SCOTUS lets stand California law banning conversion therapy

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal of a lower court ruling to leave standing a 2012 California law banning conversion therapy for minors.

According to Reuters, this was the second time in three years the court had rejected an appeal of the California law. That ruling left in place a lower court ruling that the law neither impinged upon free exercise of religion nor impacted the activities of clergy members.

California passed the law prohibiting state-licensed mental health counselors, including psychologists and social workers, from offering therapy to change sexual orientation in minors back in 2012, making it the first state to pass such a law. SCOTUS refused to review the law in 2014 after an appeals court rejected claims that the ban infringed on free speech rights under U.S. Constitution’s the First Amendment. This time, a Christian minister challenged the law, claiming that it violates religious freedom.

New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and the District of Columbia now have similar laws on the books. The Supreme Court turned away a challenge to New Jersey’s law in 2015.


—  Tammye Nash

Joseph Nicolosi, father of “conversion therapy,” has died

Joseph Nicolosi

Joseph Nicolosi, the “father” of so-called “conversion therapy,” has died of complications from the flu, according to a statement posted on Facebook Thursday by officials at St. Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic, where he worked as clinical director. He was 70 years.

Clinic officials posted the statement on their Facebook page on Thursday, March 9, confirming that Nicolosi had died the previous day, Wednesday, March 8.

Nicolosi was co-founder of the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and one of the most prominent names of the so-called “ex-gay movement.” His “conversion” or “reparative therapy” has been shown not only to be useless in actually changing a person’s sexual orientation, but in fact, dangerous to those subjected to it.

In fact, six states —New Jersey, California, Oregon, Illinois, New York and Vermont — have already passed legislation banning the practice of such “therapy” on minors, and New Mexico is moving to become the seventh. “Conversion therapy” has been denounced by all major medical associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.


—  Tammye Nash

The write stuff

Cesar Baquerizo’s mission to expose the horrors of gay conversion therapy


Cesar Luis Baquerizo has a soft spot for underdogs. It’s an attitude borne from experience. Born in Quito, Ecuador, Baquerizo has lived most of his life with a 90 percent hearing loss. And he grew up gay in a culture that still takes a macho attitude about sexuality — so much so, that within the last decade, his native country has undergone several scandals about gay “conversion therapy” centers that go to extremes to “cure” people of their homosexuality.

Baquerizo was so moved by the tales of abuse in these clinics that in 2011 — at age 25 — he began writing A Safe Place with You. A sweeping novel that spans the founding of a (fictional) conversion clinic in the 1970s and goes up to the present day, A Safe Place with You tells a compelling story about a young man who provides light to his fellow “patients” while detailing the hypocrisy and damaging attitudes that have demonized homosexuality.

Against the odds, he spent years trying to find a publisher for the English-language version of the book. “Rejections were always there — it was a tough time and very bad emotionally,” he says. “On my last attempt, I found myself with an acceptance letter. I remember jumping around with so much happiness.”

Earlier this year, Baquerizo finalized the English-language translation, and started his own North American book tour, which brings him to the Barnes & Noble in Plano this Saturday.

“What brought me here is my dream to spread my message about the horrific practice of conversion therapy,” Baquerizo says. “The reality is, only in Vermont, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon and the District of Columbia is conversion therapy on minors banned. That means 45 states don’t protect youth LGBTQ that are rejected by their own family and sent to these horror experiences. Reparative/conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that destroys and distorts psychologically and spiritually LGBTQ youth. A Safe Place with You is about the journey to love yourself and encourage self-acceptance.”

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 10.18.01 AM
Dallas Voice: You’ve had a journeyman career, but you’ve said writing this book was a dream come true. Did you always want to write this book, or did you just feel you needed to tell a story, and this is the one that came to you? Cesar Baquerizo: Well, writing a book is a dream I wanted since I was 14. I started writing back as a kid in my primary school, but more like a hobby. It was an activity I used to entertain myself so I could explore my creativity.

Writing this book came to me unexpectedly. When I first found out about the illegal clinics that were operating to “cure” homosexuality, it really impacted me. I felt that need to do something — to act up so I could create more awareness about the dangerous and awful practice that is conversion therapy.  I got inspired to create a fictional world with fictional characters that are in fact not that different from our current reality. I do need to tell this story so I can make a good difference to reach people’s heart to allow them to be placed in the LGBT [person’s] shoes, so they can understand how does it feel to be right there with my characters.

