Jersey City, N.J. – A nonprofit organization that claimed it could turn gay men straight violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act, a jury found Thursday in a civil trial that an attorney for the plaintiffs called “a momentous event” for LGBT rights. The seven-member jury found that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, its co-founder Arthur Goldberg, and counselor Alan Downing made misrepresentations and engaged in unconscionable business practices.
Three men and two parents were awarded about $72,000 in damages. The judge will rule later on their requests to revoke the company’s license, plaintiff’s attorney said. “This is a momentous event in the history of LGBT rights,” attorney David Dinielli said. “The same lies that motivate gay conversion therapy motivate homophobia – that gay people are broken and need to be fixed. The strength of our plaintiffs brought that to light.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued during the trial that the group, known by the acronym JONAH, claimed a success rate that wasn’t backed up by actual statistics and used therapy methods that had no scientific basis, including having one client beat a pillow, meant to represent his mother, with a tennis racquet.
Defense attorney Charles LaMandri couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. LaMandri argued during the trial that JONAH didn’t make guarantees and should be allowed to offer help to people struggling with their sexuality. He also said none of the plaintiffs complained about the therapy during or immediately after participating in it and sued only after connecting with activists who wanted to shut JONAH down.
“Sometimes you need distance to survey the wreckage,” plaintiff Michael Ferguson, who was raised as a Mormon and sought out JONAH in 2008, said after Thursday’s verdict.