Four men and two of their mothers have filed a first-ever lawsuit for consumer fraud against a provider of gay conversion therapy, saying it failed to “cure” them of homosexuality.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the men and their parents in Superior Court of New Jersey against JONAH, formerly known as formerly known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Homosexuality, and its founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing.
The plaintiffs allege the therapeutic practices employed by JONAH were unorthodox and traumatic and included stripping naked in group sessions, intimate cuddling with members of the same sex, flogging effigies of their mothers, going to bathhouses in order to “be naked with father figures” and being subjected to ridicule as “'faggots' and 'homos' in mock locker room scenarios," the suit said. The suit alleges these experiences led to "depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior."
JONAH told the young men -- Michael Ferguson, 30; Benjamin Unger, 25; Chaim Levin, 23, and Sheldon Bruck, 20 -- that being gay is a mental disorder that could be reversed by conversion therapy. The suit goes on to say this is "a position rejected by the American Psychiatric Association four decades ago."
The young men paid as much as $100 a week for individual therapy sessions and $60 for group therapy sessions. The mothers of Bruck and Levin are suing, having paid for the therapy and then afterwards for counseling needed to recover from the experience. This is the first time a provider of conversion therapy has been sued for fraudulent business practices, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that fights racism, bigotry and hate.
“These counselors are skilled at manipulating you into believing just about anything,” Unger told NBC News. “During my time with JONAH, they told me constantly that my mom had made me gay. I was so convinced that I refused to have any contact with her for several months, which caused a great deal of damage to our relationship.”
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