US: Ex-gay therapy facing first court challenges

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – Four gay men who have tried so-called conversion or reparative therapy have filed a civil suit in New Jersey against a counselling group that they allege employs “deceptive practices” under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act, The New York Times reports.

According to the report, the men allege they were “emotionally scarred by false promises of inner transformation and humiliating techniques that included stripping naked in front of the counselor and beating effigies of their mothers.” After spending thousands of dollars in fees for the therapy with no change in their feelings, the men were told that their inability to convert was their own fault.

The counselling centre, known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or Jonah, describes itself as “dedicated to educating the worldwide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors that lead to same-sex attractions” and says it “works directly with those struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions,” including non-Jews, the report goes on to say. The centre does not have official standing within Judaism, it adds.

Neither co-founder Arthur Goldberg nor “life coach” Alan Downing is licensed as a therapist, The Times notes, and therefore “not subject to censure by professional associations.”

The civil suit, brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on behalf of the four men and two of their mothers, asks for financial compensation and for Jonah to be shut down.

“The defendants peddled antigay pseudoscience, defaming gay people as loathsome and deranged,” SPLC lawyer Sam Wolfe told The Times.

Meanwhile, on Nov 30 in Sacramento, California, a federal judge will begin hearing the first of two legal challenges brought by conservative law groups that claim that California’s new state law banning gay conversion therapy for minors is an “unconstitutional infringement on speech, religion and privacy.” Governor Jerry Brown signed the measure into law in September.

In response to the accusations of constitutional infringements, California’s state attorney-general’s office noted the “extensive professional literature” that discredits ex-gay therapy, The Times says. It also notes that the new law bans “harmful conduct but not speech or religion.”

The head of Exodus International, a prominent proponent of ex-gay therapy, has repeatedly distanced himself from his organization’s “change
is possible” mantra, much to the intense chagrin of those still devoted
to the idea that all gay people need to rid themselves of homosexuality
is a good dose of prayer and therapy.

“I would say the majority, meaning 99.9 percent of them, have not


experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place
where they could say that they could never be tempted, or are not
tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction,”
Alan Chambers told a Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference on Jan 6.

In a July 6 story, The Times
also quotes Chambers as saying there is no cure for homosexuality, and
reparative therapy is an exercise in false hope for gays and
might even be harmful.

“I am sorry that that is something we used,” he said when asked by a GCN
conference panellist if Exodus had apologized for using the “change is possible” phrase over
a 30-year period. “This is something we regret very much being
ambiguous about, because I don’t think ambiguity with this subject is
helpful, so that is something that we’re very, very sorry about.”

According to The Times, accusations of heresy have
been levelled against Chambers for his reevaluation, which is seen as causing a
rift in the ex-gay movement.

But Chambers is not the only proponent of conversion therapy who
has apologized. In May, none other than retired psychiatrist Robert Spitzer

retracted claims in a controversial 2001 study he conducted that
claimed “highly motivated” gays and lesbians could change their sexual
orientation. “In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are
largely correct,” he said.

Natasha Barsotti is originally from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. She had high aspirations of representing her country in Olympic Games sprint events, but after a while the firing of the starting gun proved too much for her nerves. So she went off to university instead. Her first professional love has always been journalism. After pursuing a Master of Journalism at UBC , she began freelancing at Xtra West — now Xtra Vancouver — in 2006, becoming a full-time reporter there in 2008.

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