Jacob M. Victor, a law student at Yale, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times today, “Ending ‘Gay Conversion’ for Good.” His premise is that if we want to shut down dangerous “ex-gay” programs, new laws aren’t’ the most promising option. Instead, he opines that we should pursue litigation and go after these quacks on the basis that they violate professional standards and commit consumer fraud — which could cost them their licenses:
There is a more promising way to put pressure on, or even shut down, conversion programs: existing state laws that forbid businesses and professionals to engage in deceptive practices.
Despite the nearly universal consensus — including the professional associations that represent America’s pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, school counselors, social workers and marriage and family therapists — that “conversion” or “reparative” therapy is ineffective, harmful or both, its practitioners, many of them affiliated with religious groups, continue to advertise messages like “change is possible.”
Under commercial law, this is the very definition of a deceptive trade practice. Victims could sue practitioners for damages in state courts. With support from the Southern Poverty Law Center, several former patients did just that in 2012, seeking damages under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act from an “ex-gay” group called Jonah (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing). The plaintiffs cited Jonah’s false promise that it could “cure” their homosexuality — for which it charged $100 per individual therapy session. Last July, a state judge refused Jonah’s request to throw out the case, which could soon go to trial.
Litigation isn’t the only recourse for victims. State regulators are responsible for ensuring that therapists and other mental health professionals abide by standards of professional conduct. States like New York, Minnesota and California have laws that forbid state-licensed professionals from using deceptive practices; in New York, for example, such professionals may not use “advertising or soliciting that is false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading” or make claims that cannot be “substantiated by the licensee.” Violations can result in fines and the loss or suspension of one’s license.
As the organization that pioneered the term “consumer fraud” as a description for “ex-gay” practices, Truth Wins Out is giddy that the idea is gaining currency in the legal community. We fully support the ideas in this op-ed — but we also encourage new laws against these syndicates of con artists who exploit fear to bilk desperate and vulnerable people. Let’s hit these hucksters from all directions, and force them to flee to places like Russia, where they can operate in a theocratic police state that is more reflective of their loyalties and values.