and even instructing attendees to remove their clothing and hold their penises in front of Downing.

"It's definitely cruel and unusual and doesn't work," said SPLC lawyer Sam Wolfe. "They are peddling bogus techniques that have no foundation in science and are basically ridiculous and even harmful."

Wolfe paraphrased JONAH's message as: "All you have to do is put in the work to overcome your sexual attractions. If you follow our program your true orientation emerges and will turn you into a straight person."

Arthur Goldberg said he "knows nothing about the lawsuit," which was filed this morning, and referred ABC News to JONAH's website.

"We have a lot of people who were a success and were healed," he said of JONAH's 14 years in service. "Hundreds of the clients we serve are satisfied ... Our therapy is very conventional."

When asked about instructing boys to take off their clothes, he said, "I know nothing about that."

Goldberg also said he had "no idea" how to reach Downing because he was an "independent contractor."

According to JONAH's mission statement on its website, the nonprofit group is "dedicated to educating the world-wide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors which lead to same-sex attractions."

JONAH's Goldberg, who runs the business side of the nonprofit, says on the website that "change from homosexual to heterosexual is possible … homosexuality is a learned behavior which can be unlearned, and that healing is a lifelong process."

The American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization, among other mental health groups, have cited the potential risks of reparation therapy, including "depression, anxiety [and] self-destructive behavior," according to the lawsuit.

Chaim Levin, the most vocal of the plaintiffs, is now 23 and a gay rights advocate.  He grew up in a Jewish ultra orthodox community in Brooklyn where religious leaders threw him out of the Hebrew-speaking yeshiva at the age of 17, when they learned he was gay.

Levin told ABC News that he had been abused as a boy and that he was "confused" by his sexuality. At a rabbi's advice, he began 18 months of gay conversion therapy at JONAH.

When Levin met co-director Goldberg, he said the defendant told him JONAH could change his sexual orientation, "as long as I tried hard enough and put enough effort into it."

"He told me, 'You will marry a woman and have a straight life,'" said Levin.

Today, Levin no longer identifies as orthodox, but said his parents have been "supportive" of the lawsuit.

Some Jewish denominations and many congregations are inclusive of homosexual congregants, and even New York's orthodox communities are more open-minded now, according to Levin.

Copywright 2012 ABC News Radio


Calif. Bill Would Ban Conversion Therapy to Make Gay Teens Straight

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- California may become the first state to ban "conversion" therapy for gay and lesbian teens if a bill, spearheaded by Democratic State Sen. Ted Lieu, passes on the Senate floor. The bill passed its final committee vote Tuesday.

The bill would make it illegal for psychologists in the state of California to provide gay and lesbian conversion or reorientation therapy to teens. The controversial conversion therapy, sometimes also known as reparative therapy, attempts to change the sexual orientation of a person from homosexual (or bisexual) to heterosexual.

The bill would also require adults who submit to the therapy to sign a release saying they know what they're getting into.

"This therapy can be dangerous," Lieu said. He and supporters of the bill said conversion counseling is ineffective, can cause severe depression and guilt, and can even lead to suicide.

The American Psychological Association defines the type of therapy as based upon "the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation."

The California bill quotes a 2009 APA report that defines conversion therapy as "unlikely to be successful and involves some risk of harm." The APA did not take a position on the California bill.

Nevertheless, Clinton W. Anderson, director of the APA's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office, told ABC News, "Because APA doesn't see same-sex sexual orientation as being in any essential way different from other sexual orientations, we do not believe there is any psychological reason why people should change, and we believe those individuals and organizations that still promote such therapy or other methods of change are contributing to a negative social climate for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, especially young people."

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, has been a proponent of conversion therapy. Exodus International says it offers "grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality."

In a 2011 interview with ABC News, Chambers said, "Does counseling help people who are struggling to live through the filter of the faith over their sexuality? It definitely, absolutely does."

Chambers compared homosexuality with obesity.

"We can look at other organizations who help people dealing with other life struggles," he said. "For instance, Weight Watchers, which has tremendously benefited my life…should we go after Weight Watchers and tell them, 'Don't say that there's anything beyond obesity,' for people who are struggling with obesity and want an alternative to that?"

Dr. Carol Bernstein, associate professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center and past president of the American Psychiatry Association, told ABC News conversion therapy has "no scientific basis whatsoever." She said she has never known a psychiatrist to offer it and has never known a patient to be involved in it.

A San Francisco man, Peter Drake, testified at the California Senate Judiciary committee hearing on Tuesday that he had undergone conversion therapy treatment for three years.

"I have a personal, painful experience with the harm that can be done by reparative therapy," Drake was quoted as saying by the San Francisco Chronicle. "My depression worsened during the treatment, and there was no change in my sexual orientation....This is a form of medical malpractice, with practitioners who make claims about healing something that is not an illness."

Psychologists and psychiatrists who are practicing such techniques usually belong to religiously affiliated groups, said Dr. Aron Janssen, clinical director of the Gender and Sexuality Service at NYU Child Studies Center. Conservative groups say it's important for families to have access to such "treatments" for their children and teens, but trying to change something that is not an illness is both ineffective and unethical, Janssen said.

"The main concern I have here is that those who are exposed to these therapies are mostly children and adolescents and they can't consent for their own treatment," said Janssen. "Most of these parents think they're doing right by their children, but it's a harmful treatment and they're exposed to dangerous methods that have negative outcomes on self-esteem, depressive symptoms and identity consolidation."

"Whether or not this bill passes, it's important that this discussion happens," said Janssen. "It lets people know that sexual orientation is not something that people choose or change, and exposing children and adolescents to the idea that who you are is not good enough is something that contributes to an overall negative psychological long-term outcome."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bachmann Silent on Allegations Her Clinic Offers Gay Conversion Therapy

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Leading mental health experts Tuesday strongly condemned the Christian counseling center owned by GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus for engaging in a discredited therapy designed to convert gays to straights through prayer and self-reflection.

"This is so far outside the mainstream it's practically on Mars," said Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on the practice of gay conversions.

Marcus Bachmann had denied the family's suburban Minneapolis treatment centers employed so-called reparative therapy in a newspaper interview five years ago, but ABC News reported Monday on the experience of a former patient, and on an undercover operation mounted by gay rights advocates. Both provided evidence that practice is occurring there.

The "path for my therapy would be to read the Bible, pray to God that I would no longer be gay," said Andrew Ramirez, who was 17 years old at the time he sought help from Bachmann & Associates in suburban Minneapolis. "And God would forgive me if I were straight."

An undercover video shot by the group Truth Wins Out shows a Bachmann & Associates therapist telling a gay client that God designed men to be attracted to women, and with prayer and effort he could eventually become straight.

Both Drescher and Dr. Clinton Anderson of the American Psychological Association, the nation's leading professional organization for psychologists, told ABC News that efforts to convert patients from gay to straight not only don't work, they can actually harm patients.

"They may feel more depressed, more anxious, some people may feel more suicidal because this treatment didn't work," Drescher said. "There's a lot of technical language that sounds like mainstream psychology or mainstream psychiatry, but it's not."

Gay rights advocates decried the practice, circulating a petition calling on Bachmann to disavow the practice. Officials at the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign said they would be deeply concerned if federal or state funds went to support it.

"It would be a real disservice to the people who are harmed if any kind of public money were to be going towards the clinic that practiced them," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, the group's spokesman.

Bachmann & Associates has received tens of thousands of dollars in state and federal funds, but it is not clear whether any of the public money was used to support these therapies. Questions about this sent to the Bachmann campaign went unanswered.

Rep. Bachmann, her Congressional office, and her campaign staff remained silent on the issue, other than to say the congresswoman is proud of the Christian counseling center that she and her husband have co-owned since 2003. The center's website was unresponsive Tuesday.

On Capitol Hill, ABC News briefly caught up with Rep. Bachmann and asked her why she unwilling to discuss the methods used at the clinic.

"I'm focusing on turning the economy around and on jobs so that's what I'm focusing on," she responded as she hustled to her car.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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