Closing arguments start in gay conversion therapy trial
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Closing arguments start in gay conversion therapy trial

Nonprofit accused of violating NJ consumer fraud laws for claiming it could change one’s sexual orientation

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, NJ (Alex Remnick/The Star-Ledger via AP, Pool)
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, NJ (Alex Remnick/The Star-Ledger via AP, Pool)

Closing arguments have started in the trial of a Jersey City nonprofit that was sued for claiming it could change gays to heterosexuals.

Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, is accused of violating New Jersey’s consumer fraud laws.

An attorney representing JONAH told jurors the plaintiffs weren’t given promised results, and said the organization has a right to offer counseling.

The plaintiffs’ attorney was due to make closing arguments Wednesday.

One man who sued testified that one of JONAH’s methods involved using a tennis racket to beat a pillow that was meant to represent his mother. He said counselors told him she was responsible for his homosexuality.

A JONAH co-founder testified he believes homosexuality is a disorder caused by emotional wounds and can be cured through his organization’s methods.

The four men sued Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing in 2012 under New Jersey’s consumer fraud laws, claiming the group violated state consumer fraud laws by characterizing homosexuality as a mental disorder and claiming it could successfully change patients’ sexual orientation.

The plaintiffs say they underwent treatment that included being told to spend more time naked with their fathers and participating in role-playing in which they were subjected to anti-gay slurs in a locker room setting.

The group’s attorney said during his opening statement earlier this month that even the plaintiffs’ experts will testify that its methods are commonly used by therapists and that some patients have reported successful experiences.

Three of the four plaintiffs were young men from Orthodox Jewish families, plaintiffs’ attorney David Dinielli said, who were grappling with their sexuality in a culture in which “there were no gay people” and there was pressure to marry and have children. The fourth, Michael Ferguson, is a Mormon who sought out JONAH.

“My clients needed help but JONAH lied and JONAH made it worse,” Dinielli told jurors. “All they got was junk science and so-called cures.”

Attorney Charles LiMandri, representing JONAH, said none of the four men asked for their money back at the time.

“All four of these men left JONAH on good terms, speaking glowingly” of their experience and referring it to friends, he said. It was only after being contacted by activists that they denounced the organization, he said.

“The plaintiffs became aggressors after they left JONAH to destroy JONAH,” LiMandri said.

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