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

California Senate wants to make it more difficult to use “reparative” therapy

California state capitol

Members of the California legislature want to make it more difficult for therapists to use junk science in their practices when it comes to treating gays and lesbians.

California Senate Bill 1172 or the “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts” bill would prohibit physicians and surgeons, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, educational psychologists, clinical social workers, and licensed professional clinical counselors “from performing sexual orientation change efforts, as defined, in the absence of informed consent of the patient.”

Reparative or conversion therapy that attempts to change the sexual orientation of gay people to straight would be prohibited for minors.

Adults would have to sign a consent form acknowledging that this “therapy” is not recognized by any licensing body and could lead to depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.

The bill is out of committee.

Truth Wins Out is a nationwide organization based in Vermont that works to expose “ex-gay” ministries and therapists as fraudulent.

—  David Taffet

The dangers of conversion therapy

Southern Poverty Law Center, Truth Wins Out join forces to shine a light into the darkness of those who try to change others’ orientation

Imagine being told your lifetime of thoughts and feelings were unacceptable, and that what you think and feel in the future would need to be remolded to conform to what others consider acceptable.

That’s the reality of conversion therapy, an unscientific methodology rooted in conservative Christian philosophy that is designed to reorient homosexuality to heterosexuality.

Conversion therapy is condemned by all major medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling groups. Yet fundamentalist religious leaders advocate its widespread practice to “cure” homosexuality. They recommend this treatment for both adults and for gay and lesbian teenagers, who are often forced into the therapy against their will.

Opposition to conversion therapy is strong in the LGBT community, and it gained even more momentum recently when the Southern Poverty Law

Center and Truth Wins Out joined forces to launch a coordinated campaign to counter proponents of the controversial therapy.


David Webb - The Rare Reporter

The prestigious civil rights group — SPLC — and the LGBT rights organization — TWO — scheduled a series of community meetings in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for former patients of the therapy to share their stories. One of the campaign’s goals is to seek help from community activists and elected leaders in monitoring and evaluating local conversion therapy programs.

For most people, the notion of conversion therapy achieving any measure of success would probably be laughable if it were not so destructive to those who are exposed to it. Critics of the therapy warn that individuals who undergo it often suffer anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts — in addition to retaining their sexual orientation.

The radical therapy is reminiscent of unscrupulous scientific experiments from previous decades that horrified the world when they came to light. In those events groups of scientists in the U.S. and other countries carried out hideous psychological and medical experiments using as their subjects prisoners, orphans, mental patients, minorities and other powerless people.

Through my work as a journalist I have met several individuals over the years that underwent conversion therapy. Without exception, all reported the therapy caused them more anguish than they felt before receiving it.

One person — who was raised by a domineering, Bible-obsessed mother — was sent from his East Coast home when he was in his 20s to a conversion therapy treatment program in, of all places, San Francisco, the gay capital of the U.S. It’s not difficult to figure out what happened there.

The group of like-minded individuals in the program reportedly had the time of their life when the lights went out at night, and at one point they went over the wall to see the sights of Baghdad on the Bay.

Again, the lack of logic is humorous, but the therapy left the young man and his family, which had expected him to return home “cured,” more troubled than ever.

In subsequent years he engaged in the abuse of alcohol and illegal substances, promiscuity and criminal activity.

His mother drifted into a state of denial and, even though her son contracted the HIV virus, she maintained that he did not engage in sex with other men.

The last I heard, the man was still allowing his mother to run his life, which she has dedicated to ensuring would not include the company of a male partner.

In another case, a man in his 30s sought help from a counselor whose facility was located on the campus of a large mainstream church. Placing his trust in the counselor — in part because he supposedly was a straight, married man — the patient participated in a bizarre treatment program that involved the patient removing his clothes during the sessions. The “treatment” eventually progressed to the counselor instructing the patient to perform oral sex upon him.

Eventually, the patient came to his senses, reported the counselor to law enforcement officials and filed a lawsuit against him. The patient suffered severe psychological problems as a result of the contact with the counselor, but he recovered through the help of a traditional counselor who helped him accept his sexual orientation.

The last time I heard from the patient he was attempting to get on with his life as a gay man and had met someone with whom he was trying to bond.

The files of Truth Wins Out are full of stories of unscrupulous conversion therapists who masquerade as professional counselors, when in fact they are what the organization’s founder, Wayne Besen, refers to as “quacks.”

Besen has also cornered advocates of conversion therapy who claim to be “ex-gay” in gay bars and exposed others as frauds because they still engage in homosexual activity.

The influence of the powerful Southern Poverty Law Center — which is best known for its work in waging successful legal fights against violent white supremacist groups — will likely help Besen spread his message to an audience that he might not have otherwise reached. The nonprofit group’s Teaching Tolerance project has received high praise for its outreach.

As regards religious leaders who recommend conversion therapy, they are doing neither the individuals nor their families any favors. Coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation — for both gay men and lesbians and their family members — is challenging enough without the interference of religious leaders who apparently are less concerned with the welfare of the individual than they are in demanding observance of antiquated religious laws.

For gays or lesbians attempting to deny their sexual orientation, it might be useful to learn a lesson from the legions of people who have already struggled with the same issue and finally came to realize that a person’s basic nature cannot be transformed.                                              •

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas