Gay Whale Swallows JONAH
This year, June, not April, was the cruelest month. Traditionalists and right-thinkers were overwhelmed by the unfathomable Supreme Court rulings, the vulgar rainbow-hued White House, and the culture -- or what remains of it.
A lesser-known casualty of the June wars was a tiny New Jersey non-profit called JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), dedicated to educating the Jewish community and beyond about the social, cultural, and emotional factors that lead to same-sex attraction. JONAH unfortunately found itself in the giant maw of the radical leftist Southern Poverty Law Center, which made a meal of it.
According to their mission statement, "JONAH works with those struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA) and with families whose loved ones are involved in homosexuality." The italics are mine: JONAH doesn't target happy gays; it is there for gay people suffering from feelings they profoundly do not want.
Again, from their mission statement: "Through psychological and spiritual counseling, peer support, and self-empowerment, JONAH seeks to reunify families, to heal the wounds surrounding homosexuality, and to provide hope."
Arthur Goldberg, co-director of JONAH, is the author of a voluminous book, Light in the Closet, in which he reminds us that Judaism's prohibition against homosexuality is based on Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is an abomination." However, he states, "abomination…has a deeper connotation of 'going or being led astray,' which is untranslatable in any other language; and straying implies the possibility -- indeed the necessity -- of teshuvah, of returning to the path of Torah and the Commandments…through a guided process involving counseling, self-discovery and a combination of gradual spiritual and behavioral self-adjustments characteristic of teshuvah.'"
This type of reparative therapy, as it is known, can work successfully -- "and has been accomplished…with a rate of success that is much too high to ignore," states Goldberg. It is described, with many testimonials, in his book. Several websites, in addition to JONAH's, offer similar testimonials. See, for example, www.narth.org, www.pfox.org, and www.peoplecanchange.com.
But JONAH has never guaranteed change; like all forms of therapy, it offers hope, not an ironclad promise. And like other therapies, it has its adherents and its detractors. The detractors include two young men, Benjamin Unger and Chaim Levin, both from Orthodox Jewish families. About five years ago, Unger and Levin, who had been working with counselors referred by JONAH, made contact with a gay-affirmative group called Jewish Queer Youth, for whom they agreed to make YouTube videos. This led to a meeting with gay activist Wayne Besen, for whose website www.truthwinsout.org, the two also made videos. Besen played a significant role in hooking these disappointed young men up with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which, despite its name, specializes in left-wing activism, and whose endowment is in the neighborhood of $340 million.
It was only a matter of time before SPLC, with a huge and starry legal team, hit JONAH with a lawsuit that, after months of discovery, opened before the New Jersey Superior Court on June 3. The plaintiffs were the aforesaid Benjamin Unger and Chaim Levin, Chaim Levin's mother, someone named Sheldon Bruck and his mother, and another young man, a lapsed Mormon, Michael Ferguson. The big guns, of course, were SPLC and its battery of lawyers. The thirty-page motion explains:
According to plaintiffs, JONAH's business practices violate the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act…by misrepresenting that homosexuality is a mental illness or disorder and that JONAH's therapy program is effective in changing the sexual orientation of clients.
The motion goes on to describe, in somewhat lurid detail, the methods used by JONAH's counselors, which allegedly caused discomfort to the young men. These methods, some involving a form of psychodrama developed by Abraham Maslow and others, are intended to expose and understand possible family-related and other trauma. Unger and Levin had deprecated these treatments in their videos, but as was later shown in cross-examination at the trial, Levin considered the experience positive and helpful at the time of treatment, even volunteering to become a spokesman for JONAH.
What was obviously needed was expert opinion to explain to the jury the validity of these theories. And indeed, six experts, well-known in the field of reparative therapy, were scheduled to testify for JONAH -- a psychiatrist-author, a psychologist, also an author, licensed practitioners -- and a rabbi. However, Judge Peter F. Bariso, Jr. refused to allow them to testify, on the grounds that "the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but -- like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it -- instead is outdated and refuted." Apparently judges (vide Justice Kennedy) now come to court fully equipped with preconceived judgments.
Bariso's ruling effectively ended JONAH's ability to mount a successful defense. Despite their lead attorney Charles Limandri's efforts, called "dazzling" by sympathizers, and the poor showing of the plaintiffs and their mothers, the jury found for the plaintiffs. JONAH will now be on the hook for as much as $4 million in legal fees and financial restitution to the plaintiffs -- even though JONAH is a non-profit and poor, and even though Levin paid only one check, and that one bounced.
JONAH plans to appeal. The real loser in this case, however, is the cause of reparative therapy, widely mocked by its opponents as "conversion" therapy. There is little doubt that the object of such lawsuits is the abolition of any attempt to treat homosexuality as anything but inborn, much less remediable. And that would be a pity for those who sincerely seek help.