In New Jersey, Reckoning for the Ex-Gay Movement

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The fight to end ex-gay therapy takes center stage in New Jersey, with both legislative and legal actions targeting the harmful practice that seeks to “cure” homosexual orientation.

Introduced in October, the proposed bill returned to the limelight yesterday when a  Change.org petition calling for Republican N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s support crossed 100,000 signatures. Christie’s record on LGBTQ rights soured last February, when he vetoed a same-sex marriage bill. The governor has said that he supports gay rights, but not gay marriage. Christie previously nominated an openly gay man to the NJ Supreme Court, and has asked for marriage equality to be put to a ballot referendum.

The petition author, an openly gay New Jersey high school student, Jacob Rudolph, writes that the bill “would protect minors from the harmful, discredited practice of gay conversion therapy, which subjects teens to psychologically damaging ‘treatment’ by so-called psychology counselors who falsely claim they can ‘fix’ the sexual orientation of children who identify as being LGBT.” The petition includes a video of Rudolph coming out publicly as gay to his fellow classmates.

The bill follows a similar California law passed and signed last year with the strong support of Gov. Jerry Brown to ban ex-gay conversion therapy for minors due to the “serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.” The bill was set to take action on January 1, but has been challenged in court by ex-gay therapy practitioner Joseph Nicolosi and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), who refer to their work as “reparative therapy.”

In New Jersey, its ex-gay therapists who are facing a court challenge. In November 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against a N.J.-based ex-gay therapy organization, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH), on behalf of four former patients and two of their mothers. The 25-page complaint, filed in civil court, accuses JONAH of “consumer fraud,” forcing nudity on patients, reviving past trauma, and harassment. The suit asks for compensation and for JONAH to be shut down.

Arthur Goldberg, JONAH founder, appears in the 2008 documentary Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-Gay Movement, which depicts or quotes Goldberg describing the practices in question. JONAH’s counselors are not recognized as therapists by any professional associations, and refer to themselves as “life coaches,” similar to other Christian Right ex-gay organizations. In their response to the suit filed last month, lawyers for JONAH rejected all complaints and argued that “relief from unwanted same-sex attraction” was possible through counseling. Though JONAH is a conservative Jewish organization, its ties are clear: JONAH is represented by the chief counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, an organization “defending religious freedom” chaired by Maggie Gallagher, founder of the Christian Right National Organization for Marriage.

The bill is currently awaiting action in committee. The case against JONAH is being considered by the court, although it has yet to receive a hearing date.

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