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SPLC Marks Five-year Anniversary of Groundbreaking Suit Finding Gay “Conversion” Program Unconscionable and Fraudulent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Tomorrow is the five-year anniversary of the settlement in Michael Ferguson, et al., v. JONAH, a first-of-its-kind lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and co-counsel partners on behalf of four young men and two of their mothers against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a New Jersey-based organization offering so-called conversion therapy to people who are gay. The lawsuit charged that JONAH, its founder and a counselor violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act by claiming that they could “convert” people from gay to straight.

Following a three-week trial in June 2015, a unanimous jury found that conversion therapy services offered by JONAH were fraudulent, and ordered the organization to pay the plaintiffs $72,400 in damages. SPLC subsequently filed – and won – a second lawsuit where JONAH agreed to permanently cease operations and dissolve its corporate entity as part of a settlement reached on December 18, 2015 that would preclude an appeal of the jury’s verdict. The agreement also prohibited JONAH’s founder and the counselor from engaging in any form of conversion therapy commerce in New Jersey.

The anniversary comes at a time when the issue is still being challenged in courts. In November 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta blocked the enforcement of local ordinances in Florida that ban conversion therapy on LGBTQ+ minors. A request for rehearing of the case is currently pending, and an appeal could go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The following statement is from Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director for the SPLC:

“On December 18, 2015, a final settlement order was signed granting relief to our clients in a landmark victory that denounced conversion therapy as a fraudulent and harmful practice.

“Today, the legislatures of 20 states and the District of Columbia have prohibited the practice on minors by licensed professionals. Yet horrifyingly, these dehumanizing and abusive treatments, which have been discredited by every major U.S. medical and mental health association, persist in some parts of the country.

“The SPLC is committed to continue the fight against this dangerous practice until it is completely eradicated.”

Click here to read more about our lawsuit against JONAH.

Click here to read about a motion the SPLC filed in 2019 asking the court to enforce the permanent injunction after JONAH, now known as Jewish Institute for Global Awareness, violated the terms of the 2015 settlement agreement.