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Conversion Therapy Is Fraud: N.J. Judge

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a New Jersey Superior Court judge says that providers of conversion therapy who advertise that homosexuality can be cured are committing consumer fraud.

By Albert Lin


In what many are calling a landmark decision, a New Jersey judge has ruled that people who, in advertising conversion-therapy services, describe homosexuality as a disorder that can be cured are committing consumer fraud. It is the first time a United States court has found that homosexuality is not a disorder.

The ruling by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Barsio Jr. was on a motion in a suit filed against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a Jersey City organization that believes people can "journey out of homosexuality." Barsio also ruled that touting success rates is fraudulent because "there is no factual basis for calculating such statistics."

"This ruling is monumental and devastating to the conversion-therapy industry," said David Dinielli, Deputy Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is a party to the suit. "For the first time, a court has ruled that it is fraudulent as a matter of law for conversion therapists to tell clients that they have a mental disorder that can be cured. This is the principal lie the conversion-therapy industry uses throughout the country to peddle its quackery to vulnerable clients. Gay people don't need to be cured, and we are thrilled that the court has recognized this."

This is the latest blow to the conversion-therapy movement. In 2012, California became the first state to ban conversion therapy for anyone under 18. That law was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2013, New Jersey became the second state to pass a ban. Several other states are either working on or considering legislation to ban conversion therapy.

Moreover, in June 2013, Exodus International, the nation's leading "ex-gay" organization, disbanded because of growing skepticism about the efficacy of conversion therapy. "Any good we could do in the future would be greatly overshadowed by the real stories of trauma and real stories of shame," President Alan Chambers said. "So we decided, we can't do anything but close this down."

A Myth That Belongs in the 'Dustbins of History'

Barsio's order includes the following passages:

• "It is a misrepresentation in violation of the CFA [Consumer Fraud Act], in advertising or selling conversion-therapy services, to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease, disorder, or equivalent thereof."

• "It is a misrepresentation in violation of the CFA, in advertising or selling conversion-therapy services, to include specific 'success' statistics when there is no factual basis for calculating such statistics, e.g., when client outcomes are not tracked and no records of client outcomes are maintained."

"The judge's determination today that it is a misrepresentation to tell consumers that homosexuality is a disorder is an important step forward in this case and also a victory for showing that conversion-therapy proponents lack any valid basis to continue to promote their abusive practices," said James L. Bromley, a Partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, one of the plaintiffs' co-counsels. "The harmful myth that gay people are sick or damaged belongs in the dustbin of history."

Charles LiMandri, President and Chief Counsel for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, which is representing JONAH, told NJ.com that JONAH did not make money from conversion therapy and merely referred people to private therapists, nor did it advertise any sort of success rates.

He added that the therapists are not licensed and often are clergy, so they are not qualified to identify homosexuality as a disorder "in a scientific sense."

"This is not a situation in which people are forced into something they don't want to do. They are trying to deprive plaintiffs of freedom of choice. Americans want people to have the right to free self determination," he said. "I believe when the jury hears all the facts, they will ultimately decide in favor of our clients."

Barsio previously ruled that JONAH would not be able to call five expert witnesses because "the overwhelming weight of scientific authority concludes that homosexuality is not a disorder or abnormal … [so] expert opinions to the contrary must be barred."

The plaintiffs in the case say that in therapy sessions they were coerced into behavior such as stripping naked and beating images of their mother. They were also called homophobic slurs as part of locker-room and gym simulations.

The case will go to trial this summer.

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TWITTER

Republican precinct committeeman Michael Kalny of Shawnee sent a Facebook message about Democratic congressional candidate Sharice Davids, who is running against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep Kevin Yoder for the 3rd congressional district seat in Kansas.

"The REAL REPUBLICANS will remember what the scum DEMONRATS tried to do to Kavanaugh in November. Your radical socialist kick boxing lesbian Indian will be sent back packing to the reservation."

Emily's List posted on Twitter in response: "This racist, homophobic language is totally unacceptable. We're proud to stand with her & to help elect her." They've since promoted her, and another Native American candidate Deb Haaland of New Mexico.

Davids responded that the message "doesn't represent Kansas values, and it doesn't represent the values of the Republicans we know, many who support this campaign."

On Wednesday, Kalny resigned. "He reflected an apologetic attitude and didn't want to bring negative attention on the party or candidates running in this area," Johnson County Republican Party Chairman Mike Jones said.

No word on an official apology from Kalny to Davids yet. The hateful message was sent to Anne Pritchett, president of the Johnson County Democratic Women's north chapter, who had posted "hostile" messages on candidate Yoder's page in this fiery election race.

Davids, a LGBT lawyer and amateur mixed-martial arts fighter, could become the first ever openly gay member of the Kansas Congressional delegation, if she wins, as well as the first female Native American lawmaker in Washington.

She is a member of the Wisconsin-based Ho-Chunk Nation ("People of the Big Voice"), which had historically been forcibly separated and relocated out of Wisconsin several times by the U.S. government.

Kalny, when questioned about his message by local media, said he needed to talk to his attorney and hung up the phone.

He also resigned from his position on the board of directors for the Kansas City Barbecue Society citing "personal reasons."

C.J. Grover, a spokesman for Yoder, denounced Kalny's comments:

"Kevin (Yoder) doesn't believe this type of rhetoric is appropriate at all. It's unacceptable," Grover said. "These kind of nasty personal attacks are all too prevalent in politics these days, and it needs to stop."

Davids has shown up in pre-election polls as leading Yoder by as much as 8 percent. She also faces Chris Clemmons, a libertarian candidate, on Nov. 6. Voter registration ends on Oct. 17, less than one week away.

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