Earlier today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against People Can Change, an organization that practices ex-gay conversion therapy.
As the complaint argues, People Can Change promotes their organization using discredited junk pseudoscience that has been linked to damaging health consequences — including depression, substance abuse and suicide.
According to the organizations bringing suit, People Can Change, along with other conversion therapy practitioners:
- Defrauds consumers into believing that being LGBT is a mental
illness or emotional defect that needs to be cured, a false claim
rejected for decades by the American Psychiatric Association, American
Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, multiple
United Nations committees, and every other major medical and mental
health organization in the country;
- Falsely claims that its “services” have a basis in science, and
fails to disclose that its practices can lead to depression, substance
abuse, decreased self-esteem, and self-harm, including suicide;
- Targets and exploits highly vulnerable groups, including LGBT
youth, who already experience bias and rejection at alarming rates in
society and their own homes;
- And uses unsubstantiated testimonials, endorsements, and
scientific claims to justify charging hundreds and thousands of
dollars to give vulnerable individuals false hope that their core
identity is something to be cured.
This is the same basic argument that led to the conviction of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a conversion therapy organization in New Jersey, of fraud. JONAH had guaranteed that it could “cure” its clients of homosexuality and made false claims about its rate of “success.”
This lawsuit effectively piggybacks off of the JONAH ruling to argue that if conversion therapy claims were fraudulent in New Jersey, then similar claims are fraudulent elsewhere.
It’s a fairly straightforward argument. While New Jersey is one of the only states to have explicitly outlawed conversion therapy for minors, the federal government has laws against fraud. If conversion therapy opponents can successfully argue that claiming same-sex attractions can be “cured” is bunk — an argument that every major medical organization that’s weighed in on the subject agrees with — then any organization that makes that claim can be sued for fraud.
As NCLR’s #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator Samantha Ames wrote in a statement:
This historic complaint is not only the first clear opportunity the Obama Administration has had to end these deadly practices for good, but, if investigated fully, could very well be the final nail in the coffin of the entire conversion therapy industry. We sincerely look forward to working with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this fraudulent and unethical organization – along with every trusted professional who profits from the anguish of LGBTQ youth and their families.
We might not have to wait for every state — let alone the federal government — to outlaw conversion therapy. It may already be illegal.
You can read the complaint in full here: