The lawsuit against the “ex-gay” industry has received wide coverage. Erik Eckholm of the New York Times wrote today:
Gay “conversion therapy,” which claims to help men overcome unwanted same-sex attractions but has been widely attacked as unscientific and harmful, is facing its first tests in the courtroom.
In New Jersey on Tuesday, four gay men who tried the therapy filed a civil suit against a prominent counseling group, charging it with deceptive practices under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act.
The former clients said 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. They paid thousands of dollars in fees over time, they said, only to be told that the lack of change in their sexual feelings was their own fault.
An industry of “reparative therapy” clinics and men’s weekend retreats has drawn thousands of teenagers and adults who hope to rid themselves of homosexual urges, whether because of religious beliefs or family pressures.
But leading scientific and medical groups say that the theories of sexuality are unfounded and that there is no evidence that core sexual urges can be changed. They also warn that the therapy can, in the words of the American Psychiatric Association, cause “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior” and “reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”
Those conclusions will be at the center of the coming legal fights in the state and federal courts…
Another former patient in the suit, Chaim Levin, 23, grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn where, he said, being gay seemed unthinkable.
Referred to Jonah by a rabbi when he was 18, Mr. Levin began attending weekend retreats at $650 each. For a year and a half, he had weekly private sessions with Mr. Downing as well as weekly group sessions. He quit, he said, after Mr. Downing had him remove his clothes and touch himself, saying it would help him reconnect with his masculinity. Mr. Goldberg has defended Mr. Downing’s methods as sometimes appropriate for men dealing with body image problems.
But Mr. Levin called the episode “degrading and humiliating.”
On CNN one of the plaintiffs said that his “ex-gay” counselor used oranges as testicles. (what won’t these quacks think of next? At least they didn’t insulting by using raisins.) Alan Duke at CNN wrote:
The lawsuit described what happened in one of those sessions in October 2008 with Levin, who was 18 at the time.
“Downing initiated a discussion about Levin’s body and instructed Levin to stand in front of a full-length mirror and hold a staff,” the suit said. “Downing directed Levin to say one negative thing about himself, remove an article of clothing, then repeat the process. Although Levin protested and expressed discomfort, at Downing’s insistence, Levin submitted and continued until he was fully naked. Downing then instructed Levin to touch his penis and then his buttocks. Levin, unsure what to do but trusting in and relying on Downing, followed the instructions, upon which Downing said ‘good’ and the session ended.”
Two other plaintiffs — Benjamin Unger and Michael Ferguson — described similar incidents in the suit.
“On one occasion, Downing instructed Unger to beat an effigy of his mother with a tennis racket, as though killing her, and encouraged Unger to scream at his mother while beating her effigy,” the suit said.
“Conversion therapy was, in Unger’s experience, ‘psychological abuse,'” it said. “By the time he terminated sessions with JONAH, he was deeply depressed and had commenced taking antidepressant medications.”
Downing “picked apart every human emotion and childhood disappointment” of Unger, to present them as treatable origins of Unger’s orientation, the suit said.
The Daily Beast’s Zoe Blackler wrote:
Perhaps more disturbing was an exercise to sever what Downing said was Unger’s overattachment to his mother. “I just went with it because they said they knew what they’re doing,” Unger recalled. “They told me they were professionals and these are the proven methods that they use.”
In the exercise, Downing put a pillow on the floor and told Unger to imagine it was his mother and then beat it with a tennis racket. While Downing and the other men in his group cheered him on, Unger beat the pillow so furiously his hands bled. Soon after, Unger cut his mother out of his life. “She’s a loving, caring, great mother, and I just stopped talking to her. She would call and say, ‘What did I do wrong?’ and I couldn’t explain. I was like a zombie repeating what they were saying: ‘It’s my mother, it’s my mother, it’s my mother. Detach, detach, detach.’”
Reached by phone, Downing hung up when asked to comment on the plaintiffs’ description of his techniques.
JONAH’s tactics aren’t the only element of the organization to come under increased scrutiny. In February 2010 a joint investigation by the South Florida Gay News and Truth Wins Out, a gay advocacy group, revealed that Arthur Goldberg, who had been a Wall Street investor before founding JONAH, had pleaded guilty in 1989 to municipal-bond fraud in connection with a fictitious housing scheme, and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. After his release, he cofounded JONAH with Elaine Silodor Berk, a New Jersey woman who, like Goldberg, has a gay son, and has been associated with groups for parents of gay children.
All in all, it is not a good day to be a so-called “ex-gay” con artist. The walls are closing in and the law is clamping down on this insidious form of fraud that has ruined way too many lives.