NCLR Settles Consumer Fraud Lawsuit over Conversion Therapy

February 26, 2019

Contact: Perry Sacks,, (917) 438-4619

SAN FRANCISCO—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), along with co-counsel Arnold & Porter, announced a settlement in a lawsuit filed by their client, Kate McCobb, that alleged a California-licensed therapist subjected her to conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy has been discredited by every major medical and mental health organization—including the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and American Psychiatric Association—as dangerous and unethical. The settlement follows a California court ruling affirming that conversion therapy may constitute consumer fraud. Terms of the settlement are confidential.

“Being a young LGBTQ person can be an overwhelming and isolating experience,” said the plaintiff in this case, Kate McCobb. “I am relieved to have this case behind me so that I can focus on educating other LGBTQ people about the dangers of conversion therapy.”

Although the therapist denies liability in this case, he has stated that he shares Ms. McCobb’s view of conversion therapy.

“Conversion therapy has been shown to lead to increased risk of depression, substance abuse, and even suicide,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. “Those across the country who continue to push the myth of conversion therapy should take note: you are engaging in consumer fraud, and we will stand with conversion therapy survivors and help them recoup every dollar.”

Although Ms. McCobb did not seek therapy because of her sexual orientation, the therapist nonetheless focused on her lesbian identity. According to Ms. McCobb, she was told that being a lesbian was unnatural and that she could change her sexual orientation. She was urged to change her appearance to be more stereotypically feminine, including losing weight, growing out her hair, changing her wardrobe, and wearing make-up, and to begin dating men.

“My firm took this case on a pro bono basis because conversion therapy isn’t just ineffective, it’s dangerous,” said Arnold & Porter Partner Jeremy Kamras. “Hopefully this lawsuit will help to end this practice by putting medical professionals on notice that, if they engage in harmful, discredited conversion therapy, they can be subject to civil liability.”

NCLR has been standing up for conversion therapy survivors for more than 20 years. In June 2014, NCLR launched the Born Perfect Campaign to End Conversion Therapy through litigation, public education, and legislation.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) was the first national LGBTQ legal organization founded by women and brings a fierce, longstanding commitment to racial and economic justice and our community’s most vulnerable. Since 1977, NCLR has been at the forefront of advancing the civil and human rights of our full LGBTQ community and their families through impact litigation, public policy, and public education. Decades ago, NCLR led the way by establishing the first LGBTQ Immigration Project, Transgender Rights Project, Youth Project, Elder Law Project, and began working to end conversion therapy through what is now the Born Perfect campaign.

National Organizations Target ‘Conversion Therapy’ Quacks with Historic Federal Consumer Fraud Complaint

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 24, 2016)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal consumer fraud complaint against People Can Change, an organization that preys on vulnerable LGBT people and families by using damaging and discredited claims that it can change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency charged with protecting America’s consumers, the groups lay out the junk pseudoscience that Virginia-based People Can Change (PCC) uses to expose the American people to ineffective and dangerous “conversion therapy” practices that have for decades been linked to serious harm, including depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

The organizations are asking the FTC to take enforcement action to stop PCC’s deceptive practices and investigate all practitioners making similar claims.

The complaint alleges that PCC’s advertisements and business practices, which expressly and implicitly claim that they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, constitute deceptive, false, and misleading practices and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in direct violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The complaint also alleges that, in violation of FTC guidelines, PCC, like other practitioners in the “conversion therapy” industry:

  • Defrauds consumers into believing that being LGBT is a mental illness or emotional defect that needs to be cured, a false claim rejected for decades by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, multiple United Nations committees, and every other major medical and mental health organization in the country;
  • Falsely claims that its “services” have a basis in science, and fails to disclose that its practices can lead to depression, substance abuse, decreased self-esteem, and self-harm, including suicide;
  • Targets and exploits highly vulnerable groups, including LGBT youth, who already experience bias and rejection at alarming rates in society and their own homes;
  • And uses unsubstantiated testimonials, endorsements, and scientific claims to justify charging hundreds and thousands of dollars to give vulnerable individuals false hope that their core identity is something to be cured.

“Today, after decades of advocacy, the voices of conversion therapy survivors have carried all the way up to the highest levels of government. This historic complaint is not only the first clear opportunity the Obama Administration has had to end these deadly practices for good, but, if investigated fully, could very well be the final nail in the coffin of the entire conversion therapy industry. 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. 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.” said NCLR #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator Sam Ames.

“Conversion therapy is abusive, harmful to children, and we urge the FTC to join our call to ban its practice once and for all. 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,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

“This complaint builds on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s groundbreaking lawsuit against New Jersey conversion therapy provider JONAH, in which a state jury unanimously found that its so called ‘therapy’ program, which incorporated PCC’s weekend-in-the-woods conversion therapy services, was consumer fraud and an unconscionable commercial practice,” said Scott McCoy, SPLC senior staff attorney. “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.”

The complaint comes as the movement to end “conversion therapy” continues to gain momentum. Earlier this month, Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Cory Booker of New Jersey, joined by California Reps. Jackie Speier and Ted Lieu, issued a letter to the FTC urging the agency to use its authority to take “all actions possible to stop the unfair, deceptive and fraudulent practice of conversion therapy. …”

Their request follows a groundbreaking Department of Health and Human Services report called “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” and months after President Obama, Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued independent statements calling for an end to the practices.

Last year, a SPLC lawsuit forced the New Jersey “conversion therapy” provider JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) to permanently stop its bogus program and pay damages to plaintiffs. A jury found that JONAH had committed consumer fraud and engaged in unconscionable commercial practices in violation of state law.

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have passed laws protecting LGBT minors from “conversion therapy,” and more than 20 states have introduced similar legislation this year. New York is also adopting regulations to protect youth from “conversion therapy” as a result of executive action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The law firm Cooley LLP serves as counsel to the petitioners in this matter.

Read the full complaint to the FTC here.

Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

New Jersey Jury Finds JONAH Guilty of Consumer Fraud

A Day After President’s Condemnation Of Conversion Therapy, Jury Reaches Verdict

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (June 25, 2015)—After hours of deliberations, a New Jersey jury found Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) liable for consumer fraud. JONAH, a group that promised gay men that it would turn them into heterosexuals, was sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012 under New Jersey’s consumer fraud law.

The closely-watched trial unveiled the deplorable and inhumane techniques JONAH used to “convert” the men. The verdict comes on the heels of President Obama’s remarks on Wednesday—at the annual White House Pride reception—about conversion therapy: “I support efforts to ban conversion therapy for minors.  It has no basis in science. Every young person—no matter who they are or what they look like or what gender they identify as—deserves to be valued and loved for who they are.”

Statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Stoll:

“Today’s verdict is a major victory in the fight to end the shameful and deceptive practice of conversion therapy. Too often, vulnerable young people and their families are lured into believing the false promises offered by groups like JONAH that they can “cure” gay people by changing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Today’s verdict sends a clear message to those who seek to prey on the fears of those who are just beginning to come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity: if you falsely promise a non-existent “cure” for a disease that does not exist, you will be held responsible. We congratulate our colleagues at the Southern Poverty Law Center for this important victory.” 

NCLR has been at the forefront of efforts to protect youth and their families from conversion therapy for more than two decades and, alongside the Human Rights Campaign and state equality groups, has helped pass legislation in California, New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia. NCLR launched its #BornPerfect campaign last year to stop conversion therapy across the country by 2019 by passing laws, fighting in courtrooms, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by attempts to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Born Perfect is a survivor-led campaign to end conversion therapy created by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.