Michael Ferguson, et al., v. JONAH, et al.

Popular Name: 
JONAH Conversion Therapy Case

Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) fraudulently claimed to provide services that “convert” people from gay to straight. These services, known as conversion therapy, have been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the New Jersey conversion therapy organization for fraudulent practices. The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, charged that JONAH, its founder Arthur Goldberg, and counselor Alan Downing violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act by claiming that their counseling services could cure clients of being gay.

The lawsuit describes how the plaintiffs – four young men and two of their parents – were lured into JONAH’s services through deceptive practices.

Customers of JONAH’s services typically paid a minimum of $100 for weekly individual counseling sessions and another $60 for group therapy sessions. The lawsuit describes sessions that involved clients undressing in front of a mirror and even a group session where young men were instructed to remove their clothing and stand naked in a circle with the counselor, Downing, who was also undressed. Another session involved a subject attempting to wrestle away two oranges – used to represent testicles – from another individual.

Downing and other JONAH counselors also used techniques that left clients alienated from their families. These techniques encouraged clients to blame their parents for being gay, going so far as to have clients participate in violent role play exercises where they beat effigies of their mothers.

JONAH, formerly known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Homosexuality, was founded by Goldberg, a former Wall Street executive and attorney who was previously convicted of three counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government. He was ultimately disbarred from being an attorney.

Aside from being junk science, conversion therapy also promotes the idea that gay men and lesbians choose their sexual orientation, a position that encourages a climate of anti-gay bigotry.

The American Psychological Association has expressed concern that conversion therapy practices, such as those espoused by the National Association for Research Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), “create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.” JONAH’s practices include discredited methods invented by NARTH co-founder Joseph Nicolosi with no sound medical basis.

Co-Counsel: 

Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP and Lite DePalma Greenberg, LLC