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Two Victories in Two Days For LGBT Community

Diana Lee |
June 29, 2015 | 2:54 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

(@RollingStone/ Twitter)
(@RollingStone/ Twitter)
Last Friday, the LGBT community achieved their biggest victory yet: same-sex marriages were legalized across the nation, reversing remaining bans in the 13 states. Massive celebrations erupted nationwide at news of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling for equality, and many rushed to the courthouse to enjoy their new freedom.

"Today is a big step in our march towards equality," President Obama tweeted. "Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else."

Another critical decision occurred just the day before, marking the first step in banning something many LGBT people have, and continue to, endure. Conversion therapy (also referred to as reparative therapy), the widely discredited practice of changing one's sexual orientation or gender identity, has drawn out a polarized debate on everything from its morality to its effectiveness.

But efforts to prohibit this practice took a new turn when one group was found guilty of consumer fraud for misrepresenting their services to turn people straight.

READ MORE: Same-Sex Marriage Legalized Nationwide

Plaintiffs Benjamin Unger and Chaim Levin (@esummerbooks/ Twitter)
Plaintiffs Benjamin Unger and Chaim Levin (@esummerbooks/ Twitter)
In the first case that challenged conversion therapy on legal grounds, former clients of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) told a New Jersey jury that the group falsely claimed a "two-thirds success rate" for those wishing to suppress "unwanted same-sex sexual attractions."

The original plaintiffs—three Orthodox Jewish men and a Morman man represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)—recalled being asked to undress and touch themselves in front of their life coaches and to beat effigies of their mothers using tennis rackets after being told their mothers were to blame for their homosexuality. Their lawyers argued these practices were ineffective and went against the recommendations from mainstream medical groups. 

Now, JONAH will have to pay over $70,000 in damages, about triple what the plaintiffs paid for JONAH's services, including the subsequent therapy to reverse the conversion therapy's effects. It may also be forced to shut down; it wouldn't be the first time an established "ex-gay" group shut down after coming under fire for the disturbing stories told by former clients. 

Exodus International, the self-proclaimed oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with sexuality and faith, closed in 2013, issuing a public apology to the gay community. The group's founders are speaking out against their now-defunct organization, even helping to shut down the extremely profitable business.

Michael Bussee left the organization three years after founding it in 1976, and began a relationship with fellow co-founder Gary Cooper. Both Bussee and Cooper left their wives, and started a new chapter in their lives together—away from the ministry.

He spoke about his experience with Exodus in an episode of Lisa Ling's "Our America," during which he called out then-Exodus President Alan Chambers about the organization's harmful practices.

"My mom read the Exodus books and when she found out I was gay, she said it was worse than my dad dying of leukemia," Bussee recalled. "She wanted to drive her car off a cliff because she had been convinced that she did something wrong that made me gay. Exodus taught that for years."

READ MORE: Residents in California's Least Gay-Friendly County Respond To SCOTUS Ruling

Coincidentally, Exodus International's announced that it would close its doors in the same week that the interview was scheduled to air. The group apologized for "years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole" in the statement.

After serving as president for 12 years, Alan Chambers admitted the emotional damage his group caused many people over its 37-year existence and said minors should not go through a conversion program. 

"What I believe is that when it comes to promising or assuring someone, or causing someone to expect that they're going to completely readicate a set of feelings or temprations or desires, I think that sets someone up for tremendous damage, which can cause them shame and guilt," he said.

Two years later, Chambers showed support for the Supreme Court decision in a Washington Post op-ed piece, reflecting on how he came to eliminate homophobia through his Christian beliefs.

"Where I once lived in fear of all things gay and mistook my religious homophobia as a passion for God's truth, I can honestly say in this regard I am now anxious for nothing. Far from that space of worry, I realize I was living in true bondage-- fear of disappointing God-- failing him," Chambers wrote.

The former ex-gay leader says he was afraid of being labeled as gay for supporting other gays, but realizing that "God is love and full of Grace" convinved him to love everyone, regardless of any personal differences.

"Repenting led me to apologize for everything I could think of to a group of people who needed someone, anyone who'd ever been in leadership to apologize," he said.

Only three states, and Washington, D.C., have outlawed the practice for minors so, California being the first to do so. The first federal bill that would ban conversion therapy nationwide by classifying the practice as fraud with the Federal Trade Commission was introduced last month by Los Angeles Congressman Ted Lieu.

(Courtesy of msnbc.com)
(Courtesy of msnbc.com)

"This is a momentous event in the history of the LGBT rights movement, " said David Dinielli, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "The jury agreed not only is this based on lies, but it is an unconsciounable business practice."

JONAH's lead counsel Chuck LiMandri said he will appeal the decision. "All of us can control our sexual behavior and each of us has not only the right but the obligation to decide what is right and wrong about our behavior," he said in a statement.

New Jersey's law banning conversion therapy only applies to licensed therapists, so it was not relevant to JONAH's co-founder and counselor in this case, according to Dinielli.

You can contact Staff Reporter Diana Lee here and follow her on Twitter here



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