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Filmmakers Weigh in on Lawsuit Against 'Ex-Gay' Org JONAH, Wonder if Founder's Gay Son Will Testify

GuestbloggerBY BILL HUSSUNG and MISHARA CANINO

A first-of-it’s-kind lawsuit charging a prominent ex-gay leader with consumer fraud for offering to “cure” homosexuals will be settled in a New Jersey court. However the court may rule, we can state from personal experience that the allegations made in the complaint brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center match our own personal experiences with the man at the center of the lawsuit.

GoldbergArthur Goldberg is the founder of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, commonly known as JONAH. Goldberg has made no public comments about the substance of the lawsuit other than to issue a press release condemning the suit as an attack on free speech. But the issues at the heart of the lawsuit, the therapy practices he promotes as a “gay cure,” were the subject of hours of videotaped interviews we conducted with Goldberg several years ago. Those interviews ended up being featured in our documentary Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-Gay Movement.

In the lawsuit, four gay men claim that Goldberg’s organization charged them for phoney counseling sessions that involved pillow beating, trash talking their mothers, and nudity with other men to switch their sexual orientation. All of the claims match what Goldberg told us on camera, and showed us during the filming of our documentary. We can’t tell you if this amounts to consumer fraud, but we can tell you that the charges ring true.

We first met Goldberg at our apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan after he refused to give us the address of his organization, saying he had to get to know us before releasing such sensitive information. “We’re somewhat afraid of the gay activists, they can make things difficult for us, and that’s why the address isn’t listed,” Goldberg explained. Several hours later, satisfied we were really documentary filmmakers and not gay activists, Goldberg agreed to allow us access to his facility, therapists and some patients. It turns out the JONAH headquarters are inside a Jersey City building fronting as a Russian Jewish art museum.

PillowbeaterIn the consumer fraud lawsuit Benjamin Unger claims he was ordered to beat a pillow with a tennis racket while shouting “Mom! Mom! Mom!” That’s a practice Goldberg was eager to have us film when he put us in contact with Baltimore based conversion therapist Richard Cohen. Goldberg works closely with Cohen and refers many of his clients to him for counseling. Cohen had a patient demonstrate the practice for us. Goldberg told us the treatment was based on the idea that homosexuality comes out of family dysfunction, “there is a very clear pattern of what causes homosexuality, over involvement with the mother is a major factor.” In the lawsuit Unger says the treatment greatly damaged his relationship with his mom. No doubt. Goldberg listed other possible causes as, “child sex abuse, same sex peer abuse, body image wounding, and defensive attachment to the father.”

Richard Cohen is not named in the New Jersey lawsuit but a source says he was involved with treating the plaintiffs. Cohen practices a form of touch therapy that involves caressing and holding the patient on his lap. In the lawsuit against Goldberg it’s alleged that young men were instructed to remove their clothes and stand naked in a circle with an equally nude counselor. This tracks with what Goldberg and Cohen told us about the importance of male bonding and body image issues. “ Body image problems are confidence problems, a body wound is a sense of feeling different,” is the way Goldberg put it. It’s worth noting that Cohen is a former moonie who married his wife at a Unification Church mass wedding at Madison Square Garden. He was disciplined by the American Counseling Association and ultimately kicked out of the organization. Goldberg is a disbarred lawyer who was convicted of three counts of mail fraud and served six months in a federal prison.

At the heart of the potentially ground breaking lawsuit against Goldberg is the argument that conversion therapy promotes the idea that being gay is a choice, a position gay activists believe promotes anti-gay bigotry. ” There is no such thing as homophobia, homophobia is a made up term, a way of making the average American feel guilty,” was how Goldberg responded to a similar argument in our film. We’ll see if it’s the same argument he makes in court.

During the course of our filming with Goldberg he said a lot of surprising things. But perhaps nothing was as surprising as the revelation that he has an openly gay son, “I don’t want to embarrass my son, but yes, he doesn’t like to be publicly identified, it’s not just my son, it’s a lot of members of my family.” It will be interesting to see if any of them get called to testify.

Watch the trailer for their documentary Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-Gay Movement,
AFTER THE JUMP...

Bill Hussung and Mishara Canino are award-winning documentary filmmakers whose work has appeared on cable television and at film festivals across the country.  Their awards include the Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Journalism. Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-Gay Movement is distributed by IndiePix Films. Bill was co-creator of the MTV series, MTV Juvies.  Clips from Chasing the Devil are available at www.boompotatofilms.com.

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Comments

  1. The fact Arthur Goldberg has an openly gay son makes me really sad, almost to tears. There is something so tragic in that, I cannot imagine how his son feels. I had known of that before and every time I read that, it just makes me shake my head. But it begins to make sense why he's so devoted to the ex-gay myth. There are a lot of unresolved issues there but instead of resolving those issues, he chooses to condemn and attempt to destroy our community instead. A pathetic man.

    Posted by: Francis | Dec 3, 2012 2:12:24 PM


  2. Cretin. It says a lot that even Orthodox Jewish rabbis have come out against "ex-gay" therapy but this tool is still clinging to it, probably because his son is gay. If you've ever seen clips of "therapist" Richard Cohen in action you know he's a certifiable loon.

    I feel sorry for the people who end up in these programs but also a little angry and disgusted with them. You want to learn how to be a "real man"? Nut up and stop being such a godd*amn pansy, and I don't mean that as gay or effeminate. Start by standing up for yourself and being who you ARE instead of what other people are saying you should be!

    I doubt Arthur Goldberg went around asking for permission or approval before he committed FELONIES, so WTF are you doing seeking his or anyone elses approval?

    Posted by: Caliban | Dec 3, 2012 2:58:28 PM


  3. Boring proofreading note: the possessive "its" does not include an apostrophe.

    Not that I care. You can choose to whatever grammar style you want so long as it doesn't hurt anybody.

    Posted by: Glenn I | Dec 3, 2012 4:22:14 PM


  4. Also worthy of note is that Goldberg was kicked out of the American Psychotherapy Association and stripped of his credentials.

    Posted by: Jeffrey in St. Louis | Dec 3, 2012 4:26:34 PM


  5. If this settles outside of court I imagine everyone will just go back to what they were doing before. This suit has little chance of changing the practices of JONAH or similar orgs.

    Posted by: anon | Dec 3, 2012 4:34:56 PM


  6. The people in the documentary are clearly delusional.

    Posted by: jaragon | Dec 3, 2012 5:15:45 PM


  7. sooooooooooo, now I am really confused; how can this goon have a gay son and other gay family members?? I thought he could "cure" gay people and make them "ex gay"? by the way, I do feel sorry for his son

    Posted by: Bernie | Dec 3, 2012 6:46:38 PM


  8. His son needs to reject his own father outright. Gay sons and daughters who do not depend on parental support must insist on unconditional acceptance. Otherwise find "family" elsewhere.

    Posted by: The Inveterate Lurker | Dec 3, 2012 9:02:16 PM


  9. I live in So Cal, and I had been- about 10 years ago now- a part of a very fundie church, in which a formerly Jewish (and no:w rabidly anti-gay) man, whose son was also openly gay, and lived in another state. He once (and only once, as I IMMEDIATELY distanced myself from his pronouncements, and ATTITUDE) tried to control my thoughts and feelings, and I told him "I don 't believe this is a healthy relationship, " and stopped using him as a mentor. Sadly, the man didn't see his wanting to "fix" his son was bleeding over into his relationship with me. I finally figured out for myself that they weren't going to get with it, and quit attending that church. Now, I attend an "open & affirming" congregation of the UCC. The situation with Goldberg reminds me of the situation with the man at the church here, and now distrust Christians, to where I keep my distance. Sadly, idiots like these are legion in the wider church world, and are allowed to work with men and young men who are already wounded, spreading hate, dischord and more pain in the lives of people who don't DESERVE to be treated in the manner we often are.

    Posted by: Rod Roddy lookalike | Dec 3, 2012 9:06:40 PM


  10. This is what we need to keep in mind when we think that people like Tony Perkins or Brian Brown will change if their son or daughter comes out.
    In many cases,it makes their anti-gay hatred worse.

    Posted by: Kevin | Dec 3, 2012 9:58:27 PM


  11. I had a friend commit suicide in high school after two year of his parents forcing him to the ex gay movement.

    They torture your soul during the process. He became a shell of himself. They literally break you down. And these fundmentalist religious families threaten their gay children that they will either have to go attend the ex gay programs or be kicked out on the street.

    It's brutal inhumane ABUSE. Period

    Posted by: Klien | Dec 3, 2012 11:41:39 PM


  12. the kids don't need ex-gay therapy. the whole family needs PFLAG.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 4, 2012 11:16:18 AM


  13. Whether homosexuality can be changed or not is absolutely irrelevant. "Strugglers" require quality therapists who help them to manage and reduce their attractions, like any other desire or symptom, or to embrace them if later desired by the client. THAT'S SELF-DETERMINATION!!! If the attractions are eliminated, fine! But, I maintain that this is irrelevant to "strugglers" who need help to manage. JONAH's promises of cure and resolution, though sometimes are accurate, can be dangerous. Therapy is more about the therapeutic relationship rather than the specific techniques. True, naked work, cuddling, being held, bio-energenics and psychodrama can all be very helpful and appropriate in the right therapeutic relationship. Aspects of JONAH's approach need to be adjusted and modified but not disbanded, because "strugglers" should enjoy the same right to self-determination that social work and psychological ethics demand.
    -Avraham

    Posted by: avraham | Jan 2, 2013 4:56:51 PM


  14. There is no reason for his son to testify. I should know I've been the sons partner for 14 years enough said.

    Posted by: BEAU | Mar 21, 2013 12:01:16 PM


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