Plaintiff in lawsuit against ‘gay conversion’ practitioners describes therapy methods

Benjamin Unger is sworn in as a witness in the trial against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Jersey City, N.J. The nonprofit New Jersey based group, who promised to turn gays heterosexual with so-called gay conversion therapy, are being sued by Unger and three other plaintiffs for fraud.

Benjamin Unger is sworn in as a witness in the trial against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Jersey City, N.J. The nonprofit New Jersey based group, who promised to turn gays heterosexual with so-called gay conversion therapy, are being sued by Unger and three other plaintiffs for fraud. Alex Remnick, The Star-Ledger via AP (Pool)

Benjamin Unger is sworn in as a witness in the trial against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Jersey City, N.J. The nonprofit New Jersey based group, who promised to turn gays heterosexual with so-called gay conversion therapy, are being sued by Unger and three other plaintiffs for fraud.Alex Remnick, The Star-Ledger via AP (Pool)

Benjamin Unger is sworn in as a witness in the trial against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, (JONAH) Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Jersey City, N.J. The nonprofit New Jersey based group, who promised to turn gays heterosexual with so-called gay conversion therapy, are being sued by Unger and three other plaintiffs for fraud.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — One of four plaintiffs who sued a nonprofit that promised to turn them from gay to heterosexual wept on the witness stand Wednesday as he described cutting off contact with his mother after being told she was the cause of his homosexuality.

Benjamin Unger also described for jurors an exercise in which he was encouraged to take a tennis racket and repeatedly beat a pillow, meant to symbolize his mother.

“I had a gash in my hand” from taking so many swipes with the racket, Unger said.

The four men sued Jersey City-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing in 2012 under New Jersey’s consumer fraud laws, claiming the group violated state consumer fraud laws by characterizing homosexuality as a mental disorder and claiming it could successfully change patients’ sexual orientation.

The plaintiffs say they underwent treatment that included being told to spend more time naked with their fathers and participating in role-playing in which they were subjected to anti-gay slurs in a locker room setting.

The group’s attorney said during his opening statement Wednesday that even the plaintiffs’ experts will testify that its methods are commonly used by therapists and that some patients have reported successful experiences.

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Three of the four plaintiffs were young men from Orthodox Jewish families, plaintiffs’ attorney David Dinielli said, who were grappling with their sexuality in a culture in which “there were no gay people” and there was pressure to marry and have children. The fourth, Michael Ferguson, is a Mormon who sought out JONAH.

“My clients needed help but JONAH lied and JONAH made it worse,” Dinielli told jurors. “All they got was junk science and so-called cures.”

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