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Washington Blade: N.J. judge rules ‘conversion therapy’ claims are fraud Print


Created:  Saturday, February 14, 2015


A New Jersey judge this week ruled claims that homosexuality is a disorder as part of efforts to market "conversion therapy" are fraud under the state's consumer protections law.

Superior Court Judge Peter F. Barsio, Jr., on Feb. 10 wrote in his order that "it is a misrepresentation" under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act to "describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease, disorder or equivalent thereof." Barsio added that including "specific 'success' statistics" in the advertisement or sale of "conversion therapy" services also violate the state's consumer laws.

Barsio issued his ruling in a consumer fraud lawsuit the Southern Poverty Law Center filed in 2012 against Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing on behalf of two men — Benjamin Unger and Chaim Levin — who underwent the controversial practice.

A Southern Poverty Law Center press release claims Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing "used deceptive practices" to lure Unger and Levin "into their costly services for gay-to-straight therapy that can cost in excess of $10,000 a year.

"This ruling is monumental and devastating to the conversion therapy industry," said Southern Poverty Law Center Deputy Legal Director David Dinielli. "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."

Barsio's ruling is 'monumental'

The American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. The same organization nearly four decades later removed gender identity disorder from its list of mental disorders and replaced it with gender dysphoria.

New Jersey and California are the only states that have banned "conversion therapy" to minors. The D.C. City Council in December approved a similar law.

The Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee last month killed a bill that would have banned "conversion therapy" to minors in the commonwealth. Members of a state House of Delegates subcommittee on Jan. 28 killed an identical bill that state Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington Country) introduced.

Hope on Friday told the Washington Blade he feels Barsio's ruling is "significant because it means the courts have finally started to catch up to the science and what the medical community has been saying for years."

"It also provides another avenue for advocates to make this fraudulent practice illegal once and for all," added Hope.

Bryan Christopher underwent "conversion therapy" for more than a decade. He has documented his experience in a book titled "Hiding from Myself: A Memoir."

Christopher told the Blade he feels "relieved and validated" by Barsio's ruling because "it affirms what I've known for years."

"There are so many still suffering, chained by religious based fears and shame," said Christopher. "I hope it liberates those that are imprisoned by a belief system that excluded them and opens the eyes of parents, religious leaders and lawmakers to the torture this type of therapy inflicts on the willing and unwilling."

Mathew Shurka — who underwent "conversion therapy" in Virginia and three other states for five years — agreed.

"Superior Court Judge Peter F. Barsio, Jr.'s ruling is monumental," he told the Blade on Friday. "There are not enough governmental officials in our country who are standing against conversion therapy."

The Southern Poverty Law Center's lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing is expected to go to trial later this year.

Charles LiMandri, a lawyer who represents Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing, during an interview with the New York Times downplayed the impact of Barsio's ruling in the case.

"Judge Bariso is a Superior Court judge in New Jersey," LiMandri told the newspaper. "The case has no precedential impact."