Jury rules against group offering gay conversion therapy; Utah man among plaintiffs

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A New Jersey jury has ruled against a group that offered “conversion therapy” that claimed to turn gay men straight, finding the organization violated that state’s consumer fraud laws.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which sued on behalf of the alleged victims — including a man from Utah — said in a statement Thursday that the jury deliberated about three hours before returning the verdict against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH). Among the plaintiffs, 33-year-old Michael Ferguson of Salt Lake City.

“I am thrilled beyond words for the chance to expose these harmful practices for the fraud that they are. I hope many LGBT people of faith will be spared the horrors that I and the other plaintiffs experienced,” Ferguson said in the statement issued by the SPLC.

Michael Ferguson (left) with his husband, Seth Anderson, in a 2013 interview with FOX 13.

Michael Ferguson (left) with his husband, Seth Anderson, in a 2013 interview with FOX 13.

Ferguson and his husband, Seth Anderson, were the first same-sex couple to wed in Utah after the state’s ban was struck down in 2013.

The SPLC claimed that JONAH’s counselors defrauded clients and used abusive practices, including “the defendants’ counselors or their associates instructed young men to undress and stand naked in a circle with them; encouraged clients to undress in front of a mirror and touch their genitals while a counselor was present in a closed-door session; and organized group activities for clients to reenact past abuse and take part in violent role-play exercises. Male counselors also engaged and advocated ‘healthy touch’ with young men, including cuddling sessions lasting nearly an hour.”

The jury ordered JONAH to pay $72,000 in damages, the SPLC said.