Former patients suing New Jersey nonprofit that offered ‘gay conversion therapy’ in hopes of shutting it down

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This article originally appeared in The New York Daily News

Plaintiffs Chaim Levin, left, and Michael Ferguson, right, with his partner Seth Anderson, were treated with “junk science” by the Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing between 2007 and 2009, a lawsuit alleges.
Plaintiffs Chaim Levin, left, and Michael Ferguson, right, with his partner Seth Anderson, were treated with “junk science” by the Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing between 2007 and 2009, a lawsuit alleges.

The “cures” were worse than the non-existent disease.

A Brooklyn man who underwent so-called “gay conversion therapy” cried on a New Jersey witness stand Wednesday as he described the bizarre, abusive treatments left him depressed and suicidal.

Among the “cures” offered by Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing were subjecting participants to anti-gay slurs in a locker room setting, and requiring them to undress in front of a mirror, each other, and a counselor who would also remove his clothes, court papers say.

An Orthodox Jew who was feeling pressured to get married and start a family, Benjamin Unger, 27, said he went to the Jersey City-based non-profit for help dealing with his attraction to men in 2007.

He said JONAH co-founder Arthur Goldberg told him he could “turn me gay to straight” in under four years, Unger said – but the “scientific” treatments were highly unorthodox.

Information on the JONAH group.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Information on the JONAH group.

The “ex-gay” counselor Goldberg sent him to told Unger to cut off contact with his mother, who the therapist said was responsible for his homosexuality.

“Finding out it was my mom changed my relationship with her. I began resenting her,” Unger said.

One of his prescribed “treatments” was to beat a pillow with a tennis racket shouting “Mom! Mom! Mom!” with each blow.

“I gashed my hand because of how much I hit it,” he said.

POOL PHOTO
ALEX REMNICK/AP Benjamin Unger is sworn in as a witness in the trial against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Jersey City, N.J.

He was also advised to spend time naked with his father at a bathhouse, and to spend more time at the gym.

Another treatment was called “healthy touch,” which Unger described as an exercise where you learned how to touch men in a “’healthy’ way, not a sexual way.” It involved picking a male partner, and hugging and cuddling on the floor while the lights were dimmed and slow music played in the background, he said.

He was also sent to a”Journey to Manhood” retreat, where participants would choose a staff member to cradle them in their arms and talk to them as if the were a child.

Unger said he wound up walking away from the program after 11 months because “I did everything and it wasn’t working. I was still attracted to men and I was more ashamed of it than ever.”

Arthur Goldberg is one of the leaders of JONAH.
NORMAN Y. LONO FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Arthur Goldberg is one of the leaders of JONAH.

Unger is one of four former JONAH clients who spent upwards of $10,000 on treatment suing the non-profit for fraud in Hudson County Superior Court, a first of its kind trial that started Wednesday.

Three of the men are Othodox Jews from Brooklyn, and the fourth is a Mormon from Utah.

The four say they were told the group used “scientific methods” to help change sexual orientation.

Their lawyer, David Diniello, said it was “junk science.”

The website for JONAH or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing.
The website for JONAH or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing.“My clients needed help but JONAH lied and JONAH made it worse,” Diniello said.

JONAH’s lawyer, Charles LiMandri, told jurors the men didn’t express dissatisfaction with the treatment until they were contacted later by activists.

“All four of these men left JONAH on good terms, speaking glowingly” of their experience and referring it to friends, LiMandri said.

He said JONAH has had “hundreds of clients” since it was founded in 1998, and has a 75 percent success rate.

He also defended the nonprofit’s treatments, telling jurors it employs methods that are commonly used by therapists around the country.

The group’s treatments are based on the theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder, a contention that’s not shared by major psychiatric organizations.

Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, told the Daily News that JONAH’s treatments “are all quack treatments. They have no basis in real science or research.”

“These are activities by people who are making it up as they go along,” he said.

With News Wire Services

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Author: sabrinacaserta

Sabrina Caserta, born and bred in Bronx, New York, is a freelance reporter whose work has appeared in the New York Daily News and Street Sense- a homeless-run street paper located in the District. As a member of Roger Williams University’s class of 2016, Sabrina studied Journalism and Political Science. This fueled her passion for social justice reporting, including issues of homelessness, institutionalized racism, poverty, education and the environment. She also served as the Project Director of the nation-brand initiative, The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project, and as a Resident Assistant for three years. As an avid reader, health enthusiast and travel addict, Sabrina enjoys yoga, cooking and writing in her spare time. She aspires to one day be an investigative journalist and travel the world. Twitter: @sabrinacaserta Email: sabcaserta AT gmail DOT com

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