Together with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, New Jersey also had an LGBT victory on June 25, 2015, when a jury delivered a unanimous verdict ordering a group offering “conversion therapy” to compensate four former” clients” over $70,000 for violating state consumer fraud protection laws.
The organization, called Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) is a non-profit that works primarily with religious clients claiming to offer so-called conversion therapy to “cure” homosexuality. The suit was filed in 2012 by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of former clients who, through the “treatment” given and suggest by JONAH, were subjected to humiliating and traumatizing behavior. For example, clients were told to undress in front of a mirror and touch their genitals with a counselor present during closed-door sessions, while another client was told to imagine his mother was a pillow and then beat the pillow with a tennis racket. Not only were these practices harmful, but “conversion therapy” in general has been criticized by every major medical and mental health organization in the country.
At an earlier part of the case, a judge ruled that JONAH could not present homosexuality as a “disorder” and because of this, JONAH would be in violation of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Protection Act if it offered success statistics for “curing homosexuality” – there would be no factual basis for those statistics. The recent ruling affirms that JONAH did defraud its “clients” because it told them that homosexuality was an “illness” and then marketed its program to offer a “cure.” This despite overwhelming evidence that such practices aren’t legitimate therapy and actually cause psychological harm. According to the Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow, “This jury has affirmed what victims of conversion therapy heartbreakingly already know – charlatans’ attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity amount to noting more than fraud.”
This case, together with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, are huge legal victories for LGBT community. But discrimination in employment and other persists and there are other battles still to be won. With the collaboration of Kieu-Nhi Le, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016. She is the Managing Business Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal.