National LGBT organizations are set on Wednesday to file a complaint seeking to shut down a Virginia-based “ex-gay” group for engaging in widely discredited sexual orientation conversion therapy, the Washington Blade has learned.
The 38-page complaint, obtained in advance by the Blade, is set to be filed before the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and accuses “People Can Change” — an organization that offers therapy services “to support and guide men who seek to transition away from unwanted homosexuality” — of engaging in fraud.
According to the complaint, “People Can Change” offers the services “based on the false premise” that being gay is a mental illness cause by a developmental disorder — an assertion debunked by major psychological and medical groups, which have rejected “conversion therapy.”
“There is substantial competent and reliable scientific evidence that conversion therapy, including the methods employed by PCC, is ineffective and can and often does result in significant health and safety risks to consumers of those services, as well as economic losses – exactly the types of injuries that are at the heart of the FTC’s mission to protect consumers from harm,” the complaint says.
The complaint asks the Federal Trade Commission to stop “People Can Change” from advertising, marketing and all forms of business and calls on the agency to investigate other practitioners making similar claims.
The practice of “ex-gay” conversion therapy is rejected by major medical and psychological institutions, including American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The organizations that are set to file the complaint are the Human Rights Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the D.C. office of the law firm Cooley LLP.
Samantha Ames, #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement the complaint is “the first clear opportunity for the Obama administration” to end “conversion therapy” throughout the country.
“We sincerely look forward to working with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this fraudulent and unethical organization – along with every trusted professional who profits from the anguish of LGBTQ youth and their families,” Ames said. “But, even more so, we look forward to the day when every human being, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, knows they were born perfect.”
The complaint is similar to a lawsuit filed in 2012 against the now defunct New Jersey “conversion therapy” provider JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, to compel the group to stop its program.
Following a trial revealing the organization’s bizarre practices, in June of last year a New Jersey jury found JONAH guilty of consumer fraud. As a result of a subsequent suit, JONAH agreed to pay $3.5 million in legal fees, shut down entirely, and pay $72,400 in damages to compensate the plaintiffs who underwent therapy with the organization.
Scott McCoy, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement the ruling against JONAH served as the basis for the complaint before the Federal Trade Commission.
“Our case shut JONAH down, shed light on PCC’s harmful practices, and helped develop this important action to stop PCC and others in this industry from misleading and harming more people,” McCoy said.
According to the “People Can Change” website, among the programs afforded by the organization is a 48-hour “Journey Into Manhood,” which offers group exercises for gay and bisexual men to “experience healing” from their sexual orientation. Programs this year are set to take place in Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Utah, Poland, Texas and California. The cost for the U.S. workshops is $650.
Rich Wyler, executive director of “People Can Change,” said in a statement to the Washington Blade the complaint is “an act of hate and vicious bullying” by LGBT organizations.
“This is an act of hate and vicious bullying against our community of adult men—gay, bi-sexual, ex-gay and same-sex attracted men—simply for not supporting the HRC and SPLC’s agenda,” Wyler said. “Instead, for our own religious or other deeply personal reasons, we choose to not identify as gay or live a gay life. That’s our right. Our First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly are under attack simply because we believe differently and choose to live our lives differently than current gay politically correct thinking says we are supposed to.”
In the U.S. House, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) has introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which seeks to end conversion therapy by requiring the Federal Trade Commission to classify it as fraud. Earlier this month, Lieu along with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) signed a letter calling on the agency to take “all actions possible to stop the unfair, deceptive and fraudulent practice of conversion therapy.”
California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and D.C. have passed laws prohibiting “ex-gay” therapy for minors. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo this month took executive action to protect youth from the practice and bar insurers from covering it.
President Obama last year came out against the practice of conversion therapy. Although the Obama administration has advocated a state-by-state approach to end the practice, the White House has said it welcomes congressional action on the issue.
The Blade has placed a request with the White House and the Federal Trade Commission to comment on the complaint filed before the Obama administration.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement he hopes the complaint will enable the Federal Trade Commission to put an end to “conversion therapy.”
“Conversion therapy is child abuse, and we urge the FTC to join our call to ban its practice once and for all,” Griffin said. “This is dangerous junk science that uses fear and shame to tell young people the only way to find love and acceptance is by changing the very nature of who they are.”