OK to Be Gay? Jewish Conversion Therapy Faces First Legal Battle

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gay "conversion therapy" claims to help men overcome their unwanted gay thoughts and feelings. But more and more, critics are saying that the treatment is not only ineffective, but humiliating and psychologically harmful. This kind of therapy is facing its first legal battle this week in court.

One of the plaintiffs is Sheldon Bruck. Sheldon was raised in an Orthodox Jewish community in Chicago, and he always thought being gay and being Jewish were mutually exclusive. When he was 17, he sought help from an organization called JONAH, which claimed to help young members of the Jewish community "journey out" of homosexuality. The organization says that same-sex attractions are caused by abuse, or rejection by male peers.

Christine Sun is deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Sheldon’s attorney. She works on LGBT-rights advocacy, as well as other constitutional rights issues.

"The legal issue in this case is fraud," Sun says. "It's not a medical malpractice claim, because JONAH doesn't offer licensed therapists." 

"The treatments themselves are just not going to lead to anything besides feeling ashamed that they aren't working, and it's a form of fraud to claim otherwise," she says. 

Sheldon's experience seems to confirm this. When he began the treatments, he was told that they would almost certainly be effective, but after several sessions, when he asked what the chances of the "conversion" working were, he was told that the chance was only 33 percent. Furthermore, he says that the claim went from being "you can change" to "not necessarily that you can change, but that you can learn an attraction to girls." 


JONAH, the defendant in the case, issued the following statement on November 28, 2012:

Today, JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) responded to allegations of “consumer fraud” outlined in the suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), based in Montgomery Alabama, on November 27th, 2012. The lawsuit is without merit, and is designed to create a chilling effect upon speech and programs that assist people in overcoming unwanted same-sex attractions.

JONAH will vigorously defend itself and gender-affirming processes from the baseless attack contained in the lawsuit.

Arthur Goldberg, JONAH’s Co-Director, stated, “We remain steadfast in our commitment to assist those with unwanted same-sex attractions. There are thousands of people who have shed their unwanted same-sex attractions, not only through our programs, but also through other similar programs”. See www.voices-of-change.org.

“As indicated by the publicity surrounding the event, the lawsuit is designed to create a chilling effect on people and organizations that stand for the position that change is possible, a position that is not contradicted by the APA’s latest statements.” JONAH only works with people who express dissatisfaction with their homosexual ideation, helps them assess and overcome deep issues, and does not seek to coerce anyone into changing their sexual orientation. JONAH supports the right of client self-determination, not “SPLC-determination,” of what is in the client’s best interests.

The intent of this lawsuit is to totally deny individuals the freedom to seek help for their own unwanted same-sex attractions. This bias denies the diversity of thought, belief and feeling within the GLBT and Questioning population. Whatever SPLC’s goals, this narrow-minded lawsuit runs directly contrary to true support for diversity and tolerance.



Sheldon Bruck and Christine Sun

Produced by:

Maggie Penman and Jillian Weinberger

Comments [6]

If one should freely choose to undergo a known abusive and humiliating process without coercion, then this is not the therapy they require.

Of course, the therapy is not marketed as being abusive and humiliating. You don't find that out until you've been there a couple of times.

Besides, why would one want to "change" who they're attracted to? Because the vociferous society has a problem?

I'm not sure that what I do in bed is legal in all 50 states, either. But aside from a little occasional soreness, we're not hurting anybody. What happens in the bedroom is no one else's business.

I wish peace and harmony (and monogamy) for everyone, regardless of whom you're loving. And when I say "peace," I mean wild screaming orgasms.

Dec. 03 2012 06:36 PM
Dan from NJ

It doesn't work 100% of the time!! Those that claim it does are just suppressing it or remaining abstinent, not being "cured"!!

With that said, I do feel that if anyone wants to subject themselves to supress their sexuality in place of accepting it and working on ridding themselves of the shame 'others' have conditioned them to have, more power to them... These places should disclose their success rates..

Dec. 01 2012 10:45 AM
Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy - Los angeles from Los Angeles

One thing I have learned as a hypnotherapist is that the same difficulty can be caused by different sources in different persons. (By entering the subconscious level in trance, the client begins to unravel the actual process in their emotional mind, so their personal evolution is brought to light). So any general idea, "caused by abuse and bullying by peers" is of necessity bound to be wrong in many instances. Janov, in "The Primal Scream" quotes one gay man who said, "I never noticed that all my lovers had the face of my brother." So much for the general psychological theory about relationship with Dad as the source. Valery X in her book on being a sex surrogate therapist for the pioneers in sexuality studies and sex therapy, Masters and Johnson, describes the case of a teenage boy where the primary cause was a blockage of his psychosocial sexual development. I could go on and on. For those of my clients, (I practice in West Hollywood, one center of the Gay World) who accept their sexuality as a given, I am happy to assist them with the same issues as my heterosexual clients, whatever they may be.

Nov. 29 2012 11:22 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Oy gay, I mean oy vey

Nov. 29 2012 01:28 PM

The science is clear and unambiguous: every respected medical, psychiatric and psychological organization throughout the world has deemed "conversion therapy" not merely a fraud -- but dangerous.

If one should actually -- and freely -- choose to undergo this abusive and humiliating process, they -- and only they -- should be able to so freely choose, without coercion.

As to children (anyone under the age of eighteen), this abusive pseudo-therapy must be banned for their protection -- just as society bans faith healing for children with an actual disease, which homosexuality -- by definition -- manifestly is not.

Nov. 29 2012 12:22 PM
Ed from Larchmont

If someone wants to undergo conversion therapy, or to try it, why should they be prevented?

Nov. 29 2012 08:11 AM

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