A group of gay men, who say they suffered abuse and emotional harm at the hands of a Jewish group that claims it can help “heal the wounds surrounding homosexuality” and enable homosexuals to become straight, can now see their battle proceed with a US court giving them the go-ahead.
The group comprises four men and two of their mothers who brought the law suit last year against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a New Jersey-based Jewish organization that says its objective is to “provide hope that persons with unwanted same-sex attraction can become the person that G-d intended them to be”.
Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Chaim Levin and Sheldon Bruck say in their complaint that they were asked to strip and relive past sexual abuse in the name of therapy that cost them between $60 and $100 an hour.
One of them was asked to put a rubber band on his wrist to ward off attraction to another man.
The suit is supported by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an American non-profit organization whose specialty is fighting hate crimes.
The SPLC says Jonah’s claim that its conversion therapy program will change sexual orientation from gay to straight is "fraudulent”.
It says conversion therapy services “have been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations”.
The plaintiffs are seeking to have JONAH’s business license cancelled.
The defendants include Arthur Goldberg, JONAH’s co-founder.
On Friday, New Jersey Superior Court judge Peter F Bariso Jr ruled that the case can proceed.
JONAH was launched in 1998 by two New Jersey Jewish couples with gay children.
It propagates that “homosexuality is a learned behavior and anyone can choose to disengage from their same-sex sexual fantasies, arousals, behavior and identity – if motivated and supported in that process”.
Its web site offers “stories and letters” from people who claim to have profited from its services.
Like a writer who claims she is a mother “who fought with the proverbial nails and teeth to rescue” her daughter from the “tentacles” of a lesbian.
A man, who claims he spent a decade trying different therapy methods and finally found one that worked for him, adds, “Even if after spending time (and money) with one therapist is found not to be helpful, that does not in any way mean that another won’t be helpful.
“If, G-d forbid, someone was diagnosed with cancer and a certain treatment wasn’t working, he wouldn’t give up. He would seek out another doctor with a different method, or try alternative medicines or modalities.”
The lawsuit comes as New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie is mulling a bill that, if signed, will make such therapies for minors illegal.
On 1 August, Jerusalem hosted its 12th annual gay pride parade themed “We want change,” said to be attended by nearly 5,000 people.