WASHINGTON – Today, in Michael Ferguson v. JONAH – a case brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center in New Jersey Superior Court against practitioners of so-called “conversion therapy” – the jury found that the defendants providing this dangerous and discredited anti-LGBT practice are guilty of fraud under New Jersey’s consumer protection laws. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, praised the decision as an important legal victory.
“This jury has affirmed what victims of conversion therapy heartbreakingly already know – charlatans’ attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity amount to nothing more than fraud,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Today’s decision is an extremely important legal victory in our march towards fairness, equality, and justice for LGBT people.”
Conversion therapy – a harmful and discredited practice that falsely claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity – has been denounced by every mainstream medical and mental health association, including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association. The judge in this case previously ruled that misrepresenting homosexuality as an illness or disorder when marketing conversion therapy violates the state’s consumer protection laws. Today the jury agreed by finding these conversion therapy practitioners guilty of fraud.
Laws have been passed in New Jersey and other states to protect youth from conversion therapy performed by a licensed practitioner, however this verdict also makes clear that conversion therapy may be fraud under state law 1) regardless if the provider is licensed and 2) this applies to both youth and adults. The fraud verdict in this case is similar to the approach taken by the federal Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act (H.R. 2450), introduced by Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA). This legislation, if passed, would make conducting and advertising conversion therapy an unfair trade practice enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
HRC and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) have partnered with state equality groups across the nation to pass state legislation to end this dangerous practice, including the laws passed in California, New Jersey, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and most recently in Illinois. In August of 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s law, which was signed into law by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown in 2012. On May 4, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to uphold New Jersey’s law, which was signed by Republican Governor Chris Christie in August of 2013. NCLR attorneys have assisted in the defense of every state bill to date.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.
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