Head of New Jersey group sued over 'gay conversion' therapy takes witness stand in trial

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The director of a non-profit being sued for offering so-called gay conversion therapy acknowledged on the witness stand Monday that the group claims a “success” rate of 65 to 75 per cent to turn gay men to straight even though it doesn’t keep its own statistics and relies on anecdotal evidence from counsellors.

Arthur Goldberg also testified that he believes homosexuality is a spiritual disorder and a condition caused by emotional wounds occurring in childhood and adolescence that can be cured through a “gender-affirming” process such as that offered by his organization.

Goldberg testified on the second day of a trial involving four young men who underwent the treatment and sued the group, Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, in 2012.

They claim the group, known by the acronym JONAH, violated New Jersey consumer protection laws by making fraudulent claims and misrepresentations about what it could do. They are seeking to have JONAH’s business license revoked and to be reimbursed for the therapy they paid for as well as separate counselling they underwent after leaving the program.

On the stand Monday, the 75-year-old Goldberg acknowledged that while in emails and writings on the group’s website JONAH claims that roughly two-thirds of men who go through the program are “successfully healed,” he relies on anecdotal evidence from counsellors affiliated with JONAH to reach those numbers.

“It’s an estimate,” he said under questioning from plaintiffs’ attorney Lina Bensman.

Goldberg also acknowledged that the American Psychotherapy Association revoked two certifications it granted him because on his applications he failed to mention that he had been convicted of fraud and conspiracy years ago and spent time in prison. Pressed by Bensman, he also said he has never been a licensed counsellor but has referred to himself as one in writings and emails and has had input on some of JONAH’s programs.

Calling himself a mentor more than a counsellor, Goldberg said he has “spent hours and hours and hours talking to people who are suffering from unwanted homosexuality.”

JONAH’s attorneys have argued that their client’s methods have been shown to be successful and that the plaintiffs didn’t complain or ask for their money back at the time they left the program but only did so after being contacted by activists seeking to shut JONAH down. They also say the men didn’t remain in the program for the two to four years JONAH claims it takes to achieve full conversion.

One of the plaintiffs, Benjamin Unger, testified last week that one of JONAH’s methods involved using a tennis racket to beat a pillow that was meant to represent his mother, who, he said counsellors told him, was responsible for his homosexuality. He also spoke of being urged to spend more time naked with his father.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in 2013 banning licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy in New Jersey. Two court challenges to the ban, one by a couple and their son and one by a group that included two licensed therapists, were dismissed by a federal judge. Those decisions were later affirmed by a federal appeals court.