Ex-gay conversion therapy challenged in federal consumer fraud lawsuit

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:

Anti-conversion therapy protest, via Daniel Tobias / Flickr

Anti-conversion therapy protest, via Daniel Tobias / Flickr

  • 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:

[iframe src=”http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/FTC-ConversionTherapy-Complaint-Final.pdf”]


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Rusty Reiter

    “People Can Change” offers no cures of any kind except MAGIC BEAN SEEDS. I kid you not. A weekend romp in the woods with no therapists, but led by men who hate homosexuality, offers gay men a chance to share their seed with another man, but there is no pretense at being a cure once you get there. It seems more like a chance for closeted gays to have furtive sex far from their wives.

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