Speaking of the clinics: How much research did you do? How much of the details are based in fact?  When I first started writing the Spanish version in August 2011, it was difficult for me to research directly with the patients, because most of the victims did not give their whereabouts or their names for [personal security reasons]. The victims’ testimonies and the information from the health ministry of Ecuador [accounts] about the illegal clinics published in newspapers helped me and inspired me to write A Safe Place with You. It was after I published [in Spanish] that I got the chance to have conversations with survivors of these very real clinics and their stories ended up similar [to what] I wrote. They later let me know how they identified with my characters.

So there’s nothing autobiographical about it?  I’m not necessarily telling my life story, but there are some parts based on my own experiences in coming out, what I felt about the Bible, about the society. Also, each of my characters have something and different sides of me. I can say that I wrote and created all my characters like alter egos.

So, do you personally know anyone who went through conversion efforts?  I have a dear friend, who is so brave and inspiring, who told me that in late 2014, his father wanted to put him in a center to “cure” his homosexuality. His father never told him directly, but it was like a conspiracy [in his] family. Luckily, his sister warned him, “Be careful.” He was paranoid everywhere he would go because he knew how hundred of these clinics were discovered by the health of minister [in 2011]. So he decided to leave the country. He now resides in Canada and lives proudly, married with his longtime boyfriend, who is from Ecuador, too. Their story inspired me even more to come forward to talk about these issues.

I [also] met a guy who confessed me that he was forcibly taken by his family to a center where he suffered both physically and emotionally. It was a nightmare for him. Luckily, his parents took him out months later. [But] many families will say nothing to see their sons “healed” from their “bad behavior.”

image1What is the state of gay rights or gay acceptance like in Ecuador — or Latin America in general — now? Is it getting better?
Well, the problem is that these centers are hidden. I can’t tell how many of these clinics may still exist in Ecuador or around the world. They may even exist in your own proverbial backyard. We have protection laws against LGBT discrimination [in Ecuador], but still we have a lot do in our society to stop violating our rights. It’s important to speak out [and be] more visible about these issues that destroy LGBT youths’ lives. The reality is that most LGBT people here are influenced by the views of the society and are obligated to still live in the closet. They even have to create a double life to make their families proud, to receive the inheritance and to “protect” their family’s name. The rest of us who aren’t closeted do our best to show our diversity and to inspire the closeted ones that there is nothing wrong in them and there will be always someone who will accept and understand their true identity.

I don’t try to generalize about my country or to judge someone, but what I’m sharing are facts that need to be known in order to stop spreading the misconception about what is sexuality — which is diverse. We are all here with our different sexual orientations and we shouldn’t be ignored. The reality is that most LGBT people are influenced by their views of society and religion, which don’t let them experience the journey of humanity where they get to find, discover and know who they are.

You’ve been 90 percent deaf most of your life. Has that informed your novel? Or your identity as a gay man? Do you have an “outsider” quality based on both of these?
  I identify myself with all my particularities. Being gay is not the only thing that makes me. I’m more than that. Each part of me shows the rest how the same we are, because we are all different. I’m deaf, too. I did experience being an outsider in my teenagers years for being gay and deaf. At that time, I felt [like I wasn’t] part of the deaf community for not knowing ASL signs and [I wasn’t] part of the gay community for not seeing anyone being openly proud. I struggled a lot to fit in this society because I couldn’t relate or identify myself with anyone. But I managed to find myself proudly as part of both communities when I realized there were more people like me. I believe that we can make a big change all together by [making] our diversity more visible so everyone can see us, especially the kids, who are the ones that are going through the hard times alone. I’m learning ASL signs little by little and I enjoy new experiences.

There’s a strong romantic component to your book. Is that just your Latin roots coming through?  Oh, I always have been romantic, a dreamer and an adventurer. I like to have new experiences. I like to work hard because it makes me feel alive. I’m romantic because I like to think that loving someone with a lot of affection and to want to make that person your everything — it’s a beautiful feeling in life.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Illinois becomes 4th state to ban ‘conversion therapy’ for teens

Republican candidate for governor of Illinois Rauner prepares to speak at a public forum at the University of Chicago

Illinois Gov. Brucer Rauner

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner this week signed into law the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, making Illinois the fourth state in the U.S. to be so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapy for LGBT youth. Other states that have already outlawed such practices are New Jersey, Oregon and California.

The law, which Rauner signed Thursday, Aug. 20, prohibits any mental health provider from trying to change the sexual orientation of anyone under age 18. It also prohibits mental health providers from referring a client or patient to any one else for “conversion” therapy. Attempts to change a young person’s sexual orientation or referring a patient to someone else for such treatments will now be considered unprofessional conduct and is subject to discipline by the licensing entity or disciplinary review board with jurisdiction.

Both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have long since condemned “conversion” or “reparative” therapy as discredited quackery. Both associations have said that being LGBT is not an illness nor a disorder and so LGBT people have no need of being repaired nor converted.

Many experts have also said that forcing LGBT individuals, especially LGBT youth, to undergo conversion therapy can be damaging to their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Brent Holman-Gomez and Bob Schwartz, organizers of the LGBT advocacy organization Gay Liberation Network, first proposed legislation banning conversion therapy to state Reps. Kelly Cassidy and Greg Harris in January 2014. This week Holman-Gomez called enactment of the ban “a great advance in the rights of youth, and for society as a whole.”

Sam Wolfe, an attorney with Southern Poverty Law Center which also advocates against conversion therapy, said that Illinois lawmakers “did the right thing by passing a law to protect LGBT youth from the harmful and fraudulent practice … . What’s new and progressive about Illinois’ law banning this ‘therapy’ is that it’s the first to include a provision that says advertising this practice amounts to consumer fraud.”

Wolfe noted that in June a New Jersey jury found that a conversion therapy provider there violated the state’s consumer fraud law by offering such services.

“It is exciting to see the SPLC’s landmark consumer fraud case against a provider of conversion therapy so quickly have an influence on lawmakers,” Wolfe said of the Illinois law’s passage. “With federal legislation to ban conversion therapy pending, we hope — and expect — to see the drumbeat continue against this unconscionable practice.

Rauner signed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act just one day shy of the 60-day deadline by which the state’s constitution requires legislation be signed or vetoed by the governor, or it goes into effect automatically.

—  Tammye Nash

Jury finds JONAH is consumer fraud


Arthur Goldberg

After a three-week trial in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, a jury today determined that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) violated New Jersey consumer fraud protections and committed unconscionable business practices by telling clients and potential clients that they were disordered and by offering “conversion therapy” services it claimed could turn their gay clients straight.

The seven-person jury deliberated for about three hours before delivering a unanimous verdict on nearly all counts in the trial overseen by Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr.

JONAH was founded by Arthur Goldberg. In 1987, Goldberg was indicted on 52 counts of bribery, conspiracy and fraud. Facing life in prison, he pleaded guilty to just a few counts and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and five years’ probation and was also fined $400,000.

The plaintiffs were three young men and two mothers. The jury ruled that the New Jersey-based JONAH violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act through its marketing and performance of conversion therapy, a practice that has been discredited by virtually every major U.S. medical and mental health association.

In a landmark pre-trial ruling on Feb. 5, Bariso excluded several leading gay conversion therapy proponents, including Joseph Nicolosi and Christopher Doyle, from testifying as defense experts. He ruled their opinions were based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder. In a blistering opinion, the judge wrote that “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it — instead is outdated and refuted.”

Trial testimony proved that JONAH counselors defrauded clients and used abusive and discredited techniques. According to testimony at the trial, the defendants’ counselors or their associates instructed young men to undress and stand naked in a circle with them; encouraged clients to undress in front of a mirror and touch their genitals while a counselor was present in a closed-door session, and organized group activities for clients to reenact past abuse and take part in violent role-play exercises. Male counselors also engaged and advocated “healthy touch” with young men, including cuddling sessions lasting nearly an hour.

Expert testimony showed that conversion therapy has been linked to increased anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. It also has been criticized by the American Psychological Association for promoting a climate of bigotry and discrimination toward the LGBT community.

JONAH’s techniques sometimes alienated clients from their families and caused them to blame themselves or family members for their being gay.

“I was told from the beginning, gay to straight is possible,” plaintiff Benjamin Unger testified on the opening day of the trial. “Those are the words. That is what I was promised. I felt like I was being deceived.”

JONAH counselors coaxed Unger to beat an effigy of his mother with a tennis racket in one exercise. “I had a huge gash and my hands were actually bleeding from hitting it so much,” Unger testified. “People were standing around me and supporting me and kind of egging me on, and … that was probably the worst thing I did in the JONAH program as far as how it affected me and my family and how it affected me emotionally.”

After the verdict, 27-year-old Unger of Brooklyn, said he felt vindicated.

“I am so grateful that the jury has decided conversion therapy organizations do not have the right to lie to and deceive people,” Unger said. “It is a victory not just for me but for other victims of this harmful therapy. Thank you to all of our lawyers, friends and supporters who have been there for me throughout this difficult process.”

Plaintiff Chaim Levin, 26, whose mother, Bella, was also a plaintiff, said: “Seven years ago, I was subjected to abusive, harmful practices by JONAH that I thought would remain secret and unnoticed despite how destructive they were – in part because they thrived on this secrecy in their so-called therapy practice. Now the world knows about their destructive, refuted practices. I took part in this lawsuit to take a stand. I don’t want another person to endure the anguish and harm JONAH put my loved ones and me through.”

The jury ordered the defendants pay a total of $72,400 in damages to the plaintiffs. The damages were three times the amounts the plaintiffs paid for JONAH’s program and include the amount one plaintiff paid for subsequent therapy to repair the damage caused by JONAH’s program.

JONAH must also pay reasonable attorneys’ fees for plaintiffs. The lawsuit also seeks the cancellation of JONAH’s business license, among other remedies to be considered by the judge in coming weeks.

“This is not a freedom of religion case,” said Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney Sam Wolfe. “It is unlawful to defraud vulnerable individuals and lure them with false promises of orientation change. The lie that individuals can change their sexual orientation if only they work hard enough and pay for enough ‘therapy’ has harmed individuals, families, and religious communities for far too long.”

The case has helped spark legislation in Congress to ban conversion therapy nationwide. New Jersey, California, Oregon and the District of Columbia have already banned the practice for minors, and a number of states are considering similar laws. The SPLC lawsuit was the first in the nation against conversion therapy providers under a state consumer fraud statute.

—  David Taffet

Rabbinical group condemns conversion therapy


Rabbi Denise Eger

In a long overdue ruling, the Central Conference of American Rabbis condemned “conversion therapy.” The CCAR is the rabbinical association of Reform rabbis.

While Reform Judaism began welcoming gay and lesbian Jews into congregations in the 1960s and officially recognized same-sex marriage in 1997, most Orthodox still condemn gays and lesbians and have encouraged “conversion therapy.”

The Orthodox conversion therapy organization is called JONAH and has been condemned by all Jewish groups, including the Union for Reform Judaism, the organization of Reform synagogues in North America. JONAH is based in New Jersey, which has banned use of “conversion therapy” on minors. The organization was founded by Arthur Goldberg, who was an executive vice president of a Wall Street investment bank convicted for fraud.

“Reform Judaism has long recognized that the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities is something to be celebrated and affirmed, not a condition to be treated,” said Rabbi Steven A. Fox, the Chief Executive of the CCAR. “The Reform Rabbinate has long been at the forefront of advocating for full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals and the extension of protection of individuals of all ages.”

Gay and lesbian rabbis have been ordained for decades and at least one transgender rabbi has been ordained. But it took a lesbian heading the CCAR to call attention to the issue of “conversion therapy” and condemn it.

Earlier this year, the CCAR’s 2,000 members elected Rabbi Denise Eger as its president. Eger is lesbian has been rabbi at Congregation Kol Ami, a predominantly LGBT Reform synagogue in Los Angeles since the early 1990s. She is expected to be in Dallas for the installation of her friend The Rev. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas as Cathedral of Hope’s new senior pastor.

—  David Taffet

New York Assembly passes ban on reparative therapy ban for minors

NYSCapitolPanoramaThe New York Assembly passed a bill today, 94-23, (Wednesday, April 29) to ban the practice of reparative therapy on minors. It now heads to the state Senate.

Empire State Pride Agenda, the state’s LGBT advocacy organization, praised the move on Facebook, thanking the bill’s author, Deborah Glick, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, for its swift passage.

Conversion therapy, as it is commonly called, is most often used on LGBT minors to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Formally barring the process is nothing new. Numerous medical and mental health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association, have long denounced the practice. But the nationwide momentum to legally the bar practice is gaining steam following the December suicide of a young transwoman, Leelah Alcorn.

Earlier this month U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, re-introduced the Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution, which calls on states to protect minors from the practice, also known as “conversion therapy.”

President Barack Obama called for an end to the discredited practice earlier this month in response to a petition written by senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and signed by more than 120,00 people calling for a ban on the practice.

Similar bills have gained steam in other states and already California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. have enacted laws protecting LGBT youth from conversion therapy. In Texas, Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, introduced HB 3495 to ban conversion therapy. It is currently awaiting a committee hearing.

—  James Russell

Obama calls for ban on discredited reparative therapy practice

ObamaPresident Barack Obama called for an end to the discredited practice known as reparative therapy yesterday (Wednesday, April 9) in response to a petition calling for a ban on the process.

The president’s statement, written by senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, responded to a petition signed by more than 120,00 people calling for a ban on the practice following the suicide of a young transwoman, Leelah Alcorn, last December.

“We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth,” the statement reads. “When assessing the validity of conversion therapy, or other practices that seek to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation, it is as imperative to seek guidance from certified medical experts.”

Conversion therapy, as it is commonly called, is most often used on LGBT minors to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Numerous professional organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association, oppose the practice. Other organizations, ranging from the World Health Organization to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have also denounced it.

But the practice still has some supporters, including a vocal group of social conservatives who acknowledged the practice in the Texas Republican Party platform during the party’s 2014 convention.

Currently California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy. Bills have been introduced in 18 states, including Texas, that would ban the process. Texas Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, who authored HB 3495 to ban conversion therapy, is currently awaiting a committee hearing on her bill.

—  James Russell

Conversion therapy proponents won’t be allowed to testify in lawsuit against JONAH

The judge in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s consumer fraud lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing — JONAH, a so-called reparative therapy group based in New Jersey — ruled Thursday, Feb. 5 that several prominent gay-to-straight conversion therapy proponents will not be allowed to testify as defense experts.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. will be presiding over the trial, set to begin in early summer. In New Jersey courts, scientific expert opinions must be based on premises and methodology generally accepted within the relevant professional field. And Judge Bariso said Thursday that the conversion therapy proponents’ opinions are based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder.

Bariso wrote: “The theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted.”

Joseph Nicolosi

Joseph Nicolosi WON’T be testifying in court in New Jersey

SPLC’s lawsuit — Michael Ferguson, et. al., v. JONAH, et. al., filed in November 2012 — alleges that JONAH counselors used abusive and discredited techniques, with counselors instructing young men to undress and stand naked in a circle with a counselor. The lawsuit alleges that JONAH counselors organized group activities in which clients were directed to re-enact past abuse, and engaged in violet role-play exercuses and “therapeutic techniques” that alienated some clients and taught them to blame their family or themselves for making them gay.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of former JONAH clients and two parents of former clients, charges that JONAH, its founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. It claims JONAH used deceptive practices to lure the plaintiffs into their services, which can cost some clients more than $10,000 per year.

David Dinielli, SPLC’s deputy legal director, said Bariso’s ruling is “a major development in our effort to show that conversion therapy is a complete sham masquerading as science.”

The views of the conversion therapy proponents are “so discredited that the supposed ‘experts’ are not even permitted to testify in a court of law,” Dinielli continued, adding that, “Proponents of this bogus therapy lack any valid basis for their opinions promoting the abusive practice, yet they continue to scam vulnerable gay people and inflict significant, long-term psychological harm.”

According to information from SPLC, “expert” witnesses who have been specifically excluded from testifying are Joseph Nicolosi, Christopher Doyle, Dr. James Phelan and Dr. John Diggs.

Nicolosi is a psychologist and author of A Parent’s Guide To Preventing Homosexuality. He is also a founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a discredited organization which claims homosexuality is caused by psychological trauma or other “aberrations” experienced in childhood.

Doyle is a conversion therapist who leads the International Healing Foundation, founded by Richard Cohen, who was permanently expelled by The American Counseling Association in 2002 for multiple ethical violations. His conversion therapies include violently beating effigies of parents and “father-son holding” between clients and their counselors, several of whom claim to have overcome homosexuality.

Phelan is a previous leader of NARTH’s “Scientific Advisory Committee,” which promotes discredited pseudo-scientific studies. The defendants planned for Phelan to testify that conversion therapy is effective based on a bibliography of studies, including ones where “treatments” included lobotomies and electro-shock. During his deposition, he testified he made no attempt to assess the validity of the studies he compiled but merely accepted their conclusions at face value.

The defendants wanted Diggs to testify that homosexuality is an “unhealthy lifestyle” of misery and disease.

—  Tammye Nash

Appeals court upholds ban on conversion therapy torture

simpsonsAn appeals court upheld New Jersey’s law banning the use of “conversion therapy” on minors.

The court rejected the arguments that banning use of so-called conversion therapy violates freedom of speech or religion. The decision reaffirmed the right of the state to regulate medical professionals that they license.

Most LGBT groups have likened the practice of conversion therapy to torture.

Writing for the court, Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith held that “over the last few decades a number of well-known, reputable professional and scientific organizations have publicly condemned the practice of [sexual orientation change efforts], expressing serious concerns about its potential to inflict harm,” and that “[m]any such organizations have also concluded that there is no credible evidence that SOCE counseling is effective.”

“The court’s decision today is a major victory for the thousands of young people who will now be protected from these dangerous and horrific practices,” said Andrea Bowen, Garden State Equality’s executive director. “No one should subject minors to conversion therapy—least of all state-licensed clinicians responsible for the care and well-being of their patients.”

New Jersey Gov. Christie noted the “critical health risks” posed by conversion therapy, including “depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.”

—  David Taffet