A New Jersey jury is hearing testimony in a lawsuit alleging that Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, violated state consumer fraud laws when it promised to turn gay people straight.
In the process, exactly went on inside JONAH’s so-called “conversion therapy clinic” is being made public, and it’s not pretty.
This week, JONAH co-founders Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Silodor Berk along with “life coach” Alan Downing admitted under oath to employing what even the group’s own defense attorney calls “bizarre” conversion therapy methods.
Here are just four of the methods:
1. Forcing clients to stare at their own fathers’ genitals.
2. Duct-taping men together and then lecturing them about the “gay deathstyle” and “bowel disease.”
3. Asking men to masturbate in front of a mirror while therapists watched (Downing insists this was voluntary. “I do not tell someone they should take off their clothes,” he testified. “It’s an invitation.”)
4. “Journeys Into Manhood” or “Journeys Beyond.” These 48-hour weekends included taking victims to a secret location and insisting they participate in exercises ranging from getting completely naked with counselors to blindfolding them while screaming homophobic slurs. Props in the bizarre activities included duct tape, bed sheets, rope, oranges, baby powder, and handcuffs. (According to Downing, “[The duct tape] is a metaphor … the idea of the tape is to create some level of resistance. We try to create an external metaphor to take the story outside of the man’s mind.”)
Neither Downing, Goldberg, Berk nor any of JONAH’s staff mental boast any real mental health credentials. Yet they insisted to the jury that they “try to adhere to … ethical guidelines.”
In 2013, Gov. Chris Christie, A Repubican presidential aspirant, signed a law banning conversion therapy in New Jersey.