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Lawsuit Filed Against Jersey City Organization Promising Gay Conversions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A group in New Jersey that claims its can turn gay people straight is facing a lawsuit from some young men who say they paid for nothing but abuse.

The group Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, promises on its website to offer a "journey out of homosexuality" through conversion therapy.

WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reports


One of the men suing said he paid thousands of dollars to JONAH after his rabbi directed him to the group's Jersey City headquarters.

"I thought that admitting my homosexuality would mean a lifetime of alienation," Chaim Levin told reporters, including WCBS 880's Alex Silverman. "Vulnerable young people trusted them."

JONAH, its founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing have been named in the suit, which accuses them of violating New Jersey's strong Consumer Fraud Act.

1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria With More On The Story


Levin, an Orthodox Jew from Crown Heights, said the conversion therapy turned out to be humiliation.

"He instructed me to remove all of my clothes in a room alone with him. I told him that I was uncomfortable with this, but he said to me that if I really wanted to change that this what I had to do," Levin said.

Ben Unger said he was told his homosexuality was his mother's fault.

"They made me beat up the pillow yelling, 'Mom, Mom' to the point where my hands were cut," Unger said.

JONAH Headquarters on Grand St. in Jersey City
JONAH Headquarters on Grand St. in Jersey City (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

The non-profit civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center is suing on behalf of the group of young men.

"Those and other practices by defendants are unconscionable," lawyer Sam Wolfe said. "We are here to hold them accountable."

This lawsuit is the first of its kind, according to the non-profit group.

The suit centers on the lack of scientific fact to back up claims of converting homosexuals into heterosexuals, according to the SPLC.

Another client, Michael Ferguson, said his experience with JONAH did teach him one thing.

"You cannot repair something that was never broken," Ferguson told Silverman.

JONAH and its founder did not answer WCBS 880's calls or e-mails seeking comment.

WCBS 880's Silverman rang the buzzer at the group's Grand Street offices in Jersey City and the person who answered the buzzer declined to comment and refused to let Silverman into the building.

"Reparative therapy" to eliminate homosexuality has been condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and other organizations. The state of California passed legislation this year prohibiting the practice on patients under 18.

